Earlier this month, Cowboy Ventures’ Ted Wang joined us at TechCrunch Early Stage: Marketing and Fundraising, where he spoke about executive coaching and why he encourages founders in his portfolio to have a CEO coach. Wang, who has an executive coach himself, sees coaching as a key way to drive sustained personal growth, a factor that he believes separates the middling CEOs from the best ones.
Why CEOs need coaching
Just like professional athletes at the top of their game still need coaching, executives can need external validation and comment on where they are and aren’t delivering, Wang says. These insights can be tough for executives to catch on their own and might require a level of honesty that can be challenging for a CEO to expect from anyone involved with their company.
Roger Federer — the famous tennis player who has won 20 Grand Slam events — he has a coach, but he doesn’t just have a coach, he has a coach for tennis. I’m pretty sure Roger knows the rules of the game and all the different strokes he needs to hit, so why would he have a coach? The answer is really that it’s about having a second set of eyes; when you’re in the moment … it’s hard to be able to see yourself and assess yourself. (Timestamp: 4:52)
Coaches can help entrepreneurs reflect and reframe the things being communicated with them.
A good example — you might be at a board meeting and one of your board members is being critical of your VP of marketing, and one way to think of that is “Oh, OK, here are some things we need to solve for this person,” but another point of view that a coach might open your eyes to, is actually maybe this person thinks you’re not hiring the right people. (Timestamp: 8:59)
While advisers can help startups navigate tactical situations, therapists may be more focused on helping clients navigate emotional states and improve themselves. Coaching exists in a very nebulous gray area between startup advisers and licensed therapists, Wang says, but coaching is more focused on improving yourself as a business leader rather than solving a particularly vexing startup issue.
When you’re in the moment … it’s hard to be able to see yourself and assess yourself.
Samsung just sent out invites for its next Unpacked event. There are those companies that like to sneak hints into their invites — and then there’s Samsung. The note leads with the big, bold words “Get ready to unfold” and features a pair of flat-colored objects that can reasonably be said to resemble the form factors of the Galaxy Z Fold and Flip, respectively.
In keeping with…the general state of the world over the past year-and-a-half, the event will be held virtually on Wednesday, August 11. Interestingly, the company is also opening up preorders on its “next flagship,” sights and specs unseen. Perks for early preorders include “12 free months of Samsung Care+, up to an extra $ 200 trade-in credit and a special pre-order offer.”
But honestly, it’s generally best to wait until you actually see the thing and maybe even read a review or two.
There’s a lot to unpack (so to speak) ahead of the event. First, I’m probably not alone in expecting that the company would focus its next big event on the upcoming Galaxy Watch. The big event at MWC was a bit of a dud (not unlike MWC itself), offering up more information on the upcoming wearable partnership with Google, in lieu of announcing any hardware.
As the company noted at the time, “The upcoming One UI Watch will debut at an upcoming Unpacked event later this summer, sporting the new UI, as well as the forthcoming joint Samsung/Google platform.”
It seems reasonably likely that this will be the event where that will occur, even if the new watch doesn’t get top billing. For one thing we’re running out of summer. For another, rumors have the new Galaxy Watch set for a late-August (the 27th) release.
All told, this could well be a pretty huge summer event for the company, bucking last year’s trend of meting out devices one by one at virtual invents. Word on the street is we could be seeing a Galaxy Watch 4, Galaxy Z Fold 3, Galaxy Z Flip 3, Galaxy S21 FE (“Fan Edition” — basically the latest version of the company’s budget flagship) and even the Galaxy Buds Pro, which will more directly take on the AirPods Pro (which are getting a bit long in the tooth).
What’s missing in all of this? No points if you said the Note. Samsung’s well-loved phablet is reportedly not coming this year, as chip shortages continue to plague the industry. That would be a big hit to Samsung’s six-month cycle, though we’ll see how that all plays out soon enough.
The August 11th event kicks off at 10AM ET / 7AM PT.
On July 27, hardware maker Nothing will debut its first product, wireless earbuds dubbed Ear (1). Despite releasing almost no tangible information about the product, the company has managed to generate substantial buzz around the launch — especially for an entry into the already-crowded wireless earbud market.
The hype, however, is real — and somewhat understandable. Nothing founder Carl Pei has a good track record in the industry — he was just 24 when he co-founded OnePlus in 2013. The company has done a canny job capitalizing on heightened expectations, meting out information about the product like pieces in a puzzle.
We spoke to Pei ahead of the upcoming launch to get some insight into Ear (1) and the story behind Nothing.
TC: I know there was a timing delay with the launch. Was that related to COVID-19 and supply chain issues?
CP: Actually, it was due to our design. Maybe you’ve seen the concept image of this transparent design. It turns out there’s a reason why there aren’t many transparent consumer tech products out there. It’s really, really hard to make it high quality. You need to ensure that everything inside looks just as good as the outside. So that’s where the team has been iterating, [but] you probably wouldn’t notice the differences between each iteration.
It could be getting the right magnets — as magnets are usually designed to go inside of a product and not be seen by the consumer — to figuring out the best type of gluing. You never have to solve that problem if you have a non-transparent product, but what kind of glue will keep the industrial design intact? I think the main issue has been getting the design ready. And we’re super, super close. Hopefully, it will be a product that people are really excited about when we launch.
So, there were no major supply chain issues?
Not for this product category. With true wireless earbuds, I think we’re pretty fine. No major issues. I mean, we had the issue that we started from zero — so no team and no partners. But step by step, we finally got here.
That seems to imply that you’re at least thinking ahead toward the other products. Have you already started developing them?
We have a lot of products in the pipeline. Earlier this year, we did a community crowdfunding round where we allocated $ 1.5 million to our community. That got bought up really quickly. But as part of that funding round, we had a deck with some of the products in development. Our products are code-named as Pokémon, so there are a lot of Pokémon on that slide [Ed note: The Ear (1) was “Aipom.”]. We have multiple categories that we’re looking at, but we haven’t really announced what those are.
Why were earbuds the right first step?
I think this market is really screaming for differentiation. If you look at true wireless today, I think after Apple came out with the AirPods, the entire market kind of followed. Everybody wears different clothes. This is something we wear for a large part of the day. Why wouldn’t people want different designs?
We’re working with Teenage Engineering — they’re super, super strong designers. I think true wireless is a place where we can really leverage that strength. Also, from a more rational business perspective, wireless earbuds is a super-fast-growing product category. I think we’re going to reach 300 million units shipped worldwide this year for this category. And your first product category should be one with good business potential.
“Screaming for differentiation” is an interesting way to put it. When you look at AirPods and the rest of the industry, are aesthetics what the market primarily lacks? Is it features or is it purely stylistic?
If we take a take a step back and think about it from a consumer perspective, we feel like, as a whole, consumer tech is quite, quite boring. Kids used to want to become engineers and astronauts and all that. But if you look at what kids want to become today, they want to be TikTokers or YouTubers. Maybe it’s because technology isn’t as inspiring as before. We talked to consumers, and they don’t care as much as a couple of years ago either. If you look at what what brands are doing in their communication, it’s all about features and specs.
Security researchers say the group exploited a zero-day in Apple’s operating system to target European government officials over LinkedIn.
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UK-based smartphone subscription startup Raylo has tucked $ 11.5 million in Series A funding into its top pocket, led by Octopus Ventures.
The equity round follows a debt raise last year — and brings Raylo’s total raised since being founded back in 2019 to $ 40M (in equity and debt). Its roster of investors to date also includes the Macquarie Group, Guy Johnson of Carphone Warehouse and the co-founders of Funding Circle.
The new funding will be used to charge up a subscription smartphone play that nudges consumers never to own their own mobile device — but just pay a monthly fee to lease a new or refurbished SIM-free device instead.
Raylo says it’s seen 10x YoY growth of customers and revenues, and plans to plough the Series A into accelerating its growth in the UK — including by doubling its headcount and further developing its tech. And while it suggests it’s entertaining the idea of a future global rollout it remains firmly UK focused for now.
Consumers opting to get the latest smartphone hardware through Raylo will pay a lower cost than the full RRP for a device since they won’t actually own the hardware at the end of the contract.
Environmental considerations aside, that may be an increasingly important consideration, given the inflating price of premium handsets like the top-of-the-range iPhone which has broken $ 1,000 for a few years now.
Plus the fact that most consumers simply won’t shell out so much for a handset. Leasing and returning offers an alternative way for people to get to use such expensive high-end devices.
With Raylo, the leased mobile is typically returned after the end of the 12 or 24-month contract — with the returned device refurbished for reuse via a second (or third) leased life with another user.
End of life devices are recycled (by partners), per Raylo. So it’s touting a circular model that promotes sustainability via device usage longevity vs the more typical upgrade scenario, via a carrier, where a consumer may just toss their old unused handset into a drawer, wasting its further potential utility.
Albeit, many people do pass on old devices to other family members or even sell or trade them in. But Raylo claims there are an estimated 125M smartphones in unused ‘hibernation’ across the UK. So, the suggestion is, plenty of smartphone users don’t bother ensure their old handset gets a second life.
Raylo reckons each of its subscription leased device can be used by a total of three customers over 6-7 years – which, if achieved, would mean a lifespan that it says is almost 2x longer than the UK average (of 2.31 years).
To further the longevity goal, all the phones it supplies come with a free case and screen protector.
Users also need to weigh up whether they want to shell out for insurance too, though, since they need to make sure they don’t damage the leased handset or risk having to shell out for expensive repairs or a non-return fee. (Raylo sells its own flavor of device insurance to users as an optional extra which slightly bumps up the monthly cost.)
Raylo competes with carriers’ own device subscription plans, of course. But again the claim is it’s cheaper to lease its way — although that’s as it should be since the consumer doesn’t own the hardware at the end of the contract (so won’t automatically have anything of value they could sell or trade in elsewhere).
If a user doesn’t want (or fails) to return a device at the end of the contract they have to pay a non-return fee — which varies depending on the handset hardware and how long they’ve been paying for it. But the fee can stretch to over £600 at the premium end — after 12 months of use of a Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G with 512GB of storage or an iPhone 12 Pro Max, for example.
While consumers that want to continue using the same device rather than upgrading after their contract ends can opt to continue paying their usual monthly fees — with payments continuing up to a maximum of 36 months, after which the non-return fee drops to a token £1.
All Raylo’s leased devices come with a 24 month warranty, under which it says it will freely repair faults not related to user damage or accidents, or else supply a replacement device if the handset can’t be fixed.
Commenting on Raylo’s Series A in a statement, Tosin Agbabiaka, early-stage fintech investor at Octopus Ventures, said: “The subscription economy is rapidly transforming the way we access products and services — yet the smartphone, an individual’s most valuable device, is still locked behind a bundled, ownership-based model. This means most people are trapped in a buy-and-dispose cycle, with a steep financial and environmental costs.
“Raylo solves these problems by offering access to premium consumer devices at lower, subscription-based prices, helping to widen access to the latest technology. By repurposing its devices at the end of their cycle, Raylo is also the sustainable choice in this market and has built a product loved by its customers — the opportunity here is massive, and we believe that [co-founders] Karl [Gilbert], Richard [Fulton], and Jinden [Badesha] have the vision and depth of expertise to transform the way we all access our devices.”
A number of refurbished electronics businesses have been attracting investor attention in Europe in recent years where lawmakers are also considering right to repair legislation.
Recent fundings in the space include a $ 335M round for French refurbished device marketplace startup Back Market; a $ 71m round for Berlin-based Grover‘s subscription electronics business; and a $ 40.6M round for Finland-based Swappie, which refurbishes and sells secondhand iPhones, to name a few.
Kobo’s Elipsa is the latest in the Amazon rival’s e-reading line, and it’s a big one. The 10.3-inch e-paper display brings it up to iPad dimensions and puts it in direct competition with the reMarkable and Boox’s e-reader tablets. It excels on reading experience, gets by on note taking and drawing, but falls a bit short on versatility.
Kobo has been creeping upmarket for a few years now, and though the cheaper Clara HD is still the pick of the litter in my opinion, the Forma and Libra H2O are worthy competitors to the Kindle lines. The $ 400 Elipsa represents a big step up in size, function and price, and it does justify itself — though there are a few important caveats.
The device is well designed but lacks any flourishes. The tilted “side chin” of the Forma and Libra is flattened out into a simple wide bezel on the right side. The lopsided appearance doesn’t bother me much, and much of the competition has it as well. (Though my favorite is Boox’s ultracompact, flush-fronted Poke 3)
The 10.3″ screen has a resolution of 1404 x 1872, giving it 227 pixels per inch. That’s well below the 300 PPI of the Clara and Forma, and the typography suffers from noticeably more aliasing if you look closely. Of course, you won’t be looking that closely, since as a larger device you’ll probably be giving the Elipsa a bit more distance and perhaps using a larger type size. I found it perfectly comfortable to read on — 227 PPI isn’t bad, just not the best.
There is a front light, which is easily adjustable by sliding your finger up and down the left side of the screen, but unlike other Kobo devices there is no way to change the color temperature. I’ve been spoiled by other devices and now the default cool grey I lived with for years doesn’t feel right, especially with a warmer light shining on your surroundings. The important part is that it is consistent across the full display and adjustable down to a faint glow, something my eyes have thanked me for many times.
It’s hard to consider the Elipsa independent from the accessories it’s bundled with, and in fact there’s no way to buy one right now without the “sleep cover” and stylus. The truth is they really complete the package, though they do add considerably to its weight and bulk. What when naked is lighter and feels smaller than a standard iPad is heavier and larger once you put its case on and stash the surprisingly weighty stylus at the top.
The cover is nicely designed, if a bit stiff, and will definitely protect your device from harm. The cover, secured by magnets at the bottom, flips off like a sheet on a legal pad and folds flat behind the device, attaching itself with the same magnets from the other direction. A couple folds in it also stiffen up with further magnetic arrangement into a nice, sturdy little stand. The outside is a grippy faux leather and the inside is soft microfiber.
You can wake and turn off the device by opening and closing the cover, but the whole thing comes with a small catch: you have to have the power button, charging port and big bezel on the right. When out of its case the Elipsa can, like the others of its lopsided type, be inverted and your content instantly flips. But once you put it in the case, you’re locked in to a semi-right-handed mode. This may or may not bother people but it’s worth mentioning.
The reading experience is otherwise very similar to that on Kobo’s other devices. A relatively clean interface that surfaces your most recently accessed content and a not overwhelming but still unwelcome amount of promotional stuff (“Find your next great read”). E-books free and paid for display well, though it’s never been my preference to read on a large screen like this. I truly wish one of these large e-readers would make a landscape mode with facing pages. Isn’t that more booklike?
Articles from the web, synced via Pocket, look great and are a pleasure to read in this format. It feels more like a magazine page, which is great when you’re reading an online version of one. It’s simple, foolproof and well integrated.
Kobo’s new note-taking prowess
What’s new on the bottom row, though, is “Notebooks,” where unsurprisingly you can create notebooks for scribbling down lists, doodles, notes of course, and generally use the stylus.
The writing experience is adequate. Here I am spoiled by the reMarkable 2, which boasts extremely low lag and high accuracy, as well as much more expression in the line. Kobo doesn’t approach that, and the writing experience is fairly basic, with a noticeable amount of lag, but admirable accuracy.
There are five pen tips, five line widths and five line shades, and they’re all fine. The stylus has a nice heft to it, though I’d like a grippier material. Two buttons on it let you quickly switch from the current pen style to a highlighter or eraser, where you have stroke-deleting or brush modes. The normal notebooks have the usual gridded, dotted, lined and blank styles, and unlimited pages, but you can’t zoom in or out (not so good for artists).
Then there are the “advanced” notebooks, which you must use if you want handwriting recognition and other features. These have indelible lines on which you can write, and a double tap captures your words into type very quickly. You can also put in drawings and equations in their own sections.
The handwriting recognition is fast and good enough for rough notes, but don’t expect to send these directly to your team without any editing. Likewise the diagram tool that turns gestural sketches of shapes and labels into finalized flowcharts and the like — better than the original wobbly art but still a rough draft. There are a few clever shortcuts and gestures to add or subtract spaces and other common tasks, something you’ll probably get used to fairly quick if you use the Elipsa regularly.
The notebook interface is snappy enough going from page to page or up and down on the “smart” notebooks but nothing like the fluidity of a design program or an art-focused one on an iPad. But it’s also unobtrusive, has good palm blocking, and feels nice in action. The lag on the line is definitely a con, but something you can get used to if you don’t mind the resulting product being a little sloppy.
You can also mark up e-books, which is nice for highlights but ultimately not that much better than simply selecting the text. And there’s no way you’re writing in the margins with the limitations of this stylus.
Exporting notepads can be done via a linked Dropbox account or over USB connection. Again the reMarkable has a leg up here, for even if its app is a bit restrictive, the live syncing means you don’t ever have to worry about what version of what is where, as long as it’s in the system. On the Kobo it’s more traditional.
Compared to the reMarkable, the Kobo is really just an easier platform for everyday reading, so if you’re looking for a device that focuses on that and has the option of doodling or note taking on the side, it’s a much better deal. On the other hand, those just looking for an improvement to that stylus-focused tablet should look elsewhere — writing and sketching still feels way better on a reMarkable than almost anything on the market. Compared with something like a Boox tablet, the Elipsa is more simple and focused, but doesn’t allow the opportunity of adding Android apps and games.
At $ 400 — though this includes a case and stylus — the Elipsa is a considerable investment and comparably priced to an iPad, which is certainly a more versatile device. But I don’t particularly enjoy reading articles or books on my iPad, and the simplicity of an e-reader in general helps me focus when I’m making notes on a paper or something. It’s a different device for a different purpose, but not for everyone.
It is however probably the best way right now to step into the shallow end of the “big e-reader” pool, with more complex or expensive options available should you desire them.
Last year, during the pandemic, a free browser extension called Netflix Party gained traction because it enabled people trapped in their homes to connect with far-flung friends and family by watching the same Netflix TV shows and movies simultaneously. It also enabled them to dish about the action in a side bar chat.
Yet that company — later renamed Teleparty — was just the beginning, argue two young companies that have raised seed funding. One, a year-old upstart in London that launched in December, just closed its round this week led by Craft Ventures. The other, a four-year-old, Bay Area-based startup, has raised $ 3 million in previously undisclosed seed funding, including from 500 Startups.
Both believe that while investors have thrown money at virtual events and edtech companies, there is an even bigger opportunity in developing a kind of multiplayer browsing experience that enables people to do much more together online. From watching sports to watching movies to perhaps even reviewing X-rays with one’s doctor some day, both say more web surfing together is inevitable, particularly for younger users.
The companies are taking somewhat different approaches. The startup on which Craft just made a bet, leading its $ 2.2 million seed round, is Giggl, a year-old, London-based startup that invites users of its web app to tap into virtual sessions. It calls these “portals” to which they can invite friends to browse content together, as well as text chat and call in. The portals can be private rooms or switched to “public” so that anyone can join.
Giggl was founded by four teenagers who grew up together, including its 19-year-old chief product officer, Tony Zog. It only recently graduated from the LAUNCH accelerator program. Still, it already has enough users — roughly 20,000 of whom use the service on an active monthly basis — that it’s beginning to build its own custom server infrastructure to minimize downtime and reduce its costs.
The bigger idea is to build a platform for all kinds of scenarios and to charge for these accordingly. For example, while people can chat for free while web surfing or watching events together like Apple Worldwide Developers Conference, Giggl plans to charge for more premium features, as well as to sell subscriptions to enterprises that are looking for more ways to collaborate. (You can check out a demo of Giggl’s current service below.)
Hearo.live is the other “multiplayer” startup — the one backed by 500 Startups, along with numerous angel investors. The company is the brainchild of Ned Lerner, who previously spent 13 years as a director of engineering with Sony Worldwide Studios and a short time before that as the CTO of an Electronic Arts division.
Hearo has a more narrow strategy in that users can’t browse absolutely anything together as with Giggl. Instead, Hearo enables users to access upwards of 35 broadcast services in the U.S. (from NBC Sports to YouTube to Disney+), and it relies on data synchronization to ensure that every user sees the same original video quality.
Hearo has also focused a lot of its efforts on sound, aiming to ensure that when multiple streams of audio are being created at the same time — say users are watching the basketball playoffs together and also commenting — not everyone involved is confronted with a noisy feedback loop.
Indeed, Lerner says, through echo cancellation and other “special audio tricks” that Hearo’s small team has developed, users can enjoy the experience without “noise and other stuff messing up the experience.” (“Pretty much we can do everything Clubhouse can do,” says Lerner. “We’re just doing it as you’re watching something else because I honestly didn’t think people just sitting around talking would be a big thing.”)
Like Giggl, Hearo Lerner envisions a subscription model; it also anticipates an eventual ad revenue split with sports broadcasters and says it’s already working with the European Broadcasting Union on that front. Like Giggl, Hearo’s users numbers are conservative by most standards, with 300,000 downloads to date of its app for iOS, Android, Windows, and macOS, and 60,000 actively monthly users.
It begs the question of whether “watching together online” is a huge opportunity, and the answer doesn’t yet seem clear, even if Hearo and Giggl have more compelling tech and viable paths to generating revenue.
The startups aren’t the first to focus on watch-together type experiences. Scener, an app founded by serial entrepreneur Richard Wolpert, says it has 2 million active registered users and “the best, most active relationship with all the studios.” But it markets itself a virtual movie theater, which is a slightly different use case.
Rabbit, a company founded in 2013, enabled people to more widely browse and watch the same content simultaneously, as well as to text and video chat. It’s closer to what Giggl is building. But Rabbit eventually ran aground.
Lerner says that’s because the company was screen-sharing other people’s copyrighted material and so couldn’t charge for its service. (“Essentially,” he notes, “you can get away with some amount of piracy if it’s not for your personal financial benefit.”) But it’s probably fair to wonder if there will ever be massive demand for services like his, particularly as the coronavirus fades into the distance and people reengage more actively in the physical world.
For his part, Lerner isn’t worried. He points to a generation that is far more comfortable watching video on a phone than elsewhere. He also notes that screen time has become “an isolating thing,” and predicts it will eventually become “an ideal time to hang out with your buddies,” akin to watching a game on the couch together.
There is a precedent, in his mind. “Over the last 20 years, games went from single player to multiplayer to voice chats showing up in games so people can actually hang out,” he says. “Because mobile is everywhere and social is fun, we think the same is going to happen to the rest of the media business.”
Zog thinks the trends play in Giggl’s favor, too. “It’s obvious that people are going to meet up more often” as the pandemic winds down, he says. But all that real-world socializing “isn’t really going to be a substitute” for the kind of online socializing that’s already happening in so many corners of the internet.
Besides, he adds Giggl wants to “make it so that being together online is just as good as being together in real life. That’s the end goal here.”
For the second time in a month, the company issued an update that doesn’t fully address a severe security vulnerability in Windows.
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Outbrain, an adtech company that provides clickbait ads below news articles, has raised $ 200 million in funding — Outbrain didn’t disclose the valuation of the company for this deal. The Baupost Group is investing in the company — it’s a Boston-based hedge fund. Outbrain filed for an initial public offering just last week. Today’s funding round should be the last traditional private investment round before going public.
If you’re not familiar with Outbrain, you may have seen its content recommendation widgets on popular news websites, such as CNN, Le Monde and The Washington Post. They mostly feature sponsored links that lead to third-party websites.
“We are excited to announce this investment from The Baupost Group, who share our vision and commitment for our business, our team and our future prospects” co-CEO David Kostman said in a statement.
Outbrain is often compared with its rival Taboola. While both startups planned to merge at some point, they had to cancel their merger. Taboola already went public after merging with a SPAC — a special purpose acquisition company. Taboola shares started trading last week.
In its IPO filing, Outbrain reported $ 767 million in revenue for 2020 and $ 228 million in revenue for the first quarter of 2021 alone. In 2020, Outbrain managed to generate $ 4.4 million in net income. During Q1 2021, the company reported $ 10.7 million in net income.
“We proudly lead the recommendation space we created. We have bold plans for the future to continue delivering critical innovation to our premium media partners worldwide and expanding our powerful open web global advertising platform” Outbrain co-CEO Yaron Galai said in a statement.
The advertising market has recovered from the global health pandemic and there has been plenty of initial public offerings during the first half of 2021. Everything seems to be lining up for Taboola and Outbrain, which means it’s time to reach the next level and become public companies.
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