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Daily Crunch: Accused January 6 insurrectionist must use face to unlock laptop, orders judge

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Hello and welcome to Daily Crunch for July 26, 2021. Tech news got off to a cracking start this week after the Chinese government spent the weekend rolling out a new regulatory framework for the myriad edtech startups in the country. The Ant IPO was really just the start of the recent blizzard of changes concerning how China’s government runs its economy. The food delivery market was also impacted recently, along with Tencent Music. I noodled a bit here on what the situation may mean for the country’s startups. — Alex

The TechCrunch Top 3 (or so)

  • Bezos wants U.S. space contracts: After retired U.S. billionaire Jeff Bezos recently went up to zero-g for a few minutes, much snark concerning the wealthy spending their fortunes on a vanity space race was tweeted. The flip of that argument is that there’s real-world applications for all the money that Bezos, Branson and Musk are spending. In this case, Bezos is willing to cut the price of Blue Origin’s lunar lander project just to get access to a NASA contract. This is either a neat way to save taxpayer money or some weird sort of corporate bribe. Your call on that one.
  • Box wades into the signature wars: The other month, Box, the former startup darling, dropped $55 million on an e-sig company. Now Box is rolling out Box Sign to all its customers for free. The e-sig market is full of big players (DocuSign) and smaller entities (PandaDoc). To see Box offer its e-sig service to existing business customers for no cost means that the software capability is becoming more table stakes than standalone product. Startups take note.
  • A new alt-food unicorn: NotCo makes plant-based milks and meats. It just carved itself a fresh slice with a $235 million Series D that values the company at $1.5 billion. We’re highlighting this round because it underscores the amount of capital and, we presume, demand that alternative food products are attracting today. What was a dream just a few years ago is building big startups and even some public companies.
  • Keep your password, but show your face: We don’t often wade into the nuances of the Fifth Amendment, but a judge’s order out of D.C. caught our eye. Alleged insurrectionist Guy Reffitt was arrested three weeks after the January 6 Capitol riot and faces five federal charges. The FBI seized his laptop, which was password-protected. However, prosecutors said it could be unlocked using Reffitt’s face. The government used a “loophole in the Fifth Amendment,” TechCrunch’s Zack Whittaker writes, to compel the use of biometrics to open a Windows laptop.

Startups/VC

Kicking off our startup news today, make sure you check out this profile of Olumide Soyombo, a Nigerian angel investor who just put together a new fund. Soyombo’s brand-new firm, which he’s dubbed Voltron Capital, intends to invest all over Africa. It’s a potentially huge market for startups and venture capital, so expect more stories like this. How did it come to be? We’re sure that the check that Soyombo wrote to PayStack before Stripe bought it had something to do with it.

As we head into our regular digest of recent funding rounds, one startup sector that is not struggling to attract capital is facial recognition. Sure, you probably find it creepy that companies and agencies are tracking your face without your consent, but that isn’t stopping the financial class from pumping funds into the companies that comprise the facial recognition market. Zack Whittaker has the story here.

  • Faster protein sequencing is coming: That’s the news underneath Glyphic Biotechnologies’ new $6 million raise. The company’s tech could massively reduce the time it takes to sequence a protein, possibly unlocking all sorts of things in the health world.
  • Amazon-backed D2C beauty startup raises more: MyGlamm, an Indian direct-to-consumer company, has added to its capital base to the tune of $47.8 million. The company previously raised a $23.5 million Series C. Now it has lots more capital. Beauty is a huge market; D2C is a popular GTM model. And investors are willing to fund growth. That’s the story here.
  • Embedded fintech is hot: The embedded fintech space — when “complicated, but also commoditized, aspects of financial services are built and wrapped in an API for anyone else to implement in their own products,” per our own Ingrid Lunden — is attracting new capital. This time it’s Solarisbank, a Berlin-based player, which is buying a competitor, Contis, to go along with its new $1.65 billion valuation.
  • Speaking of embedded fintech, Sila raised money: Yes, we have more on the world of fintech APIs. Sila, a “banking and payment platform,” TechCrunch wrote, just raised a $13 million Series A. The Portland, Oregon-based company was founded in 2018 and has raised $20 million to date.
  • Queenly raises more: A TechCrunch favorite from the most recent Y Combinator batch, Queenly has raised a seed extension (Seed 2? Early Series A? You can use whatever term you wish!) from Andreessen Horowitz. The company was light on growth details, aside from noting a 20% rise in dresses on its platform since February. The startup is akin to a StockX for formalwear.
  • Today’s SoftBank investment is Embark Veterinary: While it is often fun to recall some of the more exotic SoftBank investments — RIP Zume — Embark Veterinary wants to use DNA testing to help pets live longer. This we will not mock. As we own dogs, and dogs are very good. The $75 million in Series B values Embark at around $700 million.

Data-driven iteration helped China’s Genki Forest become a $6B beverage giant in 5 years

Many Extra Crunch readers will not have heard of China’s fastest-growing bottled beverage company: Genki Forest is a direct-to-consumer startup that started selling its sodas, milk teas and other products just five years ago.

Today, its products are available in 40 countries and the company hopes to earn $1.2 billion in 2021. After closing its latest funding round, Genki Forest is valued at $6 billion.

Industry watchers frequently compare the upstart to giants like PepsiCo and Coca-Cola, but founder Binsen Tang comes from a tech background, having funded ELEX Technology, a social gaming company that found success internationally.

“China doesn’t need any more good platforms,” Tang told his team in 2015, “but it does need good products.”

Leveraging China’s robust distribution network, lighting-fast manufacturing capabilities and a vast pool of data that enables holistic digitization, Genki Forest sells more than 30% of its products online.

“Everything feels right about the company,” said VC investor Anna Fang. “The space, the founder, the products and the back end … they exemplify the new Chinese consumer brand.“

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

Big Tech Inc.

Two quick notes today from the world of Big Tech companies:

  • Earnings season is upon us: Many, many major tech companies are reporting their financial performance in the next two weeks. TechCrunch will cover the key bits, even if we’re not a public-markets publication. Still, keep your eyes sharp as it’s going to be a deluge of numbers.
  • The EV market is still raising huge blocks of capital. EV truck company Rivian recently added $2.5 billion to its coffers, and Lordstown got a cash infusion (bailout?) that should keep it on the roads.

TechCrunch Experts: Growth Marketing

Illustration montage based on education and knowledge in blue

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

Are you all caught up on last week’s coverage of growth marketing? If not, read it here.

TechCrunch wants you to recommend growth marketers who have expertise in SEO, social, content writing and more! If you’re a growth marketer, pass this survey along to your clients; we’d like to hear about why they loved working with you.

Community

Join TechCrunch Managing Editor Danny Crichton for a Twitter Spaces event tomorrow, July 27, at 3:30 p.m. PDT/ 6:30 p.m. EDT. Danny will be joined by Seth Levine, the co-author of “The New Builders: Face to Face with the True Future of Business,” who will stick around for a Q&A after a chat about the book.

TechCrunch Disrupt $99 early-bird passes end Friday

Attention: $99 and under early-bird passes will disappear this Friday, July 30. Make sure you book your pass today and join the original startup conference. Disrupt delivers the best content, learning and networking opportunities for anyone interested in startups and tech. See you there!

PlatoAi. Web3 Reimagined. Data Intelligence Amplified.
Click here to access.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/07/26/daily-crunch-34/

Blockchain

For the love of the loot: Blockchain, the metaverse and gaming’s blind spot

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The speed at which gaming has proliferated is matched only by the pace of new buzzwords inundating the ecosystem. Marketers and decision makers, already suffering from FOMO about opportunities within gaming, have latched onto buzzy trends like the applications of blockchain in gaming and the “metaverse” in an effort to get ahead of the trend rather than constantly play catch-up.

The allure is obvious, as the relationship between the blockchain, metaverse, and gaming makes sense. Gaming has always been on the forefront of digital ownership (one can credit gaming platform Steam for normalizing the concept for games, and arguably other media such as movies), and most agreed upon visions of the metaverse rely upon virtual environments common in games with decentralized digital ownership.

Whatever your opinion of either, I believe they both have an interrelated future in gaming. However, the success or relevance of either of these buzzy topics is dependent upon a crucial step that is being skipped at this point.

Let’s start with the example of blockchain and, more specifically, NFTs. Collecting items of varying rarities and often random distribution form some of the core “loops” in many games (i.e. kill monster, get better weapon, kill tougher monster, get even better weapon, etc.), and collecting “skins” (e.g. different outfits/permutation of game character) is one of the most embraced paradigms of micro-transactions in games.

The way NFTs are currently being discussed in relation to gaming are very much in danger of falling into this very trap: Killing the core gameplay loop via a financial fast track.

Now, NFTs are positioned to be a natural fit with various rare items having permanent, trackable, and open value. Recent releases such as “Loot (for Adventurers)” have introduced a novel approach wherein the NFTs are simply descriptions of fantasy-inspired gear and offered in a way that other creators can use them as tools to build worlds around. It’s not hard to imagine a game built around NFT items, à la Loot.

But that’s been done before… kind of. Developers of games with a “loot loop” like the one described above have long had a problem with “farmers”, who acquire game currencies and items to sell to players for real money, against the terms of service of the game. The solution was to implement in-game “auction houses” where players could instead use real money to purchase items from one another.

Unfortunately, this had an unwanted side-effect. As noted by renowned game psychologist Jamie Madigan, our brains are evolved to pay special attention to rewards that are both unexpected and beneficial. When much of the joy in some games comes from an unexpected or randomized reward, being able to easily acquire a known reward with real money robbed the game of what made it fun.

The way NFTs are currently being discussed in relation to gaming are very much in danger of falling into this very trap: Killing the core gameplay loop via a financial fast track. The most extreme examples of this phenomena commit the biggest cardinal sin in gaming — a game that is “pay to win,” where a player with a big bankroll can acquire a material advantage in a competitive game.

Blockchain games such as Axie Infinity have rapidly increased enthusiasm around the concept of “play to earn,” where players can potentially earn money by selling tokenized resources or characters earned within a blockchain game environment. If this sounds like a scenario that can come dangerously close to “pay to win,” that’s because it is.

What is less clear is whether it matters in this context. Does anyone care enough about the core game itself rather than the potential market value of NFTs or earning potential through playing? More fundamentally, if real-world earnings are the point, is it truly a game or just a gamified micro-economy, where “farming” as described above is not an illicit activity, but rather the core game mechanic?

The technology culture around blockchain has elevated solving for very hard problems that very few people care about. The solution (like many problems in tech) involves reevaluation from a more humanist approach. In the case of gaming, there are some fundamental gameplay and game psychology issues to be tackled before these technologies can gain mainstream traction.

We can turn to the metaverse for a related example. Even if you aren’t particularly interested in gaming, you’ve almost certainly heard of the concept after Mark Zuckerberg staked the future of Facebook upon it. For all the excitement, the fundamental issue is that it simply doesn’t exist, and the closest analogs are massive digital game spaces (such as Fortnite) or sandboxes (such as Roblox). Yet, many brands and marketers who haven’t really done the work to understand gaming are trying to fast-track to an opportunity that isn’t likely to materialize for a long time.

Gaming can be seen as the training wheels for the metaverse — the ways we communicate within, navigate, and think about virtual spaces are all based upon mechanics and systems with foundations in gaming. I’d go so far as to predict the first adopters of any “metaverse” will indeed be gamers who have honed these skills and find themselves comfortable within virtual environments.

By now, you might be seeing a pattern: We’re far more interested in the “future” applications of gaming without having much of a perspective on the “now” of gaming. Game scholarship has proliferated since the early aughts due to a recognition of how games were influencing thought in fields ranging from sociology to medicine, and yet the business world hasn’t paid it much attention until recently.

The result is that marketers and decision makers are doing what they do best (chasing the next big thing) without the usual history of why said thing should be big, or what to do with it when they get there. The growth of gaming has yielded an immense opportunity, but the sophistication of the conversations around these possibilities remains stunted, due in part to our misdirected attention.

There is no “pay to win” fast track out of this blind spot. We have to put in the work to win.

PlatoAi. Web3 Reimagined. Data Intelligence Amplified.
Click here to access.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/09/16/for-the-love-of-the-loot-blockchain-the-metaverse-and-gamings-blind-spot/

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Blockchain

Crypto’s networked collaboration will drive Web 3.0

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Web 1.0 was the static web, and Web 2.0 is the social web, but Web 3.0 will be the decentralized web. It will move us from a world in which communities contribute but don’t own or profit, to one where they can through collaboration.

By breaking away from traditional business models centered around benefiting large corporations, Web3 brings the possibility of community-centered economies of scale. This collaborative spirit and its associated incentive mechanisms are attracting some of the most talented and ambitious developers today, unlocking projects that were previously not possible.

Web3 might not be the final answer, but it’s the current iteration, and innovation isn’t always obvious in the beginning.

Web3, as Ki Chong Tran once said, is “The next major iteration of the internet, which promises to wrest control from the centralized corporations that today dominate the web.” Web3-enabled collaboration is made possible by decentralized networks that no single entity controls.

In closed-source business models, users trust a business to manage funds and execute services. With open source projects, users trust the technology to perform these tasks. In Web2, the bigger network wins. In Web3, whoever builds the biggest network together wins.

In a decentralized world, not only is participation open to all, the incentive structure is designed so that the greater the number of participants, the more everybody succeeds.

Learning from Linux

Linux, which is behind a majority of Web2’s websites, changed the paradigm for how the internet was developed and provides a clear example of how collaborative processes can drive the future of technology. Linux wasn’t developed by an incumbent tech giant, but by a group of volunteer programmers who used networked collaboration, which is when people freely share information without central control.

In “The Cathedral & The Bazaar,” author Eric S. Raymond shares his observations of the Linux kernel development process and his experiences managing open source projects. Raymond depicts a time when the popular mindset was to develop complex operating systems carefully coordinated by a small, exclusionary group of people — “cathedrals,” which are corporations and financial institutions.

Linux evolved in a completely different way. Raymond explains, “Quality was maintained not by rigid standards or autocracy, but by the naively simple strategy of releasing every week and getting feedback from hundreds of users within days, creating a sort of Darwinian selection on the mutations introduced by developers. To the amazement of almost everyone, this worked quite well.” This Linux development model, or “bazaar” model as Raymond puts it, assumes that “bugs are generally shallow phenomena” when exposed to an army of hackers without significant coordination.

PlatoAi. Web3 Reimagined. Data Intelligence Amplified.
Click here to access.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/09/16/cryptos-networked-collaboration-will-drive-web-3-0/

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Blockchain

Crypto’s networked collaboration will drive Web 3.0

Published

on

Web 1.0 was the static web, and Web 2.0 is the social web, but Web 3.0 will be the decentralized web. It will move us from a world in which communities contribute but don’t own or profit, to one where they can through collaboration.

By breaking away from traditional business models centered around benefiting large corporations, Web3 brings the possibility of community-centered economies of scale. This collaborative spirit and its associated incentive mechanisms are attracting some of the most talented and ambitious developers today, unlocking projects that were previously not possible.

Web3 might not be the final answer, but it’s the current iteration, and innovation isn’t always obvious in the beginning.

Web3, as Ki Chong Tran once said, is “The next major iteration of the internet, which promises to wrest control from the centralized corporations that today dominate the web.” Web3-enabled collaboration is made possible by decentralized networks that no single entity controls.

In closed-source business models, users trust a business to manage funds and execute services. With open source projects, users trust the technology to perform these tasks. In Web2, the bigger network wins. In Web3, whoever builds the biggest network together wins.

In a decentralized world, not only is participation open to all, the incentive structure is designed so that the greater the number of participants, the more everybody succeeds.

Learning from Linux

Linux, which is behind a majority of Web2’s websites, changed the paradigm for how the internet was developed and provides a clear example of how collaborative processes can drive the future of technology. Linux wasn’t developed by an incumbent tech giant, but by a group of volunteer programmers who used networked collaboration, which is when people freely share information without central control.

In “The Cathedral & The Bazaar,” author Eric S. Raymond shares his observations of the Linux kernel development process and his experiences managing open source projects. Raymond depicts a time when the popular mindset was to develop complex operating systems carefully coordinated by a small, exclusionary group of people — “cathedrals,” which are corporations and financial institutions.

Linux evolved in a completely different way. Raymond explains, “Quality was maintained not by rigid standards or autocracy, but by the naively simple strategy of releasing every week and getting feedback from hundreds of users within days, creating a sort of Darwinian selection on the mutations introduced by developers. To the amazement of almost everyone, this worked quite well.” This Linux development model, or “bazaar” model as Raymond puts it, assumes that “bugs are generally shallow phenomena” when exposed to an army of hackers without significant coordination.

PlatoAi. Web3 Reimagined. Data Intelligence Amplified.
Click here to access.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/09/16/cryptos-networked-collaboration-will-drive-web-3-0/

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SaaS

Confluent CEO Jay Kreps is coming to TC Sessions: SaaS for a fireside chat

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As companies process ever-increasing amounts of data, moving it in real time is a huge challenge for organizations. Confluent is a streaming data platform built on top of the open source Apache Kafka project that’s been designed to process massive numbers of events. To discuss this, and more, Confluent CEO and co-founder Jay Kreps will be joining us at TC Sessions: SaaS on Oct 27th for a fireside chat.

Data is a big part of the story we are telling at the SaaS event, as it has such a critical role in every business. Kreps has said in the past the data streams are at the core of every business, from sales to orders to customer experiences. As he wrote in a company blog post announcing the company’s $250 million Series E in April 2020, Confluent is working to process all of this data in real time — and that was a big reason why investors were willing to pour so much money into the company.

“The reason is simple: though new data technologies come and go, event streaming is emerging as a major new category that is on a path to be as important and foundational in the architecture of a modern digital company as databases have been,” Kreps wrote at the time.

The company’s streaming data platform takes a multi-faceted approach to streaming and builds on the open source Kafka project. While anyone can download and use Kafka, as with many open source projects, companies may lack the resources or expertise to deal with the raw open source code. Many a startup have been built on open source to help simplify whatever the project does, and Confluent and Kafka are no different.

Kreps told us in 2017 that companies using Kafka as a core technology include Netflix, Uber, Cisco and Goldman Sachs. But those companies have the resources to manage complex software like this. Mere mortal companies can pay Confluent to access a managed cloud version or they can manage it themselves and install it in the cloud infrastructure provider of choice.

The project was actually born at LinkedIn in 2011 when their engineers were tasked with building a tool to process the enormous number of events flowing through the platform. The company eventually open sourced the technology it had created and Apache Kafka was born.

Confluent launched in 2014 and raised over $450 million along the way. In its last private round in April 2020, the company scored a $4.5 billion valuation on a $250 million investment. As of today, it has a market cap of over $17 billion.

In addition to our discussion with Kreps, the conference will also include Google’s Javier Soltero, Amplitude’s Olivia Rose, as well as investors Kobie Fuller and Casey Aylward, among others. We hope you’ll join us. It’s going to be a thought-provoking lineup.

Buy your pass now to save up to $100 when you book by October 1. We can’t wait to see you in October!

PlatoAi. Web3 Reimagined. Data Intelligence Amplified.
Click here to access.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/09/16/confluent-ceo-jay-kreps-is-coming-to-tc-sessions-saas-for-a-fireside-chat/

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