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Facebook is working on Neighborhoods, a Nextdoor clone based on local groups

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Using social networks to connect with neighbors and local services has surged during the Covid-19 pandemic, and Facebook — with 2.7 billion users globally — is now looking at how it can tap into that in a more direct way. In the same week that it was reported that Nextdoor is reportedly gearing up to go public, Facebook has started to test a Nextdoor clone, Neighborhoods, which suggests Facebook-generated Neighborhood groups (with a capital N, more on that below) local to you to join to connect with people, activities and things being sold in the area.

“More than ever, people are using Facebook to participate in their local communities. To help make it easier to do this, we are rolling out a limited test of Neighborhoods, a dedicated space within Facebook for people to connect with their neighbors,” said a spokesperson in a written statement provided to TechCrunch.

Facebook said that Neighborhoods currently is live only in Calgary, Canada, where it is being tested before getting rolled out more broadly.

The feature — which appears in the Menu of the main Facebook app, alongside tiles for Marketplace, Groups, Friends, Pages, Events and the rest — was first seen widely via a post on Twitter from social media strategy guy Matt Navarra, who in turn had been tipped off by a social media strategist from Calgary, Leon Grigg from Grigg Digital.

From Grigg’s public screenshots, it appears that Neighborhood groups — that is, local groups that are part of this new Neighborhood feature — are like those on Nextdoor, based on actual geographical areas on a map.

From the looks of it, these Neighborhood groups appear to be triggered to “open” once there are enough people in the area to have joined, just like on Nextdoor. But unlike those on Nextdoor, and unlike Facebook groups, they are not created, built and run by admins, nor do they have “Community Ambassadors” (Nextdoor’s term). They are instead generated by Facebook itself.

Facebook said it will also suggest other local groups, although it’s not clear if these will simply be other Neighborhood groups, or local Groups that already exist on the platform, nor what this would mean for all those neighborhood Groups (small n) were Facebook’s new feature to launch more widely. We’re asking and will update as we hear back.

For now, Neighborhood groups require more permissions from you the user, and seem to be more presented rather than something you would organically find as you might a Group today.

Screenshots from Grigg’s Facebook post also show that after you click on Neighborhoods, you are asked to confirm your location to Facebook (sharing your location data being also a way to provide more data points for the company to profile you for advertising and marketing purposes).

It then suggests a Neighborhood to you to join, and also provides a list of other Neighborhood groups that are nearby, plus some ground rules for good behavior. If a Neighborhood isn’t live yet because not enough people have joined, you can invite more people to join it.

Facebook notes that when you post in a Neighborhood group, people see your specific Neighborhood profile and your posts there, but it doesn’t automatically mean they see your normal Facebook profile. You can change what gets seen in privacy settings.

Facebook then takes you through some suggested posts that you might make for other Neighborhoods, or to populate yours once it is live. (Examples in the screenshots include sharing pictures of carved pumpkins, and offering tips on local places.)

Tapping into an already-huge feature: Groups

Through Neighborhoods, Facebook is doubling down on one of the most popular ways that the social network is already being used — and by an increasing number of people, one of the only ways that it’s being used these days — via Groups, which bypass your own social graph and connect you with other kinds of communities.

Earlier this month during Facebook’s Communities Summit, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that there were more than 1.8 billion people engaging with Groups at least once a month on the social network, with more than 70 million group admins and moderators putting in unpaid hours to manage them (hello, fellow mods and admins).

“We’re going to make communities as central to the FB experience as friends and family,” Zuckerberg said back in 2019 and repeated again this month.

As Sarah pointed out back in 2014, when Groups had a mere 500 million users and communities was not at the core of Facebook’s mission statement, Facebook Groups sometimes feels like you’re on a whole different social network, where you are establishing connections with people outside of your personal “social graph” of friends, family and colleagues, and are more broadly connecting with specific communities, whether they are based on where you live or a specific interest.

That role has only grown in 2020, with many people turning to local groups during the Covid-19 global health pandemic to connect with local resources, mutual aid groups, and simply to check in with each other.

Or, to complain: my own local group that I help admin did all of the above, but also a place for people to virtually hand-wring about the crowded (and illegal) festival atmosphere in the local park, and then to galvanise feedback and support, which helped us as a community present the problem to our local councillors to get the situation (sort of, finally) resolved.

A lot of Groups use is at its best organic, not prompted or productized by Facebook, so with Neighborhoods, it seems the company is now exploring ways to more proactively, inorganically dig into that role.

That may not be a surprise. On one side, consider how many people have decided to stop sharing as much on Facebook as before, and the role that Facebook has been playing in the great misinformation-disguised-as-news heist of the century. On the other, consider how Facebook has been building out its Marketplace and providing more resources for local businesses to spur them to advertise. Building an anchor for all that with Neighborhoods makes complete commercial sense.

Knocking Nextdoor

The timing of the feature is also notable for another reason. While Facebook is vast in size and scope compared to Nextdoor, the latter has found a kind of groove in recent times. The public swing towards looking for more local resources online has meant that Nextdoor, fighting its own bad reputation as a place where people go to confirm their worst fears, make racist comments in the name of public service, and look for lost pets, has found a second life.

Things like building neighborhood assistance programs and taking a public stand on social issues has helped Nextdoor reinvent itself as the good guy. Now covering some 268,000 neighborhoods, the company is riding that wave and reportedly eyeing a public listing via SPAC at a $4 billion – $5 billion valuation.

Yes, maybe that’s just a button compared to the full suit that is Facebook. But given that Facebook already has so many of the threads of a Nextdoor-type product already there on its platform, it’s a no-brainer that it would try to knit them together.

Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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What about $30 billion under 30

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Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast (now on Twitter!), where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

We’re back with not an Equity Shot or Dive of Monday, this is just the regular show! So, we got back to our roots by looking at a huge number of early stage rounds. And a few other things that we were just too excited about to not mention.

So from Chris and Danny and Natasha and I, here’s the rundown:

That was a lot, but how could we leave any of it out? We’re back Monday with more!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PDT and Thursday afternoon as fast as we can get it out, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

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Henry picks up cash to be a Lambda School for Latin America

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Latin America’s startup scene has attracted troves of venture investment, lifting highly-valued companies such as Rappi and NuBank into behemoth businesses. Now that the spotlight has arrived, those same startups need more talent than ever before to meet demand.

That’s where one seed-stage Buenos Aires startup wants to help. Henry has created an online computer science school that trains software developers from low-income backgrounds to understand technical skills and get employed. The company was founded by brother-sister duo Luz and Martin Borchardt, as well as Manuel Barna Ferrés, Antonio Tralice and Leonardo Maglia.

The Henry team.

The company claims that there’s an estimated 1 million software engineering job openings in Latin America, but fewer than 100,000 professionals that have training suitable for those roles.

“Higher education is only for 13% of the population in Latin America,” says Martin Borchardt, CEO and co-founder of Henry . “It’s very exclusive, very expensive, and has very low impact skills. So we’re giving these people an opportunity.”

With 90% of graduates coming from no formal higher education background, Henry seeks to help bring more back-end junior developers and full-stack developers into startups. Henry offers a five-month course that goes from Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., which focuses on software developer skills. Beyond technical training, Henry gives participants job coaching, resume workshops and up-skilling opportunities post-graduation.

To make the school more affordable, Henry looks to take on the same strategy used by Lambda School, a YC-graduate that has raised over $122 million in known funding: income-share agreements. The set-up would allow for boot camp participants to join the program at zero upfront costs, and then only pay once they get hired at a job.

Lambda School’s ISA terms ask students to pay 17% of their monthly salary for 24 months once they earn $4,167 monthly. The students pay a maximum of $30,000. Henry takes a much smaller slice of the pie, partly because salaries are lower in Latin American than in the United States. Henry asks students to pay 15% of their monthly salary for 24 months once students earn $500 a month.

If a Henry student doesn’t get employed in a job that allows them to make $500 a month within five years after the program completes, they are off the hook for paying back the boot camp.

Henry is also focused on helping more women get into the field of software development. Internally, Henry’s remote team is 20% women, 64% men. The current students reflect the same breakdown.

One issue with coding boot camps is that while it might help a student go from unemployed to employed, the lack of credential and degree might limit career mobility past that first job. For that reason, Henry has created a database of alumni resources, including up-skilling and reskilling opportunities in the latest skill, which will be free of charge for graduates.

Henry needs to execute on job placement to be successful in its field. Currently, more than 80% of students in Henry’s first cohort have found jobs, but it’s too soon in the startups’ trajectory to get a stronger metric on that front. About four Henry graduates have been employed by the startup.

The need for more talent in emerging countries has not gone unnoticed. Microverse, also funded by Y Combinator, is similarly using income-sharing agreements to bring education to the masses in developing countries, including spaces in Latin America. Henry thinks the competitor is approaching the dynamic too broadly.

“They’re focusing on all emerging markets and don’t teach to Spanish speakers,” Borchardt said. Henry, alternatively, focuses on Spanish speakers, over 60% of its market in Latin America.

What if Lambda School, the source of Henry’s inspiration, was to break into Latin America? The founder added that the richly funded company has tried, and failed, to expand into international geographies, including China and Europe, due to fragmentation.

Currently, Henry has graduated 200 students and is working with 600 students across Colombia, Chile, Uruguay and Argentina. It plans to expand into Mexico and to bring on Portuguese instruction.

Now, VCs are giving Henry some cash to do so. After going through Y Combinator’s Summer batch, Henry announced today that it has raised $1.5 million in seed funding in a round led by Accion Venture Lab, Emles Venture Partners and Noveus VC. There were also a number of edtech angel investors from Latin American that participated in the round.

“I love the human interaction within instructors and our staff and students,” Borchardt said. “That is something very powerful of Henry compared to a MOOC. The biggest challenge is how do you scale maintaining those assets that bring you that?”

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Fantasy startup Esports One raises $4M more

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Esports One, a startup bringing the fantasy approach to esports, is announcing that it has raised an additional $4 million in funding.

When I first wrote about Esports One in April, co-founder and COO Sharon Winter described it as the first “all-in-one fantasy platform” in the esports world, allowing you to research players, create fantasy teams and watch games, with an initial focus on the North American and European divisions of League of Legends.

According to the Esports One team, creating this platform required building out a set of data and analytics products, as well as using computer vision technology that can track game activity (and update player stats) without relying on a publisher’s API.

The startup says its user base has been growing by more than 25% month-over-month. It may also have benefited from the pause in professional sports earlier this year, while CEO and co-founder Matt Gunnin told me recently that he also sees fantasy as a way to make video games accessible to a broader audience — he recalled one Esports One user who introduce his sister to League of Legends using the fantasy platform.

“I use the example of growing up and sitting there with my dad, watching a baseball game, he’s telling me everything that’s happening,” Gunnin said. “Now it’s the opposite — parents are sitting and watching their kids.”

Many parents, he suggested, are “never going to pick up a mouse and keyboard and play League of Legends,” but they might play the fantasy version: “That’s an entry point … if we can make it easily accessible to individuals both that are hardcore gamers playing video games and watching League of Legends their entire life, as well as someone who has no idea what’s going on.”

The new funding was led led by XSeed Capital, Eniac Ventures, and Chestnut Street Ventures, bringing Esports One to a total of $7.3 million raised. The company also recently signed a partnership deal with lifestyle company ESL Gaming.

Gunin said the money will allow the company to grow its Bytes virtual currency, which players use to enter contests and buy customizations — starting next year, players will be able to spend real money to purchase Bytes. In addition, it’s working on native iOS and Android apps (Esports One is currently accessible via desktop and mobile web).

Gunnin and his team also plan to develop fantasy competitions for Rainbow Six: Siege, Rocket League, Valorant and Fortnite.

“As a fairly new player in the esports world, we’ve seen immense determination and grit from Matt, Sharon, and the whole Esports One team to grow into a household name, ” said XSeed’s Damon Cronkey in a statement. “I’m excited to be partnering with a company that will deliver new perspectives and features to an evolving industry. We’re eager to see how Esports One grows in 2021.”

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