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Daily Crunch: Telegram prepares to monetize

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Telegram will introduce ads, TikTok’s parent company is moving into drug discovery and President Trump continues his battle against Section 230. This is your Daily Crunch for December 23, 2020.

The big story: Telegram prepares to monetize

Telegram founder Pavel Durov said the messaging app will introduce advertising next year on public one-to-many channels. Durov wrote on his Telegram channel the ad platform will be “one that is user-friendly, respects privacy and allows us to cover the costs of server and traffic.”

He also pointed to premium stickers as another way that Telegram could monetize, while emphasizing that existing features will remain free and that he does not support showing ads in private chats.

In addition to discussing the company’s monetization plans, Durov said that Telegram is “approaching” 500 million users.

The tech giants

Nikola’s stock crashes after announcing cancelation of contract with Republic Services for 2,500 garbage trucks — This is the latest deal to unravel for Nikola as it tries to patch up following recent devastating reports.

TikTok parent ByteDance hiring for AI drug discovery team — “We are looking for candidates to join our team and conduct cutting-edge research in drug discovery and manufacturing powered by AI algorithms,” the company said in a job posting.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Chinese autonomous driving startup WeRide bags $200M in funding — The new funding will see WeRide joining hands with Yutong, a 57-year-old company, to make autonomous-driving minibuses and city buses.

Voyager Space Holdings to acquire majority stake in commercial space leader Nanoracks — Nanoracks provided the Bishop Airlock that was installed on the International Space Station.

Honk introduces a real-time, ephemeral messaging app aimed at Gen Z — Instead of sending texts off into the void and hoping for a response, friends on Honk communicate via messages that are shown live as you type.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Dear Sophie: What’s ahead for US immigration in 2021? — Sophie Alcorn weighs in on what’s next for U.S. visas and green cards.

Looking ahead after 2020’s epic M&A spree — This year, four deals involving chip companies totaled over $100 billion on their own.

Heading into 2021: Venture fundraising, liquidity and the everything bubble — Alex Wilhelm’s final column of the year.

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

Everything else

Trump vetoes major defense bill, citing Section 230 — President Trump has vetoed the $740 million National Defense Authorization Act, a major bill that allocates military funds each year.

XRP cryptocurrency crashes following announcement of SEC suit against Ripple — The XRP token’s value has declined more than 42% in the past 24 hours.

TaskRabbit is resetting customer passwords after finding ‘suspicious activity’ on its network — The company later confirmed the activity was a credential stuffing attack, where existing sets of exposed or breached usernames and passwords are matched against different websites to access accounts.

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.

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

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MIT develops method for lab-grown plants that eventually lead to alternatives to forestry and farming

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Researchers at MIT have developed a new method for growing plant tissues in a lab – sort of like how companies and researchers are approaching lab-grown meat. The process would be able to produce wood and fibre in a lab environment, and researchers have already demonstrated how it works in concept by growing simple structures using cells harvested from zinnia leaves.

This work is still in its very early stages, but the potential applications of lab-grown plant material are significant, and include possibilities in both agriculture and in ruction materials. While traditional agricultural is much less ecologically damaging when compared to animal farming, it can still have a significant impact and cost, and it takes a lot of resources to maintain. Not to mention that even small environmental changes can have a significant effect on crop yield.

Forestry, meanwhile, has much more obvious negative environmental impacts. If the work of these researchers can eventually be used to create a way to produce lab-grown wood for use in construction and fabrication, in a way that’s scalable and efficient, then there’s tremendous potential in terms of reducing the impact of forestry globally. Eventually, the team even theorizes you could coax the growth of plant-based materials into specific target shapes, so you could also do some of the manufacturing in the lab, by growing a wood table directly for instance.

There’s still a long way to go from what the researchers have achieved. They’ve only grown materials on a very small scale, and will look to figure out ways to grow plant-based materials with different final properties as one challenge. They’ll also need to overcome significant barriers when it comes to scaling efficiencies, but they are working on solutions that could address some of these difficulties.

Lab-grown meat is still in its infancy, and lab-grown plant material is even more nascent. But it has tremendous potential, even if it takes a long time to get there.

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Cannabis marketing startup Fyllo acquires DataOwl

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Fyllo has acquired DataOwl, a company offering marketing and loyalty tools for cannabis retailers.

Fyllo said it already works with 320 cannabis retailers across 25 states (plus Puerto Rico and Jamaica). According to Chief Marketing Officer Conrad Lisco, this acquisition allows the company to offer the industry’s “first end-to-end marketing solution,” combining consumer data, digital advertising, regulatory compliance (thanks to Fyllo’s acquisition of CannaRegs last year) and, through DataOwl, CRM and loyalty tied into a business’ point-of-sale system.

As an example, founder and CEO Chad Bronstein (previously the chief revenue officer at digital marketing company Amobee) said that retailers will be able to use the Fyllo platform to send promotional texts to regular customers while, crucially, ensuring that those campaigns are fully in compliance with state and local regulations. He added that eventually, the platform could be used beyond cannabis, in other regulated industries.

“Beauty, gambling, etc. — the same things need to happen in every regulated industry, they would all benefit from loyalty and compliance automation,” Bronstein said.

In addition, he argued that mainstream brands are increasingly interested in using data around cannabis and CBD consumers, as borne out in a Forrester study commissioned by Fyllo.

Lisco said this acquisition comes at a crucial time for the cannabis industry, with dispensaries classified as essential businesses in many states, as well as continuing momentum behind marijuana legalization.

“In 2020, cannabis came of age,” he said. “We would say it went form illicit to essential in 10 months … 2021 is really about watching endemic [marijuana] brands try to scale, so that they can capitalize on the explosive growth. They’ve historically been excluded from the kinds of integrated marketing capabilities that other non-endemic [mainstream] brands get to use when go to market.”

Bronstein said Fyllo aims to bring those capabilities to marijuana brands, first by bringing the its compliance capabilities into the DataOwl product. The company also aims to create a national cannabis loyalty platform, allowing a marijuana retailer in one state to easily expand its marketing capabilities into other states in a compliant fashion.

The financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed. DataOwl co-founders Dan Hirsch and Vartan Arabyan are joining Fyllo, as is the rest of their team, bringing the company’s total headcount to 110.

“By integrating with Fyllo, DataOwl’s solutions will reach the widest possible audience via the industry’s most innovative marketing platform,” Hirsch said in a statement.

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SpaceX delivers 60 more Starlink satellites in first launch of 2021, and sets new Falcon 9 rocket reusability record

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SpaceX has launched its 17th batch of Starlink satellites during its first mission of 2021, using a Falcon 9 rocket that was flying for the eighth time, and that landed again, recording a record for its reusability program. This puts the total Starlink constellation size at almost 1,000, as the company has expanded its beta access program for the service to the UK and Canada, with a first deployment in the latter company serving a rural First Nations community in a remote part of the province of Ontario.

The launch took off from Florida at 8:02 AM EST (5:02 AM PST), with delivery of the satellites following as planned at around an hour after lift-off. The booster on this launch flew seven times previously, as mentioned – including just in December when it was used to delivery a SiriusXM satellite to orbit to support that company’s satellite radio network.

Today’s launch was also notable because it included a landing attempt in so-called “envelope expansion” conditions, which means that the winds in the landing zone where SpaceX’s drone recovery ship was stationed at sea actually exceeded the company’s previously-defined safety window for making a landing attempt.

As a result of today’s success, SpaceX will likely now have higher tolerances for wind speeds in order to attempt recovery, which should translate to fewer cancellations of launches based on weather conditions in the landing zone.

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