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This Week in Apps: Twitter launches livestream shopping, Netflix snags new games, Tile gets acquired

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This Week in Apps: Twitter launches livestream shopping, Netflix snags new games, Tile gets acquired

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

The app industry 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 in Apps offers a way to keep up with this fast-moving industry in one place with the latest from the world of apps, including news, updates, startup fundings, mergers and acquisitions, and suggestions about new apps and games to try, too.

Do you want This Week in Apps in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here: techcrunch.com/newsletters

Top Stories

Twitter launches livestream shopping

Image Credits: Twitter

Twitter’s e-commerce initiatives now include livestream shopping, the company announced this week, and Walmart will be the first retailer to test the new platform. The Live Shopping service will take advantage of Twitter’s existing capabilities in livestreaming content and its newer e-commerce features, like the Shop Module for business profiles. During the upcoming livestream event, users will be able to watch the show, tweet to join the conversation from the Live Events page, and browse products on the “Shop” and “Latest” tabs just below the video. When ready to purchase, users will click through to the retailer’s website where the livestream will continue — so they don’t have to miss any of the show.

Walmart was a sensible first partner for the new effort, as the retailer has been increasingly investing in livestream events across social media. Over the past year, it hosted more than 15 livestream events across five platforms, including YouTube, TikTok and its own website, among others.

Its Twitter livestream will focus on Cyber Deals and will kick off on November 28 at 7 PM ET in the U.S. The stream will also be broadcast on Walmart.com/live, and across the retailer’s Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and YouTube accounts.

Twitter says this is the first-ever e-commerce livestream on its platform, but it plans to bring more experiences like this to its customers in the future.

The event will also serve as a means of testing the Twitter user base’s appetite for live shopping, which today often takes place on other social apps, like Instagram and Facebook, on dedicated live commerce platforms and on video services like YouTube and TikTok. But Twitter —  a place where users tend to track news, events, pop culture trends, politics and more — hasn’t yet defined itself as a platform. Its overabundance of new features released in the past year feel more like spaghetti being thrown at the wall to see what sticks, instead of a carefully planned roadmap. Twitter today wants to be a home to live audio, creator subscriptions, newsletters, bitcoin tipping, NFTs, private communities and more. But, in reality, only some of these things will actually work. For example, Twitter already had to kill its Stories feature (Fleets) due to lack of traction. And its early days of Super Follow, subscriptions didn’t produce much revenue.

Whether or not it will be able to offer the sort of live commerce experience that resonates with consumers and delivers retailers’ objectives still remains to be seen.

Weekly News

Platforms: Google

  • Google’s Play Store is testing out a new “Offers” section that’s different from the existing “Offers & Notifications” page in the app menu. Instead, it’s being used to bring up carousels of deals, limited-time specials and paid apps going free, while the “Offers & Notifications” section had only delivered a heavily curated list of offers, or, if none were available, the option to add a promo code.
  • Android 10 is still the most-used version of the Android OS, according to numbers crunched by 9to5Google using data provided through Android Studio. The Android 10 OS has a 26.5% market share, edging out Android 11’s 24.2%. Android 12 hasn’t yet made an appearance in the numbers.

E-commerce and delivery services

  • Uber enters the cannabis delivery market. The ride-hailing app announced that users in Ontario, Canada would be able to place cannabis orders on its Uber Eats app following its listing of cannabis retailer Tokyo Smoke on its marketplace. The company had said it would consider expanding cannabis delivery in the U.S. when the legality of doing so is made more clear.
  • Mobile advertising and app monetization company Tapjoy announced the launch of a rewarded shopping product, Tapjoy Shopping. The in-app marketplace lets consumers shop from hundreds of brands and retailers, and earn rewards in their favorite apps — like virtual currency — for their purchases. The feature is available in any of the over 10,000 apps that belong to Tapjoy’s network. Tapjoy says shopping offers like this have been increasingly important to mobile publishers after Cost Per Engagement app ads were banned on iOS.
  • France has asked search engines and app stores to remove the popular e-commerce platform Wish, which mostly sources products from China-based merchants. The order comes following France’s investigations into fraud, product safety and counterfeit goods on Wish, which found that 95% of toys on Wish didn’t comply with EU regulation, 45% were dangerous, 95% of electronics didn’t comply with regulation and 90% were dangerous.

Augmented Reality

Image Credits: Snap

  • Snapchat is bringing AR to holiday shopping. On Black Friday (11/26), the company will launch the Snap Holiday Market, which will feature immersive AR experiences from a half-dozen brand partners, including Amazon Prime Video, Coca-Cola, Hollister, Under Armour, Verizon and Walmart. Each brand will have a dedicated storefront where Snapchat users can browse their products and deal in an AR space designed for each brand. The market will be available from the Lens Carousel and the top of the “For You” tab in the Lens Explorer.
  • Snap also plans to offer AR try-on and e-commerce Lenses throughout the holiday shopping season, including those from brands like American Eagle, Fendi, Diork Kaja Beauty, NYX Cosmetics, Shein and Tory Burch.
  • The company announced a new AR stat, as well: Snapchat now sees over 6 billion AR Lens plays every day on average, it said.

Fintech

  • The German neobank N26 will shutter its U.S. operations. The company’s 500,000 U.S. customers will see their accounts closed on January 11 and will be provided with instructions on how to withdraw their funds. The company said it made the decision to better focus on its core European business and plans to launch to more countries in Eastern Europe, as well as Brazil. The bank had previously shut down its business in the U.K., citing post-Brexit difficulties.

Social

  • TikTok hires a new head of diversity and inclusion. The company has hired Shavone Charles, previously of VSCO, Instagram and Twitter, to fill the newly created role. The exec will be LA-based and report to TikTok’s head of comms, Hilary McQuaide.
  • Kuaishou, the Chinese maker of the largest short-form video platform after TikTok, reported earnings. Revenue rose 33% as the company reported 20.5 billion yuan ($3.2 billion) for the three months ended September, versus the 20.1 billion yuan average forecast. Total MAUs on its main app reached 573 million, though the company had to shut down its U.S. TikTok rival Zynn earlier this year.
  • Twitter made a change to its crowdsourced fact-checking program, Birdwatch, which now allows users to submit their contributions anonymously. Twitter says pilot users “overwhelmingly” requested this feature, particularly women and Black contributors. “Research has shown that aliases have the potential to reduce bias, by putting focus on the content of a note, not the author,” Twitter said, adding that aliases may also “reduce polarization by helping people feel comfortable crossing partisan lines.”
  • Twitter also updated its iOS app to address the annoying bug (which Twitter must have thought was a feature) where your timeline would refresh automatically, making the tweets you were actively reading disappear from view. After first fixing this issue on the web, Twitter is now rolling it out to iOS users.
  • Reddit said it’s shutting down Dubsmash, the short-form video app it acquired late last year, and is integrating video tools into its own app.  Reddit said its camera features will now include the ability to change recording speeds and the option to set a timer, similar to other short-form video apps. Users can now also upload videos in landscape, portrait mode and fill, as well as adjust and trim multiple clips. The company is also adding a new editing screen that includes text Stickers, a drawing tool and filters. And users have the option to add voiceovers or adjust the volume directly on the editing screen.
  • Social networking app for women Peanut announced a new feature called “Go Global,” which will allow its users to connect with other women around the world, instead of only those nearby. The company said there was demand for the option after it launched its live audio feature Pods. But it could also make Peanut more useful in markets where there just aren’t that many local users to connect with.

Image Credits: Peanut

  • The TikTok app ecosystem is huge. Correction! In our last newsletter, we pointed to Sensor Tower’s analysis of the TikTok app ecosystem and mistakenly referred to its “400 or so mobile apps.” The ecosystem saw 400 apps debut in 2020, but in total, there are some 900 apps tied to TikTok to offer things like downloading videos, viewing analytics, tracking hashtags and more. Meanwhile, those 900 apps reached over 1 billion downloads worldwide, not 3 billion. (But TikTok, including its sister app Douyin, have 3.3 billion installs, for comparison.)

Messaging

  • Facebook, err Meta, said it’s delaying the launch of end-to-end encryption (E2EE) across its messaging products until 2023 following warnings from child safety campaigns, including the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Such a system would prevent law enforcement and tech platforms from being able to detect child abusers, critics warned, and asked Meta to not proceed until it had a plan in place to prevent child abuse from being undetected on its platform. A former Facebook employee also accused Meta of announcing an absurdly accelerated timeline for E2EE to preempt antitrust action and for “good marketing,” which would have resulted in systems to identify child grooming, sextortion and CSAM distribution operating at less than 10% of the effectiveness of the systems that did inspect content.
  • WhatsApp introduced a new feature that would allow its web and desktop users to make their own custom stickers for use in the messaging app. The sticker maker is available from any chat from the paperclip icon, then clicking on “Sticker.”

Streaming & Entertainment

  • Apple Podcasts gets a suspicious boost in its App Store ratings. At first, it looked like angry podcast listeners and creators would finally have their say about the app’s decline by downrating Apple’s Podcasts app after Apple, for the first time, made its first-party apps reviewable by the public. But soon thereafter, the previously (embarrassingly) 1.8 star-rated app jumped, in a little over a month, to a 4.6 star rating. What gives? Apple critic Kosta Eleftheriou first noticed the change, and theorizes it’s because Apple is now intelligently prompting users for reviews — which, to be fair, is its right. But many of the reviews seem to be people reviewing the podcasts themselves, not the actual app, which is odd and…a bit suspicious.
  • Spotify will drop its shuffle feature on albums, after Adele asked. The streamer would previously default to shuffle mode but Adele had asked Spotify to allow her new album to play in the intended order. The artist tweeted that “our art tells a story and our stories should be listened to as we intended,” when thanking Spotify for the adjustment.
  • Music streaming app Tidal introduced direct artist payments, which aims to more equitably distribute funds to artists, compared with the models used by Apple and Spotify. With this user-centric payment system, subscription fees are directly distributed to the artists a user streams.
  • TikTok expands its TV footprint. The short-form video app rolled out to more TV devices across the U.S. and Canada with the addition of support for Google TV and Android TV OS, as well as LG and Samsung Smart TVs. Amazon Fire TV was previously supported.
  • Spotify tests a TikTok-like feed. The company is the latest to experiment with short-form video in its app as a means of content discovery. Except in Spotify’s case, it’s capitalizing on its existing Canvas video format but presenting it in a new place.
  • Spotify also debuted a “Netflix Hub” on its app, which features playlists, soundtracks and podcasts tied to Netlflix shows and movies. The companies had partnered on other initiatives before now, and see the hub as a way to serve their respective audiences with new and, sometimes exclusive, entertainment content.

Image Credits: Spotify/Netflix

Gaming

  • Netflix’s new gaming service added two more titles, including the return of Gameloft’s “Asphalt Xtreme.” The streamer recently expanded its service worldwide across iOS and Android, with a handful of titles, including a few casual games and two “Stranger Things”-themed games. Now, it’s added another arcade title, “Bowling Ballers,” and a reboot of Gameloft’s action racing game, “Asphalt Xtreme,” which had officially shut down just in September.

Travel and Transportation 

  • Telsa’s app experienced an outage that prevented car owners from opening their doors or starting their vehicles. Users reported getting a 500 server error on their iOS app, leading them to tweet at Elon Musk directly for help.

Government & Policy

  • The EU passed new rules that may impact major European and U.S. tech companies. The Digital Markets Act’ would make messaging apps interoperable, bans behavioral ad targeting to minors and would fine a company as much as 20% of total global annual sales for breaches of the law. The vote was the final step toward finalizing the rules, expected to come into action in 2022.
  • WhatsApp is reorganizing its privacy policy to provide more information on the data it collects and how it’s protected, used and shared across borders, after Irish regulators fined the service a record €225 million ($267 million USD) for breaching EU data privacy rules.
  • Instagram head Adam Mosseri is the next big tech rep who will testify before Congress. The exec will appear before lawmakers for the first time, and will answer the senators’ questions about Instagram’s impact on young people following the whistleblower leaks.
  • China’s state media reported Tencent has to submit new apps or updates for regulatory inspection through December 31 after Beijing determine Tencent’s apps infringed on users’ rights and interests. Tencent said its apps are still functional and available for download.
  • Apple pushed back the feature that would allow U.S. users to store their state’s driver’s license or state ID on their iPhone. The company said Arizona and Georgia would be the first states to get the feature, with Connecticut, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Oklahoma and Utah to follow. The feature was originally set to launch in late 2021, but will now arrive in early 2022.

Security & Privacy

  • Privacy-focused search engine DuckDuckGo added to its Android app the ability to block hidden trackers, as part of its new “App Tracking Protection for Android” feature. The new option, now in beta, aims to block data collection from happening inside apps, where third-party trackers are hidden away in the app’s code.
  • Apple sued NSO Group, the maker of the nation-state spyware Pegasus. The suit is asking for a permanent injunction that would prevent NSO Group from using any Apple product or service, to “prevent further abuse and harm to its users.”

Funding and M&A

 Family locator and communication app Life360 announced it would acquire lost-item tracking company Tile for $205 million. The deal will see Tile continue to be led as its own brand under its existing CEO CJ Prober. The company says no further changes to the Tile team are currently planned and Prober will also now join the Life360 board of directors. Tile, an Apple critic, claims that its business suffered from the AirTag’s arrival and Apple’s anti-competitive practices. It had recently announced a $40 million debt round to keep the business going.

Niantic raised $300 million from Coatue at a $9 billion valuation to build the “real-world metaverse.” The Pokémon GO maker is betting on a metaverse that blends the real world with augmented reality, not virtual reality. This month, Niantic unveiled the Lightship AR Developer Kit which offers tools for AR game development. It also recently launched a new AR game, Pikmin Bloom.

Triller, the one-time TikTok rival turned live events company, has acquired Thuzio, a live events company co-founded by NY Giants’ Tiki Barber. The business had suffered during the pandemic when live events were shuttered. TrillerNet (Triller’s parent) confirmed the deal to the New York Post but didn’t disclose terms.

Creator-driven marketplace LTK raised $300 million from SoftBank’s Vision Fund, valuing the business at $2 billion. The company, which was previously branded RewardStyle and LIKEtoKNOW.it, helps social media influencers make their posts shoppable from a centralized marketplace on the web and the LTK app. Brands can also use LTK to connect with creators on marketing campaigns.

Mobile DevOps company Bitrise announced a $60 million round of funding led by Insight Partners to help developers build better mobile apps. Bitrise aims to create an end-to-end platform for mobile development that automates core workflows, shortens release cycles and provides a better understanding of how new pieces of code will affect live apps before their release, and counts over 100,000 developers as users.

Column Tax, a company that makes income tax software designed to be embedded in other fintech apps, raised $5.1 million in seed funding led by Bain Capital Ventures. The company’s Tax Refund Unlock feature also recently became available to 2 million users of the cash advance app Klover.

Berlin-based same-day grocery delivery app Yababa raised $15.5 million in seed funding led by Creandum and Project A, to expand its service within Germany and across Europe. The service, which currently offers items that cater to Turkish and Arabic communities, plans to expand its product mix in the future.

Coinbase acqui-hired the team behind BRD, a crypto wallet startup that first launched its mobile wallet back in 2014. BRD’s co-founders say nothing will be changing for BRD users for the time being, but users will have the option to migrate to Coinbase’s wallet in 2022.

TabTrader raised $5.8 million in Series A funding for its mobile app that aggregates crypto exchange data. The app has more than 400,000 active users, with a particularly strong presence in Europe and Asia. Investors include 100X Ventures, Hashkey Capital, Spartan Capital, SGH Capital, SOSV and Artesian Venture Partners.

Downloads

Fold AR (Fold)

Image Credits: Fold

Of course, the metaverse has bitcoin? I mean, for sheer rubbernecking purposes we have to check out Niantic’s latest app. The Pokémon GO maker has weirdly teamed up with a bitcoin rewards and payments app, Fold, to launch an AR bitcoin mining experience called Fold AR. Currently in beta, Fold AR lets users earn bitcoin and other in-app benefits by exploring their physical surroundings using augmented reality. Unlike in Pokémon GO, where users seek out rare creatures, Fold users will collect bitcoin and other prizes, including those that increase their bitcoin cashback rewards. The company believes the game will appeal to bitcoin newcomers and existing cryptocurrency fans alike and will drive users to Fold’s app — where the in-app AR experience lives. Before the AR launch, Fold was focused on its bitcoin cashback experience where users connect their credit card, their Fold card or a bitcoin wallet, in order to purchase gift cards and receive cash back in the form of BTC. Fold AR rolls out on November 23 to select users and will add more users over time.

Source: Tech

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Tech

This Week in Apps: Commission battles, Twitter NFTs and Epic’s appeal begins

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

The app industry continues to grow, with a record number of downloads and consumer spending across both the iOS and Google Play stores combined in 2021, according to the latest year-end reports. App Annie says global spending across iOS, Google Play and third-party Android app stores in China grew 19% in 2021 to reach $170 billion. Downloads of apps also grew by 5%, reaching 230 billion in 2021, and mobile ad spend grew 23% year-over-year to reach $295 billion.

In addition, consumers are spending more time in apps than ever before — even topping the time they spend watching TV, in some cases. The average American watches 3.1 hours of TV per day, for example, but in 2021, they spent 4.1 hours on their mobile device. And they’re not even the world’s heaviest mobile users. In markets like Brazil, Indonesia and South Korea, users surpassed five hours per day in mobile apps in 2021.

Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours, either. They can grow to become huge businesses. In 2021, 233 apps and games generated over $100 million in consumer spend, and 13 topped $1 billion in revenue, App Annie noted. This was up 20% from 2020, when 193 apps and games topped $100 million in annual consumer spend, and just eight apps topped $1 billion.

This Week in Apps offers a way to keep up with this fast-moving industry in one place with the latest from the world of apps, including news, updates, startup fundings, mergers and acquisitions, and suggestions about new apps and games to try, too.

Do you want This Week in Apps in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here: techcrunch.com/newsletters

Top Stories

Epic Games kicks off its appeal

Both Epic Games and Apple appealed the original ruling of the lawsuit where Epic had sought to prove Apple was behaving in an anti-competitive manner by not allowing alternative payments or other means of distributing apps outside the App Store. Although Apple largely won that case, as the judge ruled it was not a monopolist, it was instructed to stop preventing app developers from adding links to third-party purchasing mechanisms — a decision it didn’t agree with, prompting its appeal. Apple was also given permission to hold off on the App Store changes until the appeal’s ruling, in another blow to Epic. Meanwhile, Epic appealed the case since it wanted another shot at making its arguments before the court.

This week, Epic Games filed its opening brief appealing the District Court’s decision in the Epic v. Apple case. In it, the company attempts to lay out why it thinks the District Court erred in its original decision, noting again how Apple reduces innovation, prevents alternative app stores from competing with its own, extracts “supracompetitive” commissions while making minimal investments in the App Store, and more. It also wants the appeals court to reconsider the market definitions for deciding the case. The lower court determined the case was about the “digital mobile game transactions” market, but Epic’s brief points out that Apple’s restrictions apply to both game and non-game developers alike. And it argues the court based its market definition on a misreading of Amex, by treating two separate transactions — consumers’ app downloads on the App Store and the in-app purchase itself — as a single transaction.

Epic’s Opening Brief by TechCrunch on Scribd

OK, we’ll just call it a “platform fee” then  

When the Netherlands’ regulator ordered Apple to allow dating apps on the App Store to be able to process third-party payments, it looked like it might be a small win for a more open ecosystem that would allow alternatives to Apple’s own payment systems and its commissions. But anyone celebrating this did so too soon. Apple has now clarified that while it will adhere to the letter of the law, by offering entitlements to the dating apps looking to process payments on their own, it won’t adhere to the spirit. Not only will the developers have to publish a separate binary for their app they want it distributed to the Netherlands App Store, they’ll still have to pay Apple a commission on those third-party payments. And yet developers won’t be able to take advantage of any platform advantages, like getting Apple to assist with refunds, payment history, subscription management or other issues related to the purchases — as those will now take place outside its App Store. So what’s the platform fee for? I guess access to users?

Wrote Apple on its developer documentation page: “Consistent with the ACM’s order, dating apps that are granted an entitlement to link out or use a third-party in-app payment provider will pay Apple a commission on transactions.” But Apple didn’t say how much that commission will be. Likely, Apple will take the course that Google did in South Korea, where it dropped the commission rate for external payments by a mere 4%.

Twitter gets into NFTs

Image Credits: Twitter

It’s official, Twitter has embraced NFTs. Users on Twitter’s iOS app who also subscribe to Twitter Blue will be the first to take advantage of a new feature that lets them authenticate with their crypto wallet to use an NFT as their profile pic on the service. The new NFT hexagon-shaped pics will help to differentiate the crypto-enthusiasts from the rest of Twitter.

To use the feature as a Twitter Blue subscriber, you’ll go to your profile to change your profile photo as you would normally. Here, you’ll be presented with the new option to choose an NFT instead. You then connect with your crypto wallet.

At launch, Coinbase Wallet, Rainbow, MetaMask, Ledger Live, Argent and Trust Wallet are supported. After authenticating, you’ll select the NFT you want to showcase. Twitter says that, currently, JPEG and PNG NFTs minted on the Ethereum (ERC-721 or ERC-1155 tokens) can be used as NFT Profile Pictures. In a later update, Twitter said it was looking into adding support for SVGs, but can’t render them right now.

It’s worth noting the Twitter Blue subscription service is not yet globally available, which will limit the adoption of NFT Profile Pictures to the early markets where the offering is now live — the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Not everyone is happy with the update, which is receiving mixed reactions. Some people are trolling the hexa-profiles, others are blocking people and some artists claim the feature has encouraged more people to steal their art and mint it as an NFT (which to be fair, could have happened before).

Weekly News

Platforms: Apple

  • Apple developers can now create custom codes for subscriptions in App Store Connect, each with a unique name you choose (like SPRINGPROMO, for example). The codes can be redeemed through a direct URL or with the app.
  • Apple released iOS 15.3 RC to developers and beta testers on Thursday, which includes a fix for a Safari bug that could have led to the leaking of users’ browsing history and Google ID. It has also now stopped signing iOS 15.2, preventing further downgrades. And it’s begun pushing iOS 14 users to upgrade to iOS 15.
  • Apple announced it’s expanding its App Store Foundation program to 29 countries in Europe. Already available in select European markets including Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Sweden, the program offers developers support on app development, marketing and monetization with help from Apple employees.
  • Apple says it’s updating the App Store submission experience starting January 25, 2022. The new App Store Connect experience will allow developers to submit multiple items, submit without needing a new app version, view past submissions and more.

Platforms: Google

Image Credits: Google

  • Google Play Games for PC enters beta testing. The downloadable app, which brings Android games to Windows PC users, is launching to beta testers in Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan. Among the more than 25 titles available at launch are “Mobile Legends: Bang Bang,” “Summoners War,” “State of Survival: The Joker Collaboration” and “Three Kingdoms Tactic.”

E-commerce/Food delivery

  • TikTok kids are boosting toy retailer Learning Express’ sales. The company’s online sales increased 25% in 2021, compared with massive 233% growth in 2020, amid the pandemic. Interestingly, the retailer hasn’t spent money on TikTok marketing and advertising, noting that kids are starting to find them on their own. Over the past years, the TikTok toy trends have turned toys into viral hits like Pop Its, Squishmallow, fidget spinners and more, thanks to kids sharing videos on the social app. The retailer, where individual stores are franchises, is also benefitting from some of its owners’ own TikTok presence — like the Birmingham location, which has 2.3 million followers and its most popular video received 62 million views.
  • Consumers may be swapping food delivery apps for grocery delivery, Apptopia research shows. Food delivery apps in Q2 2021 saw total sessions fall 10% from March, and the rest of the year showed no real gains. Meanwhile, in December, grocery delivery apps posted a 20% increase in downloads from the month prior. And DoorDash and Uber Eats adapted, the former by adding grocery and convenience stores to its app, and the latter by removing the word “restaurant” from its app’s title.

Image Credits: Apptopia

Fintech

  • British digital banking app Revolut expanded into U.S. stock trading. The company already let British users buy and sell shares, but is now licensed as a U.S. broker-dealer. Users will be able to trade 1,100 securities, including shares on the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq, as well as gain access to 200 ETFs.
  • Investing app Acorns scrapped its $2.2 billion merger agreement with SPAC Pioneer Merger Corp. The deal, announced last May, would have allowed Acorns to list on the Nasdaq, and the merger was valued at $1.5 billion pre-money. Acorns will pay $17.5 million in termination fees through December 15. The company said that “given market conditions,” it was pivoting to a private capital raise at a higher pre-money valuation instead.

Social

  • TikTok fired its marketing chief, Nick Tran, a former Hulu exec, after kicking off a series of marketing stunts without approval. These included the TikTok Kitchen service, which would use ghost kitchens to promote popular TikTok creators’ recipes in partnership with Virtual Dining Concepts; as well as new business lines involving NFTs and TikTok Resumes.
  • Instagram and TikTok have begun testing support for paid creator subscriptions. Instagram officially announced its alpha test of subscriptions, offering creators eight price points between 99 cents and $99.99 which they can charge users. Subscribers gain access to exclusive live videos and stories, and receive a special badge elevating them in the comments section and the DM inbox. Meanwhile, TikTok also confirmed it has begun testing subscriptions, but wouldn’t share details.

Image Credits: Instagram

  • Instagram also launched an expanded version of “remix,” which now allows anyone to remix any public video on the platform going forward, unless the creators opt out.
  • Snapchat is trying to make it harder for kids to buy drugs on the app after an NBC News investigation found the app was linked to the sale of fentanyl-laced pills that led to the deaths of teenagers and young adults in over a dozen states. The app now prevents 13 to 17-year-old users from showing up in Quick Add search results, unless they have friends in common with the person searching — a feature aimed at preventing users from adding people they don’t know to deter drug transactions.
  • Facebook and Instagram are working on NFT features that will allow users to display their NFTs on their social profiles. Instagram head Adam Mosseri had previously said the company was looking into NFT support. This week, a report from The FT added Meta is considering its own NFT marketplace, but noted the efforts were in early stages. This is not entirely new information, as Mosseri had said the company was considering a marketplace. It has also invited NFT artists to offer feedback through panel discussions, which was discussed in the press last year when some artists were upset about being asked to advise the social giant on the matter without compensation. But the report indicates the investment may extend to Facebook as well.

Messaging

  • WhatsApp is rolling out in-app chat support as an alternative to email. The feature had previously been available in beta testing, but has begun showing up for non-beta users.
  • Meta’s Workplace service for businesses will integrate with WhatsApp later this year. The service, which now has more than 7 million users, will integrate with the messaging app so Workplace customers can share announcements with front-line employees, including deskless workers.
  • Messenger Kids introduced new “internet safety” activities to teach young children how to use Messenger and be safe online. In each episode of “Pledge Planets,” kids learn to make healthy decisions, stay safe online, learn to use blocking and reporting tools, and build resilience.

Image Credits: Meta

Streaming & Entertainment

  • Spotify is still the top streaming music service but its market share has slipped a bit, according to new research from MIDiA, as the streaming market has grown. In Q2 2021, 523.9 million people subscribed to a music streaming service globally, up 26.4% from the same time last year. Spotify’s market share, meanwhile, dropped from 34% in 2019 to 31% today, followed by Apple, then Amazon Music. YouTube Music grew by more than 50% year-over-year, making it the only Western streamer to have increased market share.
  • YouTube’s app is testing “smart downloads,” a feature that automatically downloads videos when an Android device is connected to Wi-Fi, in order to be ready when there’s either weak coverage or no signal at a later point. The feature is already supported in YouTube Music.

Gaming

Image Credits: Netflix

  • Netflix expanded its growing gaming lineup this week with the launch of two more games: Arcanium: Rise of Akhan, an open-world single-player card strategy game developed by Rogue Games; and puzzle game Krispee Street developed by Frosty Pop. The additions bring Netflix’s gaming catalog to 12 titles, including Bowling Ballers, Shooting Hoops, Teeter Up, Asphalt Xtreme, Stranger Things 1984, Stranger Things 3, Card Blast, Dominos Cafe, Wonderputt Forever and Knittens.
  • During its less-than-stellar earnings, Netflix’s COO Greg Peters also said the company is open to licensing “large game IP” that people would recognize as it expands its gaming business. “I think you will [see] some of that happen over the year to come,” Peters noted.
  • In addition to the major news of Microsoft’s Activision Blizzard deal, the company also announced this week that its Xbox Game Pass service has grown to 25 million subscribers, up from 18 million in January 2021.
  • Wordle!, an iOS game that existed before the rise of the popular web-based game by the same name, has benefitted from the latter’s popularity leading to a surge in downloads. The developer, Steven Cravotta, hadn’t been updating the game, which first launched in 2017 but never really took off, until it jumped to 200,000 downloads per week from those likely looking for the other Wordle game. So Cravotta reached out to Wordle’s developer (Josh Wardle) to note he was donating the proceeds to charity, which has totaled $2,000+ so far.
  • U.S. consumer spending in mobile action games jumped up 68.9% in 2021, driven by almost entirely Genshin Impact, reported Sensor Tower. Spending for the year reached $966.8 million, making Action the fastest-rising gaming genre and Open World Adventure the largest Action subgenre. MiHoYo’s Genshin Impact earned $406.3 million in the U.S. in 2021, followed by Marvel Contest of Champions by Kabam and Dragon Ball Legends from Bandai Namco.
  • Mobile gamers who use TikTok play for longer, play more genres and spend more money, according to a new report from NewZoo. TikTok gamers are 66% more likely to pay for games, and are 40% more likely to pay for add-ons. They’re also more likely to watch gaming content, often on TikTok. The group also tends to use social platforms to find new games (45% versus 32% for those who don’t use TikTok). They play on average 7.1 genres versus 4.2 genres for non-TikTok users, and are more likely to notice ad types.

Productivity/Utilities 

  • Read-it-later app Instapaper on iOS introduced new features, including public folders, which allow users to share their saved reading lists with others via web or mobile. The app also added custom app icons in a variety of neutral tones for its premium users, and a “read now” feature for web users that lets you click the Instapaper logo immediately after saving an article to read it immediately. The company said it can’t offer the feature on iOS due to technical limitations.

Health & Fitness

  • MY2022, an app mandated for use by all attendees of the 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing, was found to have technical flaws allowing encryption to be sidestepped, according to The Citizen Lab’s research. The flaw means users’ voice audio and file transfers could be accessed and health forms containing passport details, demographic info, and medical and travel history, are also vulnerable.

Government & Policy

  • Another bill in the works, this time in Illinois, wants to force Apple and Google to allow alternative payments in apps distributed in their app stores. Senators in the state have filed the “Freedom to Subscribe Directly Act” which is being supported by Illinois-based Apple critic Basecamp, which faced a number of issues getting its subscription email app HEY into the App Store. The Senators support the bill because they see it as a way for the state to tap into lost tax revenues that are redirected to California today.

Funding and M&A

Indonesia-based startup BukuKas, which has now rebranded as Lummo, raised $80 million in Series C funding led by Tiger Global and Sequoia Capital India. The company offers two apps, an e-commerce enabler solutions LummoShop (previously Tokko) and bookkeeping app BukuKas. The company has 300 employees and focuses on the SMB market.

African mobile games publisher Carry1st raised $20 million in Series A funding led by Andreessen Horowitz (a16z). The round marks a16z’s first investment in an African-headquartered company. The three-year-old startup has signed publishing deals for seven games from six studios, including Tilting Point, publisher of Nickelodeon’s SpongeBob: Krusty Cook-Off, which Carry1st launched in Africa. Other partners include CrazyLabs and Sweden’s Raketspel.

Indian startup INDmoney raised $75 million in Series D funding for its super finance app that aims to be a one-stop shop for investments and expenses. Tiger Global, Steadview Capital and Dragoneer co-led the round, valuing the startup at $600 million.

InFlow, a science-backed app to address ADHD symptoms using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) raised $2.3 million in seed funding led by Hoxton Ventures. The app offers users short exercises and challenges aimed at helping them create healthy habits, and is being downloaded 15,000 times per month, the company said.

Istanbul-based Spyke Games, a mobile games startup, raised $55 million in a seed round from Griffin Gaming Partners, a VC focused on gaming startups. Spyke aims to combine casual gaming with multiplayer functionality and other social elements. Its first title, Royal Riches, is launching globally this month after a more limited release.

Istanbul-based Dream Games, the casual gaming developer behind top-grossing game Royal Match, raised $255 million in Series C funding led by Index Ventures. The round values the startup at $2.75 billion, up from $1 billion six months ago.

Appcues, a startup developing technology for better user onboarding across platforms, including mobile, raised $32.1 million in Series B funding. The company offers analytics and no-code tools to fix onboarding issues.

Public.com acquired HyperCharts, a data visualization platform that shows financial and biz metrics for publicly traded companies. Deal terms were not disclosed.

Big Health, the maker of cognitive-behavioral therapy apps Sleepio and Daylight, raised $75 million in Series C funding led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2 to launch six new digital mental health therapeutics by 2024. To date, the company has more than 10 million users and has raised just under $130 million from investors.

Global spam call blocking platform Truecaller acquired Israeli company CallHero, which had developed a digital assistant, SmartAgent, which helps its users verify and identify calls. Following the close of the $4.5 million deal (cash + stock), Truecaller will integrate CallHero’s technology into its own platform.

Western & Southern Financial Group acquired Fabric Technologies Inc. and its subsidiary, Fabric Insurance Agency LLC, a digital life insurance platform and mobile app that has over 60,000 families as customers, and has placed billions in life insurance coverage.

 

Source: Tech

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Data wants to disrupt your deal flow (again)

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Welcome to Startups Weekly, a fresh human-first take on this week’s startup news and trends. To get this in your inbox, subscribe here.

AngelList’s recently closed early-stage venture fund brings back one of my favorite conversations within the world of early-stage startup fundraising: to data, or not to data. The $25 million fund bases all of its investments off of one key metric that AngelList has been tracking for years: a startup’s ability to hire.

When I spoke to Abraham Othman, head of the investment committee and of data science at AngelList Venture, he told me they win deals because they are less adversarial to portfolio companies than other firms. “Our approach? This is our data set, let’s see if we can put money into them,” he said. No further due diligence? No problem.

Of course, there are some challenges with leaning on such signals to make investments. As history often reminds us, due diligence matters from a human perspective — and vetting a founder beyond their ability to attract talent can save firms from headaches or legal woes. Additionally, a startup could get a ton of applicants due to pay, location or even recent coverage in a Well Known Tech Blog — which can bode well for success, but could also just be a result of great marketing. In AngelList’s case, they believe that hiring demand’s fluidity adds to its importance.

As you can probably tell, I think the future of data-driven investments will bring a double-edged sword into our Zoom rooms (or lack thereof, perhaps). Traditional investment that prioritizes pedigree and culture, or the “art” of a founder, has left out an entire class of historically overlooked individuals. But that same process, in which you spend five hours in conversation with an aspiring entrepreneur, brings a layer of humanity to decision-makers before they get millions to execute on a vision.

I don’t want to get into the due diligence conversation yet again, and investors leaning on data to dictate their investment decisions is anything but a new strategy. This is the song of late-stage investors, of private equity analysts and your brilliant aunt who loves a good earnings report. Early-stage startups and investors, from ClearCo to SignalFire, have spent years building up advice atop algorithms atop assumed returns.

However, in a bull market for even the most bullish among us, the premise of an unbiased, data-based check feels somewhat more hopeful than before. Money certainly doesn’t solve all woes — the top reason startups fail today is still due to failure to raise new capital. Add in the gender fundraising gap and a more automated decision-making process suddenly doesn’t sound unromantic, it sounds inevitable.

For my full take on this topic, check out my TechCrunch+ column: Is algorithmic VC investment compatible with due diligence?

In the rest of this newsletter, we’ll talk about a new graduate-friendly fund, lawyer tech and Plaid’s growing patchwork of startups. As always, you can follow my thoughts on Twitter @nmasc_ or listen to me on Equity, a podcast about the business of startups, where we unpack the numbers and nuance behind the headlines.

$1 million lasts a million times longer than before

Led by Flybridge founding partner Jeff Bussgang, Harvard Business School professors put together a $7 million fund to invest in recently graduated students from the university. This is the third installment of the Graduate Syndicate, which officially closed this week per SEC filings.

Here’s what to know: The syndicate started a few years ago when business school professors realized that young talent within their classes was looking for activation capital. To limit conflict of interest, such as favoritism or power imbalance, Bussgang said that the syndicate only invests in founders after they graduate from school. So far, the syndicate has invested in 60 companies, with 41% of them being led or co-led by a female founder.

Bussgang on what changed in pre-seed:

A pre-seed round, which is typically around a million dollars, is happening in a moment in time where you can make a ton of progress with just a million dollars, given the no-code, low code platforms, the cloud and reduction in costs for starting things up. The biggest trend I’ve seen is that these companies can just do so much with so little [and] because of these no code platforms…business founders can be builders, they don’t have to be software developers and that’s a great tailwind for the HBS community.

Advice and other bits:

Image Credits: tomertu (opens in a new window) / Shutterstock (opens in a new window) (Image has been modified)

And the startup of the week is…

Lawtrades. When it comes to our newly distributed world of work, flexibility is a key but elusive term. Lucky for Raad Ahmed and Ashish Walia, the co-founders of Lawtrades, defining the term has been a conversation that’s been in the works since 2016. Lawtrades wants to change how enterprise companies utilize legal resources,and give lawyers a chance at more flexible, remote work.

Here’s what to know: The startup raised a $6 million Series A round, led by Four Cities Capital, with participation from Draper Associates and 500 Startups. More than $11 million was earned on the platform to date by the lawyer network and over 60,000 hours of work was logged on the platform in 2021, a 200% boost from 2020, our own Christine Hall reports.

Ahmed on the moonshot:

As a company, you’re basically meeting internet strangers and hiring them for hundreds of thousands of dollars and trusting that they’re going to do a good job. So there’s a solid amount of betting that happens on the supply side. We let about 5% to 6% of [lawyers into the platform] – but the actual hard part is how does this day look operationally? Other platforms…there isn’t a lot of work transparency, so that’s what we’re trying to work on.

We have this simple tool, a time tracking app, once you get hired for an engagement, you’re basically logging in every hour of work. We basically make this transparent to clients so they see what’s the equivalent of a Facebook newsfeed but it’s a work feed. So it updates on who’s working on what or how long, what project and you can react to that, comment on it and we’re coming up with more and more clever ways for us to sort of capture the data with minimal work from like our network of lawyers.

It actually allows you to gain even more transparency and even more detail into someone’s productivity than you would if you were side by side right.

Honorable mentions:

Image Credits: Mawardi Bahar / EyeEm (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Plaid went in on Cognito

Fintech giant Plaid acquired verification platform Cognito for around $250 million, TC’s Alex Wilhelm reported this week. Plaid has been actively growing from the fabric that helps fintechs communicate, to a patchwork of services built atop those key connections.

Here’s what to know: The deal comes months after Plaid’s own acquisition, which would have seen it be owned by Visa, fell apart and landed it a lofty new valuation. As we spoke about on the latest Equity, Plaid has matured to host a growing startup accelerator, acquire companies and clearly expand its strategic ambitions.

Cuffing season:

Image Credits: Manuta / Getty Images

Around TechCrunch

Across the week

Seen on TechCrunch

The first big tech antitrust bill lumbers toward reality

A hard rain is coming for UK’s crypto boom

How many unicorns are just piñatas filled with expired candy?

Open source developers, who work for free, are discovering they have power

Crypto.com CEO admits hundreds of customer accounts were hacked

Peloton CEO acknowledges corrective actions, denies ‘halting all production’ of bikes and treadmills

Seen on TechCrunch+

Will quantum computing remain the domain of the specialist VC?

Dear Sophie: How do I successfully expand my company to the US?

How to build a product advisory council for your startup

5 areas where VCs can play an outsized role in addressing climate change

Until next time,

N

Source: Tech

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Get in, nerds, we’re going to the metaverse

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Welcome to The TechCrunch Exchange, a weekly startups-and-markets newsletter. It’s inspired by the daily TechCrunch+ column where it gets its name. Want it in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here

Hello friends, I hope you are well and warm and healthy and happy and good. If not, some of those things. If you are none, well there’s a reason we invented ice cream.

In good news I have a few tasty nuggets for you this fine Saturday. We’re talking the metaverse, a venture capital story that I’ve watched from its genesis, and a funding round for a very cool startup that I accidentally blanked this week, so we’re talking about it here. Ready? Let’s have some fun.

The most fun that I had this week was a visit to Decentraland. In short, I was in edit and trying to distract myself so that I wouldn’t bother the editing team while they worked, so I fired up the social-crypto environment – metaverse, in other words – and went for a tour. Rocking a mohawk and some pretty cool pants I managed to get lost, visit an NFT gallery, and fail to gain access to an arena.

Look, the metaverse as it exists today looks a lot like Runescape. That’s not that big a diss, given the sheer historical footprint that the online RPG has built for itself. But what I don’t really need is a less featured MMORPG that includes, oddly, a more financial angle than I tend to like in my games.

I am neutral at the moment, and open to the metaverse becoming sufficiently cool that I log in daily. But today it seems that some Web 2.0 properties that include community creation and social interaction are superior to what we’ve yet seen from the crypto team.

Amplify’s newest general partner

Roughly 1,000 years ago, a startup named Mattermark hired me to build an independent news room for their company. It was a great learning experience, frankly, and had the added edge of introducing me to some lifetime friends. Kevin Liu now of TechStars, for example.

Sarah Catanzaro was another standout from the Mattermark team. Her work on the company’s data team was later translated into work in venture, first at Canvas Ventures, and later Amplify Partners. Amplify, for reference, last announced a fund in late 2020 worth $275 million. Given that timeframe, I expect the group to announce a new capital vehicle in short order.

At Amplify, Catanzaro went from principal, to partner, to, most recently, general partner. Her journey from the lowest ranks of the VC world to its top-tier has been enjoyable to watch. And, she told TechCrunch during a call the other week, she’s the first woman to reach her level at Amplify. I highlight that to remind myself that promotions in the yet-cottage industry of venture capital are unlike startup level gains in their pace.

Regardless, Catanzaro told us something that I wanted to write down here, so that we can circle back to it later on. We discussed her firm’s investment approach, check size targets, and how often they enter companies at seed versus Series A maturity levels. Per the newly minted GP, Series A rounds have gotten much bigger without a commensurate decrease in risk. This is something that I have had as a hunch for some time, but hadn’t heard someone say out loud before.

This means that Series A risk, from a venture perspective, is going up as more capital is put to work at the startup stage. The math could work out in the end, provided that enough mega-exits are made in the coming years. But with the market in free-fall, and Concern now getting more column inches than Unbridled Enthusiasm, well, I wonder a bit.

The pride of Rhode Island

Living as I do in the Ocean State, I am slightly afield from the best-known technology hubs in the United States. But that doesn’t mean that fascinating tech companies are being built here in my small state. TechCrunch has spilt ink, to pick an example, on Pangea, a startup founded in Providence that is building a freelance labor marketplace for college kids.

Another startup in Lil Rhody is The Wanderlust Group, which has built Dockwa, a software platform for marinas and boaters. In short, the world of managing boat slip reservations was stuck floating in the world of pen and paper, and Wanderlust decided to to modernize it through software.

We last touched on the company in 2020 when it raised $14.2 million. At that time, CEO Mike Melillo told TechCrunch that his company had merely been on the hunt for $7 million, a figure that it doubled.

So I was not surprised to hear from the company recently that it has raised again. This time Wanderlust has raised a $30 million Series C at a $150 million pre-money valuation. The funding event was led by Thursday Ventures.

Happily for you and I, Wanderlust was willing to share ARR growth for 2021, which came in at 71%. More fun, after moving to a four-day workweek, the company saw its ARR expand 100% from June 2020 to June 2021; there’s a real datapoint for one of the more interesting labor experiments I am tracking in startup-land.

But most interesting from the company is that it’s building a fund. Not another corporate venture capital fund, but something else. Called Wanderfund, the company is funding the vehicle with $300,000 this year for what it describes as “environmental causes at the national and local level.” It’s starting, in part, with putting money in its local Boys & Girls Club to help kids get out of the house and into nature.

The company is building a Dockwa-like product for camping, so the “go outside” theme is pretty core to what the aptly named Wanderlust Group is building.

Miscellania and Various

  • The Acorns SPAC deal is off, which caught our eye. It’s not a huge shock given how poor some SPACs have performed post-combination, but we had honestly been looking forward to Acorns as a public company.
  • Acorns S-1, please.
  • And the Robinhood experiment with making the financial market more open to regular folks through IPO access and corporate democracy has good sides, and sharper edges worth keeping in mind.

Ok that’s enough for now. Chat you all next week!

Alex

Source: Tech

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