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Daily Crunch: Alphabet shuts down Loon

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Alphabet pulls the plug on its internet balloon company, Apple is reportedly developing a new MacBook Air and Google threatens to pull out of Australia. This is your Daily Crunch for January 22, 2021.

The big story: Alphabet shuts down Loon

Alphabet announced that it’s shutting down Loon, the project that used balloons to bring high-speed internet to more remote parts of the world.

Loon started out under Alphabet’s experimental projects group X, before spinning out as a separate company in 2018. Despite some successful deployments, it seems that Loon was never able to find a sustainable business model.

“While we’ve found a number of willing partners along the way, we haven’t found a way to get the costs low enough to build a long-term, sustainable business,” Loon CEO Alastair Westgarth wrote in a blog post. “Developing radical new technology is inherently risky, but that doesn’t make breaking this news any easier.”

The tech giants

Apple reportedly planning thinner and lighter MacBook Air with MagSafe charging — The plan is reportedly to release the new MacBook Air as early as late 2021 or 2022.

Google threatens to close its search engine in Australia as it lobbies against digital news code — Google is dialing up its lobbying against draft legislation intended to force it to pay news publishers.

Cloudflare introduces free digital waiting rooms for any organizations distributing COVID-19 vaccines — The goal is to help health agencies and organizations tasked with rolling out COVID-19 vaccines to maintain a fair, equitable and transparent digital queue.

Startups, funding and venture capital

‘Slow dating’ app Once is acquired by Dating Group for $18M as it seeks to expand its portfolio — Once has 9 million users on its platform, with an additional 1 million users from a spin-out app called Pickable.

MotoRefi raises $10M to keep pedal on auto refinancing growth — CEO Kevin Bennett sees the opportunity to service Americans who collectively hold $1.2 trillion in auto loans.

Backed by Vint Cerf, Emortal wants to protect your digital legacy from ‘bit-rot’ —  Emortal is a startup that wants to help you organize, protect, preserve and pass on your “digital legacy” and protect it from becoming unreadable.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

How VCs invested in Asia and Europe in 2020 — The unicorns are feasting.

End-to-end operators are the next generation of consumer business — VC firm Battery has tracked seismic shifts in how consumer purchasing behavior has changed over the years.

Drupal’s journey from dorm-room project to billion-dollar exit — Twenty years ago, Drupal and Acquia founder Dries Buytaert was a college student at the University of Antwerp.

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

Everything else

UK resumes privacy oversight of adtech, warns platform audits are coming — The U.K.’s data watchdog has restarted an investigation of adtech practices that, since 2018, have been subject to scores of complaints under GDPR.

Boston Globe will consider people’s requests to have articles about them anonymized — It’s reminiscent of the EU’s “right to be forgotten,” though potentially less controversial.

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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Celebrity video platform Memmo raises $10M

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Memmo.me, a startup allowing users to pay celebrities for personalized video messages, is announcing that it has raised $10 million in Series A funding.

“We’re really excited about our mission to break down these barriers [and help talent] connect one-to-one instead of one-to-thousands,” said co-founder and CEO Gustav Lundberg Toresson.

He added that celebrities are embracing this as a new source of income. It’s particularly appealing during the pandemic, but he predicted that celebrities will still be excited about “making this much money from their living rooms” after the pandemic ends.

The concept probably reminds you of Cameo (indeed, Carole Baskin of “Tiger King” fame has presence on both platforms), but while Cameo is U.S.-based, Memmo was founded in Stockholm, and Lundberg Toresson said its strategy is both global and localized — the company is currently operating localized marketplaces for Sweden, Germany, Finland, Norway, the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy and Canada, as well as a general global market.

“We want to be the place where you can find everyone from world famous talents like a soccer or basketball star, to the local musician down the road,” he said. “It’s all about using localization to help you find who’s most relevant for you, wherever you are.”

The startup says it has been used to send more than 100,000 messages globally, and that sales grew 50% every month between July of last year and January 2021.

The round was led by Left Lane Capital, with the firm’s founder and managing parter Harley Miller joining the Memmo board. Delivery Hero co-founder Lukasz Gadowski, FJ Labs, Depop CEO Maria Raga, Zillow co-founder Spencer Rascoff, former Groupon operations director Inbal Leshem, Voi Technology co-founder Fredrik Hjelm, former Udemy CEO Dennis Yang and Wolt co-founder Elias Aalto also participated.

“We’ve been impressed with the pace at which Memmo has expanded their offering across markets, where localization is critical to unlocking marketplace liquidity,” Miller said in a statement. “The ability to monetize the gap between wealth and fame for talent & celebrities, all the while allowing them to engage deeply with fans, is a trend that was only further underscored by the pandemic.”

Although Left Lane is based in New York, Lundberg Toresson said he was particularly excited about the firm’s marketplace expertise, and that its investment does not signal an imminent U.S. launch.

Memmo has now raised a total of $12 million. The new funding will allow the startup to add new features like live videos and to build out its business offerings, where companies can hire celebrities to create promotional videos for external marketing or internal employee motivation.

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The Landing is bringing shoppable social and collaboration to interior design

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Monetizable mood boards might sound like the moonshot idea that no one asked for, but when you think about it, the vision is already informally happening in various corners of the internet. A young generation of users shops with community in mind, whether that’s buying merchandise from your favorite influencers or giving into those Instagram advertisements after spending way too much time on the grid.

As more users think of shopping as a social, digital-first activity, The Landing, a seed-stage startup coming out of stealth, is hoping to win over those who have an affinity for designing homes and spaces. On The Landing, users can create, and shop from, room designs to help furnish their homes.

Image Credits: The Landing

“There’s no contextually rich, visual shopping destination, where you could curate and discover and share and shop all in one place,” co-founder Miri Buckland said. The Landing hopes to be that destination.

Started by Buckland and Ellie Buckingham, The Landing is launching with $2.5 million in financing, in a round led by Aileen Lee at Cowboy Ventures. Lee will be taking a board seat. Other investors include Dara Treseder, the CMO of Peloton, Manish Chandra and Tracy Sun, the founders of Poshmark, Unshackled, Designer Fund, and Progression Fund.

The Landing began as a pandemic pivot. Buckland and Buckingham were always interested in solving the pain point of contextual furnishing for users, but began by physically moving people into apartments and helping them set up different furniture. Then, the pandemic hit and limited the ability to do high-touch services. Buckingham says that this was “potentially the best forcing function” to focus on what kind of business The Landing wanted to be.

“I don’t need to be the person moving into your apartment with a couch,” she said. “It was about the importance of empowering creativity and empowering individuals to create digital and physical spaces.” That’s when they dropped the moving service business, and instead used furnishing as a vector to solve the problem of contextual and social e-commerce.

It’s a smart idea that has not gone unnoticed. Houzz, a Sequoia-backed home improvement startup, connects users to products from third-party retailers as well as services from architects, designers, or contractors. There’s also Modsy, which has raised north of $70 million to date, which helps users virtually redesign their homes.

Buckingham worked for Modsy when she was at business school, where she first started noticing that she disagreed with the startups’ main thesis.

“Their motto was basically a digital rendition of an existing human service,” she said. “And I came away from the experience not super convinced that the service model was the scalable, future answer to consumerization of access to design.” She noticed that the younger generation was looking for a self-serve, customizable answer, instead.

Miri Buckland and Ellie Buckingham, the co-founders of The Landing.

The Landing is launching with creative tooling capabilities, which allow users to build and design spaces within its platform. In the coming months, the team is focused on adding a social layer atop the design tool, with features like profiles, discovery, fede, and commenting.

The Landing’s Slack channel is currently being used to discuss these features and what is most in-demand from early users.

The founders aren’t worried about a lack of demand, or only being a platform for the few times that people furnish their homes throughout their lifespan. As Buckland pointed out, people browse Zillow all the time, and have Reddit channels about dream homes, creating designs, and more. The startup is aiming to serve that population as well — the dreamers and not just the realists.

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Why F5 spent $2.2B on 3 companies to focus on cloud native applications

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It’s essential for older companies to recognize changes in the marketplace or face the brutal reality of being left in the dust. F5 is an old-school company that launched back in the 90s, yet has been able to transform a number of times in its history to avoid major disruption. Over the last two years, the company has continued that process of redefining itself, this time using a trio of acquisitions — NGINX, Shape Security and Volterra — totaling $2.2 billion to push in a new direction.

While F5 has been associated with applications management for some time, it recognized that the way companies developed and managed applications was changing in a big way with the shift to Kubernetes, microservices and containerization. At the same time, applications have been increasingly moving to the edge, closer to the user. The company understood that it needed to up its game in these areas if it was going to keep up with customers.

Taken separately, it would be easy to miss that there was a game plan behind the three acquisitions, but together they show a company with a clear opinion of where they want to go next. We spoke to F5 president and CEO François Locoh-Donou to learn why he bought these companies and to figure out the method in his company’s acquisition spree madness.

Looking back, looking forward

F5, which was founded in 1996, has found itself at a number of crossroads in its long history, times where it needed to reassess its position in the market. A few years ago it found itself at one such juncture. The company had successfully navigated the shift from physical appliance to virtual, and from data center to cloud. But it also saw the shift to cloud native on the horizon and it knew it had to be there to survive and thrive long term.

“We moved from just keeping applications performing to actually keeping them performing and secure. Over the years, we have become an application delivery and security company. And that’s really how F5 grew over the last 15 years,” said Locoh-Donou.

Today the company has over 18,000 customers centered in enterprise verticals like financial services, healthcare, government, technology and telecom. He says that the focus of the company has always been on applications and how to deliver and secure them, but as they looked ahead, they wanted to be able to do that in a modern context, and that’s where the acquisitions came into play.

As F5 saw it, applications were becoming central to their customers’ success and their IT departments were expending too many resources connecting applications to the cloud and keeping them secure. So part of the goal for these three acquisitions was to bring a level of automation to this whole process of managing modern applications.

“Our view is you fast forward five or 10 years, we are going to move to a world where applications will become adaptive, which essentially means that we are going to bring automation to the security and delivery and performance of applications, so that a lot of that stuff gets done in a more native and automated way,” Locoh-Donou said.

As part of this shift, the company saw customers increasingly using microservices architecture in their applications. This means instead of delivering a large monolithic application, developers were delivering them in smaller pieces inside containers, making it easier to manage, deploy and update.

At the same time, it saw companies needing a new way to secure these applications as they shifted from data center to cloud to the edge. And finally, that shift to the edge would require a new way to manage applications.

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