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Twitter confirms plans to experiment with new models, like subscriptions, in 2021

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Twitter is continuing to explore the addition of subscription services and other paid features to supplement its advertising revenues, according to a report from Bloomberg this morning. The company is considering a range of ideas, the report said, including tipping, paid consumer-facing features like profile customizations or an “undo send” option, or subscription-based access to Twitter’s Tweetdeck app. Twitter confirmed the company is researching and experimenting with new models, but declined to provide details.

Twitter’s interest in paid features, including subscriptions, were already public knowledge.

The company last summer ran a survey which asked users which options they were willing to pay for — including things like custom colors, the ability to publish longer and more high-def videos, profile badges, auto responses, an “undo send” (an alternative to the “edit” button users actually want), and, for brands, things like the ability to run brand surveys and added “social listening” analytics.

Then, during its Q2 2020 earnings, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey told investors it’ll likely run subscription tests.

“We do think there is a world where subscription is complementary. We think there is a world where commerce is complementary,” Dorsey said at the time. “You can imagine work around helping people manage paywalls, as well, that we believe is complementary. So that’s what we’re looking for. We have a small team who is exploring our options, obviously we’re hiring for those teams,” he had noted.

And last year, a Twitter job posting was spotted which referenced a team “building a subscription platform.”

Twitter CFO Ned Segal during its Q3 2020 earnings then confirmed those plans, noting “you will see tests from us” on the subscription front. But he also warned these wouldn’t be things that impacted Twitter revenue in the near-term.

Bloomberg’s report added just a couple of new details to our earlier understanding of these efforts. It noted that one of the research projects around subscriptions was code-named “Rogue One,” and another involved the idea of “tipping” for exclusive content.

This latter item could perhaps reference an idea of how Twitter could monetize its recent acquisition of newsletter platform Revue, now rolled out on the web. That is, users could possibly “tip” (pay) to read someone’s newsletter. But Twitter could also be considering a tipping feature inside Twitter’s audio-based networking feature and Clubhouse rival, Twitter Spaces. Or it could be something else — The Information had also previously reported a tipping feature was being looked into, last month, but Twitter told them nothing was yet in development.

Twitter today declined to offer any further clarifications about its plans on this front.

Reached for comment, the company confirmed it was still considering new monetization models in order to grow its revenue.

“Increasing revenue durability is our top company objective. You will see us continue to research and experiment with ways to further diversify our revenue beyond ads in 2021 and beyond,” said Bruce Falck, Revenue Product Lead, in a statement provided to TechCrunch.

“These may include subscriptions and other approaches that will give people and businesses of all sizes on Twitter access to unique features and enhanced opportunities for content creation, discovery, and engagement. While we’re excited about this potential, it’s important to note we are still in very early exploration and we do not expect any meaningful revenue attributable to these opportunities in 2021. Given the massive opportunity to build upon our strengths, our main focus continues to be on growing our ads business,” he added.

Twitter in Q3 2020 had beat analyst expectations on revenue and net income, but investors are still stuck on Twitter’s inability to substationaly grow its user base. The company reports its Q4 2020 earnings on Tuesday, where its plans for new revenue models may again be discussed.

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Comcast hides upload speeds deep inside its infuriating ordering system

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An NBC peacock logo is on the loose and hiding behind the corner of a brick building.

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images)

Comcast just released a 2020 Network Performance Data report with stats on how much Internet usage rose during the pandemic, and it said that upload use is growing faster than download use. “Peak downstream traffic in 2020 increased approximately 38 percent over 2019 levels and peak upstream traffic increased approximately 56 percent over 2019 levels,” Comcast said.

But while upload use on Comcast’s network quickly grows—driven largely by videoconferencing among people working and learning at home—the nation’s largest home-Internet provider with over 30 million customers advertises its speed tiers as if uploading doesn’t exist. Comcast’s 56 percent increase in upstream traffic made me wonder if the company will increase upload speeds any time soon, so I checked out the Xfinity website today to see the current upload speeds. Getting that information was even more difficult than I expected.

The Xfinity website advertises cable-Internet plans with download speeds starting at 25Mbps without mentioning that upstream speeds are just a fraction of the downstream ones. I went through Comcast’s online ordering system today and found no mention of upload speeds anywhere. Even clicking “pricing & other info” and “view plan details” links to read the fine print on various Internet plans didn’t reveal upload speeds.

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Bank of America is bringing VR instruction to its 4,000 banks

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As consumer VR begins to have a moment following years of heavy investment from Facebook and other tech giants, corporate America is similarly beginning to find more utility in the technology, as well.

Bank of America announced today that they’ll be working with Bay Area-based VR startup Strivr to bring more of their workplace training into virtual reality. The financial institution has already used the startup’s tech in a pilot effort with about 400 employees, but a wide-scale rollout means scaling the VR learning platform to more of the company’s 45,000 employees and bringing thousands of VR headsets to its bank branches.

Bank of America exec John Jordan has plenty of ideas of where it will be able to implement the technology most effectively, but is open to experimenting early-on, noting that they’ve developed VR lessons for everything from notary services to fraud detection. Jordan also says that they’re working on more ambitious tasks like helping employees practice empathy with customers dealing with sensitive matters like the death of a relative.

Jordan says the scope of the company’s corporate learning program “The Academy” is largely unmatched among other major companies in the U.S., except perhaps by the employee instruction programs at Walmart, he notes. Walmart has been Strivr’s largest customer since the startup signed the retail behemoth back in 2017 to bring VR instruction to their 200 “Walmart Academy” instruction centers and all Walmart stores.

Virtual reality is a technology that lends itself to capturing undivided attention, something that is undoubtedly positive for increasing learning retention, which Jordan says was one of the central appeals for adopting the tech. For Bank of America, VR offers a platform change to reexamine some of the pitfalls of conventional corporate learning. At the same time, they acknowledge that the tech isn’t a silver bullet and that are plenty of best practices for VR that are still unknowns.

“We’re just taking it slow to be honest,” Jordan says. “We already feel pretty great about how we’ve made investments, but we view this as a way to get better.”

Enterprise VR startups have seen varying levels of success over the years as they’ve aimed to find paying customers that can tolerate the limitations of the technology while buying in on the broader vision. Strivr has raised over $51 million, including a $30 million Series B last year, as it has aimed to become a leader in the workplace training space. CEO Derek Belch tells TechCrunch that the company has big plans as it looks towards raising more funding and works to build out its software toolsets to help simplify VR content creation for its partners.

 

 

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Cashify raises $15 million for its second-hand smartphone business in India

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Tens of millions of people each year purchase a second-hand smartphone in India, the world’s second largest market. Phone makers and giant online sellers such as Amazon and Flipkart are aware of it, but it’s too much of a hassle for them to inspect, repair, and resell used phones. But these firms also know that customers are more likely to buy a smartphone if they are offered the ability to trade-in their existing handsets.

A startup that is helping these firms tackle this challenge said on Thursday it has raised $15 million in a new financing round. New York-based Olympus Capital Asia made the investment through Asia Environmental Partners, a fund dedicated to the environmental sector. The five-year-old startup, which counts Blume Ventures  among its early investors, has raised $42 million to date.

Cashify operates an eponymous platform — both online and physical stores and kiosks — for users to sell and buy used smartphones, tablets, smartwatches, laptops, desktops, and gaming consoles. 90% of its business today surrounds the smartphone category, explained Mandeep Manocha, founder and chief executive of Cashify, in an interview with TechCrunch.

“For consumers, our proposition is that we make it easy for you to sell your devices. You come to our site or app, answer questions to objectively evaluate the condition of your device, and we give you an estimate of how much your gadget is worth,” he said. “If you like the price, we pick it up from your doorstep and give you instant cash.”

A few years ago, I wrote about the struggle e-commerce firms face globally in handling returned items. There are many liability challenges — such as having to ensure that the innards in a returned smartphone haven’t been tempered with — as well as overhead costs in reversing an order.

Manocha said that phone makers and e-commerce firms have found better ways to handle returned items in recent years, but they still lose a significant amount of money on them. These challenges have created a big opportunity for startups such as Cashify.

In fact, Cashify says it’s the market leader in its category in India. The startup has partnerships with “nearly every OEM” including Apple, Samsung, OnePlus, Oppo, Xiaomi, Vivo, and HP. “If you walk into an Apple store today, they use our platform.” For consumers in India, if they opted for the trade-in program, Apple.com also uses Cashify’s trading platform, he said.

The startup also works with top e-commerce firms in India — Amazon, Flipkart, and Paytm Mall. The firms use Cashify’s trading and exchange software, and also rely on the startup for liquidation of devices. The startup then repairs these gadgets and sells the refurbished units to customers.

“Essentially, whether you come directly to us, or go to popular e-commerce firms or phone OEMs, we are handling the majority of the trading,” he said. Even if a customer trades in the device to OEMs, or e-commerce firms, these companies sell the device to players like Cashify, which serves over 2 million customers in more than 1,500 cities.

The startup plans to deploy part of the fresh capital to expand its presence in the offline market. Manocha said Cashify currently has dozens of offline stores and kiosks at shopping malls across the country and it has already proven immensely effective in brand awareness among customers.

The startup also plans to expand outside of India, hire more talent, and invest more in getting the word out about its offerings. Manocha said the team is also working on expanding its expertise to more hardware categories such as cameras.

“The management team at Cashify has an excellent track record in building a strong consumer-facing franchise and building relationships with OEMs, e-commerce companies and electronic product retailers to be present across all touch points for the consumer,” said Pankaj Ghai, Managing Director of Asia Environmental Partners, in a statement.

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