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Beacons debuts a ‘link in bio’ mobile website builder that helps creators make money, not just list links

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Today, there are a number of website builders aimed at creators who want to point fans to a dedicated landing page from their social media profile. If you’ve spent any time on TikTok or Instagram, you’ve likely come across one of these simplified “link in bio”-style websites — like those hosted by Linktree, for example. A new startup called Beacons is now entering this market with the goal of making “link in bio” websites even more powerful. Its website builder offers creators an expanded set of tools to monetize their community, including through donations, sales, paid requests, affiliate shopping and more.

After signing up for the service, Beacons walks the user through a series of questions, many which can be answered with just a “yes” or “no.” For example, Beacons may ask the user if they want to accept donations or collect followers’ emails, if they make TikTok or YouTube videos, and which category they’re in, in terms of the content they create.

This information is used to set up their Beacons landing page with the right content sections, which Beacons calls “blocks.” At launch, Beacons offers around a dozen of these configurable blocks, like email and SMS collection modules, video embed blocks for TikTok or YouTube creators, music blocks for embedding a track or album, a Twitter block to embed a tweet or Twitter profile, and link blocks, similar to Linktree, among others.

There’s even a “friends” block, which is like a modern-day Myspace Top 8. This lets you link out to your friends on either Beacons, Instagram, Twitter or TikTok.

An area where Beacons differentiates itself from other “link in bio” website builders, however, is with its set of “monetization” blocks. Today, it has four tools for creators who want to generate revenue from their online presence. One of these is similar to Cameo, as it allows the creator to set up a menu of options to take fan requests for personalized content. For instance, fans could ask a fitness influencer to critique their routine, or they could pay to have their burning questions answered by someone they admire. The creator can then send out a personalized response either publicly or privately.

Other monetization blocks allow creators to accept donations or sell digital downloads — like e-books or paid video content, for instance.

Image Credits: Beacons

The fourth, and perhaps most interesting, monetization block is a TikTok shopping feature. It allows creators to embed their TikTok videos where they recommend products directly on their Beacons website. From here, they can add affiliate links to the products in question, allowing them to directly generate revenue when fans purchase the items they’ve featured.

This particular feature comes at an opportune time. Today, TikTok is only beginning to formalize its plans around e-commerce. In a recent presentation to marketers, TikTok spoke of its plans to launch new online shopping tools that would allow brands to more directly reach TikTok’s younger audience. TikTok has also partnered with Shopify on social commerce, and has experimented with live video shopping, including with a holiday event hosted by Walmart.

But TikTok’s creators have already been driving shopping trends across categories like fashion, beauty, home décor, household items, toys and much more, to the point that “TikTok made me buy it,” has become a common excuse for the impulse purchases prompted by TikTok’s viral content. By allowing creators to now more directly and financially benefit from these trends is the next logical step.

Image Credits: Beacons

The idea for Beacons comes from co-founders Neal Jean, Jesse Zhang, Greg Luppescu and David Zeng. Neal, Jesse and David met while in the PhD program at Stanford studying different areas of research, like machine learning and AI. Greg, meanwhile, did his Master’s at Stanford, then went on to work at Apple on the Apple Watch team.

Neal, Jesse and David had teamed up on Beacons and went through the Y Combinator Summer 2019 batch, iterating on ideas and pivoting the product several times. Some of those early concepts may eventually return — like a Shopify integration that would connect creators with brands selling on Shopify, for example.

The broader focus, however, had always been on helping creators make money, says Neal.

“Even before our current product, we were really focused on trying to help creators solve monetization,” he explains. “When we kind of made this mini-pivot into the more Linktree-like product, we thought about building features that can help creators actually generate revenue — which I don’t think Linktree or any of the existing incumbents in the space were doing. Even today, you can’t actually make any money through Linktree,” he notes.

Linktree, of course, is only one of many “link in bio” websites on the market today, which means Beacons still faces a lot of competition. Other rivals include Linkin.bio, Lnk.bio, Shorby, Tap.bio, Feedlink.io, Link in Profile, Milkshake, Campsite, bio.fm, url.bio and biolincs.me, for example.

Unlike some of its competitors, Beacons offers its tools for free and instead monetizes through a premium plan ($10/mo) that allows creators to use their own custom domain. It also makes money by taking a percentage of sales on the requests and sales blocks, which is either 9% on the free plan or 5% on the paid plan. This rev share doesn’t bring in much money today — only “hundreds” of dollars — but the team believes that will scale as the startup grows and gains a large user base.

“Our strategy is…to continue building out more of these different kinds of revenue streams for creators,” says Neal. “And as we do that, I think, the fraction of transactional revenue will become higher relative to the subscription revenue than it is today.”

Since launching in private beta last September, Beacons has seen 90,000 sign-ups and now has over 20,000 people who are considered active users of the product — most arrived in the last couple of months when the service began to roll out some of its newer features. So far, Beacons hasn’t done any paid marketing, with around 77% of new users coming to Beacons because they saw it on someone else’s profile.

The team raised a small, post-YC angel round of around $600,000 but is looking to fundraise in the future.

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

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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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