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Archivo del Autor: Belen De Leon

Index Ventures closes 2 funds, $1B for growth rounds and $650M for early-stage investing

Make way for more money into the startup investing pool. Today, Index Ventures announced that it has closed a total of $1.65 billion in new funds — $1 billion that it plans to invest in later-stage, growth rounds, and $650 million that it plans to put into earlier rounds for smaller startups.

The venture fund is Index’s ninth; the growth round is its fourth since it was founded in 1996.

The funding is significant for a couple of reasons. Index is one of Europe’s (and America’s) more prominent venture capital firms, backing recent hits like AdyenDropboxiZettle, and Zuora (all of which have now either gone public or, in the case of iZettle, been acquired), so its backing has become something of a signal for companies to watch (similar to a number of others, it should be noted), as well as setting a pace for investing choices (including who is doing the investing).

The funding is also notable because of the size of the funds. Index has raised $7.25 billion over the years, using that money to seed and grow hundreds of startups, and helping to fuel — alongside the growth of the internet and technologies like mobile — what has become a veritable tech boom over the last couple of decades. 

But even within that longer trend, more recent years have seen an even bigger infusion of venture funding into the tech ecosystem, with outsized backers like Softbank bringing together syndicates of tech titans to bring in tens (and even hundreds) of billions of dollars into the mix.

The strong returns that the very biggest startups deliver — the world’s most valuable companies today are dominated by tech names — has led to even more money pouring into the sector. This latest $1.65 billion from Index is a leap on its previous growth and venture fund close: in 2016 it raised $1.25 billion ($550 million for venture and $700 million for growth), which at the time seemed huge and now seems almost modest.

“The reason why it’s a larger amoung is because companies are raising more money earlier. There is more capital, [but also] the opportunities are larger,” said Martin Mignot, and investing partner with Index, in an interview with TechCrunch. “Startups are going after larger sectors and a greater percentage of the GDP, and we believe that the size of outcome will get larger.”

“Operating thousands of scooters would not have been thought of as a venture-backed opportunity in the past,” added Mike Volpi, another investing partner at Index, in reference to Index’s investment in the scooter startup Bird. “It is now.”

“We are still in the very early innings of this,” Mignot said of the wave of transportation startups.

This is also leading to a big shift in how startups are evolving. The most highly capitalised are staying private for longer, because private money is much easier to come by than it was before: this means large growth rounds, more secondaries for investors to get their returns, and longer cycles before “exits.” In that vein, it’s notable that Index has raised $1 billion for growth investments.

But while some VCs are now looking at strategies specifically around secondary sales, this will not be a route Index plans to take.

“There might be a sliver of secondary, but not much. We have no plans to do a secondary fund,” said Volpi. “That is not our focus at this point, nor for the foreseeable future.”

Index says that the growth money in this fund will be going to some of the biggest names in its stable already, which includes the likes of AuroraBirdDeliverooElasticFarfetchRobinhoodRevolut and Slack. (Another way to look at this: if you didn’t already know about the startups in this list raising more money… you do now.) Some of that it seems will also involve helping its portfolio companies work more closely with others in the Index network and sphere of influence.

On Slack, for example, Volpi notes, “One of Slack’s key growth areas is Europe, and so we’re doing a number of things outside of traditional funding to help with those advances.”

Index now has 21 people on its investment team, but with only one woman among its nine investing partners — Sarah Cannon.

“It’s a valid problem that many firms are trying to address,” Volpi said of lack of females at the top of Index’s pyramid. He said Index’s approach is to add more women at all levels. “Seven out of our last 12 hires have been women,” he said. “The pace of hiring means we will not change overnight, but we’re happy with the progress and eventually will see us shift to 50-50, as it should be.”

Source: TechCrunch

China’s largest music streaming business is planning a US IPO

Fresh from Spotify’s unique direct listing in the U.S., another huge streaming service is about to follow suit and go public in America.

Tencent Music Entertainment (TME) has nothing like the global profile of Spotify, but China’s top streaming service is heading for the U.S. public markets according to a filing made this weekend by parent company Tencent, the $500 billion Chinese internet giant which plans to spin the music business out.

At this point, specific financial details around the listing aren’t being released, but past reports have suggested that it could raise as much as $1 billion and give TME a valuation of $30 billion. That would be quite a jump from its most recent $12 billion valuation and certainly not guaranteed given that others from China, including Xiaomi, has fallen short of ambitious IPO valuation targets.

But there’s precedent here since Tencent made a similar move last year when it broke off China Literature, its digital books business unit, and listed it in Hong Kong with some success. Hong Kong had also been mooted as a destination for TME, but the Tencent filing stated the firm’s intention to “spin-off by way of a separate listing… on a recognized stock exchange in the United States.”

While it seems unlikely that Tencent will follow Spotify and adopt a direct listing — which ditches with the conventional process of an IPO price and engaging banks — it may well call on its rival for pointers since they are both mutual investors.

The duo announced an equity swap deal in December that could see them team up on business in the future. At the time it was certainly a sign that both sides were getting into shape to go public, and TME’s IPO would wrap that up.

Source: TechCrunch

Musk builds tiny submarine and Zuckerberg takes on Buffett video – CNET

The most important tech stories this weekend include Elon Musk’s efforts to rescue the trapped boys in Thailand and Mark Zuckerberg climbs the list of world’s richest.
Source: CNET

EQT acquires B2B payment transfer business Banking Circle from Saxo Bank for $300M

Remittances and the process of transferring money between people and organizations continues to be a huge business — worth some $613 billion globally, according to the latest figures from the World Bank. Now one of the bigger players in the world of B2B payments is itself changing hands. EQT — the investment and private equity firm — is buying Banking Circle from its previous majority owner Denmark’s Saxo Bank. A Banking Circle spokesperson told TechCrunch that the deal is valued at 2 billion Danish kroner, or $300 million.

Banking Circle’s co-founders and co-CEOs, Anders la Cour and Laust Bertelsen, will stay on and keep leading the company. EQT said that it plans to invest in the business to expand its product offerings and also help it move into more geographies. For now it will stay focused on B2B although it has also some sights on extending to consumer by way of its clients (in other words, B2B2C).

Banking Circle currently processes about €60 billion in payments annually for its clients, which include banks, card entities, and payment gateways that choose. It also has partnerships with a number of them and other banks to provide direct clearing access, making the payments faster and cheaper.

La Cour told TechCrunch that Banking Circle was essentially started under the wing of Saxo “because it’s very hard to build this without the help of a major partner.” Similarly, now that it has grown, it’s time to grow under a different structure with less ties to a single bank. “We see this as the right partner at the right time,” he said.

Banking Circle, he said, is ‘close to profitability’ Ebitda-wise. “We’ll keep investing heavily over the next couple of years.”

EQT says it plans to invest more in the company itself, but it’s also going to be leveraging its holdings in other businesses, as well as its own platform that includes “deep TMT sector expertise, local presence and EQT’s global network of Industrial Advisors,” it said.

“We are excited to partner with EQT,” said the co-CEOs in a joint statement. “With their support, we will be ideally positioned to continue innovating to serve our customers even better and continue our rapid growth.”

Saxo Bank’s payments division will also continue working with Banking Circle under its new owner.

“We are proud of Saxo Payments Banking Circle’s development and growth. As investor and incubator, we have supported the company with our core competencies in foreign exchange as well as developing and managing global fintech solutions,” said Kim Fournais, founder and CEO of Saxo Bank, in a statement. “It is not an easy task to build fintech solutions that create value and are long-term sustainable, but the company has done what few succeed in.”

EQT is a prolific investor in tech startups, as well as an acquirer of them. Just last week, its private equity division EQT Partners picked up the commercial Linux distributor Suse from Micro Focus for $2.5 billion. EQT Ventures, which is also partly financing this deal, describes itself as “half VC, half startup” and aims to put in more than just money to the companies that it backs or acquires.

In the case of Banking Circle, the company is tapping into a huge market that spans developed and emerging markets, as well as individuals and businesses, and taps into new tech innovations to speed up the process, make it less costly and more easy to do, and overall disrupt those who have traditionally been the gatekeepers for remittances — the Western Unions and large banks of the world.

It’s not the only one trying to do so, of course: the focus on using new digital rails for payments, and instruments like mobile phones and the internet to facilitate money transfers means that a number of startups have entered the fray. Some of the biggest that started out initially working with individuals, such as TransferWise, are now also building up substantial B2B businesses, too. This is one reason why EQT, with an eye on smaller startups, saw an opportunity to invest in, and supercharge, Banking Circle.

“We have followed Banking Circle for several years and are impressed by the company’s management team and unique innovation capabilities,” says Mads Ditlevsen, Responsible Deal Partner and Partner at EQT Partners, Investment Advisor to the majority owner EQT VIII. “Saxo Bank and Banking Circle’s management team have built an innovative, secure, and highly automated platform to make competitive, faster, and more transparent payments across borders. EQT is looking forward to supporting Banking Circle and the management team on their continued growth journey and in building a leading global payments infrastructure player.”

“We’re excited to partner with the entrepreneurs behind Banking Circle and support them in building the next generation infrastructure for cross-border payments,” says Hjalmar Winbladh, partner at EQT Partners who has a prolific record as a founder himself, having started VoIP company Rebtel, the picture messaging pioneer SendIt that was eventually acquired by Microsoft, and the social shopping and rewards app Wrapp. “Cross-border payments is a large and rapidly growing market dominated by traditional players. Banking Circle has built a disruptive solution with a strong value proposition. The customer feedback is excellent and the company’s traction is evident looking at the triple digit growth of the business.”

The deal is expected to close in Q4.

Source: TechCrunch

China’s Xiaomi makes underwhelming public debut in Hong Kong IPO

China’s Xiaomi, the world’s fifth biggest seller of smartphones, made an underwhelming public debut after it hit the Hong Kong Stock Exchange amid concerns around an ongoing trade war between the U.S. and China.

Media reports in the lead up to today’s bell ringing suggested that eight-year-old Xiaomi was shooting for a valuation of as much as $100 billion. In the end, it had to settle for a more modest $54 billion valuation as it raised $4.7 billion from the IPO.

CEO Lei Jun acknowledged that “global capital markets are in constant flux” thanks to tensions between Beijing and the White House, which has seen trade tariffs levied on each side. However, Lei — one of China’s most successful technology entrepreneurs — said that the situation doesn’t diminish his belief in his business.

“Although the macroeconomic conditions are far from ideal, we believe a great company can still rise to the challenge and distinguish itself,” he said in a speech at the listing ceremony.

Xiaomi enjoyed an understated debut. The stock opened at HK$16.60, below the list price of HK$17, and it quickly fell to HK$16 before later recovering. Its closing share price for the first day of trading was HK$16.78.

Data via Hong Kong Stock Exchange

Aside from global market concerns, investors are said to have been unsure of Xiaomi’s ecosystem story. The company pitches itself as going beyond devices to offer internet services, such as video streaming, although it has yet to see significant revenue in the services category.

Prior to listing, Xiaomi pledged to keep its gross margin to just five percent to ensure that its products are well priced for consumers, but that requires the company to find other ways to monetize and that’s where the services play is aimed. Xiaomi also offers a long-tail of products developed by third parties, such as tech like smart speakers and non-tech items that include bags and pens, which it sells directly to its consumer base using its e-commerce sites and ‘Mi’ brand.

Finally, another core push is its international expansion plan.

China continues to account for the bulk of its revenue, although that is dropping. For 2017 sales, China represented 72 percent, but it had been 94 percent and 87 percent in 2015 and 2016, respectively. One market it has made significant progress in is India, where it was recently ranked the top smartphone seller thanks to a strong brand.

However, it’s unclear how the firm has performed in other markets in Asia and whether it can succeed in Europe, where it has made a push in recent months. The U.S. market is another key challenge that Xiaomi has yet to find a solution for, despite Lei Jun and other executives claiming it’ll enter the country before the end of next year.

You can read more about the Xiaomi business and IPO plan in our review below:

Note: The original version of this article was updated to correct Xiaomi’s valuation and target valuation.

Source: TechCrunch

Crypto and venture’s biggest names are backing a new distributed ledger project called Oasis Labs

A team of top security researchers from the University of California, Berkeley and MIT have come together to launch a new cryptographic project that combines secure software and hardware to enable privacy-preserving smart contracts under the banner of Oasis Labs.

That vision, which is being marketed as the baby of a union between Ethereum and Amazon Web Services, has managed to attract $45 million in pre-sale financing from some of the biggest names in venture capital and cryptocurrency investing.

The chief architect of the project (and chief executive of Oasis Labs) is University of Berkeley Professor Dawn Song, a security expert who first came to prominence in 2009 when she was named one of as one of MIT Technology Review’s Innovators under 35. Song’s rise in the security world was capped with both a MacArthur Fellowship and a Guggenheim Award for her work on security technologies. But it’s the more recent work that she’s been doing around hardware and software development in conjunction with other Berkeley researchers like her postdoctoral associate, Raymond Cheng, that grabbed investors attention.

Through the Keystone enclave hardware project, Song and Cheng worked with MIT researchers and professors like Srini Devadas and Ilia Lebedev on technology to secure sensitive data on the platform.

“We use a combination of trusted hardware and cryptographic techniques (such as secure multiparty computation) to enable smart contracts to compute over this encrypted data, without revealing anything about the underlying data. This is like doing computation inside a black box, which only outputs the computation result without showing what’s inside the black box,” Song wrote to me in an email. “In addition to supporting existing trusted hardware implementations, we are also working on a fully open source trusted hardware enclave implementation; a project we call Keystone. We also have years of experience building differential privacy tools, which are now being used in production at Uber for their data privacy initiatives. We plan to incorporate such techniques into our smart contract platform to further provide privacy and protect the computation output from leaking sensitive information about inputs.”

Song says that her project has solved the scaling problem by separating execution from consensus.

For each smart contract execution, we randomly select a subset of the computation nodes to form a computation committee, using a proof of stake mechanism. The computation committee executes the smart contract transaction,” Song wrote in an email exchange with TechCrunch. “The consensus committee then verifies the correctness of the computation results from the computation committee. We use different mathematical and cryptographic methods to enable efficient verification of the correctness of the computation results. Once the verification succeeds, the state transition is committed to the distributed ledger by the consensus committee.”

By having the computation committee working in parallel with the consensus committee only needing to verify the correctness of the computation creates an easier path to scalability.

Other platforms have attempted to use sampling to speed up transactions over distributed systems (Hedera Hashgraph comes to mind), but have been met with limited adoption in the market.

“We use proof-of-stake mechanisms to elect instances of different types of functional committees: compute, storage and consensus committees,” Song explained. “We can scale each of the different functions independently based on workload and system needs. One of our observations of existing systems is that consensus operations are very expensive. our network protocol design allows compute committees and storage committees to process transactions without relying on heavy-weight consensus protocols.”

Song’s approach has managed to gain the support of firms including: a16zcrypto, Accel, Binance, DCVC (Data Collective), Electric Capital, Foundation Capital, Metastable, Pantera, Polychain, and more.

In all, some 75 investors have rallied to finance the company’s approach to securing data and selling compute power on a cryptographically secured ledger.

“It’s exciting to see talented people like Dawn and her team working on ways to transition the internet away from data silos and towards a world with more responsible ways to share and own your data,” said Fred Ehrsam, co-founder of Coinbase and Oasis Labs investor, in a statement.

“The next step is getting our product in the hands of developers who align with our mission and can help inform the evolution of the platform as they build applications upon it,” said Oasis Labs co-founder and CTO Raymond Cheng in a statement.

For potential customers who’d eventually use the smart contracts developed on Oasis’ platform the system would work much like the method established by Ethereum.

“The token usage model in Oasis is very similar to Ethereum, where users pay gas fee to miners for executing smart contracts,” Song wrote. “One just needs one token to pay for gas fee for executing smart contracts. As with Ethereum, in our platform storage and compute have different pricing models but they both are paid with the same token.”

And Oasis’ leadership is looking ahead to a marketplace that incentivizes scale and makes fees accessible. “If the token price goes up, the amount of tokens needed to pay for operations can decrease (this is similar to Ethereum’s gas price, which is independent from the price of Ether). The number of tokens needed to pay for smart contract execution is not fixed.”

Source: TechCrunch

Uncharted's developers just revealed a bizarre secret about Nathan Drake – CNET

No, no, no, no — Nathan Drake is not getting shot in Uncharted, that’s just his luck running out.
Source: CNET

An AI learnt to drive an autonomous car in 20 minutes – Roadshow

Like DeepMind and OpenAI, Wayve’s new autonomous vehicle learns to drive using “reinforcement learning” to stay within a lane.
Source: CNET

Watch Elon Musk's Thai cave rescue submarine in action – CNET

The submarine is small enough to fit through narrow gaps, measuring just 12 inches in diameter.
Source: CNET

Apple’s Shortcuts will flip the switch on Siri’s potential

At WWDC, Apple pitched Shortcuts as a way to ”take advantage of the power of apps” and ”expose quick actions to Siri.” These will be suggested by the OS, can be given unique voice commands, and will even be customizable with a dedicated Shortcuts app.

But since this new feature won’t let Siri interpret everything, many have been lamenting that Siri didn’t get much better — and is still lacking compared to Google Assistant or Amazon Echo.

But to ignore Shortcuts would be missing out on the bigger picture. Apple’s strengths have always been the device ecosystem and the apps that run on them.

With Shortcuts, both play a major role in how Siri will prove to be a truly useful assistant and not just a digital voice to talk to.

Your Apple devices just got better

For many, voice assistants are a nice-to-have, but not a need-to-have.

It’s undeniably convenient to get facts by speaking to the air, turning on the lights without lifting a finger, or triggering a timer or text message – but so far, studies have shown people don’t use much more than these on a regular basis.

People don’t often do more than that because the assistants aren’t really ready for complex tasks yet, and when your assistant is limited to tasks inside your home or commands spoken inton your phone, the drawbacks prevent you from going deep.

If you prefer Alexa, you get more devices, better reliability, and a breadth of skills, but there’s not a great phone or tablet experience you can use alongside your Echo. If you prefer to have Google’s Assistant everywhere, you must be all in on the Android and Home ecosystem to get the full experience too.

Plus, with either option, there are privacy concerns baked into how both work on a fundamental level – over the web.

In Apple’s ecosystem, you have Siri on iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, AirPods, HomePod, CarPlay, and any Mac. Add in Shortcuts on each of those devices (except Mac, but they still have Automator) and suddenly you have a plethora of places to execute these all your commands entirely by voice.

Each accessory that Apple users own will get upgraded, giving Siri new ways to fulfill the 10 billion and counting requests people make each month (according to Craig Federighi’s statement on-stage at WWDC).

But even more important than all the places where you can use your assistant is how – with Shortcuts, Siri gets even better with each new app that people download. There’s the other key difference: the App Store.

Actions are the most important part of your apps

iOS has always had a vibrant community of developers who create powerful, top-notch applications that push the system to its limits and take advantage of the ever-increasing power these mobile devices have.

Shortcuts opens up those capabilities to Siri – every action you take in an app can be shared out with Siri, letting people interact right there inline or using only their voice, with the app running everything smoothly in the background.

Plus, the functional approach that Apple is taking with Siri creates new opportunities for developers provide utility to people instead of requiring their attention. The suggestions feature of Shortcuts rewards “acceleration”, showing the apps that provide the most time savings and use for the user more often.

This opens the door to more specialized types of apps that don’t necessarily have to grow a huge audience and serve them ads – if you can make something that helps people, Shortcuts can help them use your app more than ever before (and without as much effort). Developers can make a great experience for when people visit the app, but also focus on actually doing something useful too.

This isn’t a virtual assistant that lives in the cloud, but a digital helper that can pair up with the apps uniquely taking advantage of Apple’s hardware and software capabilities to truly improve your use of the device.

In the most groan-inducing way possible, “there’s an app for that” is back and more important than ever. Not only are apps the centerpiece of the Siri experience, but it’s their capabilities that extend Siri’s – the better the apps you have, the better Siri can be.

Control is at your fingertips

Importantly, Siri gets all of this Shortcuts power while keeping the control in each person’s hands.

All of the information provided to the system is securely passed along by individual apps – if something doesn’t look right, you can just delete the corresponding app and the information is gone.

Siri will make recommendations based on activities deemed relevant by the apps themselves as well, so over-active suggestions shouldn’t be common (unless you’re way too active in some apps, in which case they added Screen Time for you too).

Each of the voice commands is custom per user as well, so people can ignore their apps suggestions and set up the phrases to their own liking. This means nothing is already “taken” because somebody signed up for the skill first (unless you’ve already used it yourself, of course).

Also, Shortcuts don’t require the web to work – the voice triggers might not work, but the suggestions and Shortcuts app give you a place to use your assistant voicelessly. And importantly, Shortcuts can use the full power of the web when they need to.

This user-centric approach paired with the technical aspects of how Shortcuts works gives Apple’s assistant a leg up for any consumers who find privacy important. Essentially, Apple devices are only listening for “Hey Siri”, then the available Siri domains + your own custom trigger phrases.

Without exposing your information to the world or teaching a robot to understand everything, Apple gave Siri a slew of capabilities that in many ways can’t be matched. With Shortcuts, it’s the apps, the operating system, and the variety of hardware that will make Siri uniquely qualified come this fall.

Plus, the Shortcuts app will provide a deeper experience for those who want to chain together actions and customize their own shortcuts.

There’s lots more under the hood to experiment with, but this will allow anyone to tweak & prod their Siri commands until they have a small army of custom assistant tasks at the ready.

Hey Siri, let’s get started

Siri doesn’t know all, Can’t perform any task you bestow upon it, and won’t make somewhat uncanny phone calls on your behalf.

But instead of spending time conversing with a somewhat faked “artificial intelligence”, Shortcuts will help people use Siri as an actual digital assistant – a computer to help them get things done better than they might’ve otherwise.

With Siri’s new skills extendeding to each of your Apple products (except for Apple TV and the Mac, but maybe one day?), every new device you get and every new app you download can reveal another way to take advantage of what this technology can offer.

This broadening of Siri may take some time to get used to – it will be about finding the right place for it in your life.

As you go about your apps, you’ll start seeing and using suggestions. You’ll set up a few voice commands, then you’ll do something like kick off a truly useful shortcut from your Apple Watch without your phone connected and you’ll realize the potential.

This is a real digital assistant, your apps know how to work with it, and it’s already on many of your Apple devices. Now, it’s time to actually make use of it.

Source: TechCrunch