The unchecked digital land grab for consumers’ personal data that has been going on for more than a decade is coming to an end, and the dominoes have begun to fall when it comes to the regulation of consumer privacy and data security.
We’re witnessing the beginning of a sweeping upheaval in how companies are allowed to obtain, process, manage, use and sell consumer data, and the implications for the digital ad competitive landscape are massive.
On the backdrop of evolving privacy expectations and requirements, we’re seeing the rise of a new class of digital advertising player: consumer-facing apps and commerce platforms. These commerce companies are emerging as the most likely beneficiaries of this new regulatory privacy landscape — and we’re not just talking about e-commerce giants like Amazon.
Traditional commerce companies like eBay, Target and Walmart have publicly spoken about advertising as a major focus area for growth, but even companies like Starbucks and Uber have an edge in consumer data consent and, thus, an edge over incumbent media players in the fight for ad revenues.
Tectonic regulatory shifts
By now, most executives, investors and entrepreneurs are aware of the growing acronym soup of privacy regulation, the two most prominent ingredients being the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) and the CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act).
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Snapchat just announced that it’s making shows with big names like Serena Williams, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Kevin Hart, as well as online stars like Emma Chamberlain, Loren Gray, Rickey Thompson, Baby Ariel and FaZe Banks.
Snapchat launched its original content efforts two years ago, and today it’s unveiling a new program called Creator Shows. As initially announced in the Hollywood Reporter, these will be first-person shows designed around individual creators.
For example, Schwarzenegger will be providing motivational advice in a show called “Rules of Success,” while Thompson will weigh in on fashion and lifestyle trends on “Trend or End” and Gray offers beauty advice on “Glow Up.”
The shows will begin airing this month. They’re all exclusive to Snapchat, and many of them come from creators who have a substantial following on other platforms — Chamberlain, for example, was just described in The New York Times as “the funniest person on YouTube.”
“Snapchat has always been my favorite platform to post random and funny things on because it’s so relaxed,” Chamberlain said in a statement. “My favorite part about it is that I get to watch my own Snapchat Stories a few hours after I post them for entertainment… kind of embarrassing, I know…”
Snap isn’t sharing viewership numbers around its original shows, but it does say that daily time spent watching those shows tripled over the past year.
And as media giants funnel more and more money into original video content, this might be the strategy that Snapchat needs to compete — rather than trying to find the next big-budget hit, it can focus on personality-driven shows from creators with large followings.
Cloud gaming — however a company chooses to define that — is shaping up to be a big part of the next generation of consoles and other platforms. But Mario creator and Nintendo veteran Shigeru Miyamoto says his company won’t be so quick to jump on the bandwagon.
Speaking to shareholders at Nintendo’s annual general meeting, Miyamoto and other executives addressed a variety of issues, among them what some interpret as a failure to keep up with the state of the industry. Sony and Microsoft (together, amazingly) are about to lock horns with Google, Nvidia and others in the arena of game streaming, but Nintendo has announced no plans whatsoever regarding the powerful new technology.
As reported by GamesIndustry.biz, Miyamoto was unfazed by this allegation.
“We believe it is important to continue to use these diverse technical environments to make unique entertainment that could only have been made by Nintendo,” he said. “We have not fallen behind with either VR or network services… Because we don’t publicize this until we release a product, it may look like we’re falling behind.”
But although this hinted that Nintendo is working in this direction, Miyamoto didn’t sound convinced that cloud gaming was a home run.
“I think that cloud gaming will become more widespread in the future, but I have no doubt that there will continue to be games that are fun because they are running locally and not on the cloud,” he said.
The Nintendo focus on local multiplayer and complete offline single-player games is certainly emblematic of this point of view. And while Nintendo has been slow to adopt the latest gaming trends, it has shown that it can pull them off very well, indeed like no other, for example with the excellent Splatoon 2 and its constantly evolving seasons and events.
Nintendo President Shuntaro Furukawa said they see how gaming technology is evolving and that it’s important to “keep up with such changes,” but like Miyamoto made no indication that there was anything concrete on the way.
Instead, he indicated (again in true Nintendo style) that the company would reap the benefits of cloud gaming whether or not it took part in the practice.
“if these changes increase the worldwide gaming population, that will just give us more opportunities with our integrated hardware and software development approach to reach people worldwide with the unique entertainment that Nintendo can provide,” he said.
In other words, a rising tide lifts all boats, and if the others did the work to raise the water level, well, that’s their business.
The rumor on everyone’s mind after E3 is whether a new Switch or Switches are on the way. Naturally Furukawa demurred, saying that of course they were aware of speculation, but wouldn’t comment. However, he added: “It would spoil the surprise for consumers and is against the interests of our shareholders, so we are withholding any discussion.”
Of course a new Switch is on the way — that’s about as much as a confirmation anyone would be able to get from Furukawa or the other highly trained executives at Nintendo, even if the new hardware was coming out tomorrow. But at this rate it seems more likely that the new hardware will be timed to pull in buyers around the holidays — which may have the knock-on effect of taking the wind out of Microsoft and Sony’s sails (and sales) when they debut their next-generation consoles next year.
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Alphabet-backed UnitedMasters, the music label distribution startup and record label alternative that offers artists 100 percent ownership of everything they create, launched its iPhone app today.
The iPhone app works like the service they used to offer only via the web, giving artists the chance to upload their own tracks (from iCloud, Dropbox or directly from text messages), then distribute them to a full range of streaming music platforms, including Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal and more. In exchange for this distribution, as well as analytics on how your music is performing, UnitedMasters takes a 10% share on revenue generated by tracks it distributes, but artists retain full ownership of the content they create.
UnitedMasters also works with brand partners, including Bose, the NBA and AT&T, to place tracks in marketing use across the brand’s properties and distributed content. Music creators are paid out via PayPal once they connect their accounts, and they can also tie-in their social accounts for connecting their overall online presence with their music.
Using the app, artists can create entire releases by uploading not only music tracks but also high-quality cover art, and by entering information like whether any producers participated in the music creation, and whether the tracks contain any explicit lyrics. You can also specify an exact desired release date, and UnitedMasters will do its best to distribute across services on that day, pending content approvals.
UnitedMasters was founded by former Interscope Records president Steve Stoute, and also has funding from Andreessen Horwitz and 20th Century Fox. It’s aiming to serve a new generation of artists who are disenfranchised by the traditional label model, but seeking distribution through the services where listeners actually spend their time, and using the iPhone as manage the entire process definitely fits with serving that customer base.
Larissa Russell and Fiona Lee founded a cookie startup called Green Pea Cookie in 2014. The cookies were 100% natural, vegan and “handcrafted with love.”
The company failed but not because the cookies weren’t selling. The business couldn’t keep up with the antiquated wholesale food distribution system’s steep costs. Two incumbent players, United Natural Foods Inc. and KeHE Distributors, essentially controlled its only pathway to grocery stores across the country. So the founders shut down Green Pea and focused their efforts on building the tool Green Pea had needed to survive: Pod Foods, a distribution and logistics platform for emerging food brands.
“We were like so many other young entrepreneurs,” Russell, Pod Foods’ chief executive officer, tells TechCrunch. “I had studied government and economics and did the cookie company because I wanted to create something better for the world but we realized there was a much bigger issue at hand and it wasn’t enough to solve for the end product, we needed to solve for the way the product reached consumers.”
“The distribution system hasn’t evolved since World War II,” Lee adds. “For so many years, there’s been little evolution in this space, even since the advent of technology and the internet.”
Today, Pod Foods is announcing a $ 3 million seed round led by Moment Ventures, with participation from M12 and Unshackled Ventures to fuel the growth of its software and data-enabled platform. The capital follows a $ 250,000 pre-seed investment from Unshackled, a venture capital firm that invests in immigrant founders and, if necessary, helps them navigate the complex visa process.
Lee immigrated to the U.S. from Singapore five years ago to double down on Green Pea Cookie. Her business partner, Russell, had been handling operations in the U.S. while she helped build the business from her home country. With Pod Foods up and running, the founders now have the opportunity to bring Green Pea back from the dead. Instead, they tell me their focus and efforts are entirely on scaling their B2B software upstart. Green Pea is gone for good.
Pod Foods is an end-to-end platform that connects retailers with manufacturers, facilitating the overly-complex wholesale-food distribution market. The startup works with a third-party network that handles both fulfillment and logistics to create a tool beneficial to emerging brands, big retailers and consumers. The company charges retailers on a subscription basis and takes a cut of each transaction. The end goal is to simplify an age-old process, allow startup brands the opportunity to sell products inside big retailers and make great products accessible to customers at a lower price.
The San Francisco-based startup has launched in the Bay Area and Chicago. Currently, it’s working with 350 food brands and 100 retailers. With a fresh funding deal, Pod Foods plans to scale 10x in the next 12 months.
“We want to change the way food is distributed,” Russell said. “We want to turn [the system] on its head so the consumer can get what they would like to buy in retail stores at an affordable price.”
Even as much of the world is digitizing its governance, in small towns and villages of India, data about its citizens is still being largely logged on long and thick notebooks. Have they received the subsidized cooking gas cylinders? How frequent are the power cuts in the village? If these data points exist at all, they are probably stored in big paperbacks stacked in a corner of some agency’s office.
Five years ago, two young entrepreneurs — Prukalpa Sankar and Varun Banka — set out to modernize this system. They founded SocialCops, a startup that builds tools that make it easier for government officials — and anyone else — to quickly conduct surveys and maintain digital records that could be accessed from anywhere.
The Indian government was so impressed with SocialCops’ offering that it partnered with the startup on National Data Platform, a project to connect and bring more transparency within many of the state-run initiatives; and Ujjwala Yojana, a project to deliver subsidized cooking gas cylinders to poor women across the nation.
“This is a crucial step towards good governance through which we will be able to monitor everything centrally,” India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said of National Data Platform. “It will enable us to effectively monitor every village of the country.”
Two years ago, the duo wondered if the internal tools that they built for their own teams to manage their projects could help data teams around the world? The early results are in: Atlan, a startup they founded using learnings from SocialCops, has secured more than 200 customers from over 50 nations and has raised $ 2.5 million in pre-Series A funding led by Waterbridge Ventures, an early stage venture fund.
The startup, which employs about 80 people, has also received backing from Ratan Tata, Chairman Emeritus of conglomerate Tata Sons, Rajan Anandan, the former head of Google Southeast Asia, and 500 Startups. On Tuesday, Singapore-headquartered Atlan moved out of stealth mode.
The premise of Atlan’s products is simple. It’s built on the assumption that the way most people in enterprises deal with data is inefficient and broken, Sankar and Banka told TechCrunch in an interview. Typically, there is no central system to keep track of all these data points that often live in their own silos. This often results in people spending days to figure out what their compliance policy is, for instance.
“Atlan wants to democratize data inside organizations,” said Sankar.
Teams within a typical company currently use a number of different tools to gather and manage data. Atlan has built products — dubbed Discovery, Grid, and Workflows — to create a collaboration layer, bringing together diverse data (from internal and external sources), tools and people to one interface.
“We are reimagining every human interaction with data. For instance, code has a profile on GitHub—what would a “profile” of data look like? What if you could share data as easily as a Google Sheets link, without worrying about the size or format? Or what would a data versioning and approval workflow look like? What if data scientists could acquire external data within minutes, instead of the months it takes right now?” said Banka.
The startup has also built a product called Collect that allows an organization to quickly deploy apps to collect granular data. These apps can collect data even when there is no internet connection. All of these data points, too, then find their way to the interface.
Atlan intends to use the capital it has raised on product development and sign more customers. It has already won some big names including Unilever, Milkbasket, Barbeque Nation, WPP and GroupM, Mahindra Group and InMobi in India, Chuan Lim Construction in Singapore, ServeHaiti in Haiti, Swansea University in the UK, the Ministry of Environment in Costa Rica, and Varun Beverages in Zambia.
In a prepared statement, Manish Kheterpal, Managing Partner at WaterBridge Ventures, said, “companies are struggling to overcome the friction that arises when diverse individuals need to collaborate, leading to project failure. The IPOs of companies like Slack and Zoom are proof that we live in the era of consumerization of the enterprise. With its sharp focus on data democratization, Atlan is well-positioned to reimagine the future of how data teams work.”
As for SocialCops, Sankar said it will live on as a data science community and pursue its signature “social good” mission.
As autonomous cars and robots loom over the landscapes of cities and jobs alike, the technologies that empower them are forming sub-industries of their own. One of those is lidar, which has become an indispensable tool to autonomy, spawning dozens of companies and attracting hundreds of millions in venture funding.
But like all industries built on top of fast-moving technologies, lidar and the sensing business is by definition built somewhat upon a foundation of shifting sands. New research appears weekly advancing the art, and no less frequently are new partnerships minted, as car manufacturers like Audi and BMW scramble to keep ahead of their peers in the emerging autonomy economy.
To compete in the lidar industry means not just to create and follow through on difficult research and engineering, but to be prepared to react with agility as the market shifts in response to trends, regulations, and disasters.
I talked with several CEOs and investors in the lidar space to find out how the industry is changing, how they plan to compete, and what the next few years have in store.
Their opinions and predictions sometimes synced up and at other times diverged completely. For some, the future lies manifestly in partnerships they have already established and hope to nurture, while others feel that it’s too early for automakers to commit, and they’re stringing startups along one non-exclusive contract at a time.
All agreed that the technology itself is obviously important, but not so important that investors will wait forever for engineers to get it out of the lab.
And while some felt a sensor company has no business building a full-stack autonomy solution, others suggested that’s the only way to attract customers navigating a strange new market.
It’s a flourishing market but one, they all agreed, that will experience a major consolidation in the next year. In short, it’s a wild west of ideas, plentiful money, and a bright future — for some.
The evolution of lidar
I’ve previously written an introduction to lidar, but in short, lidar units project lasers out into the world and measure how they are reflected, producing a 3D picture of the environment around them.
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