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Europe wants to go its own way on digital identity – | #Tech

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Europe wants to go its own way on digital identity – TechCrunch

In its latest ambitious digital policy announcement, the European Union has proposed creating a framework for a “trusted and secure European e-ID” (aka digital identity) — which it said today it wants to be available to all citizens, residents and businesses to make it easer to use a national digital identity to prove who they are in order to access public sector or commercial services regardless of where they are in the bloc.

The EU does already have a regulation on electronic authentication systems (eIDAS), which entered into force in 2014, but the Commission’s intention with the e-ID proposal is to expand on that by addressing some of its limitations and inadequacies (such as poor uptake and a lack of mobile support).

It also wants the e-ID framework to incorporate digital wallets — meaning the user will be able to choose to download a wallet app to a mobile device where they can store and selectively share electronic documents which might be needed for a specific identity verification transaction, such as when opening a bank account or applying for a loan. Other functions (like e-signing) is also envisaged being supported by these e-ID digital wallets.

Other examples the Commission gives where it sees a harmonized e-ID coming in handy include renting a car or checking into a hotel. EU lawmakers also suggest full interoperability for authentication of national digital IDs could be helpful for citizens needing to submit a local tax declaration or enrolling in a regional university.

Some Member States do already offer national electronic IDs but there’s a problem with interoperability across borders, per the Commission, which noted today that just 14% of key public service providers across all Member States allow cross-border authentication with an e-Identity system, though it also said cross-border authentications are rising.

A universally accepted ‘e-ID’ could — in theory — help grease digital activity throughout the EU’s single market by making it easier for Europeans to verify their identity and access commercial or publicly provided services when travelling or living outside their home market.

EU lawmakers also seem to believe there’s an opportunity to ‘own’ a strategic piece of the digital puzzle here, if they can create a unifying framework for all European national digital IDs — offering consumers not just a more convenient alternative to carrying around a physical version of their national ID (at least in some situations), and/or other documents they might need to show when applying to access specific services, but what commissioners billed today as a “European choice” — i.e. vs commercial digital ID systems which may not offer the same high-level pledge of a “trusted and secure” ID system that lets the user entirely control who gets to sees which bits of their data.

A number of tech giants do of course already offer users the ability to sign in to third party digital services using the same credentials to access their own service. But in most cases doing so means the user is opening a fresh conduit for their personal data to flow back to the data-mining platform giant that controls the credential, letting Facebook (etc) further flesh out what it knows about that user’s Internet activity.

“The new European Digital Identity Wallets will enable all Europeans to access services online without having to use private identification methods or unnecessarily sharing personal data. With this solution they will have full control of the data they share,” is the Commission alternative vision for the proposed e-ID framework.

It also suggests the system could create substantial upside for European businesses — by supporting them in offering “a wide range of new services” atop the associated pledge of a “secure and trusted identification service”. And driving public trust in digital services is a key plank of how the Commission approaches digital policymaking — arguing that it’s a essential lever to grow uptake of online services.

However to say this e-ID scheme is ‘ambitious’ is a polite word for how viable it looks.

Aside from the tricky issue of adoption (i.e. actually getting Europeans to A) know about e-ID, and B) actually use it, by also C) getting enough platforms to support it, as well as D) getting providers on board to create the necessary wallets for envisaged functionality to pan out and be as robustly secure as promised), they’ll also — presumably — need to E) convince and/or compel web browsers to integrate e-ID so it can be accessed in a streamlined way.

The alternative (not being baked into browsers’ UIs) would surely make the other adoption steps trickier.

The Commission’s press release is fairly thin on such detail, though — saying only that: “Very large platforms will be required to accept the use of European Digital Identity wallets upon request of the user.”

Nonetheless, a whole chunk of the proposal is given over to discussion of “Qualified certificates for website authentication” — a trusted services provision, also expanding on the approach taken in eIDAS, which the Commission is keen for e-ID to incorporate in order to further boost user trust by offering a certified guarantee of who’s behind a website (although the proposal says it will be voluntary for websites to get certified).

The upshot of this component of the proposal is that web browsers would need to support and display these certificates, in order for the envisaged trust to flow — which sums to a whole lot of highly nuanced web infrastructure work needed to be done by third parties to interoperate with this EU requirement. (Work that browser makers already seem to have expressed serious misgivings about.)

Another big question-mark thrown up by the Commission’s e-ID plan is how exactly the envisaged certified digital identity wallets would store — and most importantly safeguard — user data. That very much remains to be determined, at this nascent stage.

There’s discussion in the regulation’s recitals, for example, of Member States being encouraged to “set-up jointly sandboxes to test innovative solutions in a controlled and secure environment in particular to improve the functionality, protection of personal data, security and interoperability of the solutions and to inform future updates of technical references and legal requirements”.

And it seems that a range of approaches are being entertained, with recital 11 discussing using biometric authentication for accessing digital wallets (while also noting potential rights risks as well as the need to ensure adequate security):

European Digital Identity Wallets should ensure the highest level of security for the personal data used for authentication irrespective of whether such data is stored locally or on cloud-based solutions, taking into account the different levels of risk. Using biometrics to authenticate is one of the identifications methods providing a high level of confidence, in particular when used in combination with other elements of authentication. Since biometrics represents a unique characteristic of a person, the use of biometrics requires organisational and security measures, commensurate to the risk that such processing may entail to the rights and freedoms of natural persons and in accordance with Regulation 2016/679.

In short, it’s clear that underlying the Commission’s big, huge idea of a unified (and unifying) European e-ID is a complex mass of requirements needed to deliver on the vision of a secure and trusted European digital ID that doesn’t just languish ignored and unused by most web users — some highly technical requirements, others (such as achieving the sought for widespread adoption) no less challenging.

The impediments to success here certainly look daunting.

Nonetheless, lawmakers are ploughing ahead, arguing that the pandemic’s acceleration of digital service adoption has shown the pressing need to address eIDAS’ shortcomings — and deliver on the goal of “effective and user-friendly digital services across the EU”.

Alongside today’s regulatory proposal they’ve put out a Recommendation, inviting Member States to “establish a common toolbox by September 2022 and to start the necessary preparatory work immediately” — with a goal of publishing the agreed toolbox in October 2022 and starting pilot projects (based on the agreed technical framework) sometime thereafter.

“This toolbox should include the technical architecture, standards and guidelines for best practices,” the Commission adds, eliding the large cans of worms being firmly cracked open.

Still, its penciled in timeframe for mass adoption — of around a decade — does a better job of illustrating the scale of the challenge, with the Commission writing that it wants 80% of citizens to be using an e-ID solution by 2030.

The even longer game the bloc is playing is to try to achieve digital sovereignty so it’s not beholden to foreign-owned tech giants. And an ‘own brand’, autonomously operated European digital identity does certainly align with that strategic goal.


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How many opinions does it take to hit the $100M ARR Club? – | #Tech

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How many opinions does it take to hit the $100M ARR Club? – TechCrunch

In a world of talking points and corporate jargon, opinions are refreshing — and Expensify CEO and founder David Barrett is full of them. One of his earliest lessons in life, for example, was that basically everyone is wrong about basically everything. If instilling that at a young age doesn’t force you to become an entrepreneur, I don’t know what does.

Barrett’s ethos has, as reporter Anna Heim puts, led to Expensify having “its own take on almost everything” from hiring without job titles and resumes, to going distributed before it was cool, to having an almost non-existent sales team.

And before you roll your eyes at the unconventional, here’s a factoid for you: Today, the 130-person expense management business has reached more than 10 million users and hit $100 million in annual revenue.

Heim has spent months working on the Expensify EC-1 to connect dots and give us a full picture into an anything-but-conventional company as it heads toward an IPO. The final installment published this week so you can read the whole series in one straight shot:

In the rest of this newsletter, I’ll walk you through a refresh of some new investment vehicles and two fintech mega-rounds to know. I also want to give a shout out to our mobility team, with transportation editor Kirsten Korosec and reporters Aria Alamalhodaei and Rebecca Bellan, who led efforts to put on a fantastic event at TC Sessions: Mobility this week.

Ok, into the news!

More money, more representation?

Image Credits: Black_Kira / Getty Images

As I discussed last month, venture capital is going through yet another unbundling process. But, for every savvy fintech syndicate out there, I don’t see the same level of explicitness when it comes to the tools that help the communityless, undernetworked and underestimated access opportunities.

Here’s what to know: Two new efforts this week give me hope. Ten venture capitalists teamed up to launch Screendoor, which Forbes reports is a $50 million fund-of-funds to back emerging fund managers from diverse backgrounds. The partners, which include Charles Hudson, Kirsten Green, Aileen Lee and Hunter Walk, will not take any fee or carry in the fund.

Speaking of cross-fund collaboration, Utah-based startup incubator Altitude Lab had similar news to share. The incubator, which spun out of Recursion and the University of Utah, has launched a 13-investor coalition to back underrepresented health tech founders. This week, it announced a $50 million commitment in funding and mentorship.

And if you want to have more fun(ds):

The Fintech twins

Handle of door to bank vault safe

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

Three is a trend, but two means twins, and that matters too! Riddles aside, we saw two fintech giants raise massive tranches of capital within days of each other.

Here’s what to know: Klarna raised $639 million at a $45.6 billion valuation, and Nubank raised $750 million at a $30 billion valuation. Both fintech companies are based outside of the United States, but Klarna attests some of its rapid growth to a growing consumer base in the United States. More than 18 million American consumers are now using Klarna, which is up from 10 million at the end of last year’s third quarter. Meanwhile, Nubank is staying focused on its primary market of Brazil, with some expansion in Colombia and Mexico.

 Demystifying mega-rounds:

The huge TAM of fake breaded chicken bits

Another week, another spicy Equity episode for you. And this week, we mean it literally: Simulate, the company behind those sometimes spicy fake chicken nuggets, raised a ton of money.

Here’s what to know: Beyond fake meat, topics in this week’s episode include worker empowerment, culture in startups, eldercare and a $900 million exit.

Around TC

Across the week

Seen on TC

read more about Apple's WWDC 2021 on TC

Seen on Extra Crunch

Talk next week,

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Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin auctions off seat on first human spaceflight for $28M – | #Tech

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Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin auctions off seat on first human spaceflight for $28M – TechCrunch

Blue Origin has its winning bidder for its first ever human spaceflight, and the winner will pay $28 million for the privilege of flying aboard the company’s debut private astronaut mission. The winning bid came in today during a live auction, which saw 7,600 registered bidders, from 159 countries compete for the spot.

This was the culmination of Blue Origin’s three part bidding process for the ticket, which included a blind auction first, followed by an open, asynchronous auction with the highest bid posted to the company’s website whenever it changed. This last live auction greatly ramped up the value of the winning bid, which was at just under $5 million prior to the event.

This first seat up for sale went for a lot more than what an actual, commercial spot is likely to cost on Blue Origin’s New Shepard capsule, which flies to suborbital space and only spends a few minutes there before returning to Earth. Estimates put the cost of a typical launch at someone under $1 million, likely closer to $500,000 or so. But this is the first, which is obviously a special distinction, and it’s also a trip that will allow the winning bidder to pretty much literally rub elbows with Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos, who is going to be on the flight as well, along with his brother Mark, and a fourth passenger that Blue Origin says it will be announcing sometime in the coming “weeks,” ahead of the July 20 target flight date.

As for who won the auction, we’ll also have to wait to find that out, since the winner’s identity is also going to be “released in the weeks following” the end of today’s live bidding. And in case you thought that $28 million might represent a big revenue windfall for Blue Origin, which has spent years developing its human spaceflight capability, think again: The company is donating it to its Club for the Future non-profit foundation, which is focused on encouraging kids to pursue careers in STEM in a long-term bid to help Bezos’ larger goals of making humanity a spacefaring civilization.

You can re-watch the entire live bidding portion of the auction via the stream below.

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UBS investment makes Byju’s the most valuable startup in India – | #Tech

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UBS investment makes Byju’s the most valuable startup in India – TechCrunch

Edtech giant Byju’s has become the most valuable startup in India after raising about $350 million in a new tranche of investment from UBS Group and Zoom founder Eric Yuan, Blackstone and others that valued the Bangalore-based firm at $16.5 billion (post-money).

In a new filing, Byju’s revealed that scores of investors including Abu Dhabi government fund ADQ and Phoenix Rising had together invested about $350 million in the startup. The new valuation helps Byju’s surpass Paytm, which was last valued at $16 billion, for the crown position in the Indian startup ecosystem. (Paytm is currently working on exploring the public markets and eyeing to raise as much as $3 billion and eyeing a valuation of up to $30 billion.)

The new tranche of investment is part of a larger round that Byju’s kickstarted earlier this year and is looking to secure over $1.5 billion. Some of its recent investors also include B Capital Group and hedge fund XN. The startup was valued at $11 billion late last year, and $5.75 billion in July 2019.

The startup plans to use the fresh capital, in part, to acquire more startups. Byju’s, which acquired Indian physical coaching institute Aakash for nearly $1 billion earlier this year, is conducting due diligence to buy and online learning startup Toppr and has also engaged with U.S.-based Epic, TC reported earlier this year.

Byju’s prepares students pursuing undergraduate and graduate-level courses, and in recent years it has also expanded its catalog to serve all school-going students. Tutors on the Byju’s app tackle complex subjects using real-life objects such as pizza and cake.

The pandemic, which prompted New Delhi to enforce a months-long nationwide lockdown and close schools, accelerated its growth, and those of several other online learning startups including Unacademy and Vedantu.

As of early this year, Byju’s said it had amassed over 80 million users, 5.5 million of whom are paying subscribers. Byju’s, which is profitable, generated revenue of over $100 million in the U.S. last year, Deborah Quazzo, managing partner of GSV Ventures (which has backed the Indian startup), said at a session in March held by Indian venture fund Blume Ventures.

The startup executives said at a UBS event earlier this year that Byju’s current revenue run rate is $800 million, a figure they expect will reach $1 billion in the next 12-15 months. It has also accelerated its international expansion plans in recent months.

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The air taxi market prepares to take flight – | #Tech

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The air taxi market prepares to take flight – TechCrunch

Twelve years ago, Joby Aviation consisted of a team of seven engineers working out of founder JoeBen Bevirt’s ranch in the Santa Cruz mountains. Today, the startup has swelled to 800 people and a $6.6 billion valuation, ranking itself as the highest-valued electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) company in the industry.

As in any disruptive industry, the forecast may be cloudier than the rosy picture painted by passionate founders and investors.

It’s not the only air taxi company to reach unicorn status. The field is now dotted with new or soon-to-be publicly traded companies courtesy of mergers and special purpose acquisition companies. Partnerships with major automakers and airlines are on the rise, and CEOs have promised commercialization as early as 2024.

As in any disruptive industry, the forecast may be cloudier than the rosy picture painted by passionate founders and investors. A quick peek at comments and posts on LinkedIn reveals squabbles among industry insiders and analysts about when this emerging technology will truly take off and which companies will come out ahead.

Other disagreements have higher stakes. Wisk Aero filed a lawsuit against Archer Aviation alleging trade secret misappropriation. Meanwhile, valuations for companies that have no revenue yet to speak of — and may not for the foreseeable future — are skyrocketing.

Electric air mobility is gaining elevation. But there’s going to be some turbulence ahead.

Big goals and bigger expenses

Taking an eVTOL from design through to manufacturing and certification will likely cost about $1 billion, Mark Moore, then-head of Uber Elevate, estimated in April 2020 during a conference held by the Air Force’s Agility Prime program.

That means in some sense, the companies that will come out on top will likely be the ones that have managed to raise enough money to pay for all the expenses associated with engineering, certification, manufacturing and infrastructure.

“The startups that have successfully raised or that will be able to raise significant amounts of capital to get them through the certification process … that’s the number one thing that’s going to separate the strong from the weak,” Asad Hussain, a senior analyst in mobility technology at PitchBook, told TC. “There’s over 100 startups in the space. Not all of them are going to be able to do that.”

Just consider some of the expenses accrued by the biggest eVTOLs last year: Joby Aviation spent a whopping $108 million on research and development, a $30 million increase from 2019. Archer spent $21 million in R&D in 2020, according to regulatory filings. Meanwhile, Joby’s net loss last year was $114.2 million and Archer’s was $24.8 million, though, of course, neither company has brought a product to market yet. Operating expenses will likely only continue to grow into the future as companies enter into manufacturing and deployment phases.

What that means for the future of the industry is likely two things: more SPAC deals and more acquisitions.

Mobility companies, including those working on electrified transport, are often pre-revenue and have capitally intensive business models — a combination that can make it difficult to find buyers in a traditional IPO. SPACs have become increasingly popular as a shorter, less expensive path to becoming a public company. SPACs have also historically received less scrutiny than IPOs. Should the U.S. Securities Exchange Commission start to take a closer look at SPAC mergers in the future, it may impair the ability of other air taxi companies to go public this way, Hussain said.

That means market consolidation is nearly guaranteed, as smaller companies may find it more advantageous to sell than continue to raise more capital. It’s already begun: At the end of April, eVTOL developer Astro Aerospace announced the acquisition of Horizon Aircraft.

Horizon cited “greater access to capital” as one of the many benefits of the transaction, and other companies will likely find the buy or sell route to be the most beneficial on the road to commercialization. And just last week, British eVTOL Vertical Aerospace, which has an order for 150 aircraft from Virgin Atlantic, said it would go public via a merger with Broadstone Acquisition Corp. at an equity value of around $2.2 billion.

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SOSV, the global venture firm, just closed a $100 million fund to back its maturing startups – | #Tech

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SOSV, the global venture firm, just closed a $100 million fund to back its maturing startups – TechCrunch

Sean O’Sullivan, the founder of the global venture outfit SOSV, has slowly but steadily built up a sizable operation over the years.

SOSV started off as a family office, investing the capital of O’Sullivan after he cofounded two companies, including MapInfo, an outfit that went public in 1994 before Pitney Bowes it years later, in 2007. The seed-stage investing outfit went on to raise three more funds, including a $277 million early-stage fund that it closed in 2019 and is actively investing from right now.

Now, to complement those funds, the organization has raised $100 million for what it’s calling a Select Fund, a vehicle meant to help SOSV maintain its pro rata stake in some of its breakaway portfolio companies.

Because of other tools in the market, SOSV wasn’t completely hamstrung until now. Instead, SOSV has, on occasion, assembled a special purpose vehicle to re-invest in certain of the startups it has backed. But O’Sullivan says these were relatively small SPVs — think $2 million in size or less. The new fund, he says, is expected to write checks of between $2 million and $5 million and even up to $10 million — or 10% of the fund, per SOSV’s agreement with its investors.

Certainly, the new fund also gives startups even more reason to work with SOSV, which tends to write its seed checks to first-time founders, who O’Sullivan observes are often overlooked — wrongly —  by investors in favor of repeat founders.

He points to Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Google and Alibaba, noting that landscape would look rather different without them. He says experienced the phenomenon himself when he cofounded a company (NetCentric) after MapInfo. “People were just lining up to invest,” he says. “It was so easy to raise the funds without anything other than a business plan, and these days, you don’t even need one of those.”

That doesn’t mean SOSV will get as big a bite as it might like in every deal. Though SOSV has enjoyed success by betting on new entrepreneurs — it was among the first investors in FormLabs, for example, a company now valued at $2 billion; it also backed JUMP, the bike-share startup that Uber acquired in 2018 — a $100 million fund is small by current standards. SOSV could well find itself competing against players that have billions of dollars to deploy and which are writing bigger checks to younger companies, faster than ever. 

It’s not an absurd concern, agrees O’Sullivan. He says he saw some sharp elbows just this week, in fact. Part of a $100 million-plus round was coming together, and a firm that O’Sullivan declined to mention didn’t want to make room for the startup’s Series B or A investors because it wanted to meet a certain equity threshold.

O’Sullivan says the earlier investors acquiesced. (“They’re giving us a multi-billion valuation” and also “trying to buy secondaries from existing investors,” he explains, while adding that SOSV would generally prefer to hold its shares through an IPO.)

Still, he suggests there’s no need to worry about SOSV. While the earlier investors went with the flow, O’Sullivan says that in “most cases, there’s enough to go around for the previous investors.” He also calls it “good protocol for the late-stage investors [to make room] if they want to continue to have us introducing deals to them.”

Put another way, smaller fund or not, SOSV has a kind of leverage, too.

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Facebook buys game studio BigBox VR – | #Tech

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Facebook buys game studio BigBox VR – TechCrunch

Facebook has bought several virtual reality game studios over the past couple years, and they added one more to their portfolio Friday with the acquisition of Seattle-based BigBox VR.

The studio’s major title, Population: One, was one of the big post-launch releases for Facebook’s Oculus Quest 2 headset and is a pretty direct Fortnite clone, copying a number of key gameplay techniques while adapting them for the movements unique to virtual reality and bringing in their own lore and art style.

As has been the case for most of these studio acquisitions, terms weren’t disclosed. BigBox raised $6.5 million according to Crunchbase, with funding from Shasta Ventures, Outpost Capital, Pioneer Square Labs and GSR Ventures.

“POP: ONE stormed onto the VR scene just nine months ago and has consistently ranked as one the top-performing titles on the Oculus platform, bringing together up to 24 people at a time to connect, play, and compete in a virtual world,” Facebook’s Mike Verdu wrote in a blog post.

It’s not unusual for a gaming hardware platform owner to build up their own web of studios building platform exclusives, but in the VR world things are a little different given that Facebook has few real competitors.

While many of the developers inside Oculus Studios continue to build titles for Valve’s Steam store which are accessible with third-party headsets, most non-Facebook VR platforms seem to be a shrinking piece of the overall VR pie, having been priced out of the market by Facebook’s aggressive pursuit of a mass market audience. Facebooks Oculus Quest 2 retails for $299 and the company has said that it outsold all of its previous devices combined in its first few months.

In April, Facebook acquired Downpour Interactive, maker of the VR shooter Onward.

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