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Remote raises $35M to help orgs with global workforce payroll, benefits and more

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Remote working has become the norm in many offices around the world this year, as organizations do what they can to help contain the rapid transmission of Covid-19 by reducing in-person interactions between workers. That’s also meant a renewed focus on how companies manage employees who have never worked in the office, and might even live outside the country. Today, one of the startups helping to manage those workers — appropriately, itself named Remote — is announcing a significant round of funding.

The startup has closed a round of $35 million, a Series A that is being led by Index Ventures, with participation also from Sequoia Capital and some pretty notable angel investors, including Aaron Levie, Zach Weinberg, and Kevin and Julia Hartz. It brings the total raised by Remote to $46 million to date after the company — founded in 2019 — raised $11 million in a seed round earlier this year.

Remote plans to use the funding to expand its business to 30 countries, from 17 at the moment, on the back of doubling its customer base every month since launching earlier this year.

The opportunity and challenge that Remote is tackling will be a familiar one to anyone who works in a company that has people spread across different countries.

You may have found the perfect person to fill a role, and if that person was in your city, he or she would be working in the office as a full-time employee. But because that person lives elsewhere, and it’s too complicated to sort out the employment terms, he or she instead gets paid essentially like a regular freelancer, with no benefits or other kinds of coverage you typically get in a full-time contract (which could include maternity leave, or redundancy terms, or shares in the company, and more). That poses tricky questions both for the employer and the employee: is the employer still legally bound to provide full-time benefits? Should the employee seek a job elsewhere to get a more complete package and more security?

Remote was built in essence to address all that and more. It acts as the middle man, working with the company and the employee in his/her home market to figure out how best to employ that person — whether as full-time or as a permanent contractor — and then handles payroll and more with a network of localised legal entities that it has built from the ground up to handle everything, from employer of record services, to payroll, benefits, taxes and visa and immigration services when they are needed, as well as a platform to cover payments when the employee in question is a contractor.

Its customers range in size from 10 employees to a few thousand, said Job van der Voort, the CEO, in an interview. “We are basically agnostic in that sense,” he added.

Remote was co-founded by two European transplants to San Francisco who have first-hand experience of the paradoxical pains and opportunities of being in an organization that uses remote workforces.

Van der Voort had been the VP of product for GitLab, which he scaled from 5 to 450 employees working remotely (and it’s now a customer of Remote’s). CTO Marcelo Lebre most recently had been VP of engineering for Unbabel — another startup focused on reducing international barriers, this time between how companies and global customers communicate.

Remote is part of a veritable wave of startups that have emerged with significant funding this year to bring more services to businesses to better manage international workforces. They include Deel ($30 million raised in September), Papaya Global ($40 million also in September), Lattice ($45 million in July), Factorial ($16 million in April) and Turing ($14 million in August with another round coming soon), among others.

There are also others like Gusto and Rippling who handle payroll domestically (taking on incumbents like ADP) but clearly will have their eye on international markets and global workforces to fuel their growth longer term. Some of these, like Deel, are direct competitors, while others are working in areas adjacent to it and could potentially become more competitive over time.

Van der Voort says that the unique thing with Remote (apart from having the most obviously well-branded name) is that it has taken care to build each part of its business from the ground up.

“There are many companies that message the same thing: payroll for remote teams,” he said. “But they tend to rely on third parties which we don’t.”

That is partly what stood out for investors, too. Hannah Seal at Index said that her firm has been investing in Remote since the pre-seed round, and that relationship has helped her and the firm with other deals in recent times.

“When we first invested in Remote they were in Portugal, and we never met them in person,” she said of the San Francisco startup. “It wasn’t because of the pandemic that we did the pitch over Zoom, but because of how they were set up. That meant we had to build that relationship remotely. It has its challenges but we are working through that and making it work and we are increasingly open to investing in the best founders, regardless of where they live.”

“The future of work will involve many remote employees. Remote is addressing a key area of friction in the global economy by opening up the availability of talent to all businesses and the range of opportunities to individuals,” said Ravi Gupta, a partner at Sequoia Capital, in a statement. “We are excited to support Remote in its drive to reshape the global talent market.”

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

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Pinterest tests online events with dedicated ‘class communities’

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Pinterest is getting into online events. The company has been spotted testing a new feature that allows users to sign up for Zoom classes through Pinterest, while creators use Pinterest’s class boards to organize class materials, notes and other resources, or even connect with attendees through a group chat option. The company confirmed the test of online classes is an experiment now in development, but wouldn’t offer further details about its plans.

The feature itself was discovered on Tuesday by reverse engineer Jane Manchun Wong, who found details about the online classes by looking into the app’s code.

Currently, you can visit some of these “demo” profiles directly — like “@pinsmeditation” or “@pinzoom123,” for example — and view their listed Class Communities. However, these communities are empty when you click through. That’s because the feature is still unreleased, Wong says.

When and if the feature is later launched to the public, the communities would include dedicated sections where creators will be able to organize their class materials — like lists of what to bring to class, notes, photos and more. They could also use these communities to offer a class overview and description, connect users to a related shop, group chat feature and more.

Creators are also able to use the communities — which are basically enhanced Pinterest boards — to respond to questions from attendees, share photos from the class and otherwise interact with the participants.

When a user wants to join a class, they can click a “book” button to sign up, and are then emailed a confirmation with the meeting details. Other buttons direct attendees to download Zoom or copy the link to join the class.

It’s not surprising that Pinterest would expand into the online events space, given its platform has become a popular tool for organizing remote learning resources during the coronavirus pandemic. Teachers have turned to Pinterest to keep track of lesson plans, get inspiration, share educational activities and more. In the early days of the pandemic, Pinterest reported record usage when the company saw more searches and saves globally in a single March weekend than ever before in its history, as a result of its usefulness as a online organizational tool.

This growth has continued throughout the year. In October, Pinterest’s stock jumped on strong earnings after the company beat on revenue and user growth metrics. The company brought in $443 million in revenue, versus $383.5 million expected, and grew its monthly active users to 442 million, versus the 436.4 million expected. Outside of the coronavirus impacts, much of this growth was due to strong international adoption, increased ad spend from advertisers boycotting Facebook and a surge of interest from users looking for iOS 14 home screen personalization ideas.

Given that the U.S. has failed to get the COVID-19 pandemic under control, many classes, events and other activities will remain virtual even as we head into 2021. The online events market may continue to grow in the years that follow, too, thanks to the kickstart the pandemic provided the industry as a whole.

“We are experimenting with ways to help creators interact more closely with their audience,” a Pinterest spokesperson said, when asked for more information.

Pinterest wouldn’t confirm additional details about its plans for online events, but did say the feature was in development and the test would help to inform the product’s direction.

Pinterest often tries out new features before launching them to a wider audience. Earlier this summer, TechCrunch reported on a Story Pins feature the company had in the works. Pinterest then launched the feature in September. If the same time frame holds up for online events, we could potentially see the feature become more widely available sometime early next year.

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SpaceX targeting next week for Starship’s first high-altitude test flight

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SpaceX looks ready to proceed to the next crucial phase of its Starship spacecraft development program: A 15km (50,000 feet) test flight. This would far exceed the max height that any prior Starship prototype has achieved so far, since the current record-setting hop test maxed out at around 500 feet. Elon Musk says that SpaceX will look to make its first high-altitude attempt sometime next week.

This tentative date (these are always subject to change) follows a successful static test fire of the current SN8 generation prototype — essentially just firing the test spacecraft’s Raptor engines while it remains stationary on the pad. That’s a crucial step that paves the way for any actual flight, since it proves that the spacecraft can essentially hold together and withstand the pressures of active engines before it leaves the ground.

SpaceX’s SN8 prototype is different from prior versions in a number of ways, most obviously because it has an actual nosecone, along with nose fins. The prototypes that did the short test hops, including SN6, had what’s known as a mass simulator up top, which weighs as much as an actual Starship nose section but looks very different.

Musk added that the chances of an SN8 high-altitude flight going to plan aren’t great, estimating that there’s “maybe a 1/3 chance” given how many things have to work correctly. He then noted that that’s the reason SpaceX has SN9 and SN10 ready to follow fast, which is a theme of Starship’s development program to date: building successive generations of prototypes rapidly in parallel in order to test and iterate quickly.

We’ll likely get a better idea of when the launch will take place due to alerts filed with local regulators, so watch this space next week as we await this major leap forward in SpaceX’s Starship program.

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Police case filed against Netflix executives in India over ‘A Suitable Boy’ kissing scene

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Netflix, which has invested more than $500 million to gain a foothold in India in recent years, is slowly finding out just about what all could upset some people in the world’s second-largest internet market: Apparently everything.

A police case has been filed this week against two top executives of the American streaming service in India after a leader of the governing party objected to some scenes in a TV series.

The show, “A Suitable Boy,” is an adaptation of the award-winning novel by Indian author Vikram Seth that follows the life of a young girl. It has a scene in which the protagonist is seeing kissing a Muslim boy at a Hindu temple.

Narottam Mishra, the interior minister of the central state of Madhya Pradesh, said a First Information Report (an official police complaint) had been filed against Monika Shergill, VP of Content at Netflix and Ambika Khurana, Director of Public Policies for the firm, over objectionable scenes in the show that hurt the religious sentiments of Hindus.

“I had asked officials to examine the series ‘A Suitable Boy’ being streamed on Netflix to check if kissing scenes in it were filmed in a temple and if it hurt religious sentiments. The examination prima facie found that these scenes are hurting the sentiments of a particular religion,” he said.

Gaurav Tiwari, a BJP youth leader who filed the complaint, demanded an apology from Netflix and makers of the series (directed by award-winning filmmaker Mira Nair), and said the film promoted “love jihad,” an Islamophobic conspiracy theory that alleges that Muslim men entice Hindi women into converting their religion under the pretext of marriage.

Netflix declined to comment.

In recent days, a number of people have expressed on social media their anger at Netflix over these “objectionable” scenes. Though it is unclear if all of them — if any — are a Netflix subscriber.

The incident comes weeks after an ad from the luxury jewelry brand Tanishq — part of the 152-year-old salt-to-steel conglomerate — which celebrated interfaith marriage received intense backlash in the country.

For Netflix, the timing of this backlash isn’t great. The new incident comes days after the Indian government announced new rules for digital media, under which the nation’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting will be regulating online streaming services. Prior to this new rule, India’s IT ministry oversaw streaming services, and according to a top streaming service executive, online services enjoyed a great degree of freedom.

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