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Facebook to pay $52 million to content moderators suffering from PTSD

May 13, 2020 No Comments

Facebook has agreed in principle to pay $ 52 million to compensate current and former content moderators who developed mental health issues on the job.

The Verge reported Tuesday that the settlement will cover more than 11,000 content moderators who developed depression, addictions and other mental health issues while they worked moderating content on the social media platform.

In fact, it was The Verge that sparked the inquiry to begin with. Silicon Valley editor Casey Newton reported that Facebook content moderators, hired through outsourcing giant Cognizant in Phoenix and Tampa, were subject to hate speech, murders, suicides and other graphic content.

Facebook employs thousands of content moderators to sift through the vast number of posts, images and other content posted to the site. If a potentially rule-breaking post is flagged by other users, it’s often reviewed by a content moderator who makes the final call on whether it stays or is deleted.

One former content moderator, Selena Scola, said she developed post-traumatic stress disorder — or PTSD — and sued Facebook to start a fund to create a testing and treatment program for current and former moderators.

Cognizant later pulled out of the content moderation market altogether following The Verge’s investigations.

The preliminary settlement will cover moderators in Arizona, California, Florida and Texas from 2015, and each moderator will receive at least $ 1,000. Others could receive up to $ 50,000 in damages.

The California court overseeing the case will make the final call, expected later this year.

A Facebook spokesperson told TechCrunch: “We are grateful to the people who do this important work to make Facebook a safe environment for everyone. We’re committed to providing them additional support through this settlement and in the future.”

If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HOME to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.


Social – TechCrunch


Vestiaire Collective raises $64.2 million for its second-hand fashion platform

April 21, 2020 No Comments

Vestiaire Collective just closed another big round of funding in the middle of an economic crisis — the round closed in early April. The startup raised $ 64.2 million (€59 million) and the company has raised more than $ 240 million over the year, according to Crunchbase. Vestiaire Collective operates a marketplace of pre-owned fashion items. Users can both sell and buy clothes and accessories on the platform.

There’s a huge list of investors in today’s round — Korelya Capital, Fidelity International-managed funds, Vaultier7, Cuit Invest and existing investors Eurazeo (Eurazeo Growth and Idinvest Venture funds), Bpifrance, Vitruvian Partners, Condé Nast, Luxury Tech Fund and Vestiaire Collective CEO Max Bittner are all participating.

With 9 million members across 90 countries, Vestiaire Collective has become a huge marketplace. And it makes sense that an e-commerce website focused on pre-owned items is working well. There has been a ton of backlash against fast fashion over the past few years.

People now also value circular business models as it becomes more affordable to refresh your wardrobe, especially during an economic crisis, and it is better for the environment.

As always, Vestiaire Collective will use the new influx of cash to expand to more countries. In particular, with Korelya Capital as a new backer, the company will expand to South Korea and Japan this year. While the company started in France, 80% of transactions are now cross-border transactions.

Originally, Vestiaire Collective asked you to send your items to its warehouses to check them before putting them on sale. The startup has been betting on direct shipping from the seller to the buyer in Europe and it has been working well. You can get reimbursed if there’s something wrong with what you ordered though.

Direct shipping has been available in Europe since September 2019 and it now represents over 50% of orders in the region. Up next, Vestiaire Collective will introduce direct shipping in the U.S. this summer and in Asia by the end of 2020.


Startups – TechCrunch


Challenger business bank Qonto raises $115 million round led by Tencent and DST Global

January 21, 2020 No Comments

French startup Qonto has raised a $ 115 million Series C funding round led by Tencent and DST Global. Today’s news comes a few days after another French fintech startup Lydia raised some money from Tencent.

Existing investors Valar and Alven are also participating in today’s funding round. TransferWise co-founder Taavet Hinrikus and Adyen CFO Ingo Uytdehaage are also joining the round. Qonto says that it represents the largest funding round for a French fintech company.

Qonto is a challenger bank, or a neobank, but for B2B use cases. Instead of attracting millions of customers like N26 or Monzo, Qonto is serving small and medium companies as well as freelancers in Europe.

According to the startup, business banking in Europe is broken. The company thinks it can provide a much better user experience with an online- and mobile-first product.

The company has managed to attract 65,000 companies over the past two years and a half. The product is currently live in France, Italy, Spain and Germany. In 2019 alone, Qonto has managed €10 billion in transaction volume.

With today’s funding round, the company plans to double down on its existing markets, develop new features that make the platform works better in each country based on local needs and hire more people. The team should grow from 200 to 300 employees within a year.

Qonto obtained a payment institution license in June 2018 and has developed its own core banking infrastructure. Around 50% of the company’s user base is currently using Qonto’s own core banking system. Others are still relying on a third-party partner.

Moving from one back end to another requires some input from customers, which explains why there are still some customers using the legacy infrastructure. Over the coming months, Qonto plans to launch new payment features that should convince more users to switch to Qonto’s back end.

Even more important, Qonto plans to obtain a credit institution license, which could open up a ton of possibilities when it comes to features and revenue streams. The company says that it should have its new license by the end of the year.

For instance, you could imagine being able to get a credit card, apply for an overdraft and get a small loan with Qonto.

Compared to traditional banks, Qonto lets you open a bank account more easily. After signing up, Qonto offers a modern interface with your activity. You can export your transactions in no time, manage your expenses and get real-time notifications. Qonto also integrates with popular accounting tools.

When it comes to payment methods, Qonto gives you a French IBAN as well as debit cards. You can order physical or virtual cards whenever you want, customize limits and freeze a card. Qonto also supports direct debit and checks. Like many software-as-a-service products, you can also manage multiple user accounts and customize permission levels.


Startups – TechCrunch


Loop Returns picks up $10 million in Series A led by FirstMark Capital

November 12, 2019 No Comments

Loop Returns, the startup that helps brands handle returns from online purchases, has today announced the close of a $ 10 million Series A funding round led by FirstMark Capital. Lerer Hippeau and Ridge Ventures also participated in the round.

Loop started when Jonathan Poma, a cofounder and COO and President, was working at an agency and consulting with a big Shopify brand on how to improve their system for returns and exchanges. After partnering with long-time friend Corbett Morgan Loop Returns was born.

Loop sits on top of Shopify to handle all of a brand’s returns. It first asks the customer if they’d like a different size in the item they bought, quickly managing an exchange. It then asks if the customer would prefer to exchange for a new item altogether, depositing the credit in that person’s account in real time so they can shop for something new immediately.

If an exchange isn’t in the cards, Loop will ask the customer if they’d prefer credit with this brand over a straight-up refund.

The goal, according to Poma and Morgan, is to turn the point of return into a moment where brands can create a life-loyal customer when handled quickly and properly.

The more we shop online, the more brands extend themselves financially, and returns are a big part of that. Returns account for 20 to 30 percent of ecommerce sales, which can become a terrible financial burden on a growing direct-to-consumer brand. And what’s more, the cost of acquiring those users in the first place also goes down the drain.

Loop Returns hopes to keep that customer in the fold by giving them post-purchase options that are more sticky and more lucrative for the brand than a refund.

The company thinks of it as Connection Infrastructure. Most brands already have a customer acquisition architecture, and Shopify and Amazon are ahead when it comes to the infrastructure around customer convenience. But the ties that bind customers to brands haven’t been optimized for the many D2C brands out there looking to make an impact.

“The big problem we’re trying to solve long term is connection infrastructure,” said Morgan. “Why does this brand matter? Why does it mean something to me? Why does the product matter? We want to enforce more mindfulness and meaning into buying.”

Of course, a more mindful shopper doesn’t yield as many returns. Poma and Morgan admit that the goal of their software is to minimize returns, the very reason for the software’s existence. After all, return volume is one of a handful of variables that help Loop Returns determine what it will charge its brand clients.

But the team is thinking about other layers of the connection infrastructure, with plans to launch a product in 2020 that also focuses on the connection point after purchase. Poma and Morgan believe, with an almost religious reverence, that the brands themselves will help lead shoppers and infrastructure providers to a better, more connected shopping experience.

“Brands are the torch bearers,” said Poma. “They will lead us to a more enlightened era of how we think about buying. Empowerment of the brand will lead us to a better consumerism.”

The cofounders stayed mum on any specific plans for the 2020 product, but did say they will use the funding to expand operations and further build out its current and future products.

Of course, Loop is playing in a crowded space. Not only are there other players thinking about post-purchase connection, but Shopify has itself built out tools to help with exchanges and returns, and even acquired Return Magic, a similar service, in the summer of 2018.

That said, Loop Returns believes that there is a long way to go as it builds the ‘connection infrastructure’ and that one clear path forward is actual personalization. With data from returns and exchanges, Loop Returns is relatively well positioned to take on personalization in a meaningful way.

For now, Loop Returns has more than 200 customers and has handled more than 2 million returns, working with brands like Brooklinen, AllBirds, PuraVida and more.


Enterprise – TechCrunch


Looking to become the video-based social network of the gaming world, Medal.tv raises $9 million

September 6, 2019 No Comments

When Medal.tv first launched on the scene, the company was an upstart trying to be the social network for the gaming generation.

Since its debut in February, the clipping and messaging service for gamers has amassed 5 million total users with hundreds of thousands of daily active users. And now it has a $ 9 million new investment from firms, led by Horizons Ventures, the venture capital fund established by Hong Kong multi-billionaire Li Ka-shing.

“We’re seeing sharing of short-form video emerge as a means of self-expression and entertainment for the current generation. We believe Medal’s platform will be a foundation for interactive social experiences beyond what you can find in a game,” says Jonathan Tam, an investor with Horizons Ventures .

Medal sees potential both in its social network and in the ability for game developers to use the platform as a marketing and discovery tool for the gaming audience.

“Friends are the main driver of game discovery, and game developers benefit from shareable games as a result. Medal.tv is trying to enable that without the complexity of streaming,” says Matteo Vallone, the former head of Google Play games in Europe and an angel investor in Medal.

Assets Web 1

It’s a platform that saw investors willing to fork over as much as $ 20 million for the company, according to chief executive Pim de Witte. “There are still too many risks involved to take capital like that,” de Witte says.

Instead, the $ 9 million from Horizons, and previous investors like Makers Fund, will be used to steadily grow the business.

“At Medal, we believe the next big social platform will emerge in gaming, perhaps built on top of short-form content, partially as a result of gaming publishers trying to build their own isolated gaming stores and systems,” said de Witte, in a statement. “That drives social fragmentation in the market and brings out the need for platforms such as Medal and Discord, which unite gamers across games and platforms in a meaningful way.”

As digital gaming becomes the social medium of choice for a generation, new tools that allow consumers to share their virtual experiences will become increasingly common. This phenomenon will only accelerate as more events like the Marshmello concert in Fortnite become the norm.

“Medal has the exciting potential to enable a seamless social exchange of virtual experiences,” says Ryann Lai, an investor from Makers Fund.


Social – TechCrunch


At-home blood testing startup Baze rakes in $6 million from Nature’s Way

August 31, 2019 No Comments

By now, the venture world is wary of blood testing startups offering health data from just a few drops of blood. However, Baze, a Swiss-based personal nutrition startup providing blood tests you can do in the convenience of your own home, collects just a smidgen of your sanguine fluid through an MIT manufactured device, which, according to the company, is in accordance with FDA regulations.

The idea is to find out (via your blood sample) which vitamins you’re missing out on and are keeping you from living your best life. That seems to resonate with folks who don’t want to go into the doctor’s office and separately head to their nearest lab for testing.

Most health professionals would agree it’s important to know if you are getting the right amount of nutrition — Vitamin D deficiency is a worldwide epidemic affecting calcium absorption, hormone regulation, energy levels and muscle weakness. An estimated 74% of the U.S. population does not get the required daily levels of Vitamin D.

“There are definitely widespread deficiencies across the population,” Baze CEO and founder Philipp Schulte tells TechCrunch. “[With the blood test] we see that we can actually close those gaps for the first time ever in the supplement industry.”

While we don’t know exactly how many people have tried out Baze just yet, Schulte says the company has seen 40% month-over-month new subscriber growth.

That has garnered the attention of supplement company Nature’s Way, which has partnered with the company and just added $ 6 million to the coffers to help Baze ramp up marketing efforts in the U.S.

Screen Shot 2019 08 30 at 2.27.12 PMI had the opportunity to try out the test myself. It’s pretty simple to do. You just open up a little pear-shaped device, pop it on your arm and then press it to engage and get it to start collecting your blood. After it’s done, plop it in the provided medical packaging and ship it off to a Baze-contracted lab.

I will say it is certainly more convenient to just pop on a little device myself — although it might be tricky if you’re at all squeamish, as you’ll see a little bubble where the blood is being sucked from your arm. For anyone who hesitates, it might be easier to just head to a lab and have another human do this for you.

The price is also nice, compared to going to a Quest Diagnostics or LabCorp, which can vary depending on which vitamins you need to test for individually. With Baze it’s just $ 100 a pop, plus any additional supplements you might want to buy via monthly subscription after you get your results. The first month of supplements is free with your kit.

Baze’s website will show your results within about 12 days (though Schulte tells TechCrunch the company is working on getting your results faster). It does so with a score and then displays a range of various vitamins tested.

I was told that, overall, I was getting the nutrients I require with a score of 74 out of 100. But I’m already pretty good at taking high-quality vitamins. The only thing that really stuck out was my zinc levels, which I was told was way off the charts high after running the test through twice. Though I suspect, as I am not displaying any symptoms of zinc poisoning, this was likely the result of not wiping off my zinc-based sunscreen well enough before the test began.

For those interested in conducting their own at-home test and not afraid to prick themselves in the arm with something that looks like you might have it on hand in the kitchen, you can do so by heading over to Baze and signing up.

Gadgets – TechCrunch


Groupon co-founder Eric Lefkofsky just raised another $200 million for his newest company, Tempus

June 1, 2019 No Comments

When serial entrepreneur Eric Lefkofsky grows a company, he puts the pedal to the metal. When in 2011 his last company, the Chicago-based coupons site Groupon, raised $ 950 million from investors, it was the largest amount raised by a startup ever. It was just over three years old at the time, and it went public later that same year.

Lefkofsky seems to be stealing a page from the same playbook for his newest company, Tempus. The Chicago-based genomic testing and data analysis company was founded a little more than three years ago, yet it has already hired nearly 700 employees and raised more than $ 500 million — including through a new $ 200 million round that values the company at $ 3.1 billion.

According to the Chicago Tribune, that new valuation makes it — as Groupon once was — one of Chicago’s most highly valued privately held companies.

So why all the fuss? As the Tribune explains it, Tempus has built a platform to collect, structure and analyze the clinical data that’s often unorganized in electronic medical record systems. The company also generates genomic data by sequencing patient DNA and other information in its lab.

The goal is to help doctors create customized treatments for each individual patient, Lefkofsky tells the paper.

So far, it has partnered with numerous cancer treatment centers that are apparently giving Tempus human data from which to learn. Tempus is also seemingly generating data “in vitro,” as is another company we featured recently called Insitro, a drug development startup founded by famed AI researcher Daphne Koller. With Insitro, it is working on a liver disease treatment owing to a tie-up with Gilead, which has amassed related human data over the years from which Insitro can use to learn. As a complementary data source, Insitro, like Tempus, is trying to learn what the disease does in a “dish,” then determine if it can use what it observes using machine learning to predict what it sees in people.

Tempus hasn’t come up with any cancer-related cures yet, but Lefkofsky already says that Tempus wants to expand into diabetes and depression, too.

In the meantime, he tells Crain’s Chicago Business that Tempus is already generating “significant” revenue. “Our oldest partners, have, in most cases, now expanded to different subgroups (of cancer). What we’re doing is working.”

Investors in the latest round include Baillie Gifford; Revolution Growth; New Enterprise Associates; funds and accounts managed by T. Rowe Price; Novo Holdings; and the investment management company Franklin Templeton.


Startups – TechCrunch


Mueller Report Says No Collusion, Barr Raises a Million Questions

March 25, 2019 No Comments

In a convoluted letter to Congress, Attorney General William Barr summarized Robert Mueller’s report on the Russia investigation and said he won’t charge President Trump with obstruction.
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Backed by Benchmark, Blue Hexagon just raised $31 million for its deep learning cybersecurity software

February 5, 2019 No Comments

Nayeem Islam spent nearly 11 years with chipmaker Qualcomm, where he founded its Silicon Valley-based R&D facility, recruited its entire team and oversaw research on all aspects of security, including applying machine learning on mobile devices and in the network to detect threats early.

Islam was nothing if not prolific, developing a system for on-device machine learning for malware detection, libraries for optimizing deep learning algorithms on mobile devices, and systems for parallel compute on mobile devices, among other things.

In fact, because of his work, he also saw a big opportunity in better protecting enterprises from cyberthreats through deep neural networks that are capable of processing every raw byte within a file and that can uncover complex relations within datasets. So two years ago, Islam and Saumitra Das, a former Qualcomm engineer with 330 patents to his name and another 450 pending, struck out on their own to create Blue Hexagon, a now 30-person Sunnyvale, Ca.-based company that is today disclosing that it has raised $ 31 million in funding from Benchmark and Altimeter.

The funding comes roughly one year after Benchmark quietly led a $ 6 million Series A round for the firm.

So what has investors so bullish on the company’s prospects, aside from its credentialed founders? In a word, speed, seemingly. According to Islam, Blue Hexagon has created a real-time, cybersecurity platform that he says can detect known and unknown threats at first encounter, then block them in “sub seconds” so the malware doesn’t have time to spread.

The industry has to move to real-time detection, he says, explaining that four new and unique malware samples is released every second, and arguing that traditional security methods can’t keep pace. He says that sandboxes, for example, meaning restricted environments that quarantine cyber threats and keep them from breaching sensitive files, are no longer state of the art. The same is true of signatures, which are mathematical techniques used to validate the authenticity and integrity of a message, software or digital document but are being bypassed by rapidly evolving new malware.

Only time will tell if Blue Hexagon is far more capable of identifying and stopping attackers, as Islam insists is the case. It is not the only startup to apply deep learning to cybersecurity, though it’s certainly one of the first. Critics, some who are protecting their own corporate interests, also worry that hackers can foil security algorithms by targeting the warning flags they look for.

Still, with its technology, its team, and its pitch, Blue Hexagon is starting to persuade not only top investors of its merits, but a growing —  and broad — base of customers, says Islam. “Everyone has this issue, from large banks, insurance companies, state and local governments. Nowhere do you find someone who doesn’t need to be protected.”

Blue Hexagon can even help customers that are already under attack, Islam says, even if it isn’t ideal. “Our goal is to catch an attack as early in the kill chain as possible. But if someone is already being attacked, we’ll see that activity and pinpoint it and be able to turn it off.”

Some damage may already be done, of course. It’s another reason to plan ahead, he says. “With automated attacks, you need automated techniques.” Deep learning, he insists, “is one way of leveling the playing field against attackers.”


Enterprise – TechCrunch


Corruption at DJI may cost the company $150 million

January 20, 2019 No Comments

DJI, the world’s leading maker of consumer drones, said today that extensive corruption discovered within the company could lead to losses as great as $ 150 million in the 2018 financial year. The exact nature of the corruption is not stated, but it seems to involve dozens of people at the least.

The China Securities Journal, a state-operated finance-focused newspaper, got hold of an internal company report on a corruption investigation that said some 40 people had been investigated so far, but the numbers may also be as high as 100.

Reuters confirmed with the company that it “set up a high-level anti-corruption task force to investigate further and strengthen anti-corruption measures,” and that “a number of corruption cases have been handed over to the authorities, and some employees have been dismissed.”

When contacted for details, DJI offered a statement (just after this post went live) partly explaining the situation:

During a recent investigation, DJI itself found some employees inflated the cost of parts and materials for certain products for personal financial gain. We took swift action to address this issue, fired the bad actors, and contacted law enforcement officials. We continue to investigate the situation and are cooperating fully with law enforcement’s investigation.

We are taking steps to strengthen internal controls and have established new channels for employees to submit confidential and anonymous reports relating to any violations of the company’s ethical and workplace conduct policies.

It’s a little hard to believe that people padding invoices and giving sweetheart deals to certain contractors for kickbacks could amount to more than a million dollars per person involved, but then again, DJI makes a lot of hardware and a few well-placed people could siphon off quite a bit.

Gadgets – TechCrunch