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Daily Crunch: Take-Two Interactive will buy FarmVille creator Zynga for $12.7B

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Hello and welcome to Daily Crunch for January 10, 2022! For those of you sad that it’s winter, or bummed that bitcoin took hits today, take heart. We have lots of neat news for you today, including the evolution of lab-grown meat, a mega-acquisition in the gaming space, and even some good news for startups hoping to land an accelerator spot! Don’t frown; it’s going to be OK! – Alex

The TechCrunch Top 3

  • Y Combinator boosts investment terms: Gone are the days when seed-stage startups raise $37 and fuel themselves with ramen. With Big Tech salaries scaling into the stratosphere, the startup game is a different sort of wager than it once was, given that there are more pathways to tech wealth than there were in decades past. Y Combinator is following the times, boosting its traditional check to startups in its accelerator by tacking on $375,000 in the form of a SAFE. Other accelerators, it’s your move.
  • Take-Two buys Zynga: Perhaps the biggest piece of business news in the tech world today not involving startups was the 11-figure deal that will see gaming company Take-Two buy Zynga. The latter company saw its share price skyrocket on the news, which will see it absorbed for a blend of stock and cash. Take-Two’s stock, in contrast, fell around 13% on the announcement.
  • Career Karma lands $40M: You might know Career Karma as a startup that helped folks find the right coding school for themselves. But the startup, now flush with a huge Series B, wants to become the “world’s largest staffing firm,” its CEO told TechCrunch. Our own Natasha Mascarenhas has the story.

Startups/VC

Before we jump into another crop of startup funding rounds, I want to note a little bit of dissonance in the market. In short, we’re seeing the public markets sell off tech shares, leading to falling multiples and a perhaps less attractive exit environment. On the other hand, the private market appears content to push startup prices higher and higher. Forcing the private and public markets to line up in time could be a painful exercise for startups that miss their growth targets.

  • Who watches the watchers? Our own Haje Jan Kamps wrote up a fascinating look at the world of corporate spyware. Your employer is probably watching what you are doing, and Haje has tips. Heck, Yahoo is probably watching me type this up. Hello, corporate overlords!
  • Gameto is taking on menopause: Far from the world of enterprise SaaS, there is a universe of startups working on health. But not all of them are working on nootropics or the like. Gameto wants to “solve the problem of ‘accelerated’ ovarian aging to change the trajectory of women’s health and equality,” Connie Loizos reports. The startup is still pretty young, but it’s taking on a market that is, well, half the human population. One to keep an eye on.
  • Parrot wants to help Mexico’s restaurants thrive in the delivery era: The move to a more delivery-and-pickup world has forced restaurants around the world to adapt. But not every market has the same tooling options or local demands. Parrot just raised $9.5 million for its work to help restaurateurs in Mexico use its point-of-sale software to “digitize and take advantage of the home delivery boom to accelerate growth,” we write.
  • Arive raises $20M to instantly deliver electronics: Imagine the so-called instant grocery delivery market, but swap out the foodstuffs for larger, more expensive goods like headphones and beauty products. That’s what Arive wants to build, and it just raised $20 million for its work.
  • ThankUCash raises $5.3M to bring loyalty programs to Africa: The African startup market continues its impressive run of funding events this week, with ThankUCash – a great startup name – raising new capital to help stores on the continent offer loyalty programs and payment services. For the many offline stores in Africa, the startup could prove to be a boon.
  • Ankorstore raises epic $283M Series C: French startup Ankorstore is a unicorn in the wake of its recent huge fundraise. The startup “operates a wholesale marketplace for independent retailers across Europe,” we noted today, which is proving to be a rapidly scalable enterprise.

Is cell-cultured meat ready for prime time?

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch /

If you’ve ever seen a lagoon filled with hog waste or driven on I-5 past the cattle feedlots in Coalinga, California, it’s easy to see why there’s so much interest in lab-grown meat.

Conventional factory farming practices cause widespread environmental damage, but industry and consumers have learned to live with in exchange for affordability and convenience. With consumption and population growth steadily increasing, one might even say meat is eating the world.

In a deeply researched report for TechCrunch+, reporter Christine Hall examines the state of the cell-cultured meat industry and identifies many of the startups innovating in the sector, along with related challenges regarding production, cost and consumer interest.

(TechCrunch+ is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Big Tech Inc.

TechCrunch Experts

Image Credits: SEAN GLADWELL / Getty Images

Are you all caught up on last week’s coverage of growth marketing and software development? If not, read it here.

TechCrunch wants you to recommend growth marketers who have expertise in SEO, social, content writing and more! If you’re a growth marketer, pass this survey along to your clients; we’d like to hear about why they loved working with you.

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Boston Dynamics’ warehouse robot gets a $15M gig working for DHL

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Back in March of last year, Boston Dynamics unveiled its second commercial robot, Stretch. The system, built from its impressive box-moving Handle concept, is designed to bring the company’s advanced robotics technologies into a warehouse/logistics setting – easily one of the hottest categories in robotics, these days.

Today the Hyundai-owned firm announced its first commercial customer – and it’s a big one. Logistics giant DHL has committed to a multi-year, $15 million deal (or “investment” as the parties are referring to it) set to bring the robot to its North American facilities. Specific details on the number of robots being purchased haven’t been revealed, but Boston Dynamics says it’s going to be bringing a “fleet” of the robots to DHL logistics centers over the next three years.

Stretch will get to work unloading trucks to start – a feature its creators have highlighted as a key part of its initial rollout. Additional tasks will be added, over the course of the roll out, in an effort to further automate the package handling process.

Says CEO Robert Playter, “Stretch is Boston Dynamics’ newest robot, designed specifically to remedy challenges within the warehouse space. We are thrilled to be working with DHL Supply Chain to deliver a fleet of robots that will further automate warehousing and improve safety for its associates. We believe Stretch can make a measurable impact on DHL’s business operations, and we’re excited to see the robot in action at scale.”

The partnership will be a key proving ground for Boston Dynamics’ commercial ambitions beyond its on-going Spot deployment. Package handling is an intensive, highly repetitive job that requires long hours, strain and multiple points of failure. This will be a major test for the company under Hyundai, which has sought to further its commercial ambitions.

For DHL, meanwhile, it’s an opportunity to automate some logistics roles during a time when blue collar jobs have proven difficult to keep staffed. It’s also a chance to more fully embrace automation as it competes with the likes of Amazon, which has begun steadily encroaching on the package delivery space.

Source: Tech

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Polly snags $37M in Menlo-led Series B to automate workflows for mortgage lenders

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Polly, a SaaS technology startup aiming to “transform” the mortgage capital markets, announced today that it has raised $37 million in a Series B funding round led by Menlo Ventures.

New backers Movement Mortgage, First American Financial and FinVC joined existing investors 8VC, Khosla Ventures and Fifth Wall in participating in the round. The latest financing brings the San Francisco-based startup’s total funding raised to $50 million.

Adam Carmel, founder and CEO of Polly, says the company has increased its customer count by nearly 3x over the past year, including “several of the country’s top 100 lenders.”

He founded the company in 2019 under the premise that while many industries have undergone digital transformation initiatives, the mortgage industry is still largely reliant on “the same expensive and cumbersome processes and tasks that have been in use for decades,” Carmel said. 

Polly’s mission is to fundamentally change the way lenders and loan buyers operate by giving them the ability to make data-driven decisions. The company’s software is “uniquely configured to automate customer workflows and improve execution — from rate lock to loan sale and delivery,” Carmel said.

Carmel previously founded Ethos Lending (which sold to Fenway Summers in 2014) and it was that experience that helped him conclude there were serious gaps in the market for automating workflows for lenders.

The need certainly seems to be there. For example, one company in the space is Optimal Blue, which was purchased by Black Knight for $1.8 billion in 2020. 

Carmel believes Polly stands out from others in the industry in that it is helping create a fourth category in the mortgage sector — capital markets.

“I viewed it as a sizable opportunity to build a vertically integrated software platform that would automate workflows for a mortgage company,” Carmel told TechCrunch. “My view is that over time consumers are going to expect not only a digital experience but also a mortgage product, loan and associated pricing that are customized and tailored for specific purposes.”

To that end, he added, Polly is laser focused on doing just that so that its customers “can configure individual loans as dynamically as they would like.”

“The goal is that ultimately, they are able to deliver a lower mortgage price to their consumers or to their customers while increasing their own profitability,” Carmel said. “We want to help these lenders move away from spreadsheets and telephony and email as a transaction medium, and instead do everything in the cloud. Over time, we want to be able to transition into a system of record for the customers themselves.”

Polly, he said, is able to help configure loans on a multi-dimensional basis.

The startup has increased its customer count by nearly “3x” over the past year and signed several of the country’s top 100 lenders. While it invested mostly on its product in 2021, it plans to put some of its new capital toward its go to market strategy while continuing to be “heads down focused on product.” That includes expanding its product and engineering teams and investing in AI and machine learning capabilities. 

“The next year or two is going to be a really exciting time for us,” Carmel said. “We see this as a compelling window and opportunity to really help transform the market.”

Menlo Ventures partner Tyler Sosin, who is joining Polly’s board of directors as part of the financing, believes the startup is “taking on a sector held back by sclerotic incumbents with dated, disconnected and dragging solutions” and “driving transformation and winning customers at an impressive rate.”

He said Menlo was interested in leading the company’s Series A round but “was a little bit too slow.” Impressed with Polly’s traction even at that point, the firm still participated in that financing with a smaller check and stayed close to the company.

We’ve gotten to know Adam and seen how the customers and the product and the team had evolved, so we leaned into the lead this round,” Sosin told TechCrunch.

Source: Tech

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Tinder updates its approach to handling reports of serious abuse and harassment

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As a result of its ongoing partnership with nonprofit and anti-sexual assault organization RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), Tinder today announced a handful of product improvements as well as training for internal teams at the dating app maker designed to better support survivors of abuse and harassment. Soon, Tinder also says its members will have access to background checks on their matches through Garbo, a nonprofit the dating app maker invested in last spring.

One key aspect of the partnership with RAINN involved training Tinder’s customer care team. Through the training, staff learned how survivors may report abuse and harassment, and how to spot reports of serious abuse — even if the reports use vague language to describe the events. The training, which is now also a mandatory part of Tinder’s onboarding and training curriculum, additionally provides instructions on how team members should respond to these types of reports when they occur.

Meanwhile, in the Tinder app, survivors will gain access to a more direct way to report someone they’ve unmatched with, even if they’ve waited some time before making their report. And they can now opt whether or not they want to receive follow-up information about actions taken, as some prefer to receive updates and others do not.

The app will also provide alternative support options, as not everyone will feel comfortable making a direct report. Through the Tinder Safety Center, a dedicated Crisis Text Line will be provided as well as the upcoming feature offering access to background checks on matches from Garbo. Tinder invested a seven-figure sum into New York-based Garbo in March 2021, which offers an alternative to traditional background checks that surface a wide variety of personal information — like drug offenses or minor traffic violations. Garbo instead focuses on whether or not someone’s background indicates a history of violence. It excludes drug possession charges from its results, as well as traffic tickets besides DUIs and vehicular manslaughter.

The Tinder Safety Center is now also accessible from anywhere in the app, reducing the number of taps it takes for a user to locate the resource.

“Our members are trusting us with an incredibly sensitive and vulnerable part of their lives, and we believe we have a responsibility to support them through every part of this journey, including when they have bad experiences on and off the app,” said Tracey Breeden, VP of Safety and Social Advocacy for Tinder and Match Group, in a statement about the changes. “Working with RAINN has allowed us to take a trauma-informed approach to member support for those impacted by harassment and assault,” she added.

Breeden, who held a similar position at Uber, joined Tinder in September 2020 as Match Group’s first-ever head of safety and social advocacy, tasked with overseeing the company’s safety policies across its apps, including Tinder, Hinge, Match, OkCupid, and Plenty of Fish.

Tinder and other dating apps have put a higher focus on member safety features after a 2019 report revealed how dating apps run by Tinder parent Match Group allowed known sexual predators to use its apps, due to the lack of background check features. Other reports have highlighted the very real safety concerns that accompany the dating app market, particularly those impacting young women — a key dating app demographic.

In early 2020, Tinder invested in Noonlight to help it power new safety features inside Tinder and other Match-owned dating apps, ahead of its investment in Garbo.

But Tinder’s changes aren’t only about protecting dating app users — they’re about protecting Tinder’s business, as well.

Tinder’s top U.S. competitor, Bumble has marketed itself as being more women-friendly, launching a number of features designed to keep users safe from bad actors, like one that prevents abusers from using the “unmatch” option to hide from victims, for example. Tinder has followed suit, launching new safety features of its own.

The company has also felt the pressure to get ahead of coming regulations impacting tech companies, like those operating social media apps and dating services. Tinder, which dominates the dating app market, today plays in social networking as well, with additions like quick chat features, an interactive video series, and other additions to its new Explore hub in the app.

“By adopting more trauma-informed support practices, Tinder will be better positioned to support members who may have experienced harm and take faster, more transparent action on bad actors,” noted Clara Kim, Vice President of Consulting Services at RAINN, in a statement.

Source: Tech

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