Monthly Archives: April 2021
Clubhouse, a one-year-old social audio app reportedly valued at $ 1 billion, will now allow users to send money to their favorite creators — or speakers — on the platform. In a blog post, the startup announced the new monetization feature, Clubhouse Payments, as the “the first of many features that allow creators to get paid directly on Clubhouse.”
Clubhouse declined to comment. Paul Davison, the co-founder of Clubhouse, mentioned in the company’s latest town hall that the startup wants to focus on direct monetization on creators, instead of advertisements.
Here’s how it will work: A user can send a payment in Clubhouse by going to the profile of the creator to whom they want to give money. If the creator has the feature enabled, the user will be able to tap “Send Money” and enter an amount. It’s like a virtual tip jar, or a Clubhouse-branded version of Venmo (although the payments feature doesn’t currently let the user send a personalized message along with the money).
“100% of the payment will go to the creator. The person sending the money will also be charged a small card processing fee, which will go directly to our payment processing partner, Stripe,” the post reads. “Clubhouse will take nothing.”
Stripe CEO Patrick Collison tweeted shortly after the blog post went up that “It’s cool to see a new social platform focus first on participant income rather than internalized monetization / advertising.”
It's cool to see a new social platform focus first on *participant* income rather than internalized monetization / advertising. Excited for the burgeoning creator economy and next era of internet business models.
— Patrick Collison (@patrickc) April 5, 2021
When the startup raised a Series B led by Andreessen Horowitz in January, part of the reported $ 100 million funding was said to go to a creator grant program. The program would be used to “support emerging Clubhouse creators,” according to a blog post. It’s unclear how they define emerging, but cultivating influencers (and rewarding them with money) is one way the startup is promoting high-quality content on its platform.
The synergies here are obvious. A Clubhouse creator can now get tips for a great show, or raise money for a great cause, while also being rewarded by the platform itself for being a recurring host.
The fact that Clubhouse’s first attempt at monetization includes no percentage cut of its own is certainly noteworthy. Monetization, or Clubhouse’s lack thereof, has been a topic of discussion about the buzzy startup since it took off in the early pandemic months. While it currently relies on venture capital to keep the wheels churning, it will need to make money eventually in order to be a self-sustaining business.
Creator monetization, with a cut for the platform, has led to the growth of large businesses. Cameo, a startup that sends personalized messages from creators and celebrities, takes about a 25% cut of each video sold on its platform. The startup reached unicorn status last week with a $ 100 million raise. OnlyFans, another platform that helps creators directly raise money from fans in exchange for paywalled contact, is projecting $ 1 billion in revenue for 2021.
Clubhouse’s payments feature will first be tested by a “small test group” starting today, but it is unclear who is in this group. Eventually, the payments feature will be rolled out to other users in waves.
A debate is raging over the social media giant’s role in dividing the country. But it’s the US’s deeply-rooted inequities that tech should focus on.
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ImToken, the blockchain tech startup and crypto wallet developer, announced today it has raised $ 30 million in Series B funding led by Qiming Venture Partners. Participants included returning investor IDG Capital, and new backers Breyer Capital, HashKey, Signum Capital, Longling Capital, SNZ and Liang Xinjun, the co-founder of Fosun International.
Founded in 2016, the startup’s last funding announcement was for its $ 10 million Series A, led by IDG, in May 2018. ImToken says its wallet for Ethereum, Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies now has 12 million users, and over $ 50 billion in assets are currently stored on its platform, with total transaction value exceeding $ 500 billion.
The company was launched in Hangzhou, China, before moving to it current headquarters to Singapore, and about 70% of its users are in mainland China, followed by markets including South Korea, the United States and Southeast Asia.
ImToken will use its latest funding to build features for “imToken 3.0.” This will include keyless accounts, account recovery and a suite of decentralized finance services. It also plans to expand its research arm for blockchain technology, called imToken Labs and open offices in more countries. It currently has a team of 78 people, based in mainland China, the United States and Singapore, and expects to increase its headcount to 100 this year.
In a press statement, Qiming Venture Partners founding managing partner Duane Kuang said, “In the next ten to twenty years, blockchain will revolutionize the financial industry on a global scale. We believe that imToken is riding this trend, and has strongly positioned itself in the market.”
When UIPath filed its S-1 last week, it was a watershed moment for the robotic process automation (RPA) market. The company, which first appeared on our radar for a $ 30 million Series A in 2017, has so far raised an astonishing $ 2 billion while still private. In February, it was valued at $ 35 billion when it raised $ 750 million in its latest round.
RPA and process automation came to the fore during the pandemic as companies took steps to digitally transform. When employees couldn’t be in the same office together, it became crucial to cobble together more automated workflows that required fewer people in the loop.
RPA has enabled executives to provide a level of workflow automation that essentially buys them time to update systems to more modern approaches while reducing the large number of mundane manual tasks that are part of every industry’s workflow.
When UIPath raised money in 2017, RPA was not well known in enterprise software circles even though it had already been around for several years. The category was gaining in popularity by that point because it addressed automation in a legacy context. That meant companies with deep legacy technology — practically everyone not born in the cloud — could automate across older platforms without ripping and replacing, an expensive and risky undertaking that most CEOs would rather not take.
RPA has enabled executives to provide a level of workflow automation, a taste of the modern. It essentially buys them time to update systems to more modern approaches while reducing the large number of mundane manual tasks that are part of just about every industry’s workflow.
While some people point to RPA as job-elimination software, it also provides a way to liberate people from some of the most mind-numbing and mundane chores in the organization. The argument goes that this frees up employees for higher level tasks.
As an example, RPA could take advantage of older workflow technologies like OCR (optical character recognition) to read a number from a form, enter the data in a spreadsheet, generate an invoice, send it for printing and mailing, and generate a Slack message to the accounting department that the task has been completed.
We’re going to take a deep dive into RPA and the larger process automation space — explore the market size and dynamics, look at the key players and the biggest investors, and finally, try to chart out where this market might go in the future.
Meet the vendors
UIPath is clearly an RPA star with a significant market share lead of 27.1%, according to IDC. Automation Anywhere is in second place with 19.4%, and Blue Prism is third with 10.3%, based on data from IDC’s July 2020 report, the last time the firm reported on the market.
Two other players with significant market share worth mentioning are WorkFusion with 6.8%, and NTT with 5%.
- The Mobile Experience is critical for all categories when looking at Core Web Vitals (CWV)
- Image compression seems to be a leading challenge for leading brands
- Pages doing well for CWV tend to be informational in nature
- Retail, in particular, could see significant disruption if second-tier retailers receive a boost
- Across all sectors, there is opportunity and time for improvement and preparation as long as issues are addressed as a business priority
- Enterprise Search and Digital Marketers need to prescribe the right course of action to meet core vital benchmarks
- They must also convince the rest of the organization that the efforts will be worth the results
The long-awaited implementation of mobile-first indexing is now upon us, meaning that content visible only on desktop will be ignored from this point on by the world’s largest search engine. Mobile-first has been a priority of Google’s for years as the beat of the user experience drum has grown to a crescendo.
A few short months from now, the Page Experience update as a whole will roll out, too. Page experience “measures aspects of how users perceive the experience of interacting with a web page,” according to Google and consists of five major Search signals.
Hopefully you’re familiar with at least four of these, as they’ve been in play for some time. Mobile-friendliness, safe-browsing, HTTPS-security, and intrusive interstitial guidelines have each been rolled out and updated as Google has sought to keep pace with evolving consumer expectations.
So what’s new?
In May, signals from a new metric called Core Web Vitals (CWV) will combine with these existing four signals for one mega-metric called Page Experience. BrightEdge (my company) conducted a study into CWVs preparedness and mobile-first compliance to determine the potential impact on sites in four major industries. But first, it’s important to understand the CWV opportunity and the relationship between this new set of metrics and the mobile-first index.
Demystifying Core Web Vitals
Before we go any further, note that CWVs are not a guideline that could instigate a penalty if not followed. Cloaking is one such example of a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, and if you’re caught out at it you run the risk of being penalized by Google.
Core Web Vitals, on the other hand, is an opportunity. If you fail to meet the thresholds for each of the three major areas of focus that make up the CWV signal, you won’t get a penalty. But you will miss out on the rankings boost available to those who meet the standards.
And what are those standards?
Meeting one of two of these goals won’t suffice; Google has confirmed that all three must be met in order to see the rankings boost available via CWV. You can read more about these important metrics here.
Core Web Vitals and mobile-first go hand-in-hand for search UX
Safe browsing, HTTPS security, and intrusive interstitial guidelines are fairly straightforward — you’re either in line with the guidelines or you’re not.
Mobile-first and Core Web Vitals are more complex, consisting of a greater volume of moving parts, and therefore are getting the lion’s share of webmaster attention as the May rollout looms. Hosting, site structure, image optimization, and more can all impact how your site loads on mobile. James Parsons recently shared a 28-point checklist of optimizations to work through as you’re preparing for CWVs that every webmaster and SEO should check out.
Mobile-first has an outsized impact due to its influence on local search experience, as well. Considering that 60 percent of mobile searches have local intent, the vast majority of businesses cannot afford to ignore Google’s emphasis on the mobile index. When local consumers are out in their neighborhoods searching for nearby businesses to meet their needs, it’s imperative that the website loads lightning-fast.
So how are businesses doing at preparing for the Page Experience update? BrightEdge (my company) recently conducted research that compared top sites in different industries to see how vulnerable each is to the May update. We currently have no way to gauge just how impactful the introduction of CWVs to the ranking algorithm will be, and so wanted to both explore preparedness and establish a baseline.
Here’s what we found.
Which sites stand to benefit from the Core Web Vitals boost?
We analyzed over 1,500 URLs across four industries for the purpose of this study:
- Education (253 URLs)
- Finance (328 URLs)
- B2B (302 URLs)
- Retail (689 URLs)
Rather than using the homepage, we selected the URLs responsible for driving organic traffic for each site. For each webpage, we measured Share of Voice for the top 500 keywords in each industry, analyzed mobile page speed performance using the Crux database, and evaluated adherence to Core Web Vitals using the parameters:
- Largest Contentful Paint: Less than 2.5 Seconds
- First Input Delay: Less than .1 Second
- Cumulative Layout Shift: Less than .01
As it turns out, some industries are better prepared than others for the Page Experience update, as reflected in these findings of what percentage of URLs would receive the Core Web Vitals rankings boost if it rolled out today:
- 24 percent of Finance URLs
- 13 percent of B2B URLs
- Five percent of Education URLs
- Less than one percent of Retail URLs
As you can see, there are massive seats at the table for brands that act now to get in line with this impending update. First-movers will enjoy the benefits of this ranking boost when it hits. The full findings can be found here.
- LCP has an impact on user bounce rates and reducing the time to First Contentful Paint can improve conversions by up to 15 percent
- CLS impacts conversion as layout shift annoys users and disrupts their experience
- FID is key in your site’s ability to respond to the action a user wants to take. helps a website respond more quickly to the actions your audiences take
- Enterprise sites built on apps that require a lot of scripts to execute are creating complexity and potentially significant investment to bring in line with CWVs
Here are some of our findings by industry.
- More than 50 percent of pages met all three CWVs criteria on desktop
- Job listings sites like Indeed.com most often met the CWV thresholds
- More than 60 percent of pages met all three CWVs criteria on desktop
- Banking and brokerage sites struggled while informational resources such as Investopedia excelled
- Close to 70 percent of pages met all three CWVs criteria on desktop
- Informational and definition-type pages performed best, while transactional content struggled
- More than 50 percent of pages met all three CWVs criteria on desktop
- Again, informational resources such as Tech Radar and Consumer Reports performed best
It is worth mentioning that in retail, multiple product listings from the same domains dominated share of voice, resulting in a higher proportion of retail URLs being tested. We did not see a single example of major online retailers (Amazon, Target, and the others) winning a share of voice with their homepages – rather, their organic traffic is being fueled by product and category pages.
We hypothesize that page attributes such as hero images of products and promotional pop-ups are driving non-compliance for the largest contentful paint and layout shift.
Core Web Vitals signals and the larger Page Experience set of metrics are sure to be impactful, but they are among many signals that indicate to Google that your webpage offers a safe, positive, and useful experience for the searcher. This is the heart and soul of every update Google makes and should therefore be the driving force in your SEO strategy.
Keep these findings in mind as you prepare for the Page Experience update and implementation of Core Web Vitals as Google ranking signals:
- Mobile experience is impactful and critical to optimize for across all industries.
- Image compression and optimization is proving challenging for many brands, which presents an opportunity for those able to get this right.
- More informational pages meet Core Web Vitals metrics than transactional.
- Retail brands stand to experience major volatility in search results , particularly if second-tier retailers are able to capitalize on Page Experience and receive a rankings boost.
Enterprise digital marketers and SEOs must work now on the right course of action to meet core vital benchmarks, so they are not left behind. How you communicate the potential impact of this upcoming shift to decision-makers to win buy-in is key.
The post Mobile-first and Core Web Vitals: connecting the dots for page experience success appeared first on Search Engine Watch.
Apple has announced an expansion for its subscription gaming service Apple Arcade. In addition to exclusive game releases, the company is adding two new categories — Timeless Classics and App Store Greats.
In the “App Store Greats” category, you can find some well-known iPhone games that have been released over the past decade, such as Threes+, Mini Metro+, Monument Valley+, Fruit Ninja Classic+, Cut the Rope Remastered and Badland+.
This is an interesting move, as Apple has focused on exclusive titles so far. Arguably, some Apple Arcade games are sequels of popular App Store games — I’d put Mini Motorways and Rayman Mini in this category, for instance.
But Apple is changing its stance and essentially buying a back catalog of App Store games. Some of them are still available on the App Store, while others have become incompatible with modern iOS versions due to framework and hardware updates. 64-bit processors have rendered many games incompatible for instance.
As always, Apple isn’t just putting free games behind a paywall. These are brand new downloads on the App Store. You get the full game without any ad or in-app purchase.
In addition to old school App Store games, Apple is also adding “Timeless Classics” games. It’s a selection of board games and classic puzzle games that are included in your subscription. Games include Backgammon+, Chess Play & Learn+, Good Sudoku+, Tiny Crossword+, etc.
Those games should definitely help when it comes to reducing churn. Some people just like playing chess over and over again. They might start subscribing to play some chess and pay an Apple Arcade subscription just to keep using the same app.
Overall, Apple is dropping 32 games today, and Apple Arcade has more than 180 games in its catalog. Apple originally launched the service in September 2019. You can download Apple Arcade games for $ 4.99 per month and there’s no additional in-app purchases. Games are available on the iPhone, the iPad, the Apple TV and macOS. Up to six family members can play with a single Apple Arcade subscription and you can also access Apple Arcade with an Apple One subscription.
Apple has been betting heavily on subscription services, such as Apple Music, Apple TV+, Apple Fitness+ and Apple News+. While some of those services have been very successful, such as Apple Music, the company is still adding more and more content to other services to prove that you should subscribe over the long haul. And today’s Apple Arcade update should definitely help for its game subscription service.
Facebook has some thoughts and updates about its News Feed, Siri gets some new voices and Tonal becomes a unicorn. This is your Daily Crunch for March 31, 2021.
The big story: Facebook makes it easier to view a non-algorithmic News Feed
Facebook highlighted features today that should make it easier for users to see a version of the News Feed that isn’t shaped by the company’s algorithms. These include a Favorites view that displays posts from up to 30 of your favorite friends and Pages, as well as a Most Recent view, which just shows posts in chronological order. Some of these options existed previously, but they’ll now be easily accessible through a new Feed Filter Bar.
At the same time, the company’s VP of Global Affairs, Nick Clegg, pushed back against criticism of the company’s algorithmic News Feed, saying that personalization is common and useful across the web, though he added, “It would clearly be better if these [content] decisions were made according to frameworks agreed by democratically accountable lawmakers.”
Speaking of content decisions, Facebook also cautioned Donald Trump’s daughter-in-law Lara Trump today for posting an interview with the former president, who has been banned from the social network.
The tech giants
Apple adds two brand new Siri voices and will no longer default to a female or male voice in iOS — This means that every person setting up Siri will choose a voice for themselves.
Instagram officially launches Remix on Reels, a TikTok Duets-like feature — Remix offers a way to record your Reels video alongside a video from another user.
Spotify adds three new types of personalized playlists with launch of ‘Spotify Mixes’ — Your Spotify Mixes will include artist mixes, genre mixes and decade mixes.
Startups, funding and venture capital
Strength-training startup Tonal crosses unicorn status after raising $ 250M — To date, the at-home fitness tech startup has raised $ 450 million.
Apple invests $ 50M into music distributor UnitedMasters alongside a16z and Alphabet — The focus of UnitedMasters is to provide artists with a direct pipeline to data around the way that fans are interacting with their content and community.
Diversity-focused Harlem Capital raises $ 134M — Apparently 61% of Harlem Capital’s Fund I portfolio companies are led by Black or Latinx executives, while 43% are led exclusively by women.
Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch
Five machine learning essentials nontechnical leaders need to understand — For engineering and team leaders without an ML background, the incredible pace of change can feel overwhelming and intimidating.
What to make of Deliveroo’s rough IPO debut — After a lackluster IPO pricing run, shares of Deliveroo are lower today, marking a disappointing debut for the hot delivery company.
Embedded procurement will make every company its own marketplace — Merritt Hummer of Bain Capital Ventures argues that with embedded procurement, businesses will buy things they need through vertical B2B apps.
(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)
Report finds going remote made workplaces more hostile for already marginalized groups — The Project Include report is based on a survey of about 2,800 people and interviews with tech workers and subject matter experts in numerous countries and industries.
The Weeknd will sell an unreleased song and visual art via NFT auction — Abel Tesfaye, the Super Bowl-headlining musician known as The Weeknd, is the latest artist to embrace the excitement around NFTs.
Here’s what you don’t want to miss tomorrow at TC Early Stage 2021 — The event will include a wide range of presentations that span the startup ecosystem.
The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.
Challenger banks continue to make significant advances in attracting customers away from the big incumbents by providing more modern, user-friendly tools to manage their money. Today, one of the trailblazers in this area, Kuda Technologies, is announcing funding to continue building out its specific ambition: to provide a modern banking service for Africans and the African diaspora, or as co-founder and CEO Babs Ogundeyi describes them, “every African on the planet, wherever you are in the world.”
The company, which currently offers mobile-first banking services in Nigeria, has picked up $ 25 million in a Series A being led by Valar Ventures, the firm co-founded and backed by Peter Thiel, with Target Global and other unnamed investors participating. This is the first time that Valar — which has invested in a number of fintech startups, including N26, TransferWise, Stash and, just in the last week, BlockFi and BitPanda — has backed an African startup.
Kuda currently provides services for consumers to save and spend money, and it has recently introduced overdrafts (essentially revolving credit for individuals). Ogundeyi said in an interview that the plan is to use these new funds to continue expanding its credit offerings, to build out services for businesses, to add in more integrations and to move into more markets.
The funding is coming on the heels of very strong growth for Kuda, which is co-headquartered in London and Lagos.
When we last wrote about the startup, four months ago, it had just closed a seed round of $ 10 million led by Target Global. That was, at the time — and I think still is — the largest-ever seed round raised by a startup out of Africa, and thus as much of a milestone for the tech industry there as it was for Kuda itself.
At the time of the seed round, Kuda had registered 300,000 customers: now, that figure has more than doubled to 650,000, and tellingly, that base is spending more money through the Kuda app.
“In November we were doing about $ 500 million in transactions per month,” Ogundeyi said, for services like bill payments, card transactions and phone top-ups. “We closed February at $ 2.2 billion.”
Kuda, as we described in our profile of the company when covering its seed round, is following in the footsteps of a number of other so-called “neobanks”, building a suite of banking services with a more accessible user interface and a more modern approach: you interact with the bank using a mobile app, and in addition to basic banking services, it provides tools to help people manage their money more intelligently.
But Kuda is also different from many of these, specifically because it taps into some financial practices that are unique to its market.
As Ogundeyi describes it, most people who are employed by companies will have “salary accounts” at banks, where companies pay in a person’s wages on a regular basis. These will typically be at incumbent banks, but they do not offer the same ranges of services to customers. No mobile apps, no facilities to buy mobile top-ups or make other kinds of bill payments, no AI-based calculators to figure out your monthly spend and provide suggestions on how to manage your budget, and so on.
That has opened a gap in the market for others to provide those services in their place. Kuda’s deposits, Ogundeyi said, typically start as basic transfers that people make from those “salary accounts” elsewhere. These start out small, maybe 20% of a person’s wages, but as those users find themselves using Kuda’s payment and other tools more, they are increasing how much they transfer in each payment period.
“As the trust increases you’re naturally more comfortable having money with Kuda,” he said. The next stage from that will be people depositing money directly with Kuda. A small minority already do this, he added, although the startup “has a bit more work to do” to get more companies integrated into its platform. (This is one of the areas that will be developed with this latest round of funding.)
In turn, having more money in Kuda accounts is likely to spur another wave of services being turned on at the startup, such as loans with more competitive interest rates, because they will not just be based on how much money people have but also their spending histories on the platform. “We can offer loans to salaried customers instantly as long as their salary is with Kuda,” he said.
Much of this is being enabled because of how Kuda is built. A lot of challenger banks have tapped into a world of finance and banking APIs built by another wave of fintech startups, partnering with other banks to provide backend deposit and other services: their value-add is in building efficient customer service and tools to help people manage and borrow money in smarter ways.
Kuda, on the other hand, has its own microfinance banking license from the central bank of Nigeria. This means that on top of building those same money management services, Kuda can also issue debit cards (in partnership with Visa and Mastercard), manage payments and transfers, and build all of the services in the stack itself, including those salary account services and loans. (Kuda does have partnerships with incumbent banks, specifically Zenith Bank, Guaranteed Trust and Access Bank, for people to come in for physical deposits and withdrawals when needed.)
While the service is still only live in Nigeria, the “vision is still to serve all Africans in Africa as well as outside of it,” Ogundeyi said.
The first step of that will likely be Nigerians outside of Nigeria — most likely in the U.K., where Kuda already has a headquarters, and where it has a ready market: London alone has been estimated to be home to upwards of 1 million Nigerian immigrants and people of Nigerian descent (the number of U.K. residents actually born in Nigeria is considerably smaller, more like 200,000: that is the diaspora at work).
He added that the startup is also at work on preparing for the next countries on the continent to expand its service, another area where this funding will go: “It will let us fast-track teams, on-the-ground operational teams,” he said.
The bigger picture is that the market for financial services targeting Africans has been on a significant upswing and so we will be seeing a lot more activity coming out of the region, not just from home-grown startups, but also out of other tech companies increasingly doing more business in that part of the world.
Cases in point: In addition to Stripe acquiring Nigerian payments company Paystack last year, just earlier this week, PayPal announced a deal with Flutterwave to bring PayPal services to more merchants in the region — specifically so that PayPal customers can pay merchants in the region using PayPal rails. Square’s CEO, Jack Dorsey, meanwhile, never did make his intended move to the continent — COVID-19 has derailed many plans, as we all know — but it shows that the company is trying not to overlook opportunities there, either.
PayPal, to be clear, has been active in Nigeria since 2014, but partnering with a significant player in the region represents an important step for it: Flutterwave itself earlier this month raised $ 170 million and became Africa’s latest unicorn, in what is still a pretty small list.
The fact that there is so much more to be done with payments and more financial services leaves the door open wide for Kuda to move in a number of different directions if it chooses. Having customers in two countries, especially with one foot in the developed market and another in an emerging market, for example, gives the company an interesting window into the world of remittances.
Money transfer has been one of the very biggest, and most important financial services for African diasporas — alongside those from many other emerging markets.
Even in cases where people are “unbanked” and have no other financial footprints, they have been turning to remittance services to send money home to their families from abroad. Kuda, with its integrations into people’s salaries, could easily become an efficient, one-stop-shop conduit for that activity too. (That’s one reason, likely, that remittance startup, Remitly, has also moved into starting to offer accounts to its users in originating countries.)
All of this to say that Valar’s making a new kind of bet here, but one laden with possibilities and a differentiated approach compared to the rest of its investment activities.
“Nigeria is at a tipping point in the adoption of digital banking,” noted Andrew McCormack, a general partner and co-founder at Valar, who led its investment here. “With the rapidly growing, youthful population who are open to new financial alternatives, Kuda is well-positioned to benefit and will transform the landscape of African banking. We are excited to lead their Series A and continue on the journey alongside Kuda.”