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Kahoot drops $50M on Drops to add language learning to its gamified education stable

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After raising $215 million from SoftBank to double down on the surge of interest in online learning, Kahoot has made an acquisition to expand the scope of subjects that it covers. The popular startup, which lets people build and share educational games, has picked up Drops, a startup that helps people learn languages by way of short picture- and word-based games. The plan is to integrate more Kahoot features into Drops’ apps, and to bring some of Drops’ content into the main Kahoot platform.

Kahoot, which trades a part of its shares through Norway’s alternative exchange the Merkur Market and currently has a market cap of over $3 billion, said in an announcement that it would pay $31 million in cash, plus up to $19 million more in cash and shares, based on Drops meeting certain targets between now and 2022. The deal is expected to close this month.

Drops makes three main apps. First in an eponymous freemium app, with free and paid features, that helps adults learn new languages, currently some 42 in all, with a focus on vocabulary, built around five-minute, “snackable” sessions. A second app, Scripts, is aimed at learning to read, write and sign, and it covers four alphabets and four character-based writing systems. A third, Droplets, is aimed specifically at language learning for learners aged between eight and 17. Altogether Drops has clocked up 25 million users.

Notably, one reason it might be off TechCrunch’s (and the startup world’s) radar is that it appears to have been bootstrapped up to now. (We are confirming that detail and will update when/if we learn more.) But it’s had some notable accolades, getting named app of the year by Google in 2018, for one.

The startup was founded in Estonia and has 21 employees and has no “head office” as such, with the team spread across Estonia, US, UK, Spain, Italy, France, Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, Hungary, Ukraine and Russia. This could be one reason why it’s kept costs low: in 2019 it reported gross revenues of $7.5 million (€6.3 million), with cash conversion of 40%.

For some more context, Kahoot says that in the last 12 months, more than 1 billion participating players in over 200 countries attended over 200 million Kahoot! sessions. That figure includes both educational users of its free services, as well as enterprises, which pay to build and use games (for example related to professional development or business compliance) on the platform.

“We are thrilled to welcome Drops to the expanding Kahoot! family as we advance towards our vision to become the leading learning platform in the world,” said Eilert Hanoa, the CEO of Kahoot, in a statement. “Drops’ offerings and innovative learning model are a perfect match to Kahoot!’s mission of making learning awesome through a simple, game-based approach. Drops and language learning becomes the latest addition to our growing offering of learning apps for learners of all ages and abilities. We will continue to expand in new areas to make Kahoot! the ultimate learning destination, at home, school or work, and to make learning awesome!”

The Covid-19 pandemic has led to a bonanza for educational apps, which are collectively seeing a huge rush of usage in the last year.

For students, educators and parents, they have become a way of connecting and teaching at a time when physical schools are either closed, or drastically curtailed in what they can do, in order to help limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Businesses and other organizations, on the other hand, are leaning on e-learning as a way of keeping connected with staff, engaging them, and training them at a time when many are working from home.

It might seem ironic that at a time when travel has been drastically limited, if not completely halted altogether, for many of us, that language learning has seen an especially big boom.

Maybe it’s about making hay — that is, using the moment to get yourself ready for a time in the future when you might actually get to use your newly acquired foreign language skills. Or maybe it’s just another option for distracting or occupying ourselves in a more constructive way. Whatever might be the motivation or cause, the effect is that language learning is on the up.

Most recently, Duolingo — which incidentally also uses game-based concepts, where you enter a leaderboard for your learning and your daily sessions become winning streaks — raised $35 million on a $2.4 billion valuation, a huge jump for the company.

Kahoot cites figures that predict that digital language learning will be an $8 billion+ market by 2025 as describes Drops as “one of the fastest-growing language platforms in the world.”

“The entire Drops team has spent the last five years building a new way to learn language, and we’re just getting started,” said Daniel Farkas, co-founder and CEO, Drops, in a statement. “We’ve introduced millions of users across the globe to our playful, dynamic approach to language learning. Kahoot! is doing the same for all types of learning. We’re excited to work with such a mission-aligned company to introduce the Drops platform to game-loving learners everywhere.”

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

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Daily Crunch: Twitter unveils Birdwatch

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Twitter pilots a new tool to fight disinformation, Apple brings celebrity-guided walks to the Apple Watch and Clubhouses raises funding. This is your Daily Crunch for January 25, 2021.

The big story: Twitter unveils Birdwatch

Twitter launched a new product today that it says will offer “a community-based approach to misinformation.”

With Birdwatch, users will be able to flag tweets that they find misleading, write notes to add context to those tweets and rate the notes written by others. This is supposed to be a complement to the existing system where Twitter removes or labels particularly problematic tweets, rather than a replacement.

What remains to be seen: How Twitter will handle it when two or more people get locked into a battle and post a flurry of conflicting notes about whether a tweet is misleading or not.

The tech giants

Walking with Dolly — Apple discusses how and why it brought Time to Walk to the Watch.

Google pledges grants and facilities for COVID-19 vaccine programs — The tech giant is one of several large corporations that have pledged support to local government agencies and medical providers to help increase vaccinations.

Facebook will give academic researchers access to 2020 election ad targeting data — Starting next month, Facebook will open up academic access to a data set of 1.3 million political and social issue ads.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Clubhouse announces plans for creator payments and raises new funding led by Andreessen Horowitz — While we try to track down the actual value of this round, Clubhouse has confirmed it will be introducing products to help creators on the platform get paid.

Taboola is going public via SPAC — The transaction is expected to close in the second quarter, and the combined company will trade on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol TBLA.

Wolt closes $530M round to continue expanding beyond restaurant delivery — The Helsinki-based online ordering and delivery company initially focused on restaurants but has since expanded to other verticals.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Qualtrics raises IPO pricing ahead of debut — After being acquired by SAP, Qualtrics announced it would spin out as its own public company.

Fintechs could see $100 billion of liquidity in 2021 — The Matrix Fintech Index weighs public markets, liquidity and a new e-commerce trend.

Unpacking Chamath Palihapitiya’s SPAC deals for Latch and Sunlight Financial — There’s no escaping SPACs, at least for a little while.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

Moderna says it’s making variant-specific COVID-19 vaccines, but its existing vaccine should still work — Moderna has detailed some of the steps it’s taking to ensure that its vaccine remains effective in the face of emerging strains of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that leads to COVID-19.

Original Content podcast: ‘Bridgerton’ is an addictive reimagining of Jane Austen-style romance — Did I mention that the cast is insanely good-looking?

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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Debunk, don’t ‘prebunk,’ and other psychology lessons for social media moderation

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If social networks and other platforms are to get a handle on disinformation, it’s not enough to know what it is — you have to know how people react to it. Researchers at MIT and Cornell have some surprising but subtle findings that may affect how Twitter and Facebook should go about treating this problematic content.

MIT’s contribution is a counter-intuitive one. When someone encounters a misleading headline in their timeline, the logical thing to do would be to put a warning before it so that the reader knows it’s disputed from the start. Turns out that’s not quite the case.

In a study of nearly 3,000 people who evaluated the accuracy of headlines after receiving different (or no) warnings about them.

Going into the project, I had anticipated it would work best to give the correction beforehand, so that people already knew to disbelieve the false claim when they came into contact with it. To my surprise, we actually found the opposite,” said study co-author David Rand in an MIT news article. “Debunking the claim after they were exposed to it was the most effective.”

When a person was warned beforehand that the headline was misleading, they improved in their classification accuracy by 5.7 percent. When the warning came simultaneously with the headline, that improvement grew to 8.6 percent. But if shown the warning afterwards, they were 25 percent better. In other words, debunking beat “prebunking” by a fair margin.

The team speculated as to the cause of this, suggesting that it fits with other indications that people are more likely to incorporate feedback into a preexisting judgment rather than alter that judgment as it’s being formed. They warned that the problem is far deeper than a tweak like this can fix.

“There is no single magic bullet that can cure the problem of misinformation,” said co-author Adam Berinsky. “Studying basic questions in a systematic way is a critical step toward a portfolio of effective solutions.”

The study from Cornell is equal parts reassuring and frustrating. People viewing potentially misleading information were reliably influenced by the opinions of large groups — whether or not those groups were politically aligned with the reader.

It’s reassuring because it suggests that people are willing to trust that if 80 out of 100 people thought a story was a little fishy, even if 70 of those 80 were from the other party, there might just be something to it. It’s frustrating because of how seemingly easy it is to sway an opinion simply by saying that a large group thinks it’s one way or the other.

“In a practical way, we’re showing that people’s minds can be changed through social influence independent of politics,” said graduate student Maurice Jakesch, lead author of the paper. “This opens doors to use social influence in a way that may de-polarize online spaces and bring people together.”

Partisanship still played a role, it must be said — people were about 21 percent less likely to have their view swayed if the group opinion was led by people belonging to the other party. But even so people were very likely to be affected by the group’s judgment.

Part of why misinformation is so prevalent is because we don’t really understand why it’s so appealing to people, and what measures reduce that appeal, among other simple questions. As long as social media is blundering around in darkness they’re unlikely to stumble upon a solution, but every study like this makes a little more light.

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Smart lock maker Latch teams with real estate firm to go public via SPAC

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This week, Latch becomes the latest company to join the SPAC parade. Founded in 2014, the New York-based company came out of stealth two years later, launching a smart lock system. Though, like many companies primarily known for hardware solutions, Latch says it’s more, offering a connected security software platform for owners of apartment buildings.

The company is set to go public courtesy of a merger with blank check company TS Innovation Acquisitions Corp. As far as partners go, Tishman Speyer Properties makes strategic sense here. The New York-based commercial real estate firm is a logical partner for a company whose technology is currently deployed exclusively in residential apartment buildings.

“With a standard IPO, you have all of the banks take you out to all of the big investors,” Latch founder and CEO Luke Schoenfelder tells TechCrunch. “We felt like there was an opportunity here to have an extra level of strategic partnership and an extra level of product expansion that came as part of the process. Our ability to go into Europe and commercial offices is now accelerated meaningfully because of this partnership.

The number of SPAC deals has increased substantially over the past several months, including recent examples like Taboola. According to Crunchbase, Latch has raised $152 million, to date. And the company has seen solid growth over the past year — not something every hardware or hardware adjacent company can say about the pandemic.

As my colleague Alex noted on Extra Crunch today, “Doing some quick match, Latch grew booked revenues 50.5% from 2019 to 2020. Its booked software revenues grew 37.1%, while its booked hardware top line expanded over 70% during the same period.”

“We’ve been a customer and investor in Latch for years,” Tishman Speyer President and CEO Rob Speyer tells TechCrunch. “Our customers — the people who live in our buildings — love the Latch product. So we’ve rolled it out across our residential portfolio […] I hope we can act as both a thought partner and product incubator for them.”

While the company plans to expand to commercial offices, apartment buildings have been a nice vertical thus far — meaning the company doesn’t have to compete as directly in the crowded smart home lock category. Among other things, it’s probably a net positive if you’re going head to head against, say Amazon. That the company has built in partners in real estate firms like Tishman Speyer is also a net positive.

Schoenfelder says the company is looking toward such partnerships as test beds for its technology. “Our products have been in the field for many years in multifamily. The usage patterns are going to be slightly different in commercial offices. We think we know how they’re going to be different, but being able to get them up and running and observe the interaction with products in the wild is going to be really important.”

The deal values Latch at $1.56 billion and is expected to close in Q2.

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