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Apptopia raises $20M to expand its competitive intelligence business beyond mobile

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Boston-based Apptopia, a company providing competitive intelligence in the mobile app ecosystem, has closed on $20 million in Series C funding aimed at fueling its expansion beyond the world of mobile apps. The new financing was led by ABS Capital Partners, and follows three consecutive years of 50% year-over-year growth for Apptopia’s business, which has been profitable since the beginning of last year, the company says.

Existing investors, including Blossom Street Ventures, also participated in the round. ABS Capital’s Mike Avon, a co-founder of Millennial Media, and Paul Mariani, are joining Apptopia’s board with this round.

The funding follows what Apptopia says has been increased demand from brands to better understand the digital aspects of their businesses.

Today, Apptopia’s customers include hundreds of corporations and financial institutions, including Google, Visa, Coca-Cola, Target, Zoom, NBC, Unity Technologies, Microsoft, Adobe, Glu, Andreessen Horowitz and Facebook.

In the past, Apptopia’s customers were examining digital engagement and interactions from a macro level, but now they’re looking to dive deeper into specific details, requiring more data. For example, a brand may have previously wanted to know how well a competitor’s promotion fared in terms of new users or app sessions. But now they want to know the answers to specific questions —  like how many unique users participated, whether those users were existing customers, whether they returned after the promotion ended, and so on.

The majority of Apptopia’s business is now focused on delivering these sorts of answers to enterprise customers who subscribe to Apptopia’s data — and possibly, to the data from its competitors like Sensor Tower and App Annie, with the goal of blending datasets together for a more accurate understanding of the competitive landscape.

Apptopia’s own data, historically, was not always seen as being the most accurate, admits Apptopia CEO Jonathan Kay. But it has improved over the years.

Kay, previously Apptopia COO, is now taking over the top role from co-founder Eliran Sapir, who’s transitioning to chairman of the board as the company enters its next phase of growth.

Apptopia’s rivals like Sensor Tower and App Annie use mobile panels to gather app data, among other methods, Kay explains. These panels involve consumer-facing apps like VPN clients and ad blockers, which users would download not necessarily understanding that they were agreeing to having their app usage data collected. This led to some controversy as the app data industry’s open secret was exposed to consumers by the media, and the companies tweaked their disclosures, as a result.

But the practice continues and has not impacted the companies’ growth. Sensor Tower, for example, raised $45 million last year, as demand for app data continued to grow. And all involved businesses are expanding with new products and services for their data-hungry customer bases.

Image Credits: Apptopia

Apptopia, meanwhile, decided not to grow its business on the back of mobile panels. (Though in its earlier days it did test and then scrap such a plan.)

It gains access to data from its app developer customers — and this data is already aggregated and anonymized from the developers’ Apple and Google Analytics accounts.

Initially, this method put Apptopia at a disadvantage. Rivals had more accurate data from about 2016 through 2018 because of their use of mobile panels, Kay says. But Apptopia made a strategic decision to not take this sort of risk — that is, build a business that Apple or Google could shut off at any time.

“Instead, what we did is we spent years investing into data science and algorithms,” notes Kay. “We figured out how to extract an equal or greater signal from the same data set that [competitors] had access to.”

Using what Kay describes as “huge, huge amounts of historical data,” Apptopia over time learned what sort of signals went into an app’s app store ranking. A lot of people still think an app’s rank is largely determined by downloads, but there are now a variety of signals that inform rank, Kay points out.

“Really, a rank is just an accumulation of analytical data points that Apple and Google give points for,” he explains. This includes things like number of sessions, how many users, how much time is spent in an app, and more. “Because we didn’t have these panels, we had to spend years figuring out how to do reverse engineering better than our competitors. And, eventually, we figured out how to get the same signal that they could get from the panel from rank. That’s what allowed us to have such a fast-growing, successful business over the past several years.”

As Apptopia was already profitable, it didn’t need to fundraise. But the company wanted to accelerate its expansion into new areas, including its planned expansion outside of mobile apps.

Today, consumers use “apps” on their computers, on their smartwatches and on their TV, in addition to their phones and tablets. And businesses no longer want to know just what’s happening on mobile — they want the full picture of “app” usage.

“We figured out a way to do that that doesn’t rely on any of what our competitors have done in the past,” says Kay. “So, we will not be using any apps to spy on people,” he states.

However, the company was not prepared to offer further details around its future product plans at this time. But Kay said Apptopia would not rule out partnerships or being acquisitive to accomplish its goals going forward.

Apptopia also sees a broader future in making its app data more accessible. Last year, for instance, it partnered with Bloomberg to bring mobile data to investors via the Bloomberg App Portal on the Bloomberg Terminal. And it now works with Amazon’s AWS Data Exchange and Snowflake to make access to app data available in other channels, as well. Future partnerships of a similar nature could come into play as another means of differentiating Apptopia’s data from its rivals.

The company declined to offer its current revenue run rate or valuation, but notes that it tripled its valuation from its last fundraise at the end of 2019.

In addition to product expansions, the company plans to leverage the funds to grow its team of 55 by another 25 in 2021, including in engineering and analysts. And it will grow its management team, adding a CFO, CPO, and CMO this year.

To date, Apptopia has raised $30 million in outside capital.

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/05/11/apptopia-raises-20m-to-expand-its-competitive-intelligence-business-beyond-mobile/

Artificial Intelligence

Australian ID verification startup OCR Labs raises $15M Series A to expand into UK/Turkey/Europe

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With the gig economy came the need for ID verification, thus startups like OnFido (raised $188.8 million) appeared, alongside several others. But this sector is by no means ‘done’ yet.

Now, OCR Labs, which emerged from Australia, has announced a €12.5M / $15 million Series A funding round led by Turkish investors Oyak Group, to expand its services and team to the UK, Turkey and Europe. Halkin Ventures invested in its seed round. The startup specializes in digital ID verification, customer onboarding, identity fraud, and regulatory compliance.

OCR Labs, founded in 2018 by Daniel Aiello and Matthew Adams, says its technology uses “five proprietary technologies in one solution, including identity document optical character recognition (OCR), document fraud assessment, liveness detection, video fraud assessment, and face matching”. This supports AML and KYC regulations.

Daniel Aiello, Co-Founder, and CPO of OCR Labs, commented, “The need for digital verification is growing exponentially. This past year we’ve seen more demand from new sectors as they try to navigate the pandemic and an inability to operate in person…No one wants to spend hours trying to prove who they are, whether it’s for a job or for a bank account, and we also want to know we’re protected against identity theft and fraud. Digital ID verification has a key role to play, but this year we’ve also seen the limitations if hybrid models are used. People are a barrier and a risk, but fully automated technology can have a huge impact on many industries and privacy. OCR Labs is built to be secure, frictionless and fast, and capable of recognizing ID documents the world over.”

OCR Labs is used by recruitment business REED in the UK. Russ Cohn, an early member of the Google UK leadership team, has been appointed OCR’s General Manager of International Operations, based out of London.

Cohn commented: “The technology that Matt and Dan have created is completely automated, so it doesn’t rely on any humans behind the scenes. That’s very key at the moment. We’ve seen how COVID has impacted having that hybrid solution, so automation increases the speed and delivery of the technology to our users… A lot of competitors outsource and use different vendors to put together a solution.”

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/06/15/australian-id-verification-startup-ocr-labs-raises-15m-series-a-to-expand-into-uk-turkey-europe/

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Jaguar Land Rover to develop a Defender-like hydrogen fuel cell EV

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Jaguar Land Rover is developing a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle based on the new Defender SUV and plans to begin testing the prototype next year.

The prototype program, known as Project Zeus, is part of JLR’s larger aim to only produce zero-tailpipe emissions vehicles by 20236. JLR has also made a commitment to have zero carbon emissions across its supply chain, products and operations by 2039.

Project Zeus is partially funded by the UK government-backed Advanced Propulsion Center. The automaker has also tapped AVL, Delta Motorsport, Marelli Automotive Systems and the UK Battery Industrialization Center to help develop the prototype. The testing program is designed to help engineers understand how a hydrogen powertrain can be developed that would meet the performance and capability (like towing and off roading) standards that Land Rover customers expect.

Fuel cells combine hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity without combustion. The electricity generated from hydrogen is used to power an electric motor. Some automakers, researchers and policymakers have advocated for the technology because hydrogen-powered FCEVs can be refueled quickly, have a high-energy density and don’t lose as much range in cold temperatures. The combination means EVs that can travel longer distances.

Few fuel cell EVs, otherwise known as FCEVs, are on the market today in part because of a lack of refueling stations. The Toyota Mirai is one example.

Data from the International Energy Agency and recent commitments by automakers suggests that might be changing. Last month, BMW Chairman Oliver Zipse said the automaker plans to produce a small number of hydrogen fuel-cell powered X5 SUVs next year.

The number of FCEVs in the world nearly doubled to 25,210 units in 2019 from the previous year, the latest data from the IEA shows. The United States has been the leader in sales, although there was a dip in 2019, followed by China, Japan and Korea.

Japan has been a leader on the infrastructure end as it aims to have 200,000 FCEVs on the road by 2025. The country had installed 113 stations as of 2019, nearly twice as many as the United States.

“We know hydrogen has a role to play in the future powertrain mix across the whole transport industry, and alongside battery electric vehicles, it offers another zero tailpipe emission solution for the specific capabilities and requirements of Jaguar Land Rover’s world class line-up of vehicles,” Ralph Clague, the head of hydrogen and fuel cells for Jaguar Land Rover said in a statement.

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/06/14/jaguar-land-rover-to-develop-a-defender-like-hydrogen-fuel-cell-ev/

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Techcrunch

Daily Crunch: The Nubank EC-1

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To get a roundup of TechCrunch’s biggest and most important stories delivered to your inbox every day at 3 p.m. PDT, subscribe here.

It’s Daily Crunch time for Monday, June 14. I will be standing in for Alexander Wilhelm while he’s off enjoying his time away from the news cycle — if I don’t have to report for jury duty.

Big news today! We launched the Nubank EC-1, an extensive look into one of the biggest startups in the world. More on this down below.

And have you heard that TechCrunch recently launched a new podcast? On “Found,” Darrell Etherington and Jordan Crook interview one early-stage startup founder each week about the ins and outs and ups and downs of founding a company. In the latest episode, the pair spoke to Cory Siskind, founder of Base Operations, which earlier this year raised $2.2 million in seed funding to capitalize on its recent launch of a street-level threat-mapping platform for use in supporting enterprise security operations. Subscribe to “Found” on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts or the your podcast app of choice.

Henry

The TechCrunch Top 3

  • Mental models and multitasking enhancements: TechCrunch boss Matthew Panzarino got some time with Apple executives last week post-WWDC to talk about the company’s new iPadOS. Version 15 has a lot of expectations riding on it, not least of which is the new multitasking features.
  • You get a Google Workspace and you get a Google Workspace! The company announced today that Workspace, which has heretofore been known as G Suite, is open to everyone. Look for updates to all of your favorite Google products (Gmail, Calendar, Drive, Sheets, Slides, Meet, Chat, etc.) that might be jarring at first — until you forget what your Google life used to look like and welcome with open arms your new Google wrapping.
  • Stripe ID: Stripe launched Stripe Identity today. Companies can use the self-serve tool to verify user identities, while Stripe manages the customer data in an encrypted format using computer vision and machine learning to “read” and match up government IDs with live selfies. Developers can request access here, and Discord, Peerspace and Shippo are already in on the action.

Startups and VC

  • The Pill Club raises: The birth control prescription and delivery service announced it raised a $41.9 million Series B extension led by Base 10. The startup, helmed by former Uber executive Liz Meyerdirk, who took over as chief in January, has hit record revenues, crossing $100 million in annual run rate for the first time in its four-year history. Other investors in the round include GV and Shasta Ventures, as well as new additions Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi and Honey’s George Ruan.
  • Solving SaaS tax: Taxes are hard. Anrok exists to make them ever-so-slightly less painful for the SaaS companies out there making their way in the world. Anorak raised $4.3 million to offer specialized help to modern companies that need to navigate the tax complexities to doing business.
  • $6.8 million for fraud protection: Tel Aviv-based nSure AI raised the seed round to provide fraud detection for high-risk digital goods, such as electronic gift cards, airline tickets, software and games. The company’s AI’s risk engine leverages deep learning techniques to accurately identify fraudulent transactions.

How contrarian hires and a pitch deck started Nubank’s $30 billion fintech empire

Founded in 2013 and based in São Paulo, Brazil, Nubank serves more than 34 million customers, making it Latin America’s largest neobank.

Reporter Marcella McCarthy spoke to CEO David Velez to learn about his efforts to connect with consumers and overcome entrenched opposition from established players who were friendly with regulators.

In the first of a series of stories, she interviewed Velez about his early fundraising efforts. For a balanced perspective, she also spoke to early Nubank investors at Sequoia and Kaszek Ventures, Latin America’s largest venture fund, to find out why they funded the startup while it was still pre-product.

“There are people you come across in life that within the first hour of meeting with them, you know you want to work with them,” said Doug Leone, a global managing partner at Sequoia who’d recruited Velez after he graduated from grad school at Stanford.

Marcella also interviewed members of Nubank’s founding team to better understand why they decided to take a chance on a startup that faced such long odds of success.

“I left banking to make a fifth of my salary, and back then, about $5,000 in equity,” said Vitor Olivier, Nubank’s VP of operations and platforms.

“Financially, it didn’t really make sense, so I really had to believe that it was really going to work, and that it would be big.”

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Big Tech Inc.

The Supreme Court has given LinkedIn another chance to stop a rival company from scraping personal information from users’ public profiles, a practice LinkedIn says should be illegal but one that could have broad ramifications for internet researchers and archivists.

Battery recycling startup Redwood Materials, which was founded by former Tesla CTO JB Straubel, has purchased 100 acres of land near the Gigafactory that Panasonic operates with Tesla in Sparks, Nevada. The company is trying to create a circular supply chain by collecting the scrap from consumer electronics companies and battery cell manufacturers, processing these discarded goods by extracting materials like cobalt, nickel and lithium that are typically mined, and then supplying those back to Panasonic and other customers.

The first and last all-virtual E3 gaming soiree kicked off today, with announcements from Microsoft, Square Enix and Ubisoft.

And rounding out today, we’ve got a review for you. Beats Studio Buds are a compact, noise-canceling and somewhat affordable alternative to AirPods.

TechCrunch Experts: Growth Marketing

Illustration montage based on education and knowledge in blue

Image Credits: SEAN GLADWELL (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

With the rollout of our Experts project, we’re excited by the increase of guest columns we’ve received within the growth marketing category. Today, we have a guest column from Hunter Jensen, “The demise of browser cookies could create a Golden Age of digital marketing.”

Have you recently worked with a growth marketer? We want to hear about your experience!

Fill out the survey here.

The answers to this survey will help shape our editorial coverage as we begin to dive into conversion optimization, social, paid ads and more! Find more details at techcrunch.com/experts.

TC Eventful

Are you looking for a platform to introduce your pre-Series A company to the world? If so, don’t miss out on your chance to exhibit in Startup Alley at Disrupt 2021, TechCrunch’s biggest virtual event happening September 21-23. If you’re selected, you’ll get a spot to do your elevator pitch along with a chance to be selected for Startup Battlefield or our brand-new Startup Alley+ program! We only have a few spots left, so make sure to get your application in ASAP before they’re all gone!

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/06/14/daily-crunch-18/

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How I Podcast: Left Handed Radio’s Anna Rubanova

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The beauty of podcasting is that anyone can do it. It’s a rare medium that’s nearly as easy to make as it is to consume. And as such, no two people do it exactly the same way. There are a wealth of hardware and software solutions open to potential podcasters, so setups run the gamut from NPR studios to USB Skype rigs (the latter of which has become a kind of default during the current pandemic).

We’ve asked some of our favorite podcast hosts and producers to highlight their workflows — the equipment and software they use to get the job done. The list so far includes:

Science Vs’s Rose Rimler
Election Profit Makers’ David Rees
Welcome to Your Fantasy’s Eleanor Kagan
Articles of Interest’s Avery Trufelman
First Draft and Track Changes’ Sarah Enni
RiYL remote podcasting edition
Family Ghosts’ Sam Dingman
I’m Listening’s Anita Flores
Broken Record’s Justin Richmond
Criminal/This Is Love’s Lauren Spohrer
Jeffrey Cranor of Welcome to Night Vale
Jesse Thorn of Bullseye
Ben Lindbergh of Effectively Wild
My own podcast, RiYL

Image Credits: Anna Rubanova

This week, we talk to Anna Rubanova. A comedy writer-turned podcast producer, she’s worked on myriad podcasts, including “The Thrilling Adventure Hour” and “Election Profit Makers” (featuring recent How I Podcaster, David Rees). Rubanova serves as an executive producer at Forever Dog and has hosted programs for WNYC Studios and Stitcher Premium. She co-produces and hosts the narrative sketch comedy show “Left Handed Radio” with Adam Bozarth. 

I use my phone a lot. I used to write down ideas for sketches and would inevitably forget what made them good. “When I win the lottery, I’m gonna teach a fish how to smoke.” That’s in one of my notes and I have no idea what it’s referring to. With a voice memo, I can capture the feel of the bit immediately. The recording can serve as a jumping off point for a fully written sketch, maybe a prompt for improv. I might re-record it using a better mic or, screw it, use it as is. I go with whatever is funniest or, sometimes, good enough. You can always justify it later with context. With enough music, restoration or SFX, the worst-quality audio sounds intentional. Plus, there’s no point in doing something “correctly” in podcasting. It’s like trying to make the perfect sandwich. Anyone who thinks there’s one way to podcast or do radio or utilize two slices of bread is a fraud or a solipsist.

Image Credits: Anna Rubanova

Speaking of podcast perfection, Left Handed Radio is my everything. It’s a portfolio, creative outlet, comedy scrapbook and excuse to play with my best friend and partner in all things, Adam Bozarth. We make sketches, stream-of-consciousness monologues, anything that strikes us as funny or interesting.

Over the last decade, we’ve accumulated a good deal of recording equipment. Nothing fancy: a couple of Zooms, two AudioTechnica 2020 USB mics, and a Rhode shotgun. Most of what we have was meant for DIY filmmaking. There was a post-YouTube short-form comedy boom about a decade ago. When all those branded content sites went down, we stopped messing with video and leaned harder into animation and podcasting. 

Image Credits: Anna Rubanova

Narrative audio is my passion. Podcasting is my job. Like I said, we don’t collect equipment but, as producers of up to 12 shows at a time, we needed to invest in plug-ins and software. The easiest DAW for dialogue has to be Audition. Logic is great for building out soundscapes and, obviously, music. We record remote calls to Audition and mark edit points like we would in a studio. (Thank you, Loopback!) Two years ago, I dropped a whopping $1,000 on restoration software. In the pandemic, that software has saved me hours of work. When everyone is recording from home, literally anything can go wrong.

Gone are the days when clipping and plosives were our biggest concern. One time, a podcaster (i.e. someone with their own podcast) called into a show I was producing from a rooftop party. By the time I finished restoring the recording, nobody could tell. (Thank you, RX-7; I wish I could afford RX-8.) Plug-ins aren’t just useful, they can be delightful. We have one that can make audio sound like it’s coming from a loudspeaker underneath a woolen blanket. Have I found a good use for it? No, not yet. But I can imagine the possibilities.

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/06/14/how-i-podcast-left-handed-radios-anna-rubanova/

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