Monthly Archives: May 2021
From smart toothbrushes to app-controlled power strips, these deals will add a high-tech boost to your abode.
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The notion of digital transformation evolved from a buzzword joke to a critical and accelerating fact during the COVID-19 pandemic. The changes wrought by a global shift to remote work and schooling are myriad, but in the business realm they have yielded a change in corporate behavior and consumer expectation — changes that showed up in a bushel of earnings reports this week.
TechCrunch may tend to have a private-company focus, but we do keep tabs on public companies in the tech world as they often provide hints, notes and other pointers on how startups may be faring. In this case, however, we’re working in reverse; startups have told us for several quarters now that their markets are picking up momentum as customers shake up their buying behavior with a distinct advantage for companies helping customers move into the digital realm. And public company results are now confirming the startups’ perspective.
The accelerating digital transformation is real, and we have the data to support the point.
What follows is a digest of notes concerning the recent earnings results from Box, Sprout Social, Yext, Snowflake and Salesforce. We’ll approach each in micro to save time, but as always there’s more digging to be done if you have time. Let’s go!
Enterprise earnings go up
Kicking off with Yext, the company beat expectations in its most recent quarter. Today its shares are up 18%. And a call with the company’s CEO Howard Lerman underscored our general thesis regarding the digital transformation’s acceleration.
In brief, Yext’s evolution from a company that plugged corporate information into external search engines to building and selling search tech itself has been resonating in the market. Why? Lerman explained that consumers more and more expect digital service in response to their questions — “who wants to call a 1-800 number,” he asked rhetorically — which is forcing companies to rethink the way they handle customer inquiries.
In turn, those companies are looking to companies like Yext that offer technology to better answer customer queries in a digital format. It’s customer-friendly, and could save companies money as call centers are expensive. A change in behavior accelerated by the pandemic is forcing companies to adapt, driving their purchase of more digital technologies like this.
It’s proof that a transformation doesn’t have to be dramatic to have pretty strong impacts on how corporations buy and sell online.
Facebook made a few noteworthy changes to its misinformation policies this week, including the news that the company will now allow claims that COVID was created by humans — a theory that contradicts the previously prevailing assumption that humans picked up the virus naturally from animals.
“In light of ongoing investigations into the origin of COVID-19 and in consultation with public health experts, we will no longer remove the claim that COVID-19 is man-made from our apps,” a Facebook spokesperson told TechCrunch. “We’re continuing to work with health experts to keep pace with the evolving nature of the pandemic and regularly update our policies as new facts and trends emerge.”
The company is adjusting its rules about pandemic misinformation in light of international investigations legitimating the theory that the virus could have escaped from a lab. While that theory clearly has enough credibility to be investigated at this point, it is often interwoven with demonstrably false misinformation about fake cures, 5G towers causing COVID and most recently the false claim that the AstraZeneca vaccine implants recipients with a Bluetooth chip.
Earlier this week, President Biden ordered a multi-agency intelligence report evaluating if the virus could have accidentally leaked out of a lab in Wuhan, China. Biden called this possibility one of two “likely scenarios.”
“… Shortly after I became President, in March, I had my National Security Advisor task the Intelligence Community to prepare a report on their most up-to-date analysis of the origins of COVID-19, including whether it emerged from human contact with an infected animal or from a laboratory accident,” Biden said in an official White House statement, adding that there isn’t sufficient evidence to make a final determination.
Claims that the virus was man-made or lab-made have circulated widely since the pandemic’s earliest days, even as the scientific community largely maintained that the virus probably made the jump from an infected animal to a human via natural means. But many questions remain about the origins of the virus and the U.S. has yet to rule out the possibility that the virus emerged from a Chinese lab — a scenario that would be a bombshell for international relations.
Prior to the COVID policy change, Facebook announced that it would finally implement harsher punishments against individuals who repeatedly peddle misinformation. The company will now throttle the News Feed reach of all posts from accounts that are found to habitually share known misinformation, restrictions it previously put in place for Pages, Groups, Instagram accounts and websites that repeatedly break the same rules.
Xiaomi, one of China’s high-profile tech firms that fell in the crosshairs of the Trump administration, has been removed from a U.S. government blacklist that designated it as a Communist Chinese military company.
The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has vacated the Department of Defense’s designation of Xiaomi as a CCMC in January, a document filed on May 25 shows.
In February, Xiaomi sued the U.S. government over its inclusion in the military blacklist. In March, the D.C. court granted Xiaomi a preliminary injunction against the DoD designation, which would have forbidden all U.S. persons from purchasing or possessing Xiaomi’s securities, saying the decision was “arbitrary and capricious.” The ruling was made to prevent “irreparable harm” to the Chinese phone maker.
Xiaomi has this to say about getting off the blacklist:
The Company is grateful for the trust and support of its global users, partners, employees and shareholders. The Company reiterates that it is an open, transparent, publicly traded, independently operated and managed corporation. The Company will continue to provide reliable consumer electronics products and services to users, and to relentlessly build amazing products with honest prices to let everyone in the world enjoy a better life through innovative technology.
Xiaomi’s domestic competitor Huawei is still struggling with its inclusion in the U.S. trade blacklist, which bans it from accessing critical U.S. technologies and has crippled its smartphone sales around the world.
Attribution modeling helps you analyze which touchpoints result in a conversion. Read this article to find out which channel matters most to your business.
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Can an app improve your romantic relationships? The founders behind Paired, a “relationship care” app for couples, believe it can. And since launching in October, with $ 1M to kick things off, they’ve convinced 5,000+ coupled-up others to try their custom blend of partner quizzes, “relationship satisfaction” tracking, and audio tips from experts — to try to feel closer to their S.O.
Paired is now gunning for serious growth: It’s announcing $ 3.6M in seed funding today, led by Eka Ventures with participation from existing investors including Taavet Hinrikus (Wise, formerly TransferWise), Harold Primat (investor and former professional racing driver), and the co-founders of Runtastic.
As part of the seed funding, Camilla Dolan of Eka Ventures will join the board alongside the app’s co-founders Kevin Shanahan and Diego López (who previously worked together at language learning app Memrise).
Paired says its goal for the new funding is to grow its user-base from 5,000+ to 100k over the next 18 months.
All sorts of audio-led wellness ‘self-care’ apps have been bubbling up in recent years — offering individuals app-wrapped help with stuff like meditation and mindfulness; targeted motivation to combat anxiety and stress; or dishing up sex tips and sexual self awareness.
Paired fits within that broader trend, albeit with a more explicit nudge to extend the self-care phenomenon to a unit of two romantically connected people.
As it looks for growth, the UK-based startup says it will continue to target the US, UK, Canada, and Australia, which are its main markets at this point. “We expect the growth to continue to come from here over the next 12 months,” says Shanahan.
“We’re building out our product team — hiring engineers, a product manager, a data scientist — to begin offering more varied and personalised relationship conversations for our users,” he goes on.
“Personalisation is a particular focus as every relationship is different and the app will begin to understand what your interests are, what stage you’re in, what would be most useful for you to discuss, etc. We’re also growing our content, working with new experts to cover more relationship topics and marketing the app via influencers, partnerships, and other channels.”
Who are Paired’s early adopters? Currently, the average user is a straight, early 30s Millennial who’s been in their current relationship for two-three years, according to Shanahan. (He says around 5% of users are LGBTQ+.)
But he also claims Paired has a wide mix of users, adding: “We have couples who have been together for 6 months and those who have been together for 10+ years, so it’s a wide spectrum.”
He says the split of women and men using the app is “fairly even” but avoids specifying exactly how usage splits on gender lines.
The app can be used by only one half of a couple — for solo relationship support/self-care, if preferred — but users have the option to pair with their partner to swap answers to relationship questions in order to encourage discussion. And that’s where Paired can offer the most personalized experience to users, by opening up a dedicated ‘relationship’ discussion channel between the couple. (Paired does not obviously cater to open/polyamorous couples — but presumably could be used as a discussion tool for the primary partners.)
The idea isn’t to replace couples therapy, per Shanahan. Rather Paired wants to create a whole new intermediating layer — based on the notion that communication problems in a relationship can be tackled earlier (and more easily) if you stick a piece of software between you which nudges both halves of the relationship to notice and address potential disconnect.
“If couples therapy is a dentist for your relationship, then we would be a toothbrush,” is how Shanahan puts it when asked if the idea is to replace couples therapy.
“Like a toothbrush is not a substitute for the dentist, we aren’t trying to replace couples therapy. Our goal is to promote healthy relationship behaviours between couples and believe our audience will eventually grow to become the majority of couples,” he suggests.
He points to a study Paired commissioned from the Open University and University of Brighton — which he says showed that couples who used the app over the course of three months saw on average a 36% increase in their “relationship satisfaction”. (Albeit quantifying such a subjective measure as a percentile increase may not appeal to every romantic person’s tastes.)
Shanahan says Paired wants to offer ongoing support, too — rather than (the opposite scenario) of its users arriving at such a point of mutual understanding they could feel they don’t never need to take another partner quiz to understand what their life partner is thinking/feeling.
Its philosophy is, no matter how thoughtful you get vis-a-vis your S.O., there’s always more to learn and thus you always need to keep working on ‘relationship care’. It is of course a very convenient philosophy for a subscription app.
“You probably wouldn’t say success when you’re fit is to stop going to the gym,” says Shanahan. “Or when your teeth are healthy to stop brushing your teeth. Similarly we want Paired to be a tool to help keep your relationship in a good place, so success for us is keeping your relationship satisfaction high over time.”
So what have the founders learned about their own relationships from using Paired?
Shanahan confirms that he and his partner have been using the app “a ton (and not just for testing)”, adding: “I’ve personally learnt that there is always more to discover about your partner and it’s a fun journey. Also that discussing issues when they are small is useful so they don’t become big later down the line.”
Diego López, Paired’s other co-founder and CTO, tells us that the daily questions posed by the app have “helped my partner and I fight lockdown monotony”. “There’s been many occasions where we give the same answer to a question. It’s a great feeling to know that we understand each other and a reminder of the things we have in common,” he adds.
Commenting on Paired’s seed round in a statement, Camilla Dolan from Eka Ventures, said: “Despite relationship health being such an important and truly global part of our lives there is not currently an accessible and affordable way of supporting it — Paired has set out to change that.
“We love Kevin & Diego’s vision to bring happiness and health to relationships and be the global category leader for relationship management. What really got us excited though was the Paired user stories and the level of change that Paired is already having on their early users.”
In another supporting statement, existing investor Taavet Hinrikus, co-founder of Wise, added: “Kevin and the Paired team have a vision for improving the relationships of hundreds of millions of couples. Building and strengthening relationships is something we all need help with from time to time, but lots of people feel unsure of where to turn for help. The rapid uptake from paid subscribers since their October launch makes me confident that it can become the global, digital platform for relationships.”
If Instagram’s photo tagging feature was spun out into its own app, you’d have the viral sensation Poparazzi, now the No. 1 app on the App Store. The new social networking app, from the same folks behind TTYL and others, lets you create a social profile that only your friends can post photos to — in other words, making your friends your own “paparazzi.” To its credit, the new app has perfectly executed on a series of choices designed to fuel day-one growth — from its prelaunch TikTok hype cycle to drive App Store preorders to its postlaunch social buzz, including favorable tweets by its backers. But the app has also traded user privacy in some cases to amplify network effects in its bid for the Top Charts, which is a risky move in terms of its long-term staying power.
The company positions Poparazzi as a sort of anti-Instagram, rebelling against today’s social feeds filled with edited photos, too many selfies and “seemingly effortless perfection.” People’s real lives are made up of many unperfect moments that are worthy of being captured and shared, too, a company blog post explains.
This manifesto hits the right notes at the right time. User demand for less performative social media has been steadily growing for years — particularly as younger, Gen Z users wake up to the manipulations by tech giants. We’ve already seen a number of startups try to siphon users away from Instagram using similar rallying cries, including Minutiae, Vero, Dayflash, Oggl and, more recently, the once-buzzy Dispo and the under-the-radar Herd.
Even Facebook has woken up to consumer demand on this front, with its plan to roll out new features that allow Facebook and Instagram users to remove the Like counts from their posts and their feeds.
Poparazzi hasn’t necessarily innovated in terms of its core idea — after all, tagging users in photos has existed for years. In fact, it was one of the first viral effects introduced by Facebook in its earlier days.
Instead, Poparazzi hit the top of the charts by carefully executing on growth strategies that ensured a rocket ship-style launch.
@poparazziappcomment it! ##greenscreen ##poparazziapp ##positivity ##foryoupage♬ Milkshake – BBY Kodie
The company began gathering prelaunch buzz by driving demand via TikTok — a platform that’s already helped mint App Store hits like the mobile game High Heels. TikTok’s powers are still often underestimated, even though its potential to send apps up the Top Charts have successfully boosted downloads for a number of mobile businesses, including TikTok sister app CapCut and e-commerce app Shein, for example.
And Poparazzi didn’t just build demand on TikTok — it actually captured it by pointing users to its App Store preorders page via the link in its bio. By the time launch day rolled around, it had a gaggle of Gen Z users ready and willing to give Poparazzi a try.
The app launches with a clever onboarding screen that uses haptics to buzz and vibrate your phone while the intro video plays. This is unusual enough that users will talk and post about how cool it was — another potential means of generating organic growth through word-of-mouth.
— 𝔗𝔞𝔫𝔦𝔰𝔥 𝔄𝔯𝔬𝔯𝔞 (@tanishar0ra) May 25, 2021
After getting you riled up with excitement, Poparazzi eases you into its bigger data grab.
First, it signs up and authenticates users through a phone number. Despite Apple’s App Store policy, which requires it, there is no privacy-focused option to use “Sign In with Apple,” which allows users to protect their identity. That would have limited Poparazzi’s growth potential versus its phone number and address book access approach.
It then presents you with a screen where it asks for permission to access your Camera (an obvious necessity) and Contacts (wait, all of them?), and permission to send you Notifications. This is where things start to get more dicey. The app, like Clubhouse once did, demands a full address book upload. This is unnecessary in terms of an app’s usability, as there are plenty of other ways to add friends on social media — like by scanning each other’s QR code, typing in a username directly or performing a search.
But gaining access to someone’s full Contacts database lets Poparazzi skip having to build out features for the privacy-minded. It can simply match your stored phone numbers with those it has on file from user signups and create an instant friend graph.
As you complete each permission, Poparazzi rewards you with green checkmarks. In fact, even if you deny the permission being asked, the green check appears. This may confuse users as to whether they’ve accidently given the app access.
They had a killer and engaging intro video complete with gravity falling emoji and well-tuned haptics that built hype and informed proper use
(I feel like a lot of people these days actually download without knowing this stuff now, making onboarding even more important) pic.twitter.com/duUelcDm0H
— Chase Stubblefield (@chasestubb) May 25, 2021
While you can “deny” the Address Book upload — a request met with a tsk tsk of a pop-up message — Poparazzi literally only works with friends, it warns you — you can’t avoid being found by other Poparazzi users who have your phone number stored in their phone.
When users sign up, the app matches their address book to the phone number it has on file and then — boom! — new users are instantly following the existing users. And if any other friends have signed up before you, they’ll be following you as soon as you log in the first time.
AND WHAT IF I DON’T HAVE ANY FRIENDS POPARAZZI pic.twitter.com/EeeWcFIEZn
— Corey Robison (@thefomosapien) May 25, 2021
In other words, there’s no manual curation of a “friend graph” here. The expectation is that your address book is your friend graph, and Poparazzi is just duplicating it.
Of course, this isn’t always an accurate presentation of reality.
Many younger people, and particularly women, have the phone numbers of abusers, stalkers and exes stored in their phone’s Contacts. By doing so, they can leverage the phone’s built-in tools to block the unwanted calls and texts from that person. But because Poparazzi automatically matches people by phone number, abusers could gain immediate access to the user profiles of the people they’re trying to harass or hurt.
Sure, this is an edge case. But it’s a nontrivial one.
It’s a well-documented problem, too — and one that had plagued Clubhouse, which similarly required full address book uploads during its early growth phase. It’s a terrible strategy to become the norm, and one that does not appear to have created a lasting near-term lock-in for Clubhouse. It’s also not a new tactic. Mobile social network Path tried address book uploads nearly a decade ago and almost everyone at the time agreed this was not a good idea.
As carefully designed as Poparazzi is — (it’s even got a blue icon — a color that denotes trustworthiness!) — it’s likely the company intentionally chose the trade-off. It’s forgoing some aspects of user privacy and safety in favor of the network effects that come from having an instant friend graph.
— Chase Stubblefield (@chasestubb) May 25, 2021
The rest of the app then pushes you to grow that friend graph further and engage with other users. Your profile will remain bare unless you can convince someone to upload photos of you. A SnapKit integration lets you beg for photo tags over on Snapchat. And if you can’t get enough of your friends to tag you in photos, then you may find yourself drawn to the setting “Allow Pops from Everyone,” instead of just “People You Approve.”
There’s no world in which letting “everyone” upload photos to a social media profile doesn’t invite abuse at some point, but Poparazzi is clearly hedging its bets here. It likely knows it won’t have to deal with the fallout of these choices until further down the road — after it’s filled out its network with millions of disgruntled Instagram users, that is.
Dozens of other growth hacks are spread throughout the app, too, from multiple pushes to invite friends scattered throughout the app to a very Snapchatt-y “Top Poparazzi” section that will incentivize best friends to keep up their posting streaks.
Looking at someone else’s profile.
The “Top Poparazzi” section is genius. Really incentivizes posting for your friends (which is the biggest friction point). pic.twitter.com/7WjH0S2hQd
— Connor V. (@ConnorVO) May 25, 2021
It’s a clever bag of tricks. And though the app does not offer comments or followers counts, it isn’t being much of an “anti-Instagram” when it comes to chasing clout. The posts — which can turn into looping GIFs if you snap a few in a row — may be more “authentic” and unedited than those on Instagram; but Poparazzi users react to posts with a range of emojis and how many reactions a post receives is shown publicly.
For beta testers featured on the explore page, reactions can be in the hundreds or thousands — effectively establishing a bar for Pop influence.
Finally, users you follow have permission to post photos, but if you unfollow them — a sure sign that you no longer want them to be in your poparazzi squad — they can still post to your profile. As it turns out, your squad is managed under a separate setting under “Allow Pops From.” That could lead to trouble. At the very least, it would be nice to see the app asking users if they also want to remove the unfollowed account’s permission to post to your profile at the time of the unfollow.
Overall, the app can be fun — especially if you’re in the young, carefree demographic it caters to. Its friend-centric and ironically anti-glam stance is promising as well. But additional privacy controls and the ability to join the service in a way that offers far more granular control of your friend graph in order to boost anti-abuse protections would be welcome additions.
TechCrunch tried to reach Poparazzi’s team to gain their perspective on the app’s design and growth strategy, but did not hear back. (We understand they’re heads down for the time being.) We understand, per SignalFire’s Josh Constine and our own confirmation, that Floodgate has invested in the startup, as has former TechCrunch co-editor Alexia Bonatsos’ Dream Machine and Weekend Fund.
Sandbox game It’s Winter is set in a khrushchyovka, a mass housing unit in the USSR. It’s a lonely, haunting ode to Eastern ennui.
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Salesforce dominates the world of CRM today, but while it’s a popular and well-used tool for organizing contacts and information, it doesn’t have all the answers when it comes to helping salespeople and marketers sell better, especially when meetings are not in person. Today, one of the startups that has emerged to help fill the gap is announcing a round of growth funding on the back of a huge year for its business.
Qualified — which builds better interactions for B2B sales and marketing teams that already use Salesforce by tapping into extra data sources to develop a better profile of those visiting your website, in aid of improving and personalizing the outreach (hence the name: you’re building “qualified” leads) — has picked up $ 51 million in funding. The startup will be using the Series B to continue building out its business with more functionality in the platform, and hiring across the board to expand business development and more.
Led by Salesforce Ventures, the funding round also included Norwest Venture Partners and Redpoint Ventures, both previous backers, among others. As with so many rounds at the moment — the venture world is flush with funding at the moment — this one is coming less than a year after Qualified’s last raise. It closed a $ 12 million Series A in August of last year.
Qualified was co-founded by two Salesforce veterans — ex-Salesforce CMO Kraig Swensrud and ex-SVP of Salesforce.com Sean Whiteley — serial entrepreneurs who you could say have long been hammering away at the challenges of building digital tools for sales and marketing people to do their jobs better online. The pair have founded and sold two other startups filling holes to that end: GetFeedback, acquired by SurveyMonkey; and Kieden, acquired by Salesforce.
The gap that they’re aiming to fill with this latest venture is the fact that when sales and marketing teams want to connect with prospects directly through, say, a phone call, they might have all of that contact’s information at their disposal. But if those teams want to make a more engaged contact when someone is visiting their site — a sign that a person is actually interested and thinking already about engaging with a company — usually the sales and marketing teams are in the dark about who those visitors are.
“We founded Qualified on the premise that a website should be more than a marketing brochure, but not just a sales site,” Swensrud, who is the CEO, said in an interview.
Qualified has built a tool that essentially takes several signals from Salesforce as well as other places to build up some information about the site visitor. It then uses it to give the sales and marketing teams more of a steer so that when they reach out via a screen chat to say “how can I help?” they actually have more information and can target their questions in a better way. A sales or marketing rep might know which pages a person is also visiting, and can then use the conversation that starts with an online chat to progress to a voice or video call, or a meeting.
If a person is already in your Salesforce rolodex, you get more information; but even without that there is some detail provided to be slightly less impersonal. (Example: when I logged into Qualified to look around the site, a chat popped up with a person greeting me “across the pond”… I’m in London.)
Qualified also integrates with a number of other tools that are used to help source data and build its customer profiles, including Slack, Microsoft Teams, 6sense, Demandbase, Marketo, HubSpot, Oracle Eloqua, Clearbit, ZoomInfo and Outreach.
Additional data is part and parcel of the kinds of information that sales and marketing people always need when reaching out to prospective customers, whether it’s via a “virtual” digital channel or in person. However, in the last year — where in-person meetings, team meetings, and working side-by-side with those who can give advice have all disappeared — having extra tools like these arguably have proven indispensable.
“Sales reps would heavily rely on their ‘road warrior’ image,” Swensrud said. “But all that stuff is gone, so as a result every seller is sitting at an office, at home, expecting digital interactions to happen that never existed before.”
And it seems some believe that even outside of Covid-19 enforcing a different way of doing things, the trend for “virtual selling”, as it’s often called, is here to stay: Gartner forecasts that by 2025, some 80% of B2B sales interactions will take place in digital channels. (So long to the expense account lunch, I guess.)
It’s because of the events of 2020, plus those bigger trends, that Qualified has seen revenues in the last year grow some 800% and its net customer revenue retention rate hover at 175%, with funding rounds come in relatively close succession in the wake of that.
There is something interesting to Qualified that reminds me a bit of more targeted ad retargeting, as it were, and in that, you can imagine a lot of other opportunities for how Qualified might expand in scenarios where it would be more useful to know why someone is visiting your site, without outright asking them and bothering them with the question. That could include customer service, or even a version that might sell better to consumers coming to, say, a clothes site after reading something about orange being the new black.
For now, though, it’s focused on the B2B opportunity.
There are a number of tools on the market that are competing with Salesforce as the go-to platform for people to organise and run CRM operations, but Swensrud is bullish for now on the idea of building specifically for the Salesforce ecosystem.
“Our product is being driven by and runs on Salesforce,” he noted, pointing out that it’s through Salesforce that you’re able to go from chatting to a phone call by routing the information to the data you have on file there. “Our roots go very deep.”
The funding round today is a sign that Salesforce is also happy with that close arrangement, which gives it a customization that its competitors lack.
“Qualified represents an entirely new way for B2B companies to engage buyers,” said Bill Patterson, EVP of CRM Applications at Salesforce, in a statement. “When marketing and inbound sales teams use this solution with Sales Cloud… they see a notable impact on pipeline. We are thrilled about our growing partnership with Qualified and their success within the Salesforce ecosystem.”