Digital Startup Alley exhibitors: Tune in tomorrow for free media training

Tomorrow’s a big day for early-stage startup founders preparing to exhibit in Digital Startup Alley at Disrupt 2020. We’re kicking off the first of three exclusive, interactive webinars to help exhibitors make the most of their Startup Alley experience.

Tune in tomorrow, August 12 at 1pm PT/ 4pm ET for The Dos and Don’ts of Working with the Press. Presenting your company to the media is both a skill and an art form. It takes thought and practice — and media training can help you craft a compelling story. Hundreds of journalists from around the world will be on the lookout for compelling stories at Disrupt 2020, and this workshop can help you catch their eye.

Positive media exposure is essential for early-stage startups. It can drop a spotlight on your business, help attract potential customers and jumpstart your funding. Or, as Luke Heron, CEO of TestCard and veteran Startup Alley exhibitor puts it:

“Coverage is the life blood of a startup. Cash at the beginning of the start-up journey is difficult to come by, and an article from a credible organization can help push things in the right direction.”

During tomorrow’s media training, TechCrunch writers and editors Greg KumparakAnthony Ha and Ingrid Lunden — experts at interviewing startup founders — will discuss best practices when it comes to talking with the press. You’ll learn what journalists look for and how to avoid pitfalls that could tank an interview.

If you’re still on the fence about exhibiting in Startup Alley, consider this. Disrupt 2020 spans five days and it’s the biggest, longest Disrupt ever. You’ll be able to network with thousands of attendees from around the world. And if you purchase your Disrupt Digital Startup Alley Package today, you can attend tomorrow’s media training.

You’ll also be able to attend two more webinars exclusively for Startup Alley exhibitors later this month. Check ‘em out and mark your calendar now!

  • August 19 — COVID-19’s Impact on the Startup World with panelists Nicola Corzine, executive director of the Nasdaq Entrepreneurship Center, and Cameron Stanfill, a VC analyst at PitchBook.
  • August 26 — Fundraising and Hiring Best Practices with panelists Sarah Kunst of Cleo Capital and Brett Berson of First Round Capital.

Got your Digital Startup Alley Package? Then tune in tomorrow for The Dos and Don’ts of Working with the Press and get ready to make your best possible impression with the press at Disrupt 2020.

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Disrupt 2020? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

Source: Tech Crunch

‘Stalkerware’ phone spying apps have escaped Google’s ad ban

Several companies offering phone-spying apps — known as “stalkerware” — are still advertising in Google search results, despite the search giant’s ban that took effect today, TechCrunch has found.

These controversial apps are often pitched to help parents snoop on their child’s calls, messages, apps and other private data under the guise of helping to protect against online predators.

But some repurpose these apps to spy on their spouses — often without their permission.

It’s a problem that the wider tech industry has worked to tackle. Security firms and antivirus makers are working to combat the rise of stalkerware, and federal authorities have taken action when app makers have violated the law.

One of the biggest actions to date came last month when Google announced an updated ads policy, effectively banning companies from advertising phone-snooping apps “with the express purpose of tracking or monitoring another person or their activities without their authorization.”

Google gave these companies until August 11 to remove these ads.

But TechCrunch found seven companies known to provide stalkerware — including FlexiSpy, mSpy, WebWatcher and KidsGuard — were still advertising in Google search results after the ban took effect.

Google did not say explicitly say if the stalkerware apps violated its policy, but told TechCrunch that it removed ads for WebWatcher. Despite the deadline, Google said that enforcement is not always immediate.

“We recently updated our policies to prohibit ads promoting spyware for partner surveillance while still allowing ads for technology that helps parents monitor their underage children,” said a Google spokesperson. “To prevent deceitful actors who try to disguise the product’s intent and evade our enforcement, we look at several signals like the ad text, creative and landing page, among others, for policy compliance. When we find that an ad or advertiser is violating our policies, we take immediate action.”

The policy is evidently far from perfect. Google faced immediate criticism for carving out exceptions to its new policy for “products or services designed for parents to track or monitor their underage children.”

Malwarebytes, one of several antivirus makers that pledged to help fight stalkerware, called the policy “incomplete,” in large part because the “the line between stalkerware-type applications and parental monitoring applications can be blurred.”

In this case, several of the stalkerware apps explicitly state how their apps could be used to spy on spouses.

For instance, mSpy’s website said the app can be used to spy on “your children, wife, or colleagues.” KidsGuard, which had a massive security lapse last year that exposed thousands of surveilled users, explicitly says on its homepage that its app can “catch a cheating spouse.” Two other app makers, Spyic and PhoneSpector, still have dozens of blog posts on their website explicitly referencing spying on spouses.

Last year the Electronic Frontier Foundation founded the Coalition Against Stalkerware, a group of academics, companies and nonprofits to help detect, combat and raise awareness of stalkerware.

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Source: Tech Crunch

Zin Boats reinvents the electric speedboat in a bid to become the Tesla of the sea

The automotive industry is knee deep in the vast transition to electric, but one place where gas is still going strong is out on the water. Seattle startup Zin Boats wants to start what you might call a sea change by showing, as Tesla did with cars, that an electric boat can be not just better for the planet, but better in almost every other way as well.

With a minimalist design like a silver bullet, built almost entirely from carbon fiber, the 20-foot Z2R is less than half the weight of comparable craft, letting it take off like a shot and handle easily, while also traveling a hundred miles on a charge — and you can fill the “tank” for about five bucks in an hour or so.

Waiting for the other shoe to drop? Well, it ain’t cheap. But then, few boats are.

Piotr Zin, the company’s namesake, has been designing racing sailboats for 20 years, while working in industrial design at BMW, GM, and other major companies. Soon after settling down on a houseboat on Seattle’s Lake Union, he realized that the waterways he had enjoyed his whole life might not exist for the next generation.

(Disclosure: Zin actually moved in next door to my mother, and I happened to find out he was working on this while visiting her.)

“The reason I started working on electric boats specifically is because I had a kid, and I had a come to Jesus moment,” he told me. “I realized: If we’re not going to do something personally about the quality of the water we live in, it’s not going to be here when my kid is my age.”

Illustrious precursors

Traditional gas-powered boats are very much a product of the distant past, like running a ’70s-era car half underwater. Surprisingly, electric boats are equally old. Like electric cars, they enjoyed a brief vogue in the early 20th century. And likewise they were never considered viable for “real” boating until quite recently.

Image Credits: Zin Boats

Like most things, it comes down to physics: “The power required to move a boat, versus the power to move a car, is absolutely enormous,” Zin explained. “It’s like driving a car in first gear at full throttle all the time.”

That level of draw limited electric boats to being the aquatic equivalent of golf carts — in fact, carts and some of the more popular old-school electric boats share many components. If you’ve ridden in one, it was probably a Duffy, which has made models for puttering around lakes at 3-4 knots since the ’60s. Perfectly pleasant, but not exactly thrilling.

“We tested this boat to 55, but decided not to sell that to people. It’s just insane.”

What changed everything was the increasing density and falling cost of lithium-ion batteries. The Z2R uses BMW batteries mated to a custom Torqueedo engine, and at cruising speeds (say 15 knots) can go a hundred miles or more. It recharges using anything from an ordinary wall plug to the high-amperage charging cables found at most marinas, in which case it will put another 50 miles in the tank while you eat a sandwich.

Considering traditional boats’ fuel efficiency and the rising price of marine gas, going electric might save a boat owner thousands every year. (Maintenance is also practically non-existent; Zin advised hosing it down once in a while.)

But it’s also more than capable of going extremely fast.

“The top speed is way over 30 knots,” Zin noted. “We tested this boat to 55, but decided not to sell that to people. It’s just insane.”

Having ridden in it myself, I can confirm that the Z2R really jumps off the line in a level-bottomed way that, compounded by its near silence, seems impossible. Just as Tesla’s consumer sedans compete with Lamborghinis in 0-60 times, the instantaneous response from is almost frightening.

“The boat was designed around the battery. The unique part of using an electric system is we can put the motor anywhere we want,” Zin said. By sitting it flat on the bottom, the center of gravity is lowered and weight distribution evened out compared to most speedboats. “You look at a lot of traditional boats’ builds, they kind of cram everything in the back. Then when you put the hammer down, you can’t see anything for five seconds. In this boat, there’s no bow rise — it sits flat.”

Front view of the electric Z2R boat.

Image Credits: Zin Boats

Being so level means there’s almost no risk of overturning it, or many of the other failure modes resulting from lopsided designs that misbehave at speed. Simplicity of operation and surprising performance seem to be a family characteristic of electric vehicles.

Design by wire

“Most builders aren’t about innovation, they’re about ‘this is how we do it.’ “

Zin is proud to have designed the boat himself from scratch, using both high performance fluid dynamics software and scale models to work out the shape of the hull.

“Boat building is a very traditional business. Most builders aren’t about innovation, they’re about ‘this is how we do it.’ ” Zin said. “But there’s a huge advantage in being able to use these tools. The computing power that we have in video cards just in the last few years, mainly because of the gaming industry, has pushed what’s possible further and further.”

Previously, large computational fluid dynamics suites would have users submit their parameters and pick a few milestone speeds at X thousand dollars per data point — 10 knots, 20 knots, etc. The way the water would react to the boat and vice versa would be calculated at those speeds and extrapolated for speeds in between. But with increases in computing power, that’s no longer necessary, as Zin ended up proving to a commercial CFD software provider when he used a separate compute stack to calculate the water’s behavior continuously at all speeds and in high definition.

“Right now you can run the boat [in the simulation] at any speed you want and see the way the water will spray, including little droplets. And then you can tweak the shape of your hull to make sure those droplets don’t hit the passengers,” he said. “It’s not exactly the way most boat designers would do it. So utilizing high end software that was not really being given its full potential was amazing.”

Building practically everything out of carbon fiber (an ordeal of its own) puts the whole boat at around 1,750 pounds — normally a 20-foot boat would be twice that or more. That’s crucial for making sure the boat can go long distances; Range anxiety is if anything a bigger problem on the water than on the road. And of course it means it’s quick and easy to control.

Interior of the Z2R electric boat.

Image Credits: Zin Boats

Yet the boat hardly screams speed. The large open cockpit is flat and spacious, with only a steering wheel, throttle, and screens with friendly readouts for range, media controls, GPS and so on. There’s no vibration or engine roar. No aesthetic choices like stripes or lines suggest its explosive performance. The wood veneer (to save weight — and it’s tuned to the speakers to provide better sound) floor and cream leather upholstery make it feel more like a floating Mercedes.

That’s not an accident. Zin’s first customers are the type of people who can afford a boat that costs $250,000 or so. He compared it to Tesla’s Roadster: A showy vehicle aimed at the high end that will fund and prove out the demand for a more practical one — an open-bow tender model Zin is already designing that will cost more like $175,000.

Conscience with a wallet

The target consumer is one who has money and an eco-conscious outlook — either of their own or by necessity.

“There are a lot of inquiries from Europe, where the environmental restrictions are stricter than in North America. But we also have a number of pristine lakes that are electric only for the purpose of keeping them clean,” Zin explained. “So if you live on a lake in Montana that’s electric only, you have the option to go at five knots, and you can’t even cross the lake because the boat is so slow… or you can have a fully functional powerboat that you can water ski behind, the same speeds you get in a gas power boat, but it’s absolutely emissions free. I mean, this boat is as clean as it gets — there’s zero oil, zero gasoline, zero anything that will get into the water.”

It really made me wonder why the whole industry didn’t go electric years ago. And in fact there are a few competitors, but they tend to be even more niche or piecemeal jobs, mating an electric engine to an existing hull and saying it’s an electric boat that goes 50 knots. And it does — for five or ten minutes. Or there are custom boat builders who will create something quite nice for a Zin-type customer — head on over to Monte Carlo and buy one at auction for a couple million bucks.

Side view at night of the Z2R Electric boat.

Image Credits: Zin Boats

Zin sees his boat as the first one to check every box and a few that weren’t there before. As fast as a powerboat but nearly silent; same range but a fraction of the price to get there; handles like a dream but requires practically no maintenance. It’s as smart as the smartest car, limiting its speed based on the waterway, automatically adjusting itself to stay within range of a safe harbor or charger, over-the-air updates to the software anywhere in the world. I didn’t even get a change to ask about its self-driving capabilities.

As a first time founder, a technical one at that, of a hardware company, Zin has his work cut out for him. He’s raised seed money to get the prototype and production model ready, but needs capital to start filling his existing orders faster. Like many other startups, he was just gearing up to go all out when the pandemic struck, shutting down production completely. But they’re just about ready to start manufacturing again.

Image Credits: Zin Boats

“I realized that there isn’t such a thing as a boat company any more,” said Zin. “Part of what we do is to build that shell that holds everything, and it happens to be moving through the water, which makes it a boat, but that really where the boating part of it ends. It’s really a technology hub, and my company is not just a boat company, it has to be a technology company.”

He said that his investors understand that this isn’t a one-off toy but the beginnings of an incredibly valuable IP that — well, with Tesla’s success, the pitch writes itself.

“We don’t only have a plan like, just make one really fast boat,” Zin concluded. “We know what we want to do with this technology right now, we know what we’re going to do with this technology in 24 months, and 48 months, I wish I could show you some of this stuff. It’s tough, and we need to survive this year, but this is just the start.”

Source: Tech Crunch

No pen required: The digital future of real estate closings

On a Wednesday at 4 p.m. in June 2017, I was in a small, packed office in midtown Manhattan.

The overcrowded conference room, with at least five more people than any fire marshal would recommend, was stacked comically high with paperwork and an eclectic collection of cheap pens. As I neared the end of the third hour and the ink of my seventh pen, I realized the mortgage closing process may be somewhat antiquated.

After closing on my first home, it was inconceivable to me that every other expense in my life has gone digital, but the most significant purchase I’ve ever made required hundreds of signatures and several handwritten checks delivered in person. By comparison, I have been able to repay my student loans, comparable in magnitude to a down payment, exclusively through online portals.

How COVID-19 is accelerating digital advancements

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed nearly every facet of our lives. One potential silver lining for the real estate world may be a forced reckoning with the mortgage closing process. Technological advances like e-closings are accelerating this arduous process into the digital age. The U.S. Census Bureau released figures in July citing the rise in homeownership across the country as the pandemic fuels the demand for single-family properties outside of urban areas. This is confirmed by the significant spike in mortgage applications seen in the second quarter of 2020.

The first signs of digitization of the mortgage origination process were seen in mid-2010 when lenders began adopting digital disclosures. Despite the availability of technology, the market has been slower to fully embrace digital closings that enable the full loan package to be electronically reviewed, recorded, signed and notarized. A true e-closing includes a digital promissory note (“eNote”), a virtual closing appointment and the electronic transfer and recording of documents by the county, all of which can be remotely coordinated and executed by the parties involved. The market started to pick up pace in recent years, and we’ve seen the number of e-mortgages increase by more than 450% from 2018 to 2019.

Source: Tech Crunch

Scribd acquires presentation-sharing service SlideShare from LinkedIn

SlideShare has a new owner, with LinkedIn selling the presentation-sharing service to Scribd for an undisclosed price.

According to LinkedIn, Scribd will take over operation of the SlideShare business on September 24.

Scribd CEO Trip Adler argued that the two companies have very similar roots, both launching in 2006/2007 with stories on TechCrunch, and both of them focused on content- and document-sharing.

“The two products always had kind of similar missions,” Adler said. “The difference was, [SlideShare] focused on more on PowerPoint presentations and business users, while we focused more on PDFs and Word docs and long-form written content, more on the general consumer.”

Over time, the companies diverged even further, with SlideShare acquired by LinkedIn in 2012, and LinkedIn itself acquired by Microsoft in 2016.

Scribd, meanwhile, launched a Netflix-style subscription service for e-books and audiobooks, but Adler said that both the “user-generated side” and the “premium side” remain important to the business.

“We get people who come in looking for documents, then sign up for our premium content,” he said. “But they do continue to read documents, too.”

So when Microsoft and LinkedIn approached Scribd about acquiring SlideShare, Adler saw an opportunity to expand the document side of the product dramatically, incorporating SlideShare’s content library of 40 million presentations and its audience of 100 million monthly unique visitors.

The deal, Adler said, is fundamentally about tapping into SlideShare’s “content and audience,” though he said there may be aspects of the service’s technology that Scribd could incorporate as well. Scribd isn’t taking on any new employees as part of the deal; instead, its existing team is taking responsibility for SlideShare’s operation.

He added that SlideShare will continue to operate as a standalone service, separate from Scribd, and that he’s hopeful it will continue to be well-integrated with LinkedIn.

“Nothing will change in the initial months,” Adler said. “We have a lot of experience with a product like this, both the technology stack and with users uploading content. We’re in a good position make SlideShare really successful.”

Meanwhile, a statement from LinkedIn Vice President of Engineering Chris Pruett highlighted the work that the company has done on SlideShare since the acquisition:

LinkedIn acquired SlideShare in May 2012 at a time when it was becoming clear that professionals were using LinkedIn for more than making professional connections. Over the last eight years, the SlideShare team, product, and community has helped shape the content experience on LinkedIn. We’ve incorporated the ability to upload, share, and discuss documents on LinkedIn.


Source: Tech Crunch

Trump administration announces major midband spectrum auction for 5G

5G is increasingly coming into focus as a set of technologies that has the potential to dramatically expand the quality, bandwidth, and range of wireless connectivity. One of the major blocks to actually rolling out these technologies though is simply spectrum: there just isn’t enough of it available for private use. 5G needs spectrum at very low frequencies to penetrate buildings and increase range, and it also needs high frequencies to support the huge bandwidth that future applications will require.

The crux though is in the midband — frequencies that can support a mix of range, latency and bandwidth that could become a mainstay of 5G technologies, particularly as a bridge for legacy infrastructure and devices.

Today, the midband of U.S. spectrum is heavily utilized by government services like the military, which uses the spectrum for everything from conflict operations to satellite connectivity. That has prevented commercial operators from accessing that spectrum and moving forward with wider 5G deployments.

That’s why it is notable today that the White House announced that the 3450Mhz to 3550 Mhz spectrum will officially be handed off to the FCC for an auction that will allow private operators to access midband spectrum. Given the legal process involved, that auction is expected to take place in December 2021, with private operation of services likely beginning in 2022. Usage of the band is expected to follow the spectrum sharing rules of AWS-3, according to a senior Trump administration official.

According to the White House, a committee of 180 experts was assembled from all the armed services and the Defense Secretary’s office to look at where a segment of the DoD’s spectrum could be freed up and moved to private usage to back 5G.

Such efforts are in line with the MOBILE NOW Act of 2017, which Congress passed in order to spur government agencies to speed up the process of allocating spectrum for 5G uses. That act encouraged NTIA, an agency which advises on telecom issues for the U.S. government, to identify the 3450Mhz to 3550Mhz band as a major area of study back in 2018, and earlier this year in January the agency found “viable options” for converting the band to private use.

It’s the latest positive step in the long transition of wireless to 5G services, which demands changes in technology (such as the wireless chips in cell phones), spectrum allocation, policy development, and infrastructure buildout in order to come to fruition.

Ted S. Rappaport, a professor of electrical engineering and the founding director of NYU WIRELESS, an academic research center focused on advanced wireless technologies, said that “It’s great news for America … and a terrific move for U.S. consumers and for the U.S. wireless industry.”

He noted that the particular frequency was valuable given existing knowledge and research in the industry. “It’s not that far from existing 4G spectrum where engineers and technicians already have good understanding of the propagation. And it’s also at a spectrum where the electronics are very low cost and very easy to make.”

There has been growing pressure on U.S. government leaders in recent years over the plodding 5G transition, which has fallen behind peer countries like China and South Korea. Korea in particular has been a world leader, with more than two million 5G subscribers already in the country thanks to an aggressive industrial policy by Seoul to invest in the country’s telecommunications infrastructure and take a lead in this new wireless transition.

The U.S. has been faster at moving ahead in millimeter (high frequency) spectrum for 5G that will have the greatest bandwidth, but it has lagged in midband spectrum allocation. While the announcements today is notable, there will also be concerns whether 100Mhz of spectrum is sufficient to support the widest variety of 5G devices, and thus, this allocation may well be just the first in a series.

Nonetheless, additional midband spectrum for 5G will help move the transition forward, and will also help device and chip manufacturers begin to focus their efforts on the specific bands they need to support in their products. While it may be a couple of more years until 5G devices are widely available (and useful) in the United States, spectrum has been a key gating factor to reaching the next-generation of wireless, and a gate that is finally opening up.

Source: Tech Crunch

SpaceX takes a big hop forward in Starship development

Max Q is a weekly newsletter all about space. Sign up here to receive it weekly on Sundays in your inbox.

It wasn’t the busiest week in space tech news – much like a lot of the industry, it feels like we’re entering into a bit of a summer doldrums period where things slow down considerably. That’s probably especially true right now, with a lot of companies coming off some Herculean efforts and big successes.

This down time will lead to big developments to come, including the first official International Space Station crew mission for SpaceX’s Dragon capsule, which is scheduled to take place towards the end of September. We might also see Blue Origin’s first sub-orbital launch of the year in the same month.

SpaceX launches more Starlink satellites

Image Credits: SpaceX

SpaceX had a successful launch of a batch of 57 more Stalrink satellites for its broadband internet satellite constellation, which is coming together nicely ahead of the planned beta launch this summer. SpaceX has been gearing up for that, and the details we’ve found reveal that it should be getting underway anytime – though we’re unlikely to hear much about how the actual service works since participation includes agreeing to an NDA.

SpaceX hops its Starship for a good first flight test

Image Credits: SpaceX

SpaceX has flown a full-scale prototype of its Starship for the first time, hopping a long fuselage (with a simulated weight instead of its eventual dome cap, and temp legs) to a height of around 500 feet. The hop included a flight up and then a controlled descent and landing, all of which appeared to have gone very smoothly. This is the first significant forward progress the Starship development program has had this year, really, after a series of (likely very educational) failures.

Rocket Lab boosts payload capacity

Image Credits: Rocket Lab

Rocket Lab has increased the payload capacity of its Electron launch vehicle by a third, bumping the total weight it can carry to orbit up to 660 lbs. That should open up a lot of new potential market for the company, and make it possible for small satellite makers to build additional functionality into the spacecraft they’re putting up with the rocket. The company did this mid-product generation thanks to optimizations of the battery tech that powers some of its thrusters, along with some other tweaks.

Netflix has a new space show premiering September 4


Netflix’s new show Away stars Hilary Swank as an astronaut on a mission to Mars, and seems to focus on the family challenges she encounters between her crucial mission, and the people she left behind back on Earth. Looks like more ‘This is Us’ and less ‘The Martian,’ but it could be great.

Source: Tech Crunch

Amazon tops 1 million Prime subscribers in India; reports record seller participation in Prime Day

Amazon has amassed at least 1 million subscribers for its Prime loyalty service in India, the e-commerce giant revealed today in a long rundown of how its platform fared during last week’s Prime Day in the world’s second largest internet market.

More than a million Prime subscribers in India shopped from small businesses in the two weeks leading up to 48-hour Prime Day event last week, the company said in a blog post. Factoring in the ongoing global pandemic, Amazon last month chose India as the first market for Prime Day this year.

This is the first time Amazon has even vaguely disclosed how many of its users in India have signed up for the Prime subscription that costs $13.3 a year in the country and bundles Prime Video and Prime Music services. Amazon launched Prime in India four years ago. Globally, Amazon has over 150 million Prime subscribers.

More than 91,000 small businesses (sellers) in India — a record for the company — participated in the local Prime Day, and sold to customers living in 5,900 zip codes (covering more than 97% of the country). Over 4,000 of these businesses clocked sales of more than $13,350 (slightly below 4,500 businesses during last year’s Prime Day), and overall 31,000 sellers reported the two-day period last week as their best selling on the platform.

Chinese firms Xiaomi and OnePlus continued to command dominance in the smartphone category, one of the top three selling categories on Amazon, during Prime Day and also attracted customers to their accessories, laptops, and television sets, Amazon disclosed. The reception stands in contrast with the all-time high anti-China sentiments swirling across India in recent months.

Amit Agarwal, SVP and Country Manager of Amazon India, said in a televised interview that last week’s Prime Day also illustrated an “increasing trend of local Indian sellers use Amazon as a starting point to launch products and reach customers globally” but he declined to share any figures.

“This Prime Day was dedicated to our small business (SMB) partners, who have been increasingly looking to Amazon to keep their businesses running. We are humbled that we were able to help as this was our biggest Prime Day ever for small businesses,” he said in a statement.

Prime Day is one of the biggest sales events for Amazon globally. In India, the e-commerce giant has historically sold more goods during sales events scheduled around the festival of Diwali, which is when local residents peak their spendings.

But the participation of 91,000 sellers in last week’s Prime Day is the highest Amazon has ever witnessed during any sales period in India. During the sale around Diwali last year, for instance, the company had reported the participation of 65,000 sellers.

Amazon, which competes with Walmart’s Flipkart in India, has visibly rushed to expand its base of sellers in the country in recent quarters. Earlier this year, Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos said the company would invest $1 billion in India to help digitize local small businesses and increase their cumulative exports on Amazon to $10 billion by 2025.

The company revealed today that it has amassed 650,000 sellers in India, up from 500,000 it disclosed in January this year.

Amazon has also been focusing on tie-ups with neighborhood stores across the country, leveraging their vast reach to drive more people to shop online. The company said over a thousand such shops from more than 100 cities made their debut on Prime Day last week.

Amazon also claimed that during Prime Day, the number of requests people made to Alexa exceeded one million. The company also shared a wide-range of other stats such as a claim that twice as many customers signed up for a Prime membership during last week’s Prime Day compared to last year’s. But without any concrete figures, these numbers are bereft of meaning.

Source: Tech Crunch

iOS 14 redirects web links from News+ publishers directly to the Apple News app

Apple’s still-in-beta operating systems will automatically redirect News+ subscribers to the Apple News app when they click on links from a News+ publisher.

In other words, if you click or tap on a link to a paywalled story published by a News+ partner — including stories from our own Extra Crunch membership program — iOS 14, iPadOS 14 and macOS Big Sur will take you straight to the article page in the News+ app, even when the link ostensibly points to the publisher’s own website.

Tony Haile (who founded the ad-free subscription news service Scroll)  tweeted about the change this morning, and I’ve been able to replicate it myself.

The experience should be familiar to (for example) New York Times app readers who, when they click on a web link, are taken straight to the article page in the NY Times app. (In TechCrunch’s case, I noticed that Apple even prompts users to open the News app when they click on stories that aren’t paywalled.)

This addresses one of the more frustrating elements of being a News+ subscriber: Although your $9.99 monthly subscription gets you access to paywalled stories from publishers like The New Yorker and the Wall Street Journal, you only get access via the News app — not the publishers’ websites. So I’ve often seen something I want to read on Google or Twitter, but instead of clicking the link, I have to open the News app and track down the story.

So this seems like it should significantly improve the reader experience, even if it might be a little disconcerting at first. And it only applies to News+ subscribers, who are opted-in but will have the option to turn off the “Open Web Links in News” feature in their News settings.

But as Haile noted, publishers may be less excited about the change: “Any strategic rationale that Apple News+ represents a separate  channel/audience is now gone. This directly cannibalizes a publishers’ core subscription audience.”

Although Apple has not released News+ subscriber numbers, there have been several reports — including a November 2019 story from CNBC —suggesting that the service has struggled to attract new subscribers after signing on 200,000 users in the first 48 hours after launch. And Digiday reported that publishers have been underwhelmed with revenue.

Source: Tech Crunch

Seed funding tips and tricks from Uncork Capital founder Jeff Clavier

Angel funding, seed investing and generally focusing on earlier stage investing is a huge business in the world of startups these days — it helps investors get in early to the most promising companies, and (because of the smaller size of the checks) allows for even the less prolific to spread their bets.

There was a time when it was immensely difficult for a founder to get a first check, not least because there were fewer people writing them. However, Jeff Clavier was an exception to that rule.

As the founder of Uncork Capital (formerly known as SoftTech VC), he has been in the business of angel and seed investing for 16 years, popularizing the opportunity and highlighting the need for more support at this stage — well before it was cool. You could say he was early to early stage.

Clavier said that at the end of 2019, it was estimated that there were more than 1,000 firms focusing on seed investing in the market, but by the end of this year, there will be about 2,000. “Don’t ask me whether it makes any sense because when I started 16 years ago, I didn’t think would be a big deal,” he said. “But certainly that creates a bit of a conundrum for founders to try and understand.”

As of now, Clavier has made nearly 230 investments and counting.

TechCrunch Early Stage, our virtual conference highlighting that stage of startup life, was the perfect venue to hear from him on all things seed investing and building startups today. Below are some highlights, a link to the video and a pitch deck he put together for the chat. Questions were edited for space and clarity.

Not all VCs are created equal (so know who you are pitching)

First thing to understand is that not all VCs are created equal. There are a bunch of different firms, tons of them out there, and you as a founder need to understand what are the specifics of your pitch opportunity, how to match with the right firm, and to figure out what stage of “early” you happen to be.

Startups can be super early, or mid-stage, which is typically what we refer to as pre-seed. Then there’s the seed stage, where you have developed a product, with a demo. And there is post-seed, where you have product but are not quite ready to raise a Series A. So who are the firms that can actually be the right fit for me at those different stages? The qualification part of the targeting is really important. Especially in a COVID environment when you can’t spend the same kind of time with each other.

It’s useful for founders to try and understand investors better, maybe asking a couple of questions like, “When is the last time you made a brand new investment at seed stage?” And “How has your investment process changed as a result of COVID?”

For investors, you want to understand how you’re going to evolve your process to cope with the fact that you don’t spend time with those founders face-to-face. Some firms are still struggling with that.

At Uncork, we’re now past the point of portfolio triage that we had in the first few weeks of of the pandemic. What was surprising to me was the speed and velocity at which some deals actually.

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Source: Tech Crunch