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Extra Crunch roundup: Tonal EC-1, Deliveroo’s rocky IPO, is Substack really worth $650M?

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For this morning’s column, Alex Wilhelm looked back on the last few months, “a busy season for technology exits” that followed a hot Q4 2020.

We’re seeing signs of an IPO market that may be cooling, but even so, “there are sufficient SPACs to take the entire recent Y Combinator class public,” he notes.

Once we factor in private equity firms with pockets full of money, it’s evident that late-stage companies have three solid choices for leveling up.

Seeking more insight into these liquidity options, Alex interviewed:

  • DigitalOcean CEO Yancey Spruill, whose company went public via IPO;
  • Latch CFO Garth Mitchell, who discussed his startup’s merger with real estate SPAC $TSIA;
  • Brian Cruver, founder and CEO of AlertMedia, which recently sold to a private equity firm.

After recapping their deals, each executive explains how their company determined which flashing red “EXIT” sign to follow. As Alex observed, “choosing which option is best from a buffet’s worth of possibilities is an interesting task.”

Thanks very much for reading Extra Crunch! Have a great weekend.

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist


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The Tonal EC-1

Image Credits: Nigel Sussman

On Tuesday, we published a four-part series on Tonal, a home fitness startup that has raised $200 million since it launched in 2018. The company’s patented hardware combines digital weights, coaching and AI in a wall-mounted system that sells for $2,995.

By any measure, it is poised for success — sales increased 800% between December 2019 and 2020, and by the end of this year, the company will have 60 retail locations. On Wednesday, Tonal reported a $250 million Series E that valued the company at $1.6 billion.

Our deep dive examines Tonal’s origins, product development timeline, its go-to-market strategy and other aspects that combined to spark investor interest and customer delight.

We call this format the “EC-1,” since these stories are as comprehensive and illuminating as the S-1 forms startups must file with the SEC before going public.

Here’s how the Tonal EC-1 breaks down:

We have more EC-1s in the works about other late-stage startups that are doing big things well and making news in the process.

What to make of Deliveroo’s rough IPO debut

Why did Deliveroo struggle when it began to trade? Is it suffering from cultural dissonance between its high-growth model and more conservative European investors?

Let’s peek at the numbers and find out.

Kaltura puts debut on hold. Is the tech IPO window closing?

The Exchange doubts many folks expected the IPO climate to get so chilly without warning. But we could be in for a Q2 pause in the formerly scorching climate for tech debuts.

Is Substack really worth $650M?

A $65 million Series B is remarkable, even by 2021 standards. But the fact that a16z is pouring more capital into the alt-media space is not a surprise.

Substack is a place where publications have bled some well-known talent, shifting the center of gravity in media. Let’s take a look at Substack’s historical growth.

RPA market surges as investors, vendors capitalize on pandemic-driven tech shift

Business process organization and analytics. Business process visualization and representation, automated workflow system concept. Vector concept creative illustration

Image Credits: Visual Generation / Getty Images

Robotic process automation came to the fore during the pandemic as companies took steps to digitally transform. When employees couldn’t be in the same office together, it became crucial to cobble together more automated workflows that required fewer people in the loop.

RPA has enabled executives to provide a level of automation that essentially buys them time to update systems to more modern approaches while reducing the large number of mundane manual tasks that are part of every industry’s workflow.

E-commerce roll-ups are the next wave of disruption in consumer packaged goods

Elevated view of many toilet rolls on blue background

Image Credits: Javier Zayas Photography (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

This year is all about the roll-ups, the aggregation of smaller companies into larger firms, creating a potentially compelling path for equity value. The interest in creating value through e-commerce brands is particularly striking.

Just a year ago, digitally native brands had fallen out of favor with venture capitalists after so many failed to create venture-scale returns. So what’s the roll-up hype about?

Hack takes: A CISO and a hacker detail how they’d respond to the Exchange breach

3d Flat isometric vector concept of data breach, confidential data stealing, cyber attack.

Image Credits: TarikVision (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

The cyber world has entered a new era in which attacks are becoming more frequent and happening on a larger scale than ever before. Massive hacks affecting thousands of high-level American companies and agencies have dominated the news recently. Chief among these are the December SolarWinds/FireEye breach and the more recent Microsoft Exchange server breach.

Everyone wants to know: If you’ve been hit with the Exchange breach, what should you do?

5 machine learning essentials nontechnical leaders need to understand

Jumble of multicoloured wires untangling into straight lines over a white background. Cape Town, South Africa. Feb 2019.

Image Credits: David Malan (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Machine learning has become the foundation of business and growth acceleration because of the incredible pace of change and development in this space.

But for engineering and team leaders without an ML background, this can also feel overwhelming and intimidating.

Here are best practices and must-know components broken down into five practical and easily applicable lessons.

Embedded procurement will make every company its own marketplace

Businesswomen using mobile phone analyzing data and economic growth graph chart. Technology digital marketing and network connection.

Image Credits: Busakorn Pongparnit / Getty Images

Embedded procurement is the natural evolution of embedded fintech.

In this next wave, businesses will buy things they need through vertical B2B apps, rather than through sales reps, distributors or an individual merchant’s website.

Knowing when your startup should go all-in on business development

One red line with arrow head breaking out from a business or finance growth chart canvas.

Image Credits: twomeows / Getty Images

There’s a persistent fallacy swirling around that any startup growing pain or scaling problem can be solved with business development.

That’s frankly not true.

Dear Sophie: What should I know about prenups and getting a green card through marriage?

lone figure at entrance to maze hedge that has an American flag at the center

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Dear Sophie:

I’m a founder of a startup on an E-2 investor visa and just got engaged! My soon-to-be spouse will sponsor me for a green card.

Are there any minimum salary requirements for her to sponsor me? Is there anything I should keep in mind before starting the green card process?

— Betrothed in Belmont

Startups must curb bureaucracy to ensure agile data governance

Image of a computer, phone and clock on a desk tied in red tape.

Image Credits: RichVintage / Getty Images

Many organizations perceive data management as being akin to data governance, where responsibilities are centered around establishing controls and audit procedures, and things are viewed from a defensive lens.

That defensiveness is admittedly justified, particularly given the potential financial and reputational damages caused by data mismanagement and leakage.

Nonetheless, there’s an element of myopia here, and being excessively cautious can prevent organizations from realizing the benefits of data-driven collaboration, particularly when it comes to software and product development.

Bring CISOs into the C-suite to bake cybersecurity into company culture

Mixed race businesswoman using tablet computer in server room

Image Credits: Jetta Productions Inc (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Cyber strategy and company strategy are inextricably linked. Consequently, chief information security officers in the C-Suite will be just as common and influential as CFOs in maximizing shareholder value.

How is edtech spending its extra capital?

Money tree: an adult hand reaches for dollar bills growing on a leafless tree

Image Credits: Tetra Images (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Edtech unicorns have boatloads of cash to spend following the capital boost to the sector in 2020. As a result, edtech M&A activity has continued to swell.

The idea of a well-capitalized startup buying competitors to complement its core business is nothing new, but exits in this sector are notable because the money used to buy startups can be seen as an effect of the pandemic’s impact on remote education.

But in the past week, the consolidation environment made a clear statement: Pandemic-proven startups are scooping up talent — and fast.

Tech in Mexico: A confluence of Latin America, the US and Asia

Aerial view of crowd connected by lines

Image Credits: Orbon Alija (opens in a new window)/ Getty Images

Knowledge transfer is not the only trend flowing in the U.S.-Asia-LatAm nexus. Competition is afoot as well.

Because of similar market conditions, Asian tech giants are directly expanding into Mexico and other LatAm countries.

 

How we improved net retention by 30+ points in 2 quarters

Sparks coming off US dollar bill attached to jumper cables

Image Credits: Steven Puetzer (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

There’s certainly no shortage of SaaS performance metrics leaders focus on, but NRR (net revenue retention) is without question the most underrated metric out there.

NRR is simply total revenue minus any revenue churn plus any revenue expansion from upgrades, cross-sells or upsells. The greater the NRR, the quicker companies can scale.

5 mistakes creators make building new games on Roblox

BRAZIL - 2021/03/24: In this photo illustration a Roblox logo seen displayed on a smartphone. (Photo Illustration by Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Image Credits: SOPA Images (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Even the most experienced and talented game designers from the mobile F2P business usually fail to understand what features matter to Robloxians.

For those just starting their journey in Roblox game development, these are the most common mistakes gaming professionals make on Roblox.

 

CEO Manish Chandra, investor Navin Chaddha explain why Poshmark’s Series A deck sings

CEO Manish Chandra, investor Navin Chaddha explain why Poshmark’s Series A deck sings image

“Lead with love, and the money comes.” It’s one of the cornerstone values at Poshmark. On the latest episode of Extra Crunch Live, Chandra and Chaddha sat down with us and walked us through their original Series A pitch deck.

 

Will the pandemic spur a smart rebirth for cities?

New versus old - an old brick building reflected in windows of modern new facade

Image Credits: hopsalka (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Cities are bustling hubs where people live, work and play. When the pandemic hit, some people fled major metropolitan markets for smaller towns — raising questions about the future validity of cities.

But those who predicted that COVID-19 would destroy major urban communities might want to stop shorting the resilience of these municipalities and start going long on what the post-pandemic future looks like.

 

The NFT craze will be a boon for lawyers

3d rendering of pink piggy bank standing on sounding block with gavel lying beside on light-blue background with copy space. Money matters. Lawsuit for money. Auction bids.

Image Credits: Gearstd (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

There’s plenty of uncertainty surrounding copyright issues, fraud and adult content, and legal implications are the crux of the NFT trend.

Whether a court would protect the receipt-holder’s ownership over a given file depends on a variety of factors. All of these concerns mean artists may need to lawyer up.

Viewing Cazoo’s proposed SPAC debut through Carvana’s windshield

It’s a reasonable question: Why would anyone pay that much for Cazoo today if Carvana is more profitable and whatnot? Well, growth. That’s the argument anyway.

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

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How one founder identified a huge healthcare gap and acquired the skills necessary to address it

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Our new podcast Found is now available, and the first episode features guest Iman Abuzeid, co-founder and CEO of Incredible Health. Abuzeid’s story of founding and building Incredible Health, a career platform for healthcare professionals focusing specifically on nurses, is all about a focused entrepreneur building a unique skill set, and acquiring the experience necessary to create a world-leading solution.

Abuzeid went to medical school and acquired her MD, but decided before residency to instead go get an MBA from Wharton, in order to pursue her dream of entrepreneurship, inspired by two generations of entrepreneurs in the family that preceded her. After eventually making her way to Silicon Valley and working in a couple of other startups in the healthcare space, Abuzeid took important lessons away from those experiences about what not to do when running your own company, and embarked on building her own with co-founder Rome Portlock, now the company’s CTO.

Incredible Health is tackling a huge challenge — the shortfall of availability of skilled nurses, and the lack of mature, sophisticated career resources to help those nurses in their professional life. COVID-19 threw those issues into stark relief, and Incredible Health adjusted its game plan to adapt to its users’ needs. Abuzeid tells us all about how she made those calls, and also how she convinced venture investors to come along for the ride.

We hope you enjoy this episode, and don’t forget to subscribe in Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your podcast app of choice. We’d love to hear your feed back, too — either on Twitter or via email, and tune in weekly for more episodes.

Found is hosted by Darrell Etherington and Jordan Crook, and is produced, mixed and edited by Yashad Kulkarni. TechCrunch’s audio products are managed by Henry Pickavet, and Bryce Durbin created the show’s artwork. Found published weekly on Friday afternoons, and you can find past episodes on TechCrunch here.

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This Week in Apps: Facebook’s other Clubhouse rival, Apple details ATT, App Store trial nears

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Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy.

The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 218 billion downloads and $143 billion in global consumer spend in 2020.

Consumers last year also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone. And in the U.S., app usage surged ahead of the time spent watching live TV. Currently, the average American watches 3.7 hours of live TV per day, but now spends four hours per day on their mobile devices.

Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re also a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus. In 2020, investors poured $73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that’s up 27% year-over-year.

This Week in Apps will soon be a newsletter! Sign up here: techcrunch.com/newsletters

This week we’re looking into the upcoming Apple lawsuit with Epic Games over App Store fees, the soon-to-launch game changer that is App Tracking Transparency and Facebook’s latest attempt to take on Clubhouse, among other things.

Top Stories

Epic vs Apple trial nears

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin

The Epic Games versus Apple trial is nearing launch. The trial, which begins May 3 and is expected to drag on for weeks, will see the Fortnite maker attempting to argue that Apple’s control over the App Store — and the 30% commission it requires on in-app purchases — represents anti-competitive behavior from a monopoly that requires regulation under antitrust law. Apple, meanwhile, feels confident that it can demonstrate its not a monopoly as it faces competition across the market, not just in its App Store. It will also likely point to the commission decreases it recently made in the wake of the increased regulatory scrutiny. Apple now takes a smaller 15% cut from developers making less than $1 million in revenues.

New filings this week detail Epic’s long-term program “Project Liberty,” which describes how Epic planned its antitrust battle by forcing app stores to reject Fortnite for circumventing their payment mechanisms. A filing from Epic also references comments by Apple’s senior vice president of Internet Software and Services Eddie Cue, senior vice president of software engineering Craig Federighi and Apple Fellow Phil Schiller that talk about how Apple locks users into its ecosystem with its services, including iMessage. Epic also argues that Apple uses security as a “pretext” for its commissions — even as a recent series of allegations (and threat of a lawsuit) from app developer Kosta Eleftheriou have demonstrated that Apple’s vetting process is failing to stop massive scams. Epic also says that allowing Apple to serve customers’ refund requests leads to fraud because it doesn’t have the same visibility into the developer’s content that the developer itself does.

Apple shares more ATT details

LONDON, ENGLAND – AUGUST 03: The Apple logo is displayed on the back of an iPhone on August 3, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)

With the public release of iOS 14.5, which is expected soon, Apple will be shaking up the app economy with the launch of its App Tracking Transparency framework, or ATT. This requires iOS apps to begin prompting users for permission to track their users’ activity, instead of just quietly doing so — generally without the user’s informed consent. Apple has said developers can explain in this prompt why they’re asking for this permission — for example, because they want to serve more personalized ads, perhaps. Tech giants like Facebook and Google, as well as many other ad-supported apps (and particularly social media apps), will be impacted by the change. Some have even gone so far as to try to find workarounds using non-IDFA methods, it’s been reported (IDFA being the current system that assigns a unique advertising ID to each device that is then tracked across the apps and websites a user visits). It was revealed last week that Snapchat had investigated an IDFA alternative known as probabilistic matching, but claims it was just a “test.” Meanwhile, China’s largest tech companies — including Baidu, Tencent and ByteDance — have been exploring a state-backed IDFA alternative CAID.

This week, Apple made it clear that “no tracking” without permission means just that. It says that if a user opts out of any IDFA-tracking via the pop-up, that means the developer doesn’t have permission to track using any other sort of identifiers either — like hashed email addresses or whatever other workaround developers come up with.

Facebook tries another Clubhouse rival

Image Credits: Hotline

Facebook’s internal R&D group, NPE Team, this week launched its latest experiment, Hotline, into public beta testing. The web-based application could be described as a mashup of Instagram Live and Clubhouse, as it allows creators to speak to an audience who can then ask questions through either text or audio. However, unlike Clubhouse, creators can opt to turn their cameras on for the event, instead of being audio-only. Currently, users sign in with Twitter and then verify their phone number to authenticate with the app. They can then type in their question to submit it to the speaker, who pulls them “on stage” to discuss. For now, the participants were audio-only and represented by a profile icon, but settings suggest that Hotline will test video for users in the future.

As the questions are asked, users can react with emoji, including clapping hands, fire, heart, laughter, surprise and thumbs up. And most importantly, unlike Clubhouse, Hotline events are recorded. Creators get both an audio and video recording that they could edit and upload elsewhere, including on other social networks. Because of its use of video, upvoted questions and recording, the app has a different vibe than Clubhouse — it feels more like a virtual event than a more casual space. Facebook is catering to this audience, too, by seeking out creators who are focused on doling out professional advice, it says.

Of note, Hotline is being led by Eric Hazzard, who joined Facebook when it acquired his app tbh, a positivity-focused Q&A app.

Weekly News

Platforms: Apple

Still more betas. Apple this week released its seventh betas for iOS 14.5, iPadOS 14.5 and other platforms, including Apple TV and Apple Watch — iOS 14.5 brings the rollout of App Tracking Transparency, which is why Apple is probably taking its time with this one.

iOS 14 adoption has now surpassed 90% according to data from Mixpanel. In December, 81% of phones were running iOS 14, now 90.45% are. Another 5.07% of users are running iOS 13, while 4.48% are running iOS 12 or older versions.

Apple has been spotted testing tags in the App Store that will help guide users to more precise search results. The test, first reported by MacRumors, had users encounter tags at the top of App Store search results when searching for popular terms like “photos” or “wallpaper,” that could help narrow results. Some users were running the iOS 14.5 beta when they saw tags, but others were not. It’s unclear if or when tags will launch to the wider public.

Apple opens up its Find My app to third-party products and launches a new app to test them. The company has still not launched its own AirTags, a lost-item finder similar to Tile. Instead, it’s smartly positioning the Find My app as a platform anyone can plug into, in order to assuage anti-competitive concerns. The first items that will plug into Find My include VanMoof’s S3 and X3 e-bikes, Belkin’s SoundForm Freedom True Wireless Earbuds and the Chipolo ONE Spot tracker (a Tile rival).

However, one big name is notably missing from the lineup, and that’s AirTags’ biggest competitor, Tile itself. Tile doesn’t want to hand over the direct customer relationship it has by way of its Tile app just to be included in Find My. And some have suggested Apple is propping up the Chipolo tracker to counter any arguments from Tile that it’s being anti-competitive with the launch of AirTags when they finally arrive.

Image Credits: Apple

Apple updated its App Store Connect and Apple Music for Artists app icons to look more like the design choices used on macOS Big Sur. That’s leading to speculation that iOS 15 could also adopt the look of Big Sur when it comes to design.

Apple details its App Store takedowns in new transparency report. Apple’s latest transparency report offers information about app takedowns due to requests from government authorities due to suspected violations of local laws. Apple says it complies with these requests where it’s legally required to do so. These requests, however, are not focused on Apple’s own editorial guidelines, which prohibit content that Apple itself chooses not to host.

Platforms: Google

The new Google Play Store design arrives, killing off the hamburger menu for good. The design is rolling out to Android devices. An in-app message tells you that those menu items have been moved to your profile icon, which, when tapped, brings up a condensed menu. The Settings menu was also updated. Some have complained the changes are making menu items and options harder to find. The Play Store hadn’t been updated significantly since 2019.

Google announced a new app review process across AdMob and Ad Manager which will evaluate a mobile app’s inventory quality before allowing unrestricted ad serving. The process will give publishers feedback on their apps’ approval status so they can resolve issues that could lead to policy violations. Google says the new app reviews are being rolled out gradually in 2021 with two features: app readiness and app claiming. The former will require publishers to link apps they want to monetize with one supported app store, so their app can then be reviewed. The process will check the app source, publisher’s ownership and policy compliance. App Claiming will provide a list of apps that are being monetized with their ad code but aren’t yet on their AdMob or Ad Manager account.

Image Credits: Google

Android Auto apps can now be launched into production, Google announced this week, following months of testing. That means developers can now publish apps for navigation, parking and charging to Google Play without needing to sign up for a beta program.

Image Credits: Google

Android 12 may make it easier for third-party launchers to operate, as it will allow them access to perform universal device searches. The change was spotted in a new API (AppSearchManager API) by the developer of the Niagara Launcher.

All of Google’s flagship iOS apps have now adopted Apple’s new privacy nutrition labels, as Google Photos was finally updated on Tuesday.

Trends

Image Credits: App Annie

Consumers now average 4.2 hours per day in apps, up 30% from 2019. In the first quarter of 2021, the daily time spent in apps surpassed four hours in the U.S., Turkey, Mexico and India for the first time, the report notes. Of those, India saw the biggest jump as consumers there spent 80% more time in smartphone apps in the Q1 2021 versus the first quarter of 2019.

45% of apps used in Q1 2021 were games and 36% of gamers said they were now playing more mobile games compared to before the pandemic, AdColony said. In the first two weeks of 2021, the top 10 casual games saw 80 million downloads.

E-commerce

WhatsApp now allows business owners to manage their catalogs through the web and on desktop. The catalog feature was introduced in the messaging app in 2019 to allow businesses to better manage their inventory. To date, more than 8 million business catalogs are now live on the platform.

Fintech

Free trading app Robinhood says crypto trading has spiked to 9.5 million customers in the first quarter. That’s up from the 1.7 million customers who traded crypto in the 2020 fourth quarter.

Private messaging app Signal began testing payments in the U.K. using the cryptocurrency MobileCoin (MOB). The beta program will allow users to access a new Signal Payments feature in the app where they can then link a MobileCoin wallet after buying the cryptocurrency on the exchange FTX. Once set up, you can then send MOB to anyone else on the app who also has a linked wallet.

Social

Twitter is said to have discussed a $4 billion acquisition of hot new audio app Clubhouse, Bloomberg reported. TechCrunch also confirmed the talks, but understands they’re no longer taking place. Bloomberg had earlier reported Clubhouse is now looking to raise a round, also at a $4 billion valuation.

TikTok announces six new interactive music effects to keep its audience engaged as competition heats up, with tech giants Facebook, YouTube and Snap all releasing TikTok clones. The first effect is Music Visualizer, which runs real-time beat tracking to animate a retro greenscreen landscape. In less than a day since its debut, over 28,000 videos had used the effect.

TikTok rolls out a new feature, auto captions, to make its short-form videos more accessible to hard of hearing and deaf. Creators can enable the feature during editing, which could also be useful for times when you want to listen to TikTok privately but don’t have your headphones.

Image Credits: TikTok

A group of lawmakers wrote to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to press the company for information about its plan to create a curated version of Instagram for children under 13. Facebook already offers an under-13 app, Messenger Kids, and its rival TikTok offers an age-gated experience as well for under-13 users. Lawmakers expressed skepticism that Facebook would keep children’s data private.

Reddit drops support for iOS 12 and lower, given that iOS adoption for later versions now reaches the vast majority of users.

Tim Cook talked about the banned right-wing app Parler in a wide-ranging interview on The NYT’s “Sway” podcast. He made a straightforward case as to why the app needed to be removed, but also said he hoped they’d try to return. “I hope that they come back on. Because we work hard to get people on the store, not to keep people off the store,” Cook said. “And so, I’m hoping that they put in the moderation that’s required to be on the store and come back, because I think having more social networks out there is better than having less,” he added.

Messaging

WhatsApp was spotted testing a feature that would allow users to migrate their chat history between devices (iOS and Android, that is).

Group chat app Discord said it banned over 2,000 extremist communities in the second half of last year — nearly double the number it banned during the first half of the year, when the Capitol riot took place. Around 1,500 of the communities were first detected by the company. Discord had reportedly been talking to Microsoft about an acquisition.

Streaming & Entertainment

Spotify launched (but didn’t initially announce…until a slew of media reports forced their hand) a voice command feature, “Hey Spotify.” The feature lets you call up artists, songs, albums and playlists by name after first opting in and enabling the microphone permission. This will allow Spotify to listen and record your voice data once it hears the wake words, “Hey Spotify.” The company wouldn’t answer questions about the feature, which seems to indicate the rumors that Spotify is readying the launch of its in-car hardware, Car Thing, may actually be true.

Image Credits: Spotify screenshot iOS

Clubhouse launches payments so creators can make money from their shows. Users will be able to send money to favorite creators, which Clubhouse says it’s not taking a cut from — hoping to avoid the Apple tax on in-app purchases through the donations carve-out Apple agreed to for Tencent in 2018. Creators will have to enable the new virtual tip jar feature in order to accept payments.

YouTube Music’s mobile app is getting a design refresh. The app has begun testing new iconography that matches the update the YouTube mobile app received last year, when it dropped the gray icons for the more visually distinct ones.

The YouTube Kids app has rolled out to 11 new markets, including Bolivia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay and Uruguay.

As rumors about Spotify’s launch of “Car Thing” swirl, Amazon Music debuts a “Car Mode” that makes its music app easier to use while driving, with features like bigger text, bigger buttons and even Alexa built in — the latter countering Spotify’s launch of “Hey Spotify” voice commands.

Gaming

Image Credits: Epic Games/Houseparty

Fortnite users can now livestream gameplay to Houseparty’s social app, which Epic Games (Fortnite’s maker) also owns. To use the new feature, the Fortnite player will need to have enabled Fortnite Mode Streaming and be connected to Houseparty. When they begin to stream their gameplay, their friends on Houseparty will be notified that their game feeds are now available to watch. The addition follows Houseparty’s launch of a “Fortnite Mode” last November, which added a video chat feature to Fortnite where players could see live feeds from their friends while gaming, powered by Houseparty.

Google opened up applications for its 2021 Change The Game Design Challenge, which will again be virtual. Participants who are chosen will be invited to an online game development workshop hosted by Google’s partner, Girls Make Games. The workshop will offer four sessions, kicking off in June and running through the end of the summer. At the end of the workshop, participants will have learned skills needed to create a playable game, no coding experience required.

Apple was hit with a class action lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, which claims that Apple runs an “unlicensed casino” due to its hosting of free-to-play casino games. Though the games use virtual currency, the lawsuit notes that users can buy more coins with real money. The suit says this violates the anti-gambling laws of at least 25 U.S. states.

Health & Fitness

French startup Nabla launched its new app focused on women’s health, allowing women to chat with practitioners, access community content, centralize all their medical data and, soon, schedule telemedicine appointments. The startup has raised $20.2 million for its app and has a team of doctors on board to answer user questions.

Government & Policy

Apple must now show a set of Russian-made apps during iPhone setup, according to a new law that went into effect in early April. Apps getting a boost from the suggestions include Mail.ru, OK Live, VK and others. The apps are not being pre-installed as it turns out, but are being offered for download during the final step of the setup process.

Security & Privacy

Facebook is facing questions from the EU’s data protection regulator over the 2019 data breach that exposed, among other things, the emails and phone numbers of more than 500 million Facebook users. The breach was reported last weekend by Business Insider, leading to concerns. Facebook says the data dump was related to a vulnerability it had fixed back in August 2019. It later explained that the data was scraped from user profiles using a contact importer feature before Facebook made changes to the tool to prevent abuse.

Funding and M&A (and IPOs)

💰 Plaid competitor TrueLayer, which works with fintech apps like Revolut and Freetrade, raised $70 million to expand its service internationally.

💰 Indian investment app Groww raised $83 million at an over $1 billion valuation for its app aimed at millennial investors. Tiger Global led the round, and existing investors Sequoia Capital India, Ribbit Capital, YC Continuity and Propel Venture Partners participated. The app has over 15 million users, two-thirds who are investing for the first time.

🤝 Quiq acquires Snaps to create a combined customer messaging platform. Both startups help businesses communicate with businesses through text messaging and other messaging apps. But despite similarities, the two didn’t overlap much as Quiq had focused on customer service messaging and Snaps on marketing communications. Deal terms were not revealed, but Snaps had raised $13 million.

💰 Note-taking mobile app Mem raised $5.6 million from Andreessen Horowitz and emerged from stealth. Its app lets users quickly jot down thoughts without worrying about organizing them. The app allows for tagging users and topics, setting reminders and more.

💰 Indian social network ShareChat raised $502 million in Series E funding led by Tiger Global, valuing its business at $2.1 billion — up from $650 million last year. Snap and existing investors Twitter and Lightspeed Venture Partners also participated. The six-year-old startup has raised $765 million to date and claims to reach over 160 million users.

📈 Mobile game unicorn AppLovin is targeting a $30 billion valuation in its IPO. The Palo Alto-based business sold a majority stake to private equity firm KKR & Co. Inc, and is now hoping to raise as much as $2.13 billion in its IPO by selling 25 million shares for between $75 and $85 per share.

🤝 Saving and investing app Acorns acquired AI-powered startup Pillar, which helps people manage their student loan debt. Pillar launched in 2019 with $5.5 million in seed funding led by Kleiner Perkins and grew its business to manage over $500 million worth of student loan debt across 15,000 borrowers. Acorns will add Pillar to one of its monthly subscription plans in time.

💰 Berlin-based Charles raised €6.4 million to bring “conversational commerce” to WhatsApp. The startup helps businesses sell on WhatsApp and other chat apps by connecting them with shop and CRM systems, including Shopify, SAP and HubSpot.

💰 Design startup Canva, which offers its service across both web and mobile, raised $71 million more in funding, valuing its business at $15 billion. The company had just raised $60 million at a $6 million valuation in 2020.The round was co-led by Christian Jensen, a partner at Dragoneer. Other investors included T. Rowe Price, Skip Capital and Blackbird Ventures.

🤝 Online lender Avant acquired fintech startup Zero Financial and its mobile neobank Level. Deal terms weren’t disclosed but were a mixture of cash and stock. Avant has raised more than $600 million in equity. The company plans to leverage the deal to deliver personalized options to help underbanked consumers gain financial freedom, it says.

💰 App Store optimization tool provider AppTweak raised $22 million in Series B funding from Groupe Rossel. The company now tracks 3 million keywords daily and grew revenues 950% between 2016-2019, it says. Its tools are used by companies including Amazon, Jam City, Zynga, HBO Max, Adobe and Yelp.

💰 London mobile game studio Tripledot Studios raised $78 million in its first institutional round from Eldridge, Access Industries and Lightspeed Venture Partners. The studio’s games, which include classic titles like Solitaire and Blackjack, have an active user base of 11 million, up from 6 million six months ago. Its team hails from Facebook, King, Peak Games and Product Madness.

💰 Indian conversational messaging platform Gupshup raised $100 million from Tiger Global, valuing its business at $1.4 billion. The company had experimented with other business models over the years, including a messaging app and enterprise messaging before landing on its current suite of solutions for building messaging bots, APIs, a scripting engine and other tools that need to message customers on mobile devices. Its tools support sending messages via text and RCS as well as WhatsApp, Messenger, Telegram, Signal, Twitter, Slack, Skype and its own messaging channel. Gupshup currently delivers 6+ billion messages per month.

Downloads

Halo AR

Image Credits: LightUp

This relatively new AR app lets you add AR to anything — a textbook, a magazine cover, a piece of paper, a photo or any other flat real-world object. To use Halo AR, you first select the object and snap a photo, then choose which photo, video or 3D model you want to overlay on top of it. Teachers can use the app to “tag” their course materials with AR links of sorts to immersive content or videos. Or you could use it for fun to create a scavenger hunt in the house for the kids. The app is a free download in the Education category on iOS and Android.

SmartGym

Image Credits: SmartGym

This popular gym app for Apple devices, and one of Apple’s favorite Apple Watch apps of the year, got a big update this week. The new version of SmartGym more than doubles the number of exercises, growing the database of 290 exercises with the addition of over 330 more — including for those who work out at home with bands, resistance loops, TRX and more. The app’s AI Smart Trainer can then use these new exercises to make its personalized recommendations for you. There are new pre-made workouts for boxing, martial arts and even ultimate frisbee in the updated app.

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China gets serious about antitrust, fines Alibaba $2.75B

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Chinese regulators have hit Alibaba with a record fine of 18 billion yuan (about $2.75 billion) for violating anti-monopoly rules as the country seeks to rein in the power of its largest internet conglomerates.

In November, China proposed sweeping antitrust regulations targeting its tech industry. In late December, the State Administration for Market Regulation said it had launched an antitrust probe into Alibaba. SAMR, the country’s top market regulator, said on Saturday it had determined that Alibaba had been “abusing market dominance” since 2015 by forcing its merchants to sell on one of the two main e-commerce sites in China instead of letting them choose freely.

Since late 2020, a clutch of internet giants including Tencent and Alibaba have been hit with fines for violating anti-competition practices. The meager sums of these punishments were symbolic at best compared to the benefits the tech firms reap from their market concentration. No companies have been told to break up their empires and users still have to hop between different super-apps that block each other off.

In recent weeks, however, there are signs that the antitrust campaign is getting more serious. The latest fine on Alibaba is equivalent to 4% of the company’s revenue generated in the calendar year of 2019 in China.

“Today, we received the Administrative Penalty Decision issued by the State Administration for Market Regulation of the People’s Republic of China,” Alibaba said in a statement. “We accept the penalty with sincerity and will ensure our compliance with determination. To serve our responsibility to society, we will operate in accordance with the law with utmost diligence, continue to strengthen our compliance systems and build on growth through innovation.”

The thick walls that tech companies build against each other are starting to break down, too. Alibaba has submitted an application to have its shopping deals app run on WeChat’s mini program platform, Wang Hai, an Alibaba executive, recently confirmed.

For years, Alibaba services have been absent from Tencent’s sprawling lite app ecosystem, which now features millions of third-party services. Vice versa, WeChat is notably missing from Alibaba’s online marketplaces as a payment method. If passed, the WeChat-powered Alibaba mini app would break with precedent of the pair’s long stand-off.

This is a developing story.

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