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Facebook launches Workplace for Good, a free version of its enterprise product for non-profits

Workplace is making a push into the non-profit segment. Today the enterprise communications app from Facebook is launching a new tier of the product called Workplace for Good, which will let non-profits use the product for no fee.

To be completely clear, Facebook has never charged non-profits to use Workplace, and it’s already used by over 2,500 of them out of the 30,000 or so organisations using Workplace. The ranks include Oxfam, Save the Children, and many educational institutions, who use it to link up their employees, contractors, students with teachers, stakeholders in their groups and more. There is even a Workplace group started by non-profits for all the nonprofits to access to swap stories, advice and so on. But, as of today, Facebook is going to be making a bigger push to open the product up to charities, educational institutions and non-governmental organisations, regardless of their size.

(Pricing for regular, for-profit businesses is on a freemium basis, with a premium tier that gives access to some 52 apps and services starting at is $3 per active user, per month up to 5,000 users.)

Facebook been increasingly focused on non-profits and how it can work with them in recent times. The company now has a fundraising platform that they can use to collect money for charitable causes, and most recently it has been promoting it by encouraging people to raise money for causes on their birthdays and other occasions.

That user-led fundraising push is actually in the middle of a major viral campaign at the moment: three people (all of whom happen to be former Facebook employees) are raising money to give legal support to families detained and separated at the border between the US and Mexico by way of collecting donations for RAICES, a legal organization. Originally aimed at raising $1,500, it’s now at $8.5 million and counting.

More generally, courting non-profits also fit into the company’s bigger strategy to refocus the site not just as a place to get your entertainment and news fix, but as a place to find and build out your community, and so a turn to accommodating and providing a space for non-profit groups is also a strong connection to that.

Julien Codorniou, who heads up Workplace out of London, said that one of the reasons why Facebook is also interested in working more with non-profits is that they have proven to be some of the best testers of all the product’s features.

“When we look at how they use the product, non-profits really push it to its limits, using it in scenarios and ways we never imagined,” he said. One example was a migrant rescue operation that was filmed in the Mediterranean Sea using 360, with the organisation on the boats livestreaming everything as it happened for people to monitor elsewhere. “We want to serve these scenarios,” he said. “We learn a lot from them. Who could have guessed that 360 video would be such a big thing in Workplace? We want to keep learning with them.”

For the organisations, oftentimes employees and those working with them are in far-flung places, and so they rely on platforms (and network connectivity) that can help bring them into closer communication.

“Workplace has made a huge difference in the way our staff can communicate with each other, visually and in real time,” said Ric Sheldon, Interim CIO at Unicef, in a statement. “This means that anyone can share important information instantly, crowd-source answers or opinions at the touch of a button and live stream from every corner of the world. It’s helped our colleagues to stay in the loop and engaged with different parts of our work and find the information they need when they need it. And all of this ultimately helps us to work more effectively and make even more of a difference for children in danger who are in desperate need of Unicef’s help.”

Source: TechCrunch

Taiwan-based media startup The News Lens raises Series C for its international growth plans

The News Lens launched in 2013 as an independent news site for Taiwanese readers disenchanted with the country’s tabloid-ridden media. Now it has 9 million monthly unique readers, offices in Taipei and Hong Kong and just announced it has raised a Series C. The Taipei-based startup did not disclose the exact amount of the round, but founder and CEO Joey Chung told TechCrunch it’s between $3 million to $4 million.

The round includes participation from Dorcas, Hazel Asset Management, Walden International and returning investor North Base Media. Individual investors in the round include Steve Chen, co-founder and former chief technology officer of YouTube, Twitch co-founder Kevin Lin and Charles Huang, the co-creator of Guitar Hero.

At the very beginning, The News Lens was a Facebook page that shared news and analysis before launching its eponymous site with original content and videos. Now the startup envisions its future as a media group, with several brands. Earlier this year, The News Lens acquired two Taiwanese content producers, tech news site Inside and sports site Sports Vision, which still operate as separate brands. The News Lens’ two other verticals are its flagship news site, which now has Chinese-language editions for Taiwan, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia, as well as an English version for international readers, and ELD, which covers lifestyle and fashion.

The News Lens will use some of its new capital to launch its in-house content management and data analytics platform and plans to gain more international readers through strategic partnerships or acquisitions of other Chinese-language online media companies.


Source: TechCrunch

Aaptiv raises $22M from Amazon, Disney and more for its “Netflix for fitness”, now valued over $200M

Health and wellness has been one of the biggest categories for development in the tech industry, with huge range of wearable devices and connected equipment being built to track how we are moving and helping us stay fit. Now, a startup whose app offers users a selection of audio-based, personal-trainer-led workouts that also monitors users as they progress through them, has closed a major round of funding that underscores how software — and specifically apps — are also capitalising on that trend. Aaptiv, which makes what its founder and CEO Ethan Agarwal described to me as “the Netflix of fitness” — providing streams of music-based fitness training on demand — has raised $22 million in funding.

(It’s not the only big wellness software app that’s announcing funding today: Calm, the meditation app, announced a $27 million round of funding today, too.)

The Series C round brings the total raised by New York-based Aaptiv to $52 million, and while the company is not disclosing its valuation, sources close to it tell me that it is now over $200 million. The company has picked up 200,000 paying members in the last two years, and says that its audio classes have been streaming more than 14 million times.

The funding is significant not only because it will give Aaptiv some firepower to expand its product and user base further — more on that below — but also because of who is in this round.

It was led by Millennium Technology Value Partners (backer of illustrious tech names like Spotify, Facebook and Alibaba); with e-commerce investor 14W and Insight Venture Partners also participating. There is also a list of notable strategic investors, including Amazon’s Alexa Fund, Disney, Warner Music Group and NWS Holdings.

Investors say they were attracted by the company’s growth.

“We are most excited by how fast Aaptiv has established itself as a category leader in the wellness and fitness space,” said Ray Cheng, Partner at Millennium, in a statement. “The company’s growth and user engagement metrics over the past two years are some of the best we have seen, and we believe a large opportunity awaits as Aaptiv continues deliver the best in class workout experience.”

The strategic investors are likely to manifest in a number of ways. Agarwal noted that there was a lot of potential to develop training services that could work with Amazon’s Alexa voice-based assistant and more specifically Amazon’s Echo devices: bringing more sticky content to the platform is a priority, given that discovery and retention have already been highlighted to be big issues with this shiny new tech, and regular fitnesss workouts could be the “killer app” for some people. Similarly, as Amazon starts to offer more perks as part of its Prime subscription package, it will be interesting to see how and if it extends to fitness content, too.

“Connected fitness is emerging as a compelling new domain for consumers,” said Paul Bernard, director of Amazon’s Alexa Fund, in a statement. “We’re excited about Aaptiv’s voice-first approach to personal training and look forward to helping them explore innovative ways to bring that experience to Alexa.”

Warner Music also has a clear connection here, given that the workouts and other classes are all music-based, meaning Aaptiv needs to license that content (and Warner itself, like other music industry players, must be eyeing up the growth of podcasts and wondering how and where it might play in them).

Lastly, Aaptiv will become a part of the Disney Accelerator this summer as part of the entertainment giant’s investment.

In terms of the product, Agarwal says that today Aaptiv covers 22 fitness categories, from boxing to jogging to yoga, and it will be looking to expand to more. It’s also hiring a lot of engineers to help build out the data science component of the product: figuring out how to improve recommendations and better tailor classes to individuals. Today, the audio files are static — meaning a workout does not modify on the fly if you are hitting a wall or finding it too easy — but the longer-term intention is to bring this sort of technology to bear to make the experience more personalised, tapping into diagnostics that the app will pick up from wearables like the Apple Watch.

Where engineers will not be working, however, is in creating “trainers” that will design or lead workouts. While Aaptiv competes against the likes of ClassPass in providing a way for individuals to find and partake in more fitness workouts, the end point is never a physical class or group workout. It’s a digital-only, audio-based, training session with a personal trainer hired by Aaptiv to create it. That is not likely to change any time soon.

“We might the only people willing to acknowledge that we will not use AI to replace trainers,” said Agarwal. “The trainers create the classes and that will be always the same. That relationship and drive and the passion cannot be matched by anyone or anything.”

“As evidenced by their strong growth, Aaptiv is running toward becoming the next big name in the fitness tech market, due substantially to a rather advanced technology strategy and approach to growth,” said Harley Miller, Vice President, Insight Venture Partners. “We are thrilled to further our investment in Aaptiv and look forward to working together to continue scaling their innovative product.”

Source: TechCrunch

India’s budget hotel network unicorn OYO expands into China

The tech world sees plenty of Chinese companies move into India — including the likes of Alibaba and Xiaomi — but few expand the other way. OYO Rooms, the billion-dollar Indian startup that pioneered budget hotel networks, is looking to buck the trend, however, after it launched operations in China.

Today the company officially announced its arrival in China, where it says it covers 11,000 (exclusive) rooms across 26 cities, including Hangzhou, Xian, Nanjing, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Shenzhen, Xiamen and Kunming. That selection includes a combination of franchises and managed hotels. OYO is initially launching its ‘hotels’ product, and it isn’t saying whether others — which include ‘rooms’ and ‘townhouses’ — will also expand to China.

Interestingly, an OYO representative confirmed that this expansion wasn’t conducted in partnership with China Lodgings, the Nasdaq-listed hotel firm that invested $10 million in the startup last year. OYO said China Lodgings is assisting with the overall strategy in China, however. Make of that what you will.

OYO — which stands for On Your Own — was founded in 2013 by then-teenager Ritesh Agarwal, a Thiel Fellow who got the idea for the business after a stint backpacking across India staying budget hotels. The service helps bring the long-tail of small hotels online to generate bookings whilst also ensuring (often absent) minimum standards for travelers, such as hot water, clean towels and linen and Wi-Fi.

The company counts SoftBank among its backers and it has raised over $450 million in capital to date, including a $250 million round led by SoftBank’s Vision Fund last year.

OYO founder and CEO Ritesh Agarwal [image via OYO, Facebook]

OYO claims over 100,000 rooms in Inda, and it has been busy investigating new growth opportunities. The China launch is the third overseas foray from OYO, coming after expansions to Nepal and Malaysia. Given the size of the Chinese market and strong competition, this is a daunting challenge for OYO.

Just ask Airbnb .

While the two don’t compete directly on product, they target a similar consumer bracket — consumers seeking an alternative to conventional hotels and lodgings. In China, Airbnb’s big rival is Tujia, which is valued at $1.5 billion and pushing the U.S. company hard. Tujia and Airbnb were one final signature away from calling off their war and merging, Bloomberg recently reported, but ultimately Airbnb opted to go it alone in China. Tujia is determined to battle it so hard that it returns to the negotiation table.

So, how then, will OYO — which is well-funded but lacking the capitalization and experience of Airbnb — navigate the Chinese market? Time will tell but you’d suspect it will need to call on some local allies if it is to make an impact.

Source: TechCrunch

Canaan Partners gives $20 million to its two youngest employees to invest in consumer startups

Canaan Partners, the venture capital firm that has backed companies like Skybox Imaging, Match.com and Lending Club, has a new investment strategy. Called Canaan Beta, it entails setting aside $20 million of its $800 million fund to its two youngest employees, and then empowering them to make their own investment decisions as a duo. The bet is that, just how Jeremy Liew found out about Snapchat from his teenage daughter, Canaan’s youngest staffers will find other potentially lucrative opportunities.

As the speed of technological innovation continues to increase, the barriers to starting a tech company decline and the demographics in the U.S. go in the direction of non-white, Canaan envisions its Beta program being potentially game-changing for the firm. Since January, Hootan Rashidifard (28 years old) and Adina Tecklu (27 years old) have invested in five seed stage startups, with checks ranging in size from $250,000 – $500,000 each. Before Canaan Beta kicked off, Rashidifard and Tecklu worked as analysts at Canaan, where they have supported partners and founders but have not been autonomous check writers. By empowering its two youngest employees with decision-making power, Canaan hopes to better tap into the non-white, younger consumer market.

Rashidifard and Tecklu, both people of color, have joined an industry where 73 percent of investment professionals are white, according to a report from the Kapor Center for Social Impact. Meanwhile, just 12 percent of all investment professionals are women.

“We can use our backgrounds and our perspectives to see opportunities that others might overlook, which is really awesome,” Rashidifard told TechCrunch. “We might be seeing something that other people aren’t.”

More specifically, Rashidifard and Tecklu are looking at companies in blockchain, gaming, digital media, social and digital health.

“We’re not looking for incremental improvements to products or services,” Tecklu told TechCrunch. “We’re looking at category defining and category creating companies here. So the scope feels quite large but what they all have in common is that we’re really backing tenacious founders with audacious visions for what the future looks like and they’re building towards that.”

To hear more about Tecklu’s new role, and her take on all-things technology and culture, check out the latest episode of CTRL+T.

Source: TechCrunch

CNET Book Club: Jaron Lanier on the future of VR and why we should we all quit social media – CNET

Episode 5: The VR pioneer shows us just how much we’re being manipulated by Facebook.
Source: CNET

Cheaper iPhone Xs could bring bigger sales to Apple video – CNET

Apple increases its order of the expected “cheaper” iPhone X ahead of its September launch event, but that order might not arrive on time.
Source: CNET

Fortnite makes me feel like I'm 120 years old – CNET

Commentary: I thought music, movies, or weird body augmentation tech would make me feel old. Turns out it was a video game, and that video game is Fortnite.
Source: CNET

Apple Watch 3 vs. Fitbit Versa: Which smartwatch is best? – CNET

Your answer might be different depending on whether your priority is a smartwatch or a fitness tracker.
Source: CNET

Autonomous Vehicles Might Drive Cities to Financial Ruin

American cities rely on car-related fees to fund public transit. But driverless cars might not need to park or fill up on gas—causing the system to collapse.
Source: Wired