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WWDC Prep, F8 recap, TikTok goes after biometric data – TechCrunch

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

The app industry continues to grow, 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 was a busy one. Facebook held its developer conference F8 which delivered a lot of app-related news across its platform. Now, WWDC is just days away. We also broke a few big app stories this week, including one about TikTok’s privacy policy and its newly added permission to collect biometric data on U.S. users, including “faceprints and voiceprints.” Twitter added a subscription service, and Tinder tested group video chat.

And in our downloads section, we have a treat for readers: a time-sensitive and exclusive invite code to get into one of the hottest new apps for sneakerheads: Sole Retriever. 

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Image Credits: Apple

WWDC’s big keynote is kicking off next week on June 7 at 1 PM ET. The livestream page is here. While we may see new MacBook Pros, what software developers will care about are the forthcoming details about Apple’s latest OS releases and other new technologies. As to what they may include? Bloomberg reported that iOS 15 will introduce a way for users to set different notification preferences and automatic replies, based on their current status (driving, working, sleeping, etc.) and an updated Lock Screen where this menu of choices would be accessible. iMessage may be upgraded to be more social, to better compete with Messenger and WhatsApp. Meanwhile, iPadOS could be getting the App Library and an upgraded Home Screen with support for widgets. (And you can fill the screen with just widgets, if you choose.) Or who knows! Until it’s official, it’s all a maybe!

But one potentially interesting rumor to watch for would be a new privacy feature that would show users which apps were collecting data about them. This builds on Apple’s investments in App Tracking Transparency and could make it more difficult for shady SDKs to stay in business.

There will likely be some updates coming to other Apple’s own apps, Siri, watchOS and more. It’s going to be a packed week — stay tuned!

Ahead of WWDC, Apple also updated its report (conducted on its behalf via the Analysis Group) on App Store commerce. The company says the App Store facilitated $643 billion in billings and sales in 2020, up 24% from the $519 billion seen the year prior. It also noted that about 90% of the billings and sales facilitated by the App Store actually took place outside its walls, meaning Apple took no commission on those purchases. This is up from the 85% figure reported last year. The full report delves into other trends related to the pandemic’s impact, small and large businesses, and more. Apple initially commissioned the report to demonstrate how little business on the App Store is actually subject to App Store fees, but now it’s updated the report a year later. It’s interesting how much understanding Apple has about its App Store, especially when Tim Cook claimed to know so little about several crucial figures.

Image Credits: Apple

Apple also this week unveiled its 2021 Apple Design finalists. The awards honor apps and games that offer a combination of innovation, ingenuity and technical achievement — the latter which often means making great use of Apple technologies. The finalists span six categories: Inclusivity, Delight and Fun, Interaction, Social Impact, Visuals and Graphics, and Innovation.

Among the prospective winners are apps including snarky weather app Carrot Weather as well as the unique (Not Boring) Weather, short-form news service Brief, mental wellness app and Google Play award winner Loona, Editor’s Choice Genshin Impact, Snowman’s new kids app Pok Pok Playroom and summertime fun music app Poolside FM, and many others.

Platforms: Google

Google this week opened submissions for two of its annual developer programs: the Indie Games Accelerator and the Indie Games Festival. The programs are designed to help small games studios grow on Google Play. This year, the programs will include more eligible markets and will be fully digital experiences.

Google will restrict third-party apps from customizing the native Android Sharesheet in Android 12. Currently, the UI of the Sharesheet can differ from app to app, but XDA Developers reports it will become more iOS-like, by offering a consistent menu across apps.

Google is taking a cue from Apple by allowing users to opt out of personalization using the advertising ID in the Android Settings. Once users opt out, the advertising ID is disabled. The ID is a unique, user-resettable identifier provided by Google Play services. As part of a coming Google Play services update in late 2021, the advertising identifier will be removed when the user opts out of tracking, and any attempt to access the identifier will only return a string of zeros. Google says ad and analytics service partners will receive notifications about a user’s preferences to help them with compliance. The change will roll out in late 2021 and will impact apps running on Android 12 devices initially, with an expansion to devices that support Google Play in early 2022.

Platforms: Huawei (!!)

Image Credits: Wang Chenglu, president of Huawei Consumer Business Group’s software department

Two years after Huawei was put on a list of Chinese companies banned from doing business with U.S. organizations, it launched its proprietary operating system, HarmonyOS, for smartphones. The OS is designed to power phones, tablets and smart devices. Smartphone maker Meizu has already hinted it may adopt the new OS.

Augmented Reality

Image Credits: Facebook

Facebook’s flagship AR creation software, Spark AR, has already been used by more than 600,000 creators from over 190 countries to publish over 2 million AR effects. At Facebook’s F8 event this week, the company announced Multipeer API for video calls on Messenger, Instagram and Portal. The API will allow developers to create “shared AR” effects that apply to all the call participants — like a party hat that shows up on everyone’s heads for a birthday call, for instance.

E-commerce/Retail

Convenience store-style on-demand delivery startup JOKR launched in New York City to provide 15-minute or less delivery of items you might otherwise find in small stores and local delis. Except instead of dealing with stores, JOKR has its own strategically placed micro-hubs. The startup was founded by Ralf Wenzel, who previously founded Foodpanda, which later merged with Delivery Hero.

Image Credits: Walmart

Walmart is handing out over 740,000 new Samsung Galaxy XCover Pro smartphones (retail $499) to its employees, saying that “constant communication” is essential to its business. The phones will run Walmart’s proprietary Me@Walmart app, where employees clock in, adjust schedules, use the voice assistant “Ask Sam,” and communicate with others via push-to-talk. Employees will be allowed to use the phone for personal use after work hours, and Walmart will not have access to their personal data, the retailer says.

Fintech

Image Credits: Kraken

Coinbase rival Kraken launched a mobile app in the U.S. that allows users to buy and sell more than 50 crypto tokens from their mobile phone. Kraken is the world’s fourth-largest digital currency exchange, in terms of trading volume.

Venmo now lets users hide their friend list for additional privacy. The change to the app came after BuzzFeed News found President Biden’s Venmo account using public friend lists. Digital rights groups had called the design a “security nightmare.”

Japan-based Line Corp. is launching its digital banking platform in Indonesia, which means it will now offering banking services in three of its biggest overseas markets: Indonesia, Thailand and Taiwan.

Coinbase Card, which allows users to spend their crypto while on the go, now works with Apple Pay and Google Pay. The card will offer up to 4% in crypto rewards for everyday purchases.

Chime has established itself as the No. 1 neobank in the U.S., according to eMarketer. The banking app will have 13.1 million U.S. accounts this year, up 30.7% from 2020. Current will have 4 million, double from the 2.1 million it had last year. Aspiration is in third place, with 3 million, followed by Varo, at 2.7 million.

Social

✨ Scoop: Tinder tested a group video chat feature ahead of parent company Match’s move into social discovery with its $1.73 billion acquisition of Seoul-based Hyperconnect. The feature was only tested briefly in New Zealand and then shut down, but may have served as a way to gain valuable data about younger users’ interest in social discovery apps and services as Match moves into that market which it says is double the size of the dating market.

Image Credits: Twitter

Twitter Blue officially launched. Will you pay for better Twitter? Twitter’s new premium subscription brings tools to organize your bookmarks, read threads in a clutter-free format and take advantage of an “Undo Tweet” feature — which is the closest thing Twitter will have to the long-requested “Edit” button. It also offers a few other perks, like custom app icons, colorful themes and subscription customer support. Unfortunately, the service is only live in Canada and Australia for the time being.

Twitter redesigned its mobile app to put its Clubhouse rival, Twitter Spaces, in the middle of its navigation bar. Initially, only around 500 people from the original Spaces beta test will first see the new Spaces discovery tab, but it will expand to more people over time. The tab will help people keep track of Spaces they want to listen to and manage notifications, among other things.

Twitter began rolling out Birdwatch fact checks inside tweets. Birdwatch is Twitter’s pilot program that aims to crowdsource fact-checking of tweets, as an alternative to relying on fact-checkers. The program’s goal will be to append more info to misinformation online in real time.

TikTok reamined the top non-game app worldwide in May 2021 by downloads. According to Sensor Tower, TikTok was No. 1 on both the App Store and Google Play with 80 million combined installs. Brazil accounted for 16% of those, and China 12%.

Facebook at its developer conference F8 also introduced Facebook Login Connect with Messenger. For businesses that have already integrated with Facebook Login, this allow users to log in to their app using their Facebook credentials and opt in to chat with businesses over Messenger, all in the Facebook Login flow. The tool is in closed beta.

Facebook also updated its Business Suite with a new feature that will allow developers to build “business apps,” which are tools made by third-party developers that work alongside the Business Suite. These “apps” could do things like bring in content from a catalog to their Facebook page or Instagram account. The platform already has 30 developers working on it and integrates with e-commerce platforms, like BigCommerce.

Image Credits: Facebook

Messaging

WhatsApp reversed course and now says it won’t reduce the app’s functionality if users don’t agree to its new privacy policy. The rollout had led to a lot of backlash as it revealed the messaging app would begin sharing more info with Facebook.

As part of its F8-related announcements, WhatsApp said it would update its Business API to make it quicker for business to get started with its service. WhatsApp will make it faster to set up a business account (5 minutes instead of weeks), and will allow businesses to respond faster to inbound messages, as well as send messages to users who opted in. The business tool for customer care will allow up to 10 pre-written messages, among other updates.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told popular news outlet/leaker WaBetaInfo that WhatsApp will add multi-device support for connecting up to four devices to one account. He also said WhatsApp will introduce a “view once” disappearing feature for photos and videos, and is working on an iPad app. The method of delivering this news is worth noting — WaBetaInfo is not a traditional news outlet, but more of an independent news portal of sorts. Zuckerberg has been taking Facebook news to non-traditional (and often far friendlier) channels as of late, including popping up in Clubhouse rooms and other independent outlets. Facebook clearly feels mainstream press has turned on it when they…[checks notes]…held Facebook accountable for its actions.

Facebook also announced the general availability of the Messenger API for Instagram. First announced last fall and rolling out in phases, the API offers a more efficient way for larger brands to handle a high volume of messages by allowing them to integrate Instagram messaging into the tools and applications they’re already using in-house to manage their Facebook conversations.

Community social network Nextdoor launched a new feature called Free Finds that helps its users unload their unwanted stuff on others in their neighborhood. Notably, the feature doesn’t require you to be a Nextdoor member to access the listings, but eventually, those users may convert.

Streaming & Entertainment

Image Credits: Spotify

Spotify rolled out a sort of mid-year version of Wrapped with the launch of the new personalized experience, Only You. The feature offers insights about your music history in a sharable format, like your musical dinner party or audio birth chart, and other fun finds. Why now? Perhaps Spotify is heading off Apple Music news to come with a feature that reminds users it does personalization best?

Spotify also added Blend, a way to create a playlist with any other Spotify user. The company offers a similar feature for users on its Family and Duo plans, but this new tool doesn’t require users to be in the same household.

Apple tried to acquire livestreaming music platform Verzuz, which later sold to video social network Triller, Bloomberg reported. Apple didn’t engage in a bidding war and offered a lower price than what Triller paid, it said.

The Apple TV app launched on Android devices. Like Apple Music, Apple TV is a service that needs to work across platforms in order to compete with rivals. The Android app’s arrival followed the Apple TV app’s debut on Nvidia’s Shield TV, which means it’s now available across all major Android TV-based devices.

Health & Fitness

Amazon updated its Halo health app with a new feature called Movement Health, which will use computer vision and machine learning to asses users’ posture, mobility and stability and then suggest exercises to improve them.

Peloton slashed the pricing for its fitness app, normally $12.99/mo, for students, teachers, healthcare workers and military. Students can pay $6.99/mo while the others can pay $9.99/mo. Military members and their families can lock in that rate for life. The company is facing a PR crisis after recalling treadmills that injured 70 and led to one infant death.

Utilities

Image Credits: App Annie

A TikTok trend where users prank people by spamming them on text has driven the app that makes that possible, Paste Keyboard, to the top of the App Store. Mashable noted the app’s rise, but couldn’t figure out why. Nor could App Annie. It’s kids, y’all. Honestly, the App Store needs a new “viral” chart at this point.

AirTag support is coming to Android. Apple announced some changes to AirTag, including the period of time they’ll make a sound when moved. The time will change from three times per day to a random time between 8-24 hours. Apple believes the shortening of the window will serve as a better deterrent against bad actors using AirTag to track someone.  Alongside this announcement, Apple said it will later this year launch an Android application that will allow users to detect AirTag or other Find My network-enabled accessories that are separated from its owner and may be traveling with a user.

Firefox revamped its Mac and iOS app this week with a what it claims is a more distraction-free design, featuring streamlined toolbar and menus, expanded privacy protections, a new look for tabs, updated notifications and alerts, easier muting, and more.

 

Ring added “Request for Assistance posts” on its Neighbors app, claiming this will allow public safety agencies (e.g. police) to ask communities for help in investigations. The Request for Assistance posts can only be issued from verified public safety agency profiles, Ring says. Of course, this isn’t the only way police can acquire Ring videos, as the company has many police partnerships across the U.S. that let them acquire footage without a warrant.

Auto/Transportation

Toyota added a data privacy portal to its apps. The feature is available in the Account Settings of the Toyota and Lexus apps and works with vehicles offering connected services that were built in the 2013 model year or later. It also allows consumers who own multiple Toyota or Lexus vehicles to customize privacy and data-sharing settings for each.

Gokada is launching its ride-hailing service in two more Nigerian cities as part of its super app plans. The company is merging its ride-hailing service with food delivery platform GShop. In the past year, Gokada crossed $100 million in annualized transaction value, and helped onboard 30,000 merchants.

Reading

Image Credits: Apptopia

The top reading and writing apps grew their IAP revenue 50% YoY in May 2021, Apptopia reported. This group includes apps for writing novels or comic books, or reading the works from others, like Webtoon, Wattpad, Dreame, GoodNovel, Webnovel, Tapas and Radish. As a grouping, these apps have also grown IAP revenue 15% over the past six months. Since January 2020, Webtoon and Dreame combined accounted for 56.3% of the grouping’s total IAP revenue.

Government & Policy

Google, Facebook, WhatsApp, Telegram, LinkedIn and startups ShareChat and Koo have now either fully or partially complied with India’s IT rules that require them to appoint and share contact details of representatives tasked with compliance, nodal point of reference and grievance redressals to address on-ground concerns. Twitter, whose offices were raided by police in Delhi, has not yet complied.

EU will review TikTok’s Terms of Service following child safety complaints. Areas of concern include hidden marketing, aggressive advertising techniques targeted at children and contractual terms in the company’s policies that could be misleading or confusing for consumers.

Security & Privacy

The TikTok logo is seen on an iPhone 11 Pro max

The TikTok logo is seen on an iPhone 11 Pro max

✨ Scoop: TikTok just gave itself permission to collect biometric data on U.S. users, including “faceprints and voiceprints.” A change to TikTok’s U.S. privacy policy on Wednesday introduced a new section that says the social video app “may collect biometric identifiers and biometric information” from its users’ content, including things like “faceprints and voiceprints.” Reached for comment, TikTok could not confirm what product developments necessitated the addition of biometric data to its list of disclosures about the information it automatically collects from users, but said it would ask for consent in the case such data collection practices began.

The biometric data collection details were introduced in the newly added section, “Image and Audio Information,” found under the heading of “Information we collect automatically” in the policy.

 

Alibaba’s UC Browser app has been found to be harvesting the private web activity of users across Android or iOS when incognito mode is turned on. The browser is the fourth largest in the world, with 500 million Android downloads alone. Before being banned in India over security concerns related to Chinese apps, it was also one of the most popular in India, as well.

💰 Miami-based NUE Life Health raised $3.3 million for its telemedicine platform and app in the U.S., where it combines mental wellness solutions that employ psychedelic-assisted therapies with a graph database-driven app. The app was backed by investors who recently left SV for Miami, including Jack Abraham, Shervin Pishevar, Martin Varsavsky, Jon Oringer, James Bailey and Christina Getty.

🤝 Etsy acquired secondhand e-commerce startup Depop for more than $1.6 billion. Depop, which caters to a Gen Z crowd, saw 2020 gross merchandise sales and revenue of approximately $650 million and $70 million, respectively.

💰 Social network platform Venn raised $60 million in Series B funding led by Group 11. The startup provides technology that allows building owners and other real estate partners and communities to provide social networking services to their tenants, with tools for organizing buy/sell groups, organizing community activities, connecting with neighbors and more.

💰 Digital health management company Hello Heart raised $45 million Series C led by IVP. The company’s app is marketed by employers as part of their benefit programs and helps patients manage heart health and blood pressure, medications and more.

💰 Personal finance app Truebill raised $17 million in Series C funding led by Accel, valuing the business at $500 million. The app helps consumers get better control over their finances by helping them cancel subscriptions, negotiate bills, view credit reports, budget, and access spending insights, among other things.

💰 Newly launched stock trading app Lightyear disclosed it raised $1.5 million pre-seed funding in a round co-led by the new unnamed fund formed by Wise co-founder Taavet Hinrikus and Teleport co-founder Sten Tamkivi. The app was the fund’s first investment.

💰 Istanbul-based grocery delivery app Getir raised $550 million in new funding, tripling its valuation to $7.5 billion. New investors include DisruptAD and Mubadala Funding Firm (both being arms of Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth funds) as well as Silicon Valley-based Silver Lake.

Sole Retriever

Image Credits: Sole Retriever

Sole Retriever is a newly launched app that aims to be a sneakerhead’s dream.

The app offers a one-stop shop for all things sneaker — including sneaker news, sneaker releases, sneaker raffles, a calendar of upcoming drops and more. The company says its goal is to democratize access to sneaker drops by making this info more accessible and convenient for consumers. Before its mobile launch, Sole Retriever had offered its service via the web only. Now it’s live on both iOS and Android.

Unique to the mobile experience is the ability to customize your alerts so you only hear about the raffles you want to know about — like those in the U.S., or only those that are in-store or online, for example. It also makes entering raffles easier with autofill features. Custom profiles that let you save the info for others who have agreed to let you enter their name and address to increase your chances of winning. And the app can save your logins for different retailers to make shopping easier.

Sole Retriever is currently only available as a waitlist, but TC readers can bypass the waitlist! Here’s how! 

After downloading the app and logging in, when you reach the waitlist screen, you can redeem a special code — “TWIA” (in all caps!), which lets you bypass the entire waitlist and gain instant access to start your seven-day free trial for the app. The code is only valid for 24 hours after this post goes live so hit it quickly!

Apple Developer app

Image Credits: Apple

The Apple Developer app is not new. But it is the must-have download for the week ahead, as it will provide mobile developers with access to everything needed to navigate WWDC 21’s all-digital event. The app was updated this week with details about the agenda, sessions, pavilions, labs, coding and design challenges, and more. Developers can also sign up for labs inside the app and get notifications about their appointments. There are also new WWDC 21 iMessage stickers for some added fun.

  • Marco.org: Developer Relations. Marco Arment has some harsh words for Apple ahead of WWDC. He accuses the iPhone maker of undervaluing what apps mean for iOS beyond their IAP revenue. And he points out that developers themselves bring in a good number of customers through their own marketing efforts, not because of their App Store listing.
  • Pew Research: Mobile Technology and Home Broadband 2021. Pew takes a look at U.S. trends, including smartphone ownership adoption. Eighty-five percent of U.S. adults now own a smartphone, which is more than have broadband (77%) at home.
  • Donny Wals: The iOS Developer’s Guide to WWDC 2021. Wals reminds developers to not get caught up in the WWDC chaos, pace themselves and focus on what matters to their business. He also makes suggestions about what to not overlook during WWDC week.


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Tencent’s WeChat suspends new user registration in China to comply with ‘relevant laws and regulations’ – | #Tech

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Tencent’s WeChat suspends new user registration in China to comply with ‘relevant laws and regulations’ – TechCrunch

Tencent’s WeChat said on Tuesday it is temporarily suspending registration of new users in China as it works to comply with “relevant laws and regulations,” the latest Chinese firm to face regulatory scrutiny in the world’s largest internet market.

In a social media post, Tencent said it is “upgrading” its security technology to align with all relevant laws and regulations and while this process in underway “registration of new Weixin (WeChat’s Chinese app) personal and official accounts has been temporarily suspended.”

“Registration services will be restored after the upgrade is complete, which is expected in early August,” said WeChat, which has amassed over 1.2 billion monthly active users in China as of earlier this year.

It’s not immediately clear which law WeChat is citing in its announcement but the move comes amid a broad crackdown on tech firms by Chinese regulators. The crackdown has wiped billions of dollars in market cap for Chinese firms in recent weeks and many high-profile global investors including SoftBank are impacted by it.

This is the first time WeChat, which operates as a super-app in China, has had to take a step of this kind in more than a decade. In addition to offering a messaging service, Weixin also allows users to make online payments and access a range of financial services.

(In other markets, it’s a different story. Donald Trump had signed an order to ban transactions with TikTok and WeChat in the U.S. last year. President Joe Biden revoked and replaced those actions last month.)

Some analysts believe that the Chinese government is concerned about the growing influence of tech firms in the country and also the privacy of its citizens’ data.

Earlier this month, China’s cybersecurity regulator ordered ride-hailing giant app Didi to stop signing up new users. That move had come days after Didi’s $4.4 billion initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange. Didi’s app, which has been pulled from the app stores in China, illegally collected personal data of its customers, the regulator accused.

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Nium crosses $1B valuation with $200M Riverwood Capital-led round – | #Tech

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Nium crosses $1B valuation with $200M Riverwood Capital-led round – TechCrunch

Business-to-business payments platform Nium announced Monday that it raised more than $200 million in Series D funding and saw its valuation rise above $1 billion.

The company, now Singapore-based but shifting to the Bay Area, touted the investment as making it “the first B2B payments unicorn from Southeast Asia.”

Riverwood Capital led the round, in which Temasek, Visa, Vertex Ventures, Atinum Capital, Beacon Venture Capital and Rocket Capital Investment participated, along with a group of angel investors like DoorDash’s Gokul Rajaram, FIS’ Vicky Bindra and Tribe Capital’s Arjun Sethi. Including the new funding, Nium has raised $300 million to date, Prajit Nanu, co-founder and CEO, told TC.

The B2B payments sector is already hot, yet underpenetrated, according to some experts. To give an idea just how hot, Nium was seeking $150 million for its Series D round, received commitments of $300 million from eager investors and settled on $200 million, Nanu said.

“This is our fourth or fifth fundraise, but we have never had this kind of interest before — we even had our term sheets in five days,” he added. “I believe this interest is because we’ve successfully managed to create a global platform that is heavily regulated, which gives us access to a lot of networks. This is an environment where payment is visible, and our core is powering frictionless commerce and enabling anyone to use our platform.”

Nium’s new round adds fuel to a fire shared by a number of companies all going after a global B2B payments market valued at $120 trillion annually: last week, Paystand raised $50 million in Series C funding to make B2B payments cashless, while Dwolla raised $21 million for its API that allows companies to build and facilitate fast payments. In March, Higo brought in $3.3 million to do the same in Latin America, while Balance, developing a B2B payments platform that allows merchants to offer a variety of payment methods. raised $5.5 million in February.

Nium’s approach is to provide access to a global payment infrastructure, including card issuance, accounts receivable and payable, and banking-as-a-service through a single API. The company’s network enables customers to then send funds to more than 100 countries, pay out in more than 60 currencies, accept funds in seven currencies and issue cards in more than 40 countries, Nanu said. The company also boasts money transfer, card issuances and banking licenses in 11 jurisdictions.

Francisco Alvarez-Demalde, co-founding partner and managing partner at Riverwood, said in an email that the combination of software — plus regulatory licenses — and operating a fintech infrastructure platform on behalf of neobanks and corporates is a global trend experiencing hyper-growth.

Riverwood followed Nium for many years, and its future vision was what got the firm interested in being a part of this round. Alvarez-Demalde said that “Nium has the incredible combination of a great market opportunity, a talented founder and team, and we believe the company is poised for global growth based on underlying secular technology trends like increasing real-time payment capabilities and the proliferation of cross border commerce.

“As a central payment infrastructure in one API, Nium is a catalyst that unlocks cross-border payments, local accounts and card issuance with a network of local market licenses, partners and banking relationships to facilitate moving money across the world,” he added. “Enterprises of all types are embedding financial services as part of their consumer experience, and Nium is a key global enabler of this trend.”

Nanu said the new funding enables the company to move to the United States, which represents 3% of Nium’s revenue. He wants to increase that to 20% over the next 18 months, as well as expand in Latin America. The investment also gives the company a 12- to 18-month runway for further M&A activity.  In June, Nium acquired virtual card issuance company Ixaris, and in July acquired Wirecard Forex India to expose it to India’s market. He also plans to expand the company’s payments network infrastructure, invest in product development and add to Nium’s 700-person headcount.

Nium already counts hundreds of enterprise companies as clients and plans to onboard thousands more in the next year. The company processes $8 billion in payments annually and has issued more than 30 million virtual cards since 2015. Meanwhile, revenue grew by over 280% year over year.

All of this growth puts the company on a trajectory for an initial public offering, Nanu said. He has already spoken to people who will help the company formally kick off that journey in the first quarter of 2022.

“Unlike other companies that raise money for new products, we aim to expand in the existing sets of what we do,” Nanu said. “The U.S. is a new market, but we have a good brand and will use the new round to provide a better experience to the customer.”

 

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Tesla’s quarterly profit surpasses $1 billion – | #Tech

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Tesla’s quarterly profit surpasses $1 billion – TechCrunch

Tesla reported Monday an eye-popping $1.14 billion in net income in the second quarter, results that blew past analyst expectations and marked the first time the company’s quarterly profit (on a GAAP basis) has passed the three-comma threshold. The results pushed shares up more than 2.2% in after-hours trading.

Tesla was able to beat expectations and log its eighth straight quarter of profitability even as it grappled with supply chain challenges and losses stemming from its bitcoin investment. Operating income was $1.3 billion, which increased year-over-year from $327 million, due to volume growth and cost reduction, the company said. Those positive results were partially offset by an increase in operating expenses, supply chain challenges, lower regulatory credit revenue and a the aforementioned bitccoin-related impairment of $23 million.

Supply chain challenges, notably the global shortage of semiconductor chips and congestion at ports, were two factors that affected its business in the second quarter. Tesla noted that it will continue to impact operations and its rate of delivery growth in 2021.

“With global vehicle demand at record levels, component supply will have a strong influence on the rate of our delivery growth for the rest of this year,” the company said in its shareholder deck released Monday.

Tesla reported revenue of $11.96 billion, a nearly 100% increase from the $6.04 billion it generated in the second quarter of 2020. Revenue in the second quarter was also higher than last quarter’s total of $10.39 billion. Analysts surveyed by Factset estimated $11.4 billion in revenue and $600 million in profit.

Tesla’s automotive revenue was $10.2 billion in the second quarter. Notably, only $354 million of that automotive revenue came from the sale of regulatory credits, 17% lower than last quarter and the lowest in the past four quarters. Meanwhile, Tesla’s automotive gross margins popped to 28.4%, a historic high for the metric.

Tesla’s Q2 net income of $1.14 billion compared favorably with the $104 million worth net income in the same period last year, a gain just shy of 1,000%. That record-setting number is nearly three times more its Q1 2021 net income of $438 million. Tesla’s adjusted EBITDA in the second quarter was $2.24 billion in the quarter, up from $1.21 billion in the same year-ago period, a gain of roughly 100%.

Quarter-end cash and cash equivalents decreased to $16.2 billion in the second quarter, according to Tesla, which said that decrease was driven mainly by net debt and finance lease repayments of $1.6 billion, partially offset by free cash flow of $619 million.

Earlier this month, Tesla reported its produced 206,421 vehicles in the second quarter. Of those, the company delivered 201,250 vehicles, nearly 9% more than the first quarter of 2021.

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Solarisbank raises $224M at a $1.65B valuation to acquire Contis and expand its API-based embedded banking tech in Europe – | #Tech

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Solarisbank raises $224M at a $1.65B valuation to acquire Contis and expand its API-based embedded banking tech in Europe – TechCrunch

Embedded finance — the process by which some of the more complicated, but also commoditized, aspects of financial services are built and wrapped in an API for anyone else to implement in their own products for end users — has become a huge cornerstone of how fintech is built today. Now, one of the earlier and bigger movers in the space is announcing a major round of growth funding to build out its own.

Solarisbank, a Berlin startup that provides a range of financial services by way of some 180 APIs that others use to build end user-facing products — they include basic banking and card services; lending; payments; and know your customer services — has raised €190 million ($224 million) in a Series D that values the company at €1.4 billion ($1.65 billion), and announced the acquisition of one of its competitors in the space, Contis.

Decisive Capital Management, a Swiss firm that has also backed insurtech startup Wefox, led the round with Pathway Capital Management, CNP (Groupe Frère) and Ilavska Vuillermoz Capital; and previous backers yabeo Capital, BBVA, Vulcan Capital and HV Capital, also participating.

The round is coming about a year after its last round of $67.5 million, but as a sign of the times, what is perhaps more notable is that the company’s valuation has nearly quintupled since then (it was $360 million in June 2020).

This latest round is going to be used for expansion. CEO Roland Folz said in an interview that the Contis acquisition — which underscores a wider consolidation trend in fintech — will help it better cover all of Europe, and start to make its first early moves into Asia. (No plans right now to add the U.S. to that list, he added.)

He added that the combined entity will be making revenues in the “triple-digit euros” — that is, hundreds of millions; it posted net revenues of €35 million in 2020 — and will be in a position to go public next year, if it chooses to.

In the meantime, it’s hoping to double down on the huge shift we’re seeing in the world of financial services, where consumers and businesses are opting for newer and more modern banking experiences as they migrate away from slower, less flexible and sometimes more expensive incumbents.

“Europe is an ideal space for us to work in,” said Folz. “We believe that in Europe there are roughly 800 million bank accounts and some 400 million of those will change ‘ownership’, where traditional banks will be swapped out with non-traditional banks… If we look at the 5-10 year perspective, we want to make sure a  significant proportion of those accounts will be on our platform.”

SolarisBank counts companies like Trade Republic, American Express, BP, Samsung and Vivid among its customers, powering basic banking, know-your-customer checks, lending, digital wallet and other services related to finance for companies that can in turn focus their energies on building more user-friendly customer experiences or other services altogether. It’s been growing at a rate of 40%-60% annually, Folz added, and it has some 50 “partners” (as it calls its customers) in all, covering some 2 million customer accounts.

Contis, meanwhile, is a substantial business in its own right, with some 200 customers covering more than 2 million users and €9.9 billion in transactions annually.

Solarisbank was founded five years ago, in 2016, out of the Berlin-based startup incubator and investor finleap, with Ramin Niroumand, a founder of finleap, essentially the “founder” of Solarisbank too. (Currently and more more formally, he is also chairman of its advisory board.)

Embedded finance is all the rage at the moment, and a number of startups today are providing fintech-as-a-service, or banking-as-a-service tools to third parties. Other notable names in the same segment of the market include Railsbank (which also announced funding earlier this month),  Rapyd, which also raised a big round at a $2.5 billion valuation earlier this year; Unit, another banking-as-a-service startup picking up funding and growing; FintechOS, which really does what its name says (and is also currently raising $$); and the startup 10x, which ironically is targeting incumbents.

Solarisbank believes its particular approach to this gap in the market gives it more flexibility and mileage: unlike its rivals, the bulked-up Solarisbank will have both banking licenses for Europe, and e-money licenses (in Lithuania and UK), with its tech stack living on AWS, giving it an opportunity to build more services, to scale, and to keep better margins in the process — a critical detail in what is essentially an economy of scale play.

It also believes that its own diversity in its customer base — covering not just obvious fintech companies like neobanks, but a variety of others, like Samsung, that are building financial services (in its case, a digital wallet) — gives it more staying power, to cater to whatever segment of that base is growing most at any given time. As Niroumand points out, around 70% of its revenues some from some 30% of its customers. “It’s quite a diverse clientele we are serving,” he said.

The company is currently active in Germany, France, Italy and Spain but says it can cover the whole EEA with passporting.

“With the combined entity, we are looking at numbers that no one else is even close to remotely,” added Folz.

The market opportunity, combined with Solarisbank’s approach and its current customer base, are what attracted investors.

“We are experiencing a paradigm shift in banking, where customers expect financial services to adapt to their specific needs,” says Thomas Schlytter-Henrichen, a partner at Decisive Capital Management, in a statement. “Technology is the key to enable this transformation and Solarisbank’s powerful Banking-as-a-Service platform positions it perfectly for this new banking era. We are both inspired by the team and thrilled to work together on its mission.”

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One of Nigeria’s high profile angel investors is launching a fund for African startups – | #Tech

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One of Nigeria’s high profile angel investors is launching a fund for African startups – TechCrunch

Olumide Soyombo is one of the well-known active angel investors in Nigeria tech startups and Africa at large. Since he began angel investing in 2014, Soyombo has invested in 33 startups, including Stripe-owned Paystack, PiggyVest, and TeamApt.

Today, the investor is announcing the launch of Voltron Capital, a Pan-African venture capital firm he co-founded with Abe Choi, a U.S.-based entrepreneur and investor.

Voltron will be deploying capital to roughly 30 startups, mostly in pre-seed and seed-stage across Africa, in a bid to “address the severe lack of access to early-stage funding for African tech companies.” The ticket sizes will range from $20,000 to $100,000, focusing on startups in Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, and North Africa.

Soyombo is one of the few founder-cum-investors on the continent, despite his company not being the traditional VC-backed startup the world has become accustomed to. In 2008, he started Bluechip Technologies with a friend, Kazeem Tewogbade as an enterprise company that provides data warehousing solutions and enterprise applications to banks, telcos, insurance firms. Some of its biggest clients include OEMs like Oracle.

Non-traditional startup founder to an angel investor

Six years later, the pair decided to venture into tech, a relatively nascent industry in Nigeria at the time and began investing in startups via LeadPath, an early-stage firm they launched in Lagos, Nigeria. The idea was to invest $25,000 and take the startups through a three-month accelerator program culminating in a Demo Day. The plan was to run LeadPath like Y Combinator but it didn’t take off as planned.

“In 2014, three months after we found out that there was no investor to put them in front of. So you’d have to write another check yourself,” Soyombo said humorously over the phone. “We quickly saw that the accelerator model didn’t work, so we started investing individually. It’s funny how things have changed since then.”

LeadPath became a special purpose vehicle (SPV) for the pair to carry out their angel investing deals. And over the years, Soyombo has launched several SPVs for the same purpose. So, why do things differently now by creating a fund? Soyombo walks me through one of the processes he has used to fund deals over the years to answer this question.

As an influential figure in Nigeria’s tech ecosystem, Soyombo has access to almost any important deal in the market. “I get the privilege of seeing many deals before most people see them. I’ve built that network within the startup ecosystem and reputation as an angel always ready to help. So obviously, that helped me see many deals very quickly,” he said. Often, his deal flows are filled with startups seeking six-figure pre-seed to seed investments. Say, for instance, a founder is looking to raise $300,000, Soyombo can typically invest $50,000 of his own money. And based on his perception of the startup’s growth prospects, he can choose to bring his friends and acquaintances on board to fill the round.

This informal approach is what Soyombo wants to make formal via a structured format where each individual or organisational LPs gets access to his deal flow simultaneously. The investor believes companies will get capital quicker this way. And the interesting bit is that his work in corporate Nigeria has allowed him to access non-traditional capital which means some of the investors that use Soyombo’s deal flows are outside the typical Nigerian tech investing landscape. 

He sees his job as someone bridging the gap of angel investing between his corporate friends and colleagues who have not typically invested in tech and startups that need their money. 

“There’s a bit of FOMO now,” he said. “People, including high net worth individuals, tell me to carry them along anytime I’m investing, and then I have startups looking for capital as well. But then again, I’m not trying to get a full job by managing a full fund which is why we’ve structured it this way.”

Anyone familiar with the happenings in African tech these past few months knows the two events that have caused this FOMO: Paystack’s exit to Stripe and Flutterwave’s unicorn status. Soyombo was an early investor in the former, marking his solitary primary exit alongside two secondaries within a portfolio that have cumulatively raised over $70 million. Thus, it’s not hard to see why Soyombo isn’t having a hard time convincing non-traditional investors, including HNIs (who are notoriously risk-averse when it comes to tech investing), to write checks in startups.

All of a sudden, everyone is interested in what’s happening in the space. The HNIs that would’ve thrown money into real estate are looking for startups. We even see older HNIs telling their children to invest on their behalf, so it’s an easier conversation to have. Most of them want to diversify their portfolio by having a piece of that pie,” he said, pointing to Paystack and Flutterwave successes.

Abe Choi (Co-founder, Voltron)

Voltron Capital will be managed on AngelList. Its investors cut across HNIs and executives from banks, telcos, among other sectors, each investing a minimum of $10,000. Voltron is similar to a typical seven-figure fund targeting pre-seed and seed-stage startups in Africa, yet it’s quite different in the way it chooses to back founders. The fund remains an embodiment of Soyombo’s investment stance, which is “founders-first regardless of the industry.”

“I’m going to continue backing interesting entrepreneurs. If Odunayo of PiggyVest was building a healthtech or edtech company, I’ll still back that company,” he said, referring to the $1 million investment he made three years ago in one of Nigeria’s widely celebrated fintechs. “So I think the investability of sectors, for me, is driven by quality entrepreneurs that are going to solve problems in that area.”

Early-stage investing needs more work

In 2019, African tech startups raised a record $2 billion, according to Partech Africa. They have raised half that number already this year, and some publications predict these startups will break 2019’s record.

A large chunk of these investments goes into late-stage deals, which is typical of most tech ecosystems globally. But Africa stands out because early-stage startups find it more difficult to raise investments compared to other regions. For instance, IFC reported that 82% of African tech startups cite access to seed funding and a lack of angel investors as major problems they face. Without early-stage funding, many of the startups primed to drive this growth are missing out on vital capital to support their early operations and generate revenue, which is a key requirement for securing later rounds of funding and a larger scale.

Voltron, in its little capacity, wants to fill this gap in the best way it can. Besides listing local investors as LPs, Soyombo says startups will be able to access foreign capital too. Choi is the key to making that happen. Personally, Choi has invested in 15 startups (exiting two); therefore, his experience and network in the U.S. will be crucial in sourcing foreign capital into the continent

Soyombo believes Stripe acquisition of Paystack has made foreign investors take notice of African startups. He humorously references Paul Graham’s tweet after the acquisition as another reason why foreign investors’ interests have also piqued. The tweet from the Y Combinator co-founder read: “Investors who ignore Nigeria now have to ask themselves: What do I know that Patrick Collision doesn’t?”

That said, the investor holds that the pace at which the African tech ecosystem is maturing should excite anyone. The quality of founders on the continent is improving and will continue in that manner because there are more problems to solve, he continued.

“Also, as our startups mature, we’ll see people leaving to set up theirs. We want the next wave of African tech success stories to not only make an impact on the continent but to be truly global; through Abe’s strategic connections to the USA, we’re confident we can provide our portfolio with the best possible opportunities to achieve this through our US and global network.”

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Sequoia’s Mike Vernal outlines how to design feedback loops in the search for product-market fit – | #Tech

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Sequoia’s Mike Vernal outlines how to design feedback loops in the search for product-market fit – TechCrunch

Sequoia’s Mike Vernal has worn many hats. He was VP of product and engineering at Facebook for eight years before getting into investment. His portfolio includes Houseparty, Threads, Canvas, Citizen, PicsArt and more, and he continues to invest in companies across a broad spectrum of stages and verticals, including consumer, enterprise, marketplaces, fintech and more.

Vernal joined us at TC Early Stage: Marketing and Fundraising earlier this month to discuss how founders should think about product-market fit, with a specific focus on tempo. He covered how to organize around the pace of iteration, how to design with customer feedback loops in mind and how Sequoia evaluates companies with regard to tempo.

Be explicit and be greedy at every single step along the way about getting feedback.

What is tempo?

Vernal breaks down tempo into two separate ingredients: speed and consistency.

It’s not just about going fast (which can often lead to some recklessness). It’s about setting a pace and staying consistent with that pace.

One of the very best compliments an angel can bestow on a founding team and include in an introduction to us is, “They’re just really fast,” or “She’s a machine.” What does that mean? It doesn’t mean fast in the kind of uncontrolled, reckless, crashing sense. It means fast in a sort of consistent, maniacal, get-a-little-bit-better-each-day kind of way. And it’s actually one of the top things that we look for, at least when evaluating a team: how consistently fast they move. (Timestamp: 2:26)

Vernal went on to say that tempo is directly correlated to goals and objectives and key results (OKRs). Building a feedback loop into those OKRs and determining the tempo with which to attack them is critical, especially during the process of finding product-market fit.

Finding product-market fit is not a deterministic process. Most of the time, it requires iteration. It requires constant adaptation. My mental model is that it’s actually just a turn-based game with an unknown number of steps, and sometimes either the clock or the money or both run out before you get to finish the game. It’s kind of like a game of chess. So what is your optimal strategy? (Timestamp: 4:25)

Feedback is your friend

As Vernal explained, finding product-market fit is all about feedback, and that must be an ongoing, built-in part of the process. He outlined how founders can go about designing with that in mind.

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