Learn Spanish with a lifetime subscription to this AI-powered app

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Learn Spanish with a lifetime subscription to this AI-powered app

TL;DR: A lifetime subscription to the Jumpspeak Language App is on sale for £72.73 as of April 11, saving you 66% on list price.

While reading, writing, and grammar are all important aspects of learning a language, speaking is likely the way you’ll actually be using it. And yet, some language learning apps fail to prioritise it. If your progress has been slow, consider snagging a lifetime subscription to the Kickstarter-funded Jumpspeak language app, where you’ll learn to speak accurate Spanish.

Instead of typing out sentences or simply memorising vocabulary, Jumpspeak kicks things up a notch with the help of artificial intelligence technology. The app provides AI-based conversations that will make you feel as if you’re chatting with a real-life native speaker. You know, rather than just having you awkwardly repeat words out loud to yourself. Read more…

More about Spanish, Mashable Shopping, Language Learning, Tech, and Work Life

China fines Alibaba $2.8 billion after antitrust investigation

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Alibaba Nanjing Headquarters
Photo by Fang Dongxu/VCG via Getty Images

China has hit Alibaba, one of the country’s biggest online retailers, with a record $2.8 billion (18.2 billion yuan) fine, after an investigation found the ecommerce giant violated China’s anti-monopoly law, The New York Times reported. The fine, which represents 4 percent of Alibaba’s 2019 domestic sales, is three times higher than the $975 billion fine China imposed on US chip company Qualcomm back in 2015.

The Chinese government launched an investigation into Alibaba in December to determine whether the company was preventing merchants from selling their products on other platforms. China’s market regulator found that Alibaba’s practices had a negative effect on online retail competition and innovation. Alibaba used data and…

Continue reading…

This startup summer could be blistering

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Welcome back to The TechCrunch Exchange, a weekly startups-and-markets newsletter. It’s broadly based on the daily column that appears on Extra Crunch, but free, and made for your weekend reading. 

Ready? Let’s talk money, startups and spicy IPO rumors.

The startup world could be in for a busy summer.

Today the economy is improving. Unemployment is falling, while interest rates are staying low. There’s lots of new capital on offer, and some expectation that we’ll get back to Q1’s IPO wave in Q3. Throw in widespread vaccinations and a return to something akin to our old lives, and the world of business could be ready to accelerate further in short order. 

There are caveats, of course. Lots of folks are being left behind in the recovery. And vaccine hesitancy is as lethally stupid as it is surprisingly common. But anticipated summer economic conditions, strong markets and a general belief that the digital transformation’s acceleration will continue point to a coming hot(ter) period for tech. 

That is good news for startups.

We’re already starting to see anticipatory reporting on the matter. Wired’s recent piece on venture capitalists telling startups to invest rapidly is worth reading. I’ll back it up by saying that it seems that most startups that I am chatting with every week had a solid-as-heck first quarter and aren’t worried about the second. If I am not accidentally speaking with only founders who are doing well and somehow missing legion startups that are struggling, it seems to be a pretty darn good time to build a tech company. 

Plaid’s round from earlier this week underscores what I’m talking about. The API-powered consumer fintech company’s CEO Zach Perret told TechCrunch how much the digitization of the world of financial services had accelerated in the last year. Yep. Startups that would have done well in more normal times are often seeing their market move in their direction. Often rapidly. That’s why Plaid is worth north of $13 billion today, nearly triple what it was worth in early 2020.

For the startups doing well, there’s ample cash on offer. Ramp’s latest round, a two-in-one, makes that point plain. So, if the broader economy and its technological sector do accelerate, expect wallets to open even further. As the temperature heats up, so too could the business climate.

I mean, how else can you explain the Clubhouse news? Or the Topps news? TechCrunch had to cover the middle ground between baseball cards, NFTs and candy, for the love of all that is holy.

Next week The Exchange is digging into Q1 2021 venture capital numbers from around the world. We’ll see soon enough how big the start to the year was, but we have a guess.

Kudo, Coinbase and Canva

Sticking to our theme of growth and a hot and warming climate for tech startups, a few more data points from the last week.

I caught up with the CEO of Kudo this week, a few days after his company announced a $21 million Series A round of funding. I covered the translation-as-a-service company last year when it raised a seed round. Per its chief executive Fardad Zabetian, the company had 14 employees last March. It now has 150 and has more than 50 open positions. That’s not the sort of growth you see off of merely a few capital raises. That’s growth. 

Coinbase’s monster quarter highlights how some technology work from the past decade is maturing in a lucrative manner. The company’s epic revenue growth and nearly hilarious profitability are going to make its impending direct listing an even bigger event than I had expected. Get ready for that on the 14th. (More from the original Coinbase listing here.)

And then there’s Canva, which just repriced itself through a $71 million secondary transaction. The cloud design company is now worth $15 billion, up from around $6 billion last June, per Crunchbase data. Even more, the company announced a few growth metrics worth sharing:

  • That Canva has crossed the $500 million annualized revenue mark 
  • That Canva grew 130% in the last year, and was profitable (though we don’t know of what sort)
  • That Canva now has 55 million monthly active users

And it’s not going public. Yes, you can laugh. I got the company to ask its CEO Melanie Perkins why that’s the case, and here’s what we got back:

There’s no rush for us. We’re profitable and we’re very fortunate that we can still find investors that align to our vision and values. I often say that we’re just one percent of the way there with Canva. We have a huge vision to empower every team to achieve its goals through visual communication. We’ve still got a whole lot more to achieve and so no immediate plans for any public listing- there’s simply no rush for us right now.

Let me just say that you don’t only have to go public when there’s a rush to do so! You can do so merely to make us, the reporting class, excited about going to work, as there are new numbers to read!

Various and sundry

I was off for a bit of this week to recharge, so some news and notes you might have expected in the above missive may be missing. Rest assured that The Exchange is going to get bigger and better and more number-y and full of jokes when I get back. Someone is joining the little team, so we have big plans.




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If you care about privacy, it’s time to try a new web browser

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By Brian X. ChenThe New York Times Company

Most of us use web browsers out of habit.

If you surf the web with Microsoft Edge, that may be because you use Windows. If you use Safari, that’s probably because you are an Apple customer. If you are a Chrome user, that could be because you have a Google phone or laptop, or you downloaded the Google browser on your personal device after using it on computers at school or work.

In other words, we turn to the browsers that are readily available and familiar. It’s easy to fall into browser inertia because these apps are all fast, capable and serve the same purpose: visiting a website.

So if the differences are minimal, why bother looking for something else?

By the end of this column, I hope to persuade you to at least try something else: a new type of internet navigator called a private browser. This kind of browser, from less-known brands like DuckDuckGo and Brave, have emerged over the last three years. What stands out is that they minimize the data gathered about us by blocking the technologies used to track us.

That’s generally better than what most mainstream browsers, especially Chrome, do. While some browsers like Safari and Firefox also include tracking prevention, the smaller brands have been focused on even more privacy protections.

We have also reached an inflection point in digital privacy. The online advertising industry is on the brink of ceasing to use web cookies, pieces of code planted in browsers that follow us from site to site and help target us with ads. Google, whose Chrome browser is the world’s most popular, has been trying to develop a new way to target us with ads without the cookie.

Let’s not wait for that. You can decide now that you don’t want to be tracked.

“We’re at a fork in the road,” said Gennie Gebhart, a director at the digital rights nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation, who follows privacy issues. “Companies that keep the lights on by advertising to users, Google included, are scrambling to see what’s the next play. It’s also a time for users to be informed and make a choice.”

Unlike mainstream web browsers, private browsers come in many forms that serve different purposes. For about a week, I tested three of the most popular options — DuckDuckGo, Brave and Firefox Focus. Even I was surprised that I eventually switched to Brave as the default browser on my iPhone. Here’s how it happened.

What is a private browser?

It’s important to know what private browsers do, and what they don’t. So let’s look under the hood.

Private browsers generally incorporate web technologies that have been around for years:

— They rely on something called private mode, also known as incognito mode, which is a browsing session that does not record a history of the websites you have visited. This is useful if you don’t want people with physical access to your device to snoop on you.

— Private browsers also use tracker blockers, which can often be downloaded as an add-on for a browser. The blockers depend on a list of known trackers that grab information about your identity. Whenever you load a website, the software then detects those trackers and restricts them from following you from site to site. The big downside of this approach is that blocking them can sometimes break parts of websites, like shopping carts and videos.

Privacy-focused browsers typically turn private mode on by default, or automatically purge browsing history when you quit the browser. The browsers also have tracking prevention baked in, which lets them aggressively block trackers using approaches that minimize website breakage.

But private browsers do not prevent your internet provider from seeing what websites you visit. So if you are on vacation and using a hotel’s Wi-Fi connection, a private browser will not keep your browsing information private from the hotel’s internet provider. For that type of protection, you still need to connect to a virtual private network, a technology that creates a virtual tunnel that shields your browsing information.

Meet the private browsers

Firefox Focus, DuckDuckGo and Brave are all similar, but with some important differences.

Firefox Focus, available only for mobile devices like iPhones and Android smartphones, is bare-bones. You punch in a web address and, when done browsing, hit the trash icon to erase the session. Quitting the app automatically purges the history. When you load a website, the browser relies on a database of trackers to determine which to block.

DuckDuckGo, also available only for mobile devices, is more like a traditional browser. That means you can bookmark your favorite sites and open multiple browser tabs.

When you use the search bar, the browser returns results from the DuckDuckGo search engine, which the company says is more focused on privacy because its ads do not track people’s online behavior. DuckDuckGo also prevents ad trackers from loading. When done browsing, you can hit the flame icon at the bottom to erase the session.

Brave is also more like a traditional web browser, with anti-tracking technology and features like bookmarks and tabs. It includes a private mode that must be turned on if you don’t want people scrutinizing your web history.

Brave is also so aggressive about blocking trackers that in the process, it almost always blocks ads entirely. The other private browsers blocked ads less frequently.

For most people, not seeing ads is a benefit. But for those who want to give back to a publisher whose ads are blocked, Brave hosts its own ad network that you can opt into. In exchange for viewing ads that do not track your behavior, you earn a cut of revenue in the form of a token. You can then choose to give tokens to websites that you like. (Only web publishers that have a partnership with Brave can receive tokens.)

Battle of the browsers

I tested all three browsers on my iPhone, setting each as my default browser for a few days.

All have a button to see how many trackers they blocked when loading a website. To test that, I visited nypost.com, the website of The New York Post, which loaded 83 trackers without any tracking prevention. With DuckDuckGo, 15 of the nypost.com trackers were blocked. With Brave, it was 22. And Firefox Focus blocked 47.

But numbers don’t tell the whole story. Firefox Focus sometimes broke elements of websites. On some sites, videos failed to load and ad windows could not be closed.

Selena Deckelmann, an executive at Mozilla, which makes Firefox, said that the strict privacy protections in Firefox Focus could sometimes cause websites to break and that the company worked with web publishers so their sites could load properly.

I didn’t experience major issues when using Brave or DuckDuckGo, though there was an occasional hiccup. In one case, when using DuckDuckGo to scroll through Wirecutter, a New York Times sister publication that tests and recommends products, the names of some products did not fully load. While the site was still functional, it looked odd.

In the end, though, you probably would be happy using any of the private browsers. Even if you don’t make one your default browser, it is useful for certain situations, like a sensitive web search on a health condition.

For me, Brave won by a hair. My favorite websites loaded flawlessly, and I enjoyed the clean look of ad-free sites, along with the flexibility of opting in to see ads whenever I felt like it. Brendan Eich, the chief executive of Brave, said the company’s browser blocked tracking cookies “without mercy.”

“If everybody used Brave, it would wipe out the tracking-based ad economy,” he said.

Count me in.

Using shame, lending apps in India squeeze billions out of the desperate

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By Mujib Mashal and Hari KumarThe New York Times Company

HYDERABAD, India — The harassing calls began soon after sunrise. Kiran Kumar remained in bed and for hours thought about how he was going to end his hostage of a life.

The cement salesman had initially borrowed about $40 from a lender through an online app to supplement his $200-a-month salary. But he could not pay the mounting fees and interest, so he borrowed from others. By that morning, Kumar owed roughly $4,000.

Even worse, the lenders had the phone numbers of those closest to him and were threatening to make his problems public.

“If I am labeled a fraud in front of everyone, my self-respect is gone, my honor is gone,” Kumar, 28, said in an interview. “What is left?”

Authorities in India are increasingly worried that many more victims like Kumar may be out there. They believe a new breed of lender, its technique sharpened in China, has been preying on working-class and rural people who have been devastated by the impact of the coronavirus on the Indian economy.

These lenders do not require credit scores or visits to a bank. But they charge high costs over a brief period. They also require access to a borrower’s phone, siphoning up contacts, photos, text messages, even battery percentage.

Then they bombard borrowers and their social circles with pleas, threats and sometimes fake legal documents threatening dire consequences for nonpayment. In conservative, tightly knit communities, such loss of honor can be devastating.

One police investigation alone in the city of Hyderabad, India, has mapped out about 14 million transactions across the country worth $3 billion over about six months. India’s central bank as well as national authorities are now investigating.

“It is becoming difficult for us to count the zeros,” said Avinash Mohanty, the joint commissioner of police in Hyderabad. Police attribute five suicides in the city to the lenders.

About 100 loan apps have been removed from the Google platform, according to the Indian government. A Google spokesperson said it reviewed hundreds of loan apps and removed those that violated its terms.

Saumya Khandelwal, The New York Times

Photos of G. Chandra-Mohan, who killed himself amid debt from loans, in Hyderabad, India, Feb. 20, 2021. With techniques honed in China, a new breed of company in India offers expensive loans to people devastated by the pandemic. If they canÕt repay, family and friends hear all about it. (Saumya Khandelwal/The New York Times)

The investigations are raising alarms in India over the vulnerability of a population of 1.3 billion still getting accustomed to digital payments. Online transactions in India will reach more than $3 trillion by 2025, according to PwC, the consulting firm. Further fraud findings could spur the government, which has already limited the personal data that online companies can use, to take a tighter grip on the industry.

The apps also speak to the global nature of online fraud. Many of the companies use techniques that flourished in China two years ago, before authorities there shut them down, and that have since reappeared elsewhere.

The loan apps emerged at a desperate time. The government enacted a tough, two-month lockdown a year ago to contain the virus, plunging India into a deep recession. Millions were thrown out of work. Traditional forms of lending, like banks and microlenders, were temporarily closed.

With names like Money Now, First Cash, Super Cash and Cool Cash — according to police documents — the apps came and went on Google’s app store in India, some reappearing with a slight change of identity. Most were built with off-the-shelf software that made their creation as easy as starting a blog, said Srikanth Lakshmanan, one of the coordinators of Cashless Consumers, a collective of technology volunteers studying the apps.

With a few taps on a phone and a fresh selfie, a borrower could get the cash needed for a doctor’s appointment, for restocking the kitchen or for paying a child’s school fees.

Repayment could be due as quickly as a week. Lenders often added interest and fees amounting to as much as one-third of the loan even before they sent the money so borrowers would already owe more than received. And to get money, borrowers had to hand over their personal information.

That was when the call centers went into action, according to police and analysts. First they would badger borrowers into paying back the principal, interest and fees. Then they would call friends and family, sometimes falsely saying the borrower was wanted by police. Some created WhatsApp groups, added members from the borrower’s contact list, then bombarded the group with accusations. Some would steer desperate borrowers to other services that lent money, further ensnaring them.

Police in Hyderabad took notice this past winter after the suicides and after people lodged harassment complaints. They were stymied until an informant came forward and, in return for a roughly $150 reward, shared the address and details of a call center where a close friend worked as a collection agent.

In an interview with The New York Times, the collection agent — a fast-talking 24-year-old who made about $130 a month — said each day he would receive electronic files on about 50 borrowers. The files included their personal details, copies of their government IDs and their contact lists.

Workers could make a weekly bonus of about $7 if they pressured three-fourths of the borrowers to pay loans back, said the collection agent, who asked for anonymity for fear of reprisal from his former employer. The bonus doubled for a success rate of four-fifths or more. Clients often begged for time, the agent said, and some even said the constant harassment would lead to their deaths. The collection agent, eyes on the bonus, would continue anyway.

So far, the investigations in Hyderabad have led to raids on call centers in at least four Indian cities, with each center employing between 100 and 600.

Some of the companies have connections to China. So far, at least four Chinese nationals have been arrested, police said. In reverse-engineering the most exploitative apps, activists like Lakshmanan found that a large number were hosted on Chinese cloud services and used Chinese software development kits and facial recognition tools.

Saumya Khandelwal, The New York Times

A building where a call center was located in Hyderabad, India, Feb. 20, 2021. With techniques honed in China, a new breed of company in India offers expensive loans to people devastated by the pandemic. If they canÕt repay, family and friends hear all about it. Call centers in at least four Indian cities have been raided during the investigation. (Saumya Khandelwal/The New York Times)

Police have frozen bank accounts with about $40 million so far. But the trail often leads to shell companies, networks used for money laundering or cryptocurrencies, which are difficult for governments to track.

Still, the publicity in Hyderabad has powered a public backlash.

Kumar, the cement salesman, is now part of one online advocacy group. About 60 victims have joined its WhatsApp channel, where they devise responses to harassing calls that continue, or provide support.

What saved Kumar on the morning last summer when he lay in bed and thought of ending his life was a final call to a friend. The friend recognized the urgency, rushed to the room and within hours helped collect the $400 Kumar had to pay that day to ease some of the harassment.

“If it wasn’t for my friend, I was 90% sure that day I would commit suicide,” Kumar said. “I still get calls. But now I tell them, ‘Do whatever you can.’ I am not worried now. I feel protected.”

But for some families, neither the pain nor the harassment has gone away.

G. Chandra-Mohan, a 38-year-old father of three who worked at a clothing warehouse, took out loans of about $1,000. After interest, fees and penalties, plus borrowing from other services to stay afloat, his balance was five times that. With a salary of $200 a month and the $80 a month that his wife, Sarita, made from a part-time job at a laboratory, he could not pay it back.

Chandra-Mohan maxed out his credit cards and drew from dozens of loan apps, his family said. When he complained of the harassment to police, they told him to switch off his phone for a few days and return if it continued, his father-in-law, M. Sailu, said. Police said that he might have called a cybercrime hotline but that they did not have a record of him visiting a police station.

One morning, after Chandra-Mohan had driven his wife to her office on the back of his motorbike, he gave his three young daughters some change and sent them to their grandparents’ house around the corner. Then, he hanged himself from a fan.

“Even after his suicide,” his wife said, “the phone keeps ringing.”

If you are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in the United States at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). In India, contact 91-9820466726 or to go the website of Aasra.info for more resources.

Q Link Wireless made private customer information accessible with just a phone number

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

A mobile carrier allowed anyone with one of its customers phone numbers to access their personal information, including name, address, phone number, and text and call history, according to a report by Ars Technica. The carrier, Q Link Wireless, claimed to have over two million customers in 2019.

Ars Technica noted a Reddit post saying that the app used by the carrier and its subsidiary Hello Mobile never asked for a password or any identifying information when the user was logging on with a phone number. Looking through the reviews, there are references to the poor security practices (to put it mildly) going back to December of 2020. While it’s unclear when the credential-less login system appeared, there is an update note from two years…

Continue reading…

Wonder Dynamics raises $2.5M seed to equip indie filmmakers with AI-powered VFX

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Practically every film production these days needs some kind of visual effects work, but independent creators often lack the cash or expertise to get that top-shelf CG. Wonder Dynamics, founded by VFX engineer Nikola Todorovic and actor Tye Sheridan, aims to use AI to make some of these processes more accessible for filmmakers with budgets on the tight side, and they’ve just raised $2.5 million to make it happen.

The company has its origins in 2017, after Sheridan and Todorovic met on the set of Rodrigo Garcia’s film Last Days in the Desert. They seem to have both felt that the opportunity was there to democratize the tools that they had access to in big studio films.

Wonder Dynamics is very secretive about what exactly its tools do. Deadline’s Mike Fleming Jr saw a limited demo and said he “could see where it will be of value in the area of world creation at modest budgets. The process can be done quickly and at a fraction of a traditional cost structure,” though that leaves us little closer than we started.

Sheridan and Todorovic (who jointly answered questions I sent over) described the system, called Wallace Pro, as taking over some of the grunt work of certain classes of VFX rather than a finishing touch or specific effect.

“We are building an AI platform that will significantly speed up both the production and post-production process for content involving CG characters and digital worlds. The goal of the platform is to reduce the costs associated with these productions by automating the ‘objective’ part of the process, leaving the artists with the creative, ‘subjective’ work,” they said. “By doing this, we hope to create more opportunities and empower filmmakers with visions exceeding their budget. Without saying too much, it can be applied to all three stages of filmmaking (pre-production, production and post-production), depending on the specific need of the artist.”

From this we can take that it’s an improvement to the workflow, reducing the time it takes to achieve some widely used effects, and therefore the money that needs to be set aside for them. To be clear this is distinct from another, more specific product being developed by Wonder Dynamics to create virtual interactive characters as part of the film production process — an early application of the company’s tools, no doubt.

The tech has been in some small scale tests, but the plan is to put it to work in a feature entering production later this year. “Before we release the tech to the public, we want to be very selective with the first filmmakers who use the technology to make sure the films are being produced at a high level,” they said. First impressions do matter.

The $2.5M seed round was led by Founders Fund, Cyan Banister, the Realize Tech Fund, Capital Factory, MaC Venture Capital, and Robert Schwab. “Because we are at the intersection of technology and film, we really wanted to surround ourselves with investment partners who understand how much the two industries will depend on each other in the future,” Sheridan and Todorovic said. “We were extremely fortunate to get MaC Venture Capital and Realize Tech Fund alongside FF. Both funds have a unique combination of Silicon Valley and Hollywood veterans.”

Wonder Dynamics will use the money to, as you might expect, scale its engineering and VFX teams to further develop and expand the product… whatever it is.

With their advisory board, it would be hard to make a mistake without someone calling them on it. “We’re extremely lucky to have some of the most brilliant minds from both the AI and film space,” they said, and that’s no exaggeration. Right now the lineup includes Steven Spielberg and Joe Russo (“obviously geniuses when it comes to film production and innovation”), UC Berkeley and Google’s Angjoo Kanazawa and MIT’s Antonio Torralba (longtime AI researchers in robotics and autonomy), and numerous others in film and finance who “offer us a wealth of knowledge when we’re trying to figure out how to move the company forward.”

AI is deeply integrated into many tech companies and enterprise stacks, making it a solid moneymaker in that industry, but it is still something of a fringe concept in the more creator-driven film and TV world. Yet hybrid production techniques like ILM’s StageCraft, used to film The Mandalorian, are showing how techniques traditionally used for 3D modeling and game creation can be applied safely to film production — sometimes even live on camera. AI is increasingly that part of the world, as pioneers like Nvidia and Adobe have shown, and it seems inevitable that it should come to film — though in exactly what form it’s hard to say.

Extra Crunch roundup: StockX EC-1, Early Stage recaps, unpacking Alkami’s IPO, more

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Over the last few days, we’ve published several articles recapping panels from last week’s TechCrunch Early Stage virtual conference.

Each story is based on an interview with a founder or investor who addressed some of the most common startup dilemmas. Predictably, they’re mostly focused on the how and why:

How do I get into an accelerator? When should I hire a sales team? What’s the best way to earn attention from investors?

TechCrunch reporter Natasha Mascarenhas interviewed Kleiner Perkins partner Bucky Moore to get sector-agnostic advice for founders who are ready to raise a Series A.

Their conversation isn’t a rehash of basic best practices — Moore says the pandemic has fundamentally changed the way he does business: “I actually believe that first meetings over Zoom are here to stay; I think it’s far more efficient.”

I’m looking forward to the eventual return of live TechCrunch events, but each Early Stage recap includes video and a complete transcript. As ever, full articles are available for Extra Crunch members.

Thanks very much for reading — I hope you have a fantastic weekend.

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch

Full Extra Crunch articles are only available to members
Use discount code ECFriday to save 20% off a one- or two-year subscription

The StockX EC-1

Image Credits: Nigel Sussman

Have you ever bought a pig in a poke?

It’s a saying from medieval times: A farmer traveling on an unfamiliar road agrees to buy a baby pig in a bag from a passing stranger. Unfortunately, when the farmer gets back to their hut and opens the sack, there’s a kitten inside.

The risk of getting stuck with a counterfeit item when buying online is real, especially when it comes to sneakers, jewelry and other designer products. That’s why online marketplace StockX created a rigorous product verification and authentication process.

To date, its users have conducted more than 10 million transactions for sneakers, handbags, streetwear, watches and other high-end items that are often produced in limited quantities.

StockX’s prices are regulated and all transactional data is transparent, factors that have combined to help the platform reach a $2.8 billion valuation.

In a four-part series that dropped this week, Extra Crunch analyzes this “foundational new category of market” that began as a hobbyist’s sneaker price chart.

Will Topps’ SPAC-led debut expand the bustling NFT market?

Yes, the baseball card company is going public in a debut that could easily be read as a way to put money into the NFT craze without actually having to buy cryptocurrencies.

Digging into the Alkami Technology IPO

It appears that the slowdown in tech debuts is not a complete freeze; despite concerning news regarding the IPO pipeline, some deals are chugging ahead.

Alkami Technology joins a list that includes Coinbase’s impending direct listing and Robinhood’s expected IPO.

Texas-based Alkami Technology is a software company that delivers its product to banks via the cloud, so it’s not a legacy player scraping together an IPO during boom times.

Let’s dig into the latest SEC filing from the software unicorn.

Chinese startups rush to bring alternative protein to people’s plates

Image Credits: TechCrunch

Last year could well have been the dawn of alternative protein in China. More than 10 startups raised capital to make plant-based protein for a country with increasing meat demand. Of these, Starfield, Hey Maet, Vesta and Haofood have been around for about a year; ZhenMeat was founded three years ago; and Green Monday is a nine-year-old Hong Kong firm pushing into mainland China.

The competition intensified further last year when American incumbents Beyond Meat and Eat Just entered China.

Although some investors worry the sudden boom of meat-substitute startups could turn into a bubble, others believe the market is far from saturated.

LG’s exit from the smartphone market comes as no surprise

Image Credits: Joan Cros/NurPhoto/Getty Images

For those who follow the space, LG will be remembered fondly as a smartphone trailblazer. For well over a decade, the company was a major player in the Android category and a driving force behind a number of innovations that have since become standard.

LG continued pushing envelopes — albeit to mixed effect. But in the end, the company just couldn’t keep up.

This week, the South Korean electronics giant announced it will be getting out of the “incredibly competitive” category, choosing instead to focus on its myriad other departments.

Giving EV batteries a second life for sustainability and profit

Batteries and electric vehicles on a blackboard

Image Credits: Getty Images

Electric cars and trucks seem to have everything going for them: They don’t produce tailpipe emissions, they’re quieter than their fossil-fuel-powered counterparts and the underlying architecture allows for roomier and often sleeker designs.

But the humble lithium-ion battery powering these cars and trucks leads a difficult life. Irregular charging and discharge rates, intense temperatures and many partial charge cycles cause these batteries to degrade in the first five to eight years of use, and, eventually, they end up in a recycling facility.

Instead of sending batteries straight to recycling for raw material recovery — and leaving unrealized value on the table — startups and automakers are finding ways to reuse batteries as part of a small and growing market.

How to kick the 10 worst startup habits with Fuel Capital’s Leah Solivan

Image Credits: Meg Messina

Fuel Capital General Partner Leah Solivan joined us at TechCrunch Early Stage 2021 to explain how to avoid early mistakes in building your startup.

Solivan has ample experience on both sides of the fence, as she founded TaskRabbit and led it to exit through an acquisition by Ikea in 2017. She shared a list of 10 things to avoid in total, but here are some highlights of what to watch out for.

How founders can avoid blind spots and make better decisions with EchoVC’s Eghosa Omoigui

Football Team starting match

Image Credits: miodrag ignjatovic / Getty Images

Eghosa Omoigui, the founder and managing general partner of EchoVC Partners, has helped entrepreneurs navigate the first steps of starting a company and laying the right foundation early on.

Omoigui advocates for founders to develop their own All-22 tape — a tool used by professional football coaches that allows the viewer to see all 22 players on the field at the same time. It improves a coach’s line of sight, and, most importantly, helps avoid missing a critical motion or player.

The concept of this tool can — and should — be applied in the startup world as well, Omoigui said during the virtual TC Early Stage event. He explained what it means to have an All-22 tape and the steps founders should take to develop a skill set that will allow them to see and understand the playbook from all sides.

Building and leading an early-stage sales team with Zoom CRO Ryan Azus

Image Credits: Zoom Video Communications, Inc.

This year at Early Stage, TechCrunch spoke with Zoom Chief Revenue Officer Ryan Azus about building an early-stage sales team.

Azus is perhaps best known for leading the video-calling giant’s income arm during COVID-19, but his experience building RingCentral’s North American sales organization from the ground up made him the perfect guest to chat with about building an early-stage sales team.

We asked him about when founders should step aside from leading their startup’s sales org, how to build a working sales culture, hiring diversely, how to pick customer segments and how to build a playbook.

The dos and don’ts of bug bounty programs with Katie Moussouris

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch

Katie Moussouris has been in cybersecurity circles since some of the world’s biggest tech companies were startups, and helped to set up the first vulnerability disclosure and bug bounty programs.

Moussouris, who runs consultancy firm Luta Security, now advises companies and governments on how to talk to hackers and what they need to do to build and improve their vulnerability disclosure programs.

At TC Early Stage, Moussouris explained what startups should (and shouldn’t) do, and what priorities should come first.

Start your engines, TechCrunch is (virtually) headed to Detroit

Detroit City Spotlight logo over photo illustration of downtown Detroit

Join us on our next (virtual) field trip to Southeast Michigan. All lights will be shining on the Motor City.

Why Detroit? This is where StockX and Rivian call home, along with a growing stable of medical technology companies, fintech startups and security companies. The area is quickly transforming thanks to active investors, low cost of living and access to amazing universities that have a long history of supporting entrepreneurs.

If you’re interested in what’s happening in Detroit in general, are seeking out a new up-and-coming city to live in, or looking for cool companies and talented founders to invest in, then you’ll want to register and drop Thursday, April 15, on your calendar.

How to get into a startup accelerator

Image Credits: Techstars

Should you try to get your company into an accelerator? How far along should your idea and your team be before applying? When it is time to apply, how do you make your application stand out from hundreds or thousands of others? How fancy do you need to get with the application video?

For answers, we spoke with Neal Sáles-Griffin, managing director of Techstars Chicago and an adjunct professor at Northwestern University. He’s got an incredible wealth of knowledge about all things startups.

Understanding how fundraising terms can affect early-stage startups

Image Credits: Fenwick

Fenwick & West partner (and business lawyer) Dawn Belt joined us at TechCrunch Early Stage to break down some of the terms that trip up first-time entrepreneurs.

Belt has been involved in a number of key Silicon Valley moves, including EV company Proterra’s recent decision to go public via SPAC, as well as IPOs for Bill.com and Facebook. Here, she discusses key concepts like equity and the right of first refusal, and the role they play in the early stages of startup funding.

Bootstrapping, managing product-led growth and knowing when to fundraise

Image Credits: Calendly / OpenView

Product-led growth is all the rage in the Valley these days, and we had two leading thinkers discuss how to incorporate it into a startup at TechCrunch Early Stage 2021.

Tope Awotona is the CEO and founder of Calendly, which bootstrapped for much of its existence before raising $350 million at a $3 billion valuation from OpenView and Iconiq. And on the other side of that table (and this interview) sat Blake Bartlett, a partner at OpenView who has been leading enterprise deals based around the principles of efficient growth.

The two talked about bootstrapping and product-led growth, expanding internationally, when to bootstrap and when to fundraise, and how VCs approach a profitable company (carefully, and with a big stick). Oh, and how to spend $350 million.

Four strategies for getting attention from investors

Marlon Nichols

Image Credits: MaC Venture Capital

Being a successful early-stage investor is about a lot more than simply identifying trends; a successful VC needs to think several steps ahead. For MaC Venture Capital founder Marlon Nichols, it’s an ability that’s helped him spot big names like Gimlet Media, MongoDB, Thrive Market, PlayVS, Fair, LISNR, Mayvenn, Blavity and Wonderschool early on.

Nichols joined us on TechCrunch Early Stage to discuss his strategies for early-stage investing and how those lessons can translate into a successful launch for budding entrepreneurs.

Setting up a management board for success with Dave Easton

Image Credits: Generation Investment Management

Viewed from the outside, board selection and corporate governance can seem like a bit of a black box — particularly at a startup.

Generation Investment Management partner Dave Easton spoke at TechCrunch Early Stage about how to build a board as a founder, and, specifically, how to build a board you can live with. Easton’s experience serving on boards as both a full member and as an observer helped peel back the curtain on the murky topic of good governance.

Founder and investor Melissa Bradley outlines how to nail your virtual pitch meeting

Image Credits: Ureeka

Zoom-based pitch meetings became standard during the pandemic, but many investors say they intend to maintain the practice as more people are vaccinated.

In conversation with Jordan Crook, founder, investor, and business school professor Melissa Bradley offered pointers for how founders can prepare for Zoom calls, common pitfalls to avoid, and how to allocate time during the meeting.

Man arrested in 1985 cold case shooting death in Lone Tree

This post was originally published on this site

An arrest has been made in a 35-year-old cold case shooting death of a businessman inside his Lone Tree home.

Local and state investigators used genetic DNA evidence in the case to identify the suspect, 64-year-old Michael Jefferson, Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock said at a Friday afternoon news conference.

Jefferson, a New Orleans resident who was arrested in Los Angeles, has been extradited to Douglas County where he is being held on a first-degree murder charge and kidnapping. Jefferson was visiting family in California at the time of his arrest.

“It is very satisfying to know that we have technology today to use on evidence collected 36 years ago” that can lead to a suspect, Spurlock said.

Spurlock was the lead investigator at the murder scene, Dean’s Lone Tree home, in 1985. The sheriff also worked on a 1990 extortion case in which Dean’s widow was victimized by a man who claimed to be the killer.

On Nov. 21, 1985, Dean, who was 51, was at home with his wife, D.J., when a masked intruder shot Dean six times during a robbery attempt. During the incident, the armed man threatened Dean at gunpoint, demanding money from a saving account. D.J. had her eyes covered with tape during the harrowing incident. She heard scuffling downstairs and shots fired. Dean’s body was found at the foot of their snow-covered driveway. The gunman fled the scene.

Douglas County District Attorney John Kellner praised investigators for their longtime commitment to the cold case.

“The level of dedication shown by law enforcement partners … is surely remarkable,” Kellner said.

Dean family members were at the Friday news conference but did not comment. Jefferson is scheduled to appear in court on April 14.