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Nana nabs $6M for an online academy and marketplace dedicated to appliance repair

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A lot of the focus in online education — and, let’s face it, education overall — has been about professional development for knowledge workers, education for K-12 and how best to deliver cost-effective, engaging higher learning to those in college and beyond. But in what might be a sign of the times, today a startup that’s focused on e-learning and the subsequent job market for a completely different end of the spectrum — home services — is announcing some funding to continue building out its business in earnest.

Nana, which runs a free academy to teach people how to fix appliances, and then gives students the option of becoming a part of its own marketplace to connect them to people needing repairs — has picked up $6 million.

The seed round is being led by Shripriya Mahesh of Spero Ventures, and Next Play Ventures (ex-LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner’s new fund), Lachy Groom, Scott Belsky, Geoff Donaker of Burst Capital, and Michael Staton of Learn Capital are among those also participating.

Nana has now raised $10.7 million, with past backers including Alpha Bridge Ventures, Bob Lee, and the Uber Syndicate, an investment vehicle to back Uber alums in new ventures. Founder and CEO David Zamir is not actually an Uber alum, but one of his first employees, VP of Engineering Oliver Nicholas, is an early Uber engineer, and the company has also found a lot of traction of Uber drivers this year, after many found themselves out of work after the chilling effect that the pandemic had on ridesharing.

Nana — full name Nana Technologies (and not to be confused with Nana Technology, tech built for older adults) — is partly a labor/future of work play, partly an educational play, partly a tech/IoT play, and partly an ecological play, in the eyes of Zamir, who himself trained as an appliance repairperson, running his own successful business in the Bay Area before pivoting it into a training platform and marketplace.

“There are 5.9 million tons of municipal solid waste [which includes lots of electronics like washing machines, blenders and everything in between] in the U.S.,” he said in an interview, “and only 50% of that is capable of getting recycled. We’re in a vicious cycle with appliances, and it’s partly because there aren’t enough people with the knowledge to repair them. But what if you had the liquidity to do that? We’re talking about creating jobs, but also saving the environment.”

Nana’s proposition starts with free lessons to fix a range of appliances — currently, dishwashers, refrigerators, ovens, stoves, washers and dryers — and their typical breakdown/poor performance issues to anyone who wants to know how to repair them. These classes are available to anyone — an individual simply interested in learning how to fix a machine, but more likely someone looking to pick up a skill and then use it to make some money.

Once you take and pass a course — currently remote — you have the option (but not requirement) to register on Nana’s platform to become a repair person who picks up jobs through it to get jobs fixing that particular issue. Nana already has partnerships with major appliance and warranty companies including GE, Miele, Samsung, Assurant, Cinch and First American Home Warranty, so this is how it gets most of its work in, but it also accepts direct requests from consumers for repair of dishwashers, refrigerators, ovens, stoves, washers and dryers.

Over time, Zamir said, the plan is not just to take in jobs and send out technicians to fix things in an Uber-style dispatch service — but to expand it to fit the kinds of next-generation appliances that are being built today, with IoT diagnostic monitoring and helping also to integrate these appliances into connected homes. It also seems to be slowly expanding into other home services too, alongside appliance repair (which remains its main business).

Nana has to date registered hundreds of technicians in 12 markets across the U.S. and said it expects to expand to 20 markets by the end of 2021.

Nana has an unlikely founder story that speaks to how so much of the tech world is still about hustle and finding opportunities in the margins.

Founder and CEO David Zamir hails from Israel, but unlike many of the transplants you may come across from there to the Bay Area tech world, he’s not a tech guy by education, training or work experience. He used to run clothing stores in Tel Aviv and vaguely liked the idea of being involved in a tech business at some point — Israel loves to call itself “startup nation” and so that bug is bound to bite even those who don’t study computer science or engineering — but he didn’t know what to do or where to begin.

“The clothing business didn’t make much money,” he said. So after a period Zamir and his American wife decided to move to the U.S. and try their luck there.

While initially based on the east coast near her family and wondering about what kind of job to pursue, Zamir spoke with a friend of his in Toronto who was an working as an independent tradesperson fixing appliances, and the friend suggested this as an option, at least for a while.

“So I hopped on an airplane to shadow my friend,” he recalled. “The lightbulb went off. I thought, I should do this in San Francisco,” where he had been wanting to move to crack in to the tech world, somehow. “I thought that I’d start with fixing appliances while I figured out how to find my way into tech.”

That turned into more than a temporary income stopgap, of course. After finding that his business taking off, Zamir saw that technology would be the avenue to growing it.

He was helped in part to build the idea and the business through his grit. Josh Elman, the famous tech investor, complained about a broken dryer back in April, and asked the Twitter hive mind whether he should get a new one or go through the pain of fixing it. Someone flagged the question to Zamir, who reached out and connected Elman with one of Nana’s online teaching technicians. Twelve hours later, Elman’s drier was diagnosed (by Elman), on its way to getting fixed, and Elman signed on as an advisor to the company.

Move fast and fix things

The world of tech is all about building new things and solving problems, with “breaking” being more synonymous with disruption (=”good”) and fearlessness (see: Facebook’s old mantra to its early employees to move fast and break things). But behind that, there is an interesting disconnect between the tech version of “broken” and objects that are actually “broken” in the real world.

Many of us these days find using apps and other digital interfaces second-nature, but most of us would have no idea how to repair or work with much more basic electronic systems. And nor do most of us want to. More often than not, we give up on it, decide it’s not worth fixing, and click on Amazon et al. to get a new shiny object.

Looked at on a wider scale, this is actually a big problem.

Electronics can be recycled, but in reality only about half the materials can be usefully reused. Meanwhile, Nana estimates that the appliance repair market is a $4 billion opportunity, with some 80 million appliances in need to being serviced annually in the US. But currently there are only some 31,000 trained technicians in the market. Nana estimates that to meet the demand of growing numbers, an additional 28,000 new technicians will be needed by 2025.

At the same time, the move to automation in many skilled labor jobs is putting people out of work: research from the Brookings Institution estimates that some 30 million people will lose their jobs in coming years because of it.

The idea here is that a platform like Nana can help some of those people retrain to fill the gap for appliance technicians, while at the same time extending the life of people’s appliances in a less painful way — putting less stuff into landfill — while at the same time expanding knowledge for anyone who cares for it.

Zamir said that Nana was named after his mother, who raised David as a single parent after his father passed away, a reference to working hard and being practical.

That sentimentality seems to motivate him in a bigger way, too: Zamir himself is a guy with a lot of heart and emotion vested into the concept of his startup. When I told him an anecdote of how our dishwasher broke down earlier this year and both a customer service rep from the maker (Siemens) and a separate repair person advised me to replace it, he got visibly agitated over our video call, as if the subject was something political or significantly more graver than a story about a dishwasher.

“I am not a supporter of what they told you,” he said in an angry voice. “It’s really upsetting me.” (I calmed him down a little, I think, when I told him that myself I uninstalled the broken dishwasher and installed the new one myself, because Covid.)

Zamir said that there are no plans to charge for its academy courses, nor to tie people into signing up with Nana to work once they take the courses. The fact that it provides a lot of inbound jobs attracts enough turnover — between 40% and 60% of those taking courses stay on to work when they took in-person classes, and for now the online figures are between 15% and 35%.

“It’s still early days,” he said, “but we’re finding the take up impressive… Most want to participate in the marketplace.” He says that there are other call-out services where they could register but the tech that Nana has built makes its system more efficient, and that means better returns.

All of this has played well with those who have become Nana’s investors. People like Jeff Weiner — who in his time as CEO of LinkedIn led the company to acquire Lynda as part of a bigger emphasis on the importance of skills training and education — see the opportunity and need to provide an equivalent platform not just for knowledge workers but those who have more manual jobs, too.

“We are excited by Nana’s vision of providing training, access and opportunity for rewarding, satisfying work while also filling a critical gap in our economy,” said Shripriya Mahesh of Spero Ventures, in a statement. “Nana has created a new, scalable approach to giving people the agency, tools and support systems they need to build new skills and pursue fulfilling work opportunities.”

The round was oversubscribed in the end, and Nana shouldn’t find it too hard to raise again if it sticks to its plan and the market continues to grow as it has. That does not seem to be the motivation for Zamir, though.

“We just think it’s super important to build Nana for the people,” he said.

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Rock-star programmer: Rivers Cuomo finds meaning in coding

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“Hi, I’m Rivers from the band, Weezer,” Rivers Cuomo says with a slight smile and a wave. He turns away from the camera for a bit, before launching into his best infomercial pitch. “Imagine you’re on tour, and you’re sitting in your dressing room or your tour bus. You’re backstage. You have stage fright, you’re stressing out. You’re pacing back and forth. And then on top of that, your tour manager is constantly calling you, asking you logistical questions.”

As far as internet pitch videos go, it’s not the most universal. If anything, the three-minute clip loses any hope of populist appeal by the end. In a final shot, the singer in a maroon SpaceX hoodie is the last up the ramp onto a private jet. The plane door closes revealing a Weezer flying “W” logo.

“Download Drivetimes now, on GitHub,” Cuomo adds in voice-over. “This is CS50X.”

It’s not the most polished app pitch video, and Cuomo’s elevator pitch could probably do with a bit of refining before approaching venture capitalists about a seed round. As far as final projects for online programming courses go, however, it’s something to behold. The images alternate between pages of code, Google spreadsheets and POV shots as he takes the stage for a co-headlining tour with the Pixies.

It helped earn Cuomo a 95 in the class.

But while, in its current configuration, the Drivetime tour scheduling tool might have limited appeal, the musician’s final project from Harvard’s follow-up course, CS50W, is immediately apparent for an army of fans who have followed his quarter-century-plus career. This week Cuomo dropped more than 2,400 demos totaling more than 86 hours. Spanning 1976 to 2015, the songs range in quality from tape-recorded sketches to more polished fare. Some would eventually find their way onto Weezer’s 13 albums, or assorted side projects. Others wouldn’t be so lucky.

Available through Cuomo’s “Mr. Rivers’ Neighborhood” site, the tracks are gathered into nine bundles, each available for $9 a piece. “By the way,” Cuomo writers at the bottom of a disclaimer, “this market is my final project for a course I’m taking in web programming.”

For half-a-decade, the platinum-selling rock star has been moonlighting as a computer programming student.

“I was always a spreadsheet guy,” Cuomo tells TechCrunch. “Around 2000, I think I started in Microsoft Access and then Excel. Just keeping track of all my songs and demos and ideas. Spreadsheets got more and more complicated to the point where it was like, ‘Well, I’m kind of almost writing code here in these formulas, except it’s super hard to use. So maybe I should actually do programming instead.’ ”

It would be an odd side hustle for practically any other successful musician. For Cuomo, however, it’s the next logical step. In the wake of the massive success of Weezer’s self-titled debut, he enrolled as a sophomore at Harvard, spending a year living in a dorm. He would ultimately leave school to record the band’s much-loved follow-up, Pinkerton, but two more more enrollments in 1997 and 2004 found the musician ultimately graduating with an English BA in 2006.

CS50 found Cuomo returning to Harvard — at least in spirit. The course is hosted online by the university, a free introduction to computer science.

“I went through some online courses and was looking for something that looked appealing and so I saw the Harvard CS50 was very popular,” Cuomo says. “So I was like, ‘Well, I’ll give this a shot.’ It didn’t take immediately. The first week course was using Scratch. I don’t know if you know that, but it’s like kind of click and drag type of programming, and you’re making a little video game.”

A six-week course stretched out for six months for the musician. That same year, the musician — now a father of two — played dozens of shows and recorded Weezer’s 10th album, the Grammy-nominated White Album.

“When we hit Python halfway through the course,” Cuomo says, “I was just amazed at how powerful it was and intuitive it was for me, and I could just get so much done. Then by the end of the course, I was writing programs that were really helping me manage my day-to-day life as a traveling musician and then also managing my spreadsheets and managing my work as a creative artist.”

For Cuomo, productivity has never been much of an issue. The band has two albums completed beyond this year’s Black Album, and he’s already begun work on two more follow-ups. What has seemingly been a bigger issue, however, is organizing those thoughts. That’s where the spreadsheets and database come in.

The “thousands” of spreadsheets became a database, cataloging Cuomo’s own demos and work he was studying from other artists.

“For years it seemed like kind of a waste of time or an indulgence,” he says. “I should be writing a new song or, or recording a song rather than just cataloging these old ideas, but I’ve found that, years later, I’m able to very efficiently make use of these ancient ideas because I can just tell my Python program, ‘Hey, show me all the ideas I have at 126 BPM in the key of A flat that start with a third degree of the scale and the melody and are in Dorian mode and that my manager has given three stars or more to.’ ”

He admits that the process may be lacking in some of the rock and roll romanticism for which fans of the bands might hope. But in spite of drawing on pages of analytics, Cuomo insists there’s still magic present.

For Cuomo, productivity has never been much of an issue. Given his level of productivity, however, organizing all of those thoughts can get tricky. That’s where the spreadsheets and database come in.

“There’s still plenty of room for spontaneity and inspiration in what we traditionally think of as human creativity,” Cuomo explains. “One of my heroes in this realm is Igor Stravinsky. There’s a collection of his lectures called “The Poetics of Music.” And he had a note in that collection. He said he has no interest in a composer that’s only using one of his faculties, like a composer that says, ‘I am only going to write what pops into my head spontaneously when I’m in some kind of a creative zone. I won’t use any of my other tools.’

“He says, ‘No, I prefer to listen to the music of a composer who’s using every faculty at his disposal, his intuition, but also his intellect and his ability to analyze and categorize and make use of everything he has.’ I find that those ended up being the most wild and unpredictable and creative compositions.”

And there’s been no shortage of compositions. Cuomo says the band has two albums completed beyond this year’s Black Album, and he’s already begun work on two more follow-ups. After decades of feeling beholden to the 18-month major label album release cycle, the singer says that after the Demos project, he has a newfound interest in finding more ways to release music directly to fans.

“I don’t feel like I’m really good at understanding the big-picture marketplace and how to make the biggest impact in the world,” he says. “My manager is so good at that, but I just told them like, ‘Hey, this feels like something here. First of all, it’s really fun. The fans are really happy. It’s super easy for everyone involved.’ The coding part wasn’t easy, but for everyone else, it’s a couple of clicks and you’ve got all this music, and it’s a cheap price, and there’s no middleman. PayPal takes a little bit, but it’s nothing like a major label. So, this could be something. And there’s just something, it feels so good when it’s directly from me to the audience.”

For now, computer science continues to take up a major chunk of his time. Cuomo estimates that he’s been spending around 70% of his work hours on programming projects. On Wednesday nights, he helps out with programming for a meditation site (another decades-long passion), and he plans to take Harvard’s follow-up CS50M course, which centers around developing for mobile apps.

There are, however, no immediate plans to quit his day job.

“I can’t see me getting a job at a startup or something or maintaining somebody’s website,” he says. “But maybe the line between rock star and web developer is getting blurred so that musicians will be making more and more use of technological tools. Besides just the music software, we’ll be making more and more use of means of distribution and organization and creativity that’s coming out in the way we code our connection to the audience.”

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Daily Crunch: Amazon Web Services stumble

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An Amazon Web Services outage has a wide effect, Salesforce might be buying Slack and Pinterest tests new support for virtual events. This is your Daily Crunch for November 25, 2020.

And for those of you who celebrate Thanksgiving: Enjoy! There will be no newsletter tomorrow, and then Darrell Etherington will be filling in for me on Friday.

The big story: Amazon Web Services stumble

Amazon Web Services began experiencing issues earlier today, which caused issues for sites and services that rely on its cloud infrastructure — as writer Zack Whittaker discovered when he tried to use his Roomba.

Amazon said the issue was largely localized to North America, and that it was working on a resolution. Meanwhile, a number of other companies, such as Adobe and Roku, have pointed to the AWS outage as the reason for their own service issues.

The tech giants

Slack’s stock climbs on possible Salesforce acquisition — News that Salesforce is interested in buying Slack sent shares of the smaller firm sharply higher today.

Pinterest tests online events with dedicated ‘class communities’ — The company has been spotted testing a new feature that allows users to sign up for Zoom classes through Pinterest.

France starts collecting tax on tech giants — This tax applies to companies that generate more than €750 million in revenue globally and €25 million in France, and that operate either a marketplace or an ad business.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Tiger Global invests in India’s Unacademy at $2B valuation — Unacademy helps students prepare for competitive exams to get into college.

WeGift, the ‘incentive marketing’ platform, collects $8M in new funding — Founded in 2016, WeGift wants to digitize the $700 billion rewards and incentives industry.

Cast.ai nabs $7.7M seed to remove barriers between public clouds — The company was started with the idea that developers should be able to get the best of each of the public clouds without being locked in.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Insurtech’s big year gets bigger as Metromile looks to go public — Metromile, a startup competing in the auto insurance market, is going public via SPAC.

Join us for a live Q&A with Sapphire’s Jai Das on Tuesday at 2 pm EST/11 am PST — Das has invested in companies like MuleSoft, Alteryx, Square and Sumo Logic.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

Gift Guide: Smart exercise gear to hunker down and get fit with — Smart exercise and health gear is smarter than ever.

Instead of yule log, watch this interactive dumpster fire because 2020 — Sure, why not.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

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Gift Guide: 5 solid tech gifts to help decrease stress and increase sleep

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Welcome to Techcrunch’s 2020 Holiday Gift Guide! Need help with gift ideas? We’re here to help! We’ll be rolling out gift guides from now through the end of December. You can find our other guides right here.

Even in a normal year, the holidays can be an anxiety-inducing hellscape. In 2020, though — honestly, it’s hard to say what manner of climactic finale this historically rough year might have on tap. In honor of the one of the most epically rotten years on record, we’ve cobbled together a list of gifts that could go a ways toward helping folks make it triumphantly across the finish line.

It’s a bit of a mixed bag, I admit. Everyone blows off stress differently — some like to play video games, come cook, some go for a run, others meditate. This is an attempt to round up some gadgets and software that can help increase sleep, reduce blood pressure and generally help survive what’s left of 2020 intact.

This article contains links to affiliate partners where available. When you buy through these links, TechCrunch may earn an affiliate commission.

Muse S

I was using Muse’s latest headband quite a bit during CES, back when that show still felt like it was going to be the apex of stress for my year. The device offers a clever kind of gamified approach to meditation — something I, as one of the worst meditators of all-time, have come to appreciate. I recognize that words like “gamify” sound counterproductive when it comes something like meditating, but Muse does a surprisingly good job getting you into the right headspace.

The company also recently added sleep tracking to the wearable. I will say that the Muse S is reasonably comfortable as far as tech headbands go (an admittedly low bar), but even so, sleeping with one on still takes some getting used to.

Price: $350 from Amazon

Bose Sleepbuds II

Image Credits: Bose

We can recommend a number of all-purpose, noise-cancelling headphones for help relaxing. The Bose Sleepbuds II aren’t that. These little Bluetooth buds are built for one purpose only: sleep. They’re comfortable, they get good battery life and they’ll stay in place while you sleep. They’re built for noisy environments — whether you’re trying to sneak in a midday nap or sleep next to a snorer.

They’re a bit pricy and not very versatile, only designed to play back Bose’s preloaded sleep sounds. But if someone in your life is having trouble falling — or staying — asleep, they’re a solid investment.

Price: $250 from Amazon

Calm Subscription

Image Credits: Calm

There’s no shortage of meditation apps these days, but Calm has been my go-to for a long time. The app has been tremendously successful over the past couple of years, even landing a star-studded show on HBO Max. With more than 50 million downloads, Calm offers some of the most extensive and best guided meditation courses and tracks to help lull listeners to sleep.

Price: $13/month from Calm

Withings Sleep

Image Credits: Withings

I really dug this thing before my rabbit chewed the cord and rendered the thing effectively useless. I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that’s not an issue most users are going to run into. Withings Sleep is, effectively, a pad that sits under the mattress to detect your sleep progress during the night. Those results are then collected and displayed in Withings’ Health app. I’ve tested a lot of wearable sleep trackers over the year, but if you’re really invested in sleep tracking, this is a good way to go. Among other things, you don’t have to wear a band to sleep.

Withings Sleep goes deep with its tracking, including cycles heart rate tracking and even snore detection. It’s also one of the first of this class of consumer device to offer sleep apnea detection.

Price: $74 from Amazon

Dreamlight Zen

Image Credits: Dreamlight

Back when we used to do travel gift guides, I included one of Dreamlight’s masks for long flights. Even though we’re all grounded, though, I’ve actually got a fair amount of use out of the thing, dealing with some health struggles this year. Dreamlight Zen is a step up from that model, featuring built-in sleep and meditation aids that can run up to 10 hours on a charge.

Price: $200 from Dreamlight

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