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Gwoop Academy wants to help you get better at video games

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Every sport has its practice drills and exercises to help players hone skills between games. Why would esports be any different?

Gwoop, a startup out of Minnesota, wants to be the place where gamers go to train between matches. They’re building up a collection of free browser-based training tools meant to help you measure and improve vital stats like reaction time, mouse control, and aim, and see how your stats compare to the best.

Some of the training games currently up and running:

  • Reaction Training: Wait for it…. click! As soon as the screen changes from grey to orange, you click the mouse button. The lower your reaction time (measured in milliseconds), the better. Harder levels throw in more colors to fake you out and give you a bit of pause.
  • Visual Speed: Target boxes spawn one-at-a-time all around a 2D plane. Click one, and another appears. The more boxes you click before time runs out, the higher your score.
  • Keyboard speed: Straightforward keyboard key-finding practice, because any time spent looking at your keyboard is time not spent dodging shots.

  • Mouse control: If you can’t get your mouse to go where you want it, you can’t aim. Gwoop’s mouse control exercise has you drag a ball through a curved track; the more tracks you complete, the higher your score.
  • FPS Training Arena: Strafe around a 3D arena (pictured up top), scanning for randomly generated targets and clicking them as they appear. Bonus points for hitting the dead center of a target.

All of the tools are linked back to an analytics dashboard, allowing you to gauge your performance metrics over time. Each skill gets its own leaderboard so you can see, for example, how your average reaction time compares to others worldwide and amongst your friends.

Even in its 3D exercises, Gwoop’s graphics are pretty simple — and that’s intentional. They want it to work for as many players as possible. They’ve got no reason to try to look like a AAA title; the more graphically intense a game is, the more powerful your computer would have to be to run it smoothly. Co-founder Gavin Lee tells me that their goal is to keep it so that “all you need is a computer and the Internet. It doesn’t matter if your device is 10 years old.” Even its 2D exercises have switches you can flip to further simplify the graphics and improve performance.

It’s the same reason they’ve built everything to work in the browser: not requiring any downloads means more people can train, with the added benefit for the Gwoop team of not having to worry about maintaining separate Mac/PC clients.

While the existing exercises might seem focused around improving first-person shooter skills, Lee tells me that they’re aiming to be “genre-agnostic” and are planning expansions tailored to other kinds of games. He mentions a “MOBA Arena” in the works meant to help polish skills required for games like League of Legends or DOTA, and another exercise-in-progress that’s “very Rocket League centric.” Their training tools seem mostly focused on keyboard/mouse users right now, but they’re working on more functionality for players who prefer controllers.

Gwoop is entirely free to players —so how will they make money? Lee tells me they’ve got two different strategies there: they’ll sell additional advanced analytics tools to teams, and, once they’ve got enough players clicking around, hopefully be able to serve as a platform for esports recruiters. Lee says players should be able to opt-in to having their data shared with potential sponsors and esports teams, with Gwoop getting paid to connect the dots. “All these division one schools have these platforms where you can upload football films and get recruited,” says Lee “we want to become that platform [for esports].”

Why the name “Gwoop”? Is it a bit of super cool gaming lingo, or some sort of acronym? Nope! It was just a quick, memorable domain Lee had been holding onto for decades. “I wish I had a better story for you,” he says, “but I bought the domain in 2002 just because I wanted a five letter domain that you could pronounce and was available.” It’s okay, Gavin: most people don’t care why Google is called Google, after all.

The team’s timing is pretty good here. With most people being stuck at home, more people are getting into gaming than ever before. Battle Royale games like Fortnite, PUBG, and Apex Legends are blowing up… but it’s hard to get better in a game where you spend the first ten minutes looting only to get shredded in 10 seconds when a skilled team rotates through. While many titles have dedicated training areas or firing ranges to practice in, they’re usually meant more for quick pre-game warmups and don’t do things like help you track metrics and improvements over time.

The Minneapolis-based team is currently comprised of its three cofounders. It’s self-funded to date, but I’m told a seed round is underway.

Gwoop is currently in semi-closed Beta and generally requires an invite to signup, but Lee tells me that the code #TC2021# should let our readers past the signup gate.

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

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UK challenger bank Starling raises $376M, now valued at $1.9B

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Challenger banks continue to see huge infusions of cash from investors bullish on the opportunity for smaller and faster-moving tech-based banking startups to woo customers from their larger rivals. In the latest development, UK-based Starling announced that is has closed £272 million ($376 million at current rates), at a pre-money valuation of £1.1 billion.

This means that the round, a Series D, values the company at £1.372 billion ($1.9 billion) post-money.

Starling — which competes against incumbent banks, as well as other challengers like Monzo and Revolut — said it will be using the money to continue its growth. The bank is already profitable. In updated financials posted today, Starling said it generated revenue of £12 million ($16.6 million) in January of this year, up 400% compared to a year ago, with an annualized revenue run rate of £145 million. It posted operating profits for a fourth consecutive month, and net income currently exceeds £1.5 million per month.

Starling, founded in 2017, has now pased 2 million accounts, with 300,000 business accounts among them. It’s not clear how many of those accounts are active: the figures are for opened accounts, Starling said. Gross lending has passed £2 billion, with deposits at £5.4 billion.

Starling said it plans to use the funding both to expand its lending operations in the UK, to expand into other parts of Europe, and make some strategic acquisitions.

“Digital banking has reached a tipping point,” said Anne Boden, founder and CEO of Starling Bank, in a statement. “Customers now expect a fairer, smarter and more human alternative to the banks of the past and that is what we are giving them at Starling as we continue to grow and add new products and services. Our new investors will bring a wealth of experience as we enter the next stage of growth, while the continued support of our existing backers represents a huge vote of confidence.”

The round is being led by Fidelity Management & Research Company, with Qatar Investment Authority (QIA); RPMI Railpen (Railpen), the investment manager for the £31 billion Railways Pension Scheme; and global investment firm Millennium Management also participating, and it comes on the heels of us reporting in November that it was raising at least £200 million.

The funding comes at a critical time in consumer banking. The trend in the UK — the market where Starling is active — for the last several year has been a gradual shift to online and mobile banking, with those trends rapidly accelerating in the last year of lock-downs and enforced social distancing to slow down the spread of Covid-19.

Challenger (neo) banks have been some of the biggest winners of evolving consumer habits. Using rails provided as white-label services by way of APIs from banking infrastructure providers (another startup category in itself with companies like Rapyd, Plaid, Mambu, CurrencyCloud and others all involved) they will offer the same basic services such as checking and deposit, but they will typically do so with considerably  more flexibility, and additional savings and financial tips, and savings services to customers — all carried out over digital platforms.

Big, incumbent banks have scrambled to keep up with innovation, but newer generations of users are less beholden to their brands and incumbency, not least a result of the banking crisis last decade that revealed many of them to be cosiderably less competent and solid than many might have assumed.

That bigger market picture has also meant a surge of many neobanks, and so Starling competes with more than just the incumbents. Others include Monese, Revolut, Tide, Atom and Monzo — the latter a particularly acute competitor, founded by the ex-CTO of Starling.

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Deliveroo posted narrowed loss of $309M, with gross transactions surging to $5.7B in 2020, EITF shows

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The clock has officially started ticking on Deliveroo’s plans to go public in April. After announcing last week that it planned to list on the London Stock Exchange, today the on-demand food delivery company backed by Amazon and others published selected updated financials for the previous fiscal year, along with its Expected Intention to Float (EITF) — a more formal document that marks the two-week period until the company publishes its prospectus and, at the start of April, embarks on its subsequent IPO.

The bottom line is that Deliveroo is still unprofitable. It posted a 2020 underlying loss of £223.7 million ($309 million), but that figure was down by nearly £100 million from 2019, when it chalked up a loss of £317 million ($438 million). It did not disclose revenues (sometimes called turnover) in today’s statement.

The company said that it now serves some 6 million customers, with its three-sided marketplace also including more than 115,000 restaurants, takeaways and grocery stores, and 100,000 riders in 800 locations among 12 markets.

At the same time, Deliveroo showed some clear momentum in a year where many restaurants had to close their doors and shift operations to take-away models because of Covid-19.

It notes that it has been profitable on an “Adjusted EBITDA basis” over two quarters, with underlying gross profit up by 89.5% to £358 million ($495 million) compared to £189 million in 2019.

Its gross transaction volume (total amount spent by consumers ordering food) grew by 64% to £4.1 billion ($5.67 billion) with the run-rate in Q4 surging to £5 billion. This figure is unsurprising when you consider that Q4 represented the holiday period, and additionally the UK market (Deliveroo’s primary market and its home) went through not one but two different periods of being locked down in that quarter (the second of these is still in place).

It also notes that gross profit margin as a percentage of GTV has grown from 5.8% in 2018 to 8.8% in 2020, with some markets getting to 12%.

“The company remains focused on investing in driving growth in a nascent online food market,” it noted in the EITF, although I’m not sure nascent is exactly the word I’d use. Its drivers are easily the most visible of the many delivery services that exist in London. Deliveroo estimates that the restaurant and grocery sectors represent an addressable market of £1.2 trillion ($1.66 trillion) across the 12 regions where it offers services. In that figure, it says that just 3% of sales are estimated to be online, “equivalent to less than 1 out of the 21 weekly meal occasions being online.”

The company was valued at over $7 billion in it last fundraising, a $180 million round from Durable, Fidelity and others, as recently as January of this year.

It’s a huge leap that is the stuff that tech myths are made of (with untold hours of blood, sweat and tears, and a lot of luck too). I met Will Shu, the CEO and founder, when he was just really getting started at Deliveroo, and he seemed somewhat bewildered by how fast the startup was growing and where it was leading him. It’s interesting that he himself hasn’t forgotten those early days, either, which surely help keep the company focused at a time when there are a lot of opportunities, and therefore a lot of potential for focus unravelling.

“I never set out to be a founder or a CEO. I was never into start-ups, I didn’t read TechCrunch. I’m not one of those Silicon Valley types with a million ideas,” he noted in his letter published in the EITF. “I had one idea. One idea born out of personal frustration. An idea that I was fanatically obsessed with: I wanted to get great food delivered from amazing London restaurants.”

The prospectus will tell us how much the company intends to raise in its IPO so we’ll know those numbers soon. In the meantime, Deliveroo said that it plans to “invest in its long-term proposition by developing its core marketplace, enhancing its superior consumer experience, providing restaurant and grocery partners with unique tools to help them grow their businesses, and providing riders with the flexible work they value alongside security.”

It’s also going to continue building out “dark kitchens” (which it brands Editions); Signature, a white-label service for restaurants to offer delivery via their own online channels; Plus, a Prime-style loyalty subscription service; and on-demand grocery — which is also shaping up to be a huge market in Europe and the rest of the world.

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Porsche raises stake in electric car and components maker Rimac Automobili

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Rimac Automobili, the Croatian company known for its electric hypercars and battery and powertrain development, has gained yet another investment from Porsche AG.

Porsche said Monday it has invested 70 million euros ($83.3 miilion) into Rimac, a move that increases its stake from 15% to 24%.

This is the third time Porsche has invested into Rimac. The German automaker made its first investment into Rimac in 2018. Porsche increased its equity stake into Rimac in September 2019. A few months earlier, Hyundai Motor Company and Kia Motors jointly invested €80 million ($90 million at the time) into Rimac.

Rimac was founded by Mate Rimac in 2009 and is perhaps best known for its electric hypercars, such as the two-seater C Two that it debuted in 2018 at the Geneva International Motor Show. The vehicle produces an eye-popping 1,914 horsepower, has a top speed of 256 miles per hour and can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 1.85 seconds. Rimac plans to unveil C Two in its final form in 2021.

However, Rimac does more than produce hypercars. The company, which employs 1,000 people, also focuses on battery technology within the high-voltage segment, engineers and manufactures electric powertrains and develops digital interfaces between humans and machines.

Porsche is most interested in Rimac’s development of components, according to comments made by Lutz Meschke, the deputy chairman of Porsche AG’s executive board. Meschke noted that Rimac is “excellently positioned in prototype solutions and small series” and “is well on its way to becoming a Tier 1 supplier for Porsche and other manufacturers in the high-tech segment.”

Porsche has already placed its first orders with Rimac for the development of highly innovative series components, according to Meschke.

Despite its continued investments, Porsche said it doesn’t have a controlling stake in Rimac.

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