The tactics behind The Athletic’s breakout success in sports subscriptions

Local newspapers may be shuttering and people may be consuming most news on social media, but don’t tell Alex Mather that a subscription news publication can’t grow like a unicorn startup. His 2-year-old sports publisher The Athletic has gained over 100,000 paid subscribers (60% under age 34) and has a 90% retention rate.

Having already raised $30 million in its short life, the company announced a new $40 million Series C yesterday, led by Founders Fund and Bedrock Capital. It reportedly values The Athletic around $200 million.

I interviewed Alex Mather (The Athletic’s CEO) and Eric Stomberg (Partner at Bedrock Capital) to understand what’s behind the breakout success and why they think this publishing startup can scale to become a multi-billion dollar company.

EP: Bedrock makes concentrated, contrarian bets. Explain how The Athletic fits that.

ES: I first met Alex and Adam in 2016 during Y Combinator. The popular view then, as it remains now, was that people just aren’t willing to pay for content online and that to win in media you have to put out a high volume of free articles on social.

The Athletic took the opposite approach. It’s a narrative violation. Everything is part of a paid subscription, with the belief that instead of writers needing to post 3-4 pieces per day, they should focus on deeper stories that add value to paid subscribers over time. That worldview resonated with us. If you can create content at scale that people are willing to pay for, that’s a powerful economic engine.

There’s so much sports coverage already out there, by professionals and amateurs alike, so why are people willing to pay for The Athletic?

AM: While there appears to be an abundance of content, most of it is aggregated, shallow content for a broad audience. We produce fewer stories and target a diehard fan. Our subscribers consistently tell us that no one else produces the same depth on a daily basis.

How did you determine the $60/year price point?

AM: We think of $60/year ($5/month) as less than the average NBA ticket. It’s a meaningful price but not prohibitive, especially when we do discounts in the first year. Like all subscription companies, whether we like it or not, we have to consider how our pricing stacks up against Netflix. For $10/month, you can subscribe to Netflix which is spending $8 billion per year in content.

Is The Athletic profitable?

AM: We expand by launching in local markets. We are in 47 thus far. The operational focus is on building a local team and becoming profitable in each local market. I can tell you that most markets are profitable in the first year–currently all of our markets over one year old are profitable and most of those over 6 months old are profitable.

(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Explain your growth strategy in terms of coverage: which sports did you start with and at which level (local vs national)?

AM: Direct-to-consumer businesses have to work really to earn their subscribers’ hard-earned money. We have to obsess over where we can be different. In the beginning, that was with hockey and baseball, because those have been de-prioritized by the bigger players. That shifted as we gained more subscribers: we needed to become comprehensive. We hired folks to cover the NBA, to cover the NFL, to cover soccer.

Do subscribers usually come just for one local sport or for the broader bundle?

AM: We’ve built a powerful bundle. A local newspaper has local politics, local restaurants, and then local sports. We have just the sports, but add a national perspective and a nationwide bundle. Most of our subscribers are “super bundlers,” meaning they subscribe to content from multiple cities plus at least one national product and usually a college product that’s not local. We provide all that for significantly less than competitors.

Eric — as a VC looking for multi-billion dollar exits, how are you analyzing the potential scale of a subscription publication like this? Even most people who are bullish on subscriptions believe it’s a choice of going for a niche audience and staying small.

ES: There are two things we look for in a subscription business: retention and a positive flywheel.

Retention. In any subscription business, the key question is: can they maintain their subscribers over time? Most of them don’t. Spotify does, Netflix does, and The Athletic does as well. The Athletic is off the charts, which sets it up for scale. You want to see deep engagement over a very, very long period of time — years.

A positive flywheel. The more you build your subscriber base, the more you build your revenue base. That allows you to get better content, to hire unique writers, to build greater depth. In doing so, you attract people who weren’t ready to subscribe in the early days but now you have writers they follow and content they want. Technology is important here too: as you build a bigger platform with more content, serving the right content at the right time to each user is a key advantage. When this flywheel is working it’s actually quite hard to put a ceiling on the business.

Most publishers did a so-called “pivot to video” over the last couple of years. You’re anchored in writing. Why not more video at the start?

AM: We’re obsessed with the consumer and all our research in the beginning said that people still like to read books and articles. Advertising with text may not be as good as with video, which may be why so many other companies “pivoted to video,” but we think the written word is still the best way to convey certain types of stories. It’s straightforward, it doesn’t require headphones.

There’s an incredible amount of talent out there that can produce these stories and that has been cast aside by many entities. We saw it as an opportunity to give them great jobs and bring value to our subscribers. That has paid off for us.

 

What are your plans for video or other content formats in the future?

AM: We raised this Series C with audio and video in mind. We can tell even more stories when we add in audio and video possibilities. Our goal is to serve the subscriber: some love to read, some love to listen, others prefer to watch. We look up to things like The Ringer, Andre the Giant on HBO, VICE News, Gimlet, and The Daily by the New York Times all as incredible storytelling, and we ask ourselves “how can we do sports versions of those?”.

Why focus on hiring experienced, full-time writers rather than a stable of contributors or curating from the vast pool of content by fans? Lots of amateurs pay close attention to sports.

AM: What’s really important to us is a growth mentality — that by Day 100 on our team a writer is thinking very differently. We’re providing lots of data, lots of feedback. We invest in great people who will figure this out with us over time. Also, scaling so quickly from 0 to 300 editorial staff was possible because we recruited experienced talent who know what to do already.

We do have about 400 contributors as well. These are folks who may be lawyers or accountants but are passionate about the teams they cover. We are a way for them to reach a premium audience. We can pay them really well and give them world-class editors formerly with Sports Illustrated and ESPN.

How are you acquiring your subscribers?

AM: When we expand into a new market, we gain new subscribers by hiring writers who have a following already and by word of mouth from existing subscribers. Then like any direct-to-consumer brand, we are acquiring subscribers through Google, Facebook, and Twitter.

You financially incentivize your writers based on them acquiring new subscribers through their articles or by promoting The Athletic with their followers online. That is very uncommon in publishing. Explain that strategy.

AM: It ties back to our focus on building for the long term and investing in talent that will grow with us. We like to assign incentives that give us the best chance of building a sustainable business and we think about compensation in that way. We give our team equity in the company and for many, we tie a portion of their comp to the performance of their team, sport, city. It’s a great way to share in the responsibility and success of the business.

At the bottom of articles, you ask readers to rate each story as “Meh”, “Solid”, or “Awesome”. I wish every publisher did this. How do you use this data? How do a writer’s scores impact them?

AM: It’s about feedback loops. Our writers gauge feedback when they share on Twitter. This is another data point. It helps paint a more complete picture. NPS alone isn’t enough of course though. We look at whether articles drive new subscribers, drive deep engagement, drive comments, etc. We don’t use pageviews, but we certainly use metrics. Usually, this results in a writer producing very different work on Day 100 than they were on Day 0.

Explain the interaction between subscribers. It’s not unique to have a comments section: there are bad comments sections, good comments sections, and comments sections that go unused. At a tactical level, how do you think about building community?

AM: My co-founder and I met at Strava, the social network for endurance athletes. I ran the product team and we were obsessed with community. We see an incredible connection between community engagement and subscriber retention. The question that drives us is how can we connect users in an authentic way, how can we connect users to our staff in an authentic way, how can we connect users to athletes in an authentic way. We’re doing a lot of experimentation here. We have a distinct opportunity because of our paywall: most of the comments on The Athletic are saying substantive things.

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A look at all the companies participating in 500 Startups’ 24th accelerator program

TechCrunch has an exclusive look at the companies participating in 500 Startups‘ 24th startup accelerator batch, which kicked off last week.

Through its four-month seed program, the Silicon Valley seed fund invests $150,000 in exchange for 6 percent equity. The companies below include a mix of industries from cryptocurrency to digital health to e-commerce. 500 Startups says 40 percent of the companies have a female founder, 50 percent have a black, mixed-race or Latinx founder and 31 percent are headquartered outside the U.S.

Here’s a closer look at the 22 companies, which will demo their tech to investors on February 28:

  • Alba: A Santiago, Chile-based mobile marketplace for babysitters in emerging markets.
  • Assemble: A Los Angeles-based digital platform for automating video content production.
  • Back Office: A Palm Beach, Florida-based financial software provider focused on streamlining personal bookkeeping.
  • BlockVigil: A San Francisco-based platform for building and scaling blockchain applications.
  • Cambridgene: A Cambridge-based developer of clinical-genomic software for personalizing cancer therapy in hospitals.
  • Celer Network: A platform for building and scaling decentralized applications.
  • Crowdz: Headquartered in Sunnyvale, the blockchain-based B2B marketplace builds digitized supply chains.
  • HAMAMA: A San Francisco-based provider of microgreen kits for growing healthy food at home.
  • IOTW: A Hong Kong-based IoT-connected cryptocurrency mining platform.
  • Kura Tech: A San Francisco-based developer of augmented reality glasses with micro-display and variable focus.
  • Memoir Health: A Boston-based behavioral health startup providing physical and virtual mental wellness and substance use services.
  • MessageCube: Headquartered in Sunnyvale, the company is building an integration for people to discuss and purchase shared experiences over chat.
  • Ovation: A Provo, Utah-based online portal for restaurant reviews meant to help businesses measure customer experience.
  • PantyProp: A New York-based seller of underwear and swimwear for women to wear while menstruating.
  • Pilleve: A Winston-Salem, North Carolina-based startup using data to help care providers lower the costs associated with opioid addiction.
  • Savion: A Livermore-based aviation company bringing green, long-range private jets to the middle class.
  • SnapShyft: Headquartered in Indianapolis, the startup provides an on-demand labor marketplace focused on the food and beverage industry.
  • Thrive Agric: An Abuja, Nigeria-based crowdfunding platform for farms and farmers in Africa.
  • TripAfrique: Headquartered in Paris, the online booking platform helps travelers arrange trips to Africa.
  • UTRUST: A Zurich-based cryptocurrency payments platform that offers buyers protection, instant transactions and more.
  • Zeuss Tech: Headquartered in Palo Alto, the blockchain-based anti-money-laundering platform targets cash-intensive industries.
  • No information is available on the final company, which is in stealth mode.

Here’s a look at 500 Startups batch 23, 22 and 21.

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A look at all the companies participating in 500 Startups’ 24th accelerator program

TechCrunch has an exclusive look at the companies participating in 500 Startups‘ 24th startup accelerator batch, which kicked off last week.

Through its four-month seed program, the Silicon Valley seed fund invests $150,000 in exchange for 6 percent equity. The companies below include a mix of industries from cryptocurrency to digital health to e-commerce. 500 Startups says 40 percent of the companies have a female founder, 50 percent have a black, mixed-race or Latinx founder and 31 percent are headquartered outside the U.S.

Here’s a closer look at the 22 companies, which will demo their tech to investors on February 28:

  • Alba: A Santiago, Chile-based mobile marketplace for babysitters in emerging markets.
  • Assemble: A Los Angeles-based digital platform for automating video content production.
  • Back Office: A Palm Beach, Florida-based financial software provider focused on streamlining personal bookkeeping.
  • BlockVigil: A San Francisco-based platform for building and scaling blockchain applications.
  • Cambridgene: A Cambridge-based developer of clinical-genomic software for personalizing cancer therapy in hospitals.
  • Celer Network: A platform for building and scaling decentralized applications.
  • Crowdz: Headquartered in Sunnyvale, the blockchain-based B2B marketplace builds digitized supply chains.
  • HAMAMA: A San Francisco-based provider of microgreen kits for growing healthy food at home.
  • IOTW: A Hong Kong-based IoT-connected cryptocurrency mining platform.
  • Kura Tech: A San Francisco-based developer of augmented reality glasses with micro-display and variable focus.
  • Memoir Health: A Boston-based behavioral health startup providing physical and virtual mental wellness and substance use services.
  • MessageCube: Headquartered in Sunnyvale, the company is building an integration for people to discuss and purchase shared experiences over chat.
  • Ovation: A Provo, Utah-based online portal for restaurant reviews meant to help businesses measure customer experience.
  • PantyProp: A New York-based seller of underwear and swimwear for women to wear while menstruating.
  • Pilleve: A Winston-Salem, North Carolina-based startup using data to help care providers lower the costs associated with opioid addiction.
  • Savion: A Livermore-based aviation company bringing green, long-range private jets to the middle class.
  • SnapShyft: Headquartered in Indianapolis, the startup provides an on-demand labor marketplace focused on the food and beverage industry.
  • Thrive Agric: An Abuja, Nigeria-based crowdfunding platform for farms and farmers in Africa.
  • TripAfrique: Headquartered in Paris, the online booking platform helps travelers arrange trips to Africa.
  • UTRUST: A Zurich-based cryptocurrency payments platform that offers buyers protection, instant transactions and more.
  • Zeuss Tech: Headquartered in Palo Alto, the blockchain-based anti-money-laundering platform targets cash-intensive industries.
  • No information is available on the final company, which is in stealth mode.

Here’s a look at 500 Startups batch 23, 22 and 21.

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Using machine learning and AI to develop API-based security solutions

Application security threats continue to increase in sophistication and number as the technologies that enable them do as well. There have been reports of a 12 percent increase in banking trojans. 23 percent increase in spyware. 22 percent increase in botnets and other crypto mining malicious apps. While there are tools and technologies available to developers and IT to thwart these threats like static code analysis, signature-based intrusion detection systems or using some kind of a machine algorithm or AI-based approach, they’re not stopping the increase.

Malware authors are intelligent. They learned to rewrite their code so that when it’s presented to established machine learning algorithms the machine will allow it though as genuine and not detect the breach. United Technologies calls this  “stealthy malware.”

At the recent first annual Mobile World Congress Americas, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) partnered with several companies, including United Technologies, to exhibit new projects either ready for deployment or in beta, that will increase security. UTC is a $65B Farmington, CT-based company that researches, develops, and manufactures products in several areas, including aircraft engines, aerospace systems, building systems, and industrial products. UTC is also a large military contractor, getting about 10 percent of its revenue from the U.S. government.

Dr. Devu Manikantan Shila, principal research scientist at UTC, describes her project COMBAT, an acronym for Continuous Monitoring of Behavior to Protect from Mobile Application Threats, as an API-based solution that filters applications being downloaded to determine whether they are malicious or benign using a patent-pending, proprietary algorithm called Explainable Analytics. Manikantan said, “Developers can think about COMBAT like an API. They actually develop their solution to call the COMBAT API and it will return a threat score. If the app the user is attempting to download has a high threat level it’s in the red region, if it’s benign it will return in the green and the download will continue.” UTC is planning to outsource the technology and will be uploading everything to the hub so that developers can run the software and build on top of it.

COMBAT is the second API-based security project Manikantan has developed in partnership with DHS. The first is a solution called Castra. Based on behavioral biometrics, it’s designed to provide seamless access to Internet of Things. She explained, “The whole idea of behavioral biometrics is to recognize the user based on the way they are interacting with the device through behavior with multiple installed sensor-enabled apps on the device. When the phone is with me it automatically recognizes that I am the right person because it recognizes data like how I walk and where I keep the phone, then provides me access to the apps and more.” She says it automatically recognizes walking patterns after initial biometrics have been established, travel and location destinations. However, if a person deviates to a place it hasn’t seen, it will lower its trust code.

On the other hand, provided a high trust code, Castra enables the device to literally open doors to buildings, automatically set temperatures, turn lights on, etc., without having to take the phone out of pocket and input passcodes. Manikantan said, “It’s also secured. If someone is stealing your phone they will have a lower trust code because they’re among other clues from data, your walking pattern is different. The unrecognized user will not be able to input the passcode on each of these apps.”

Software developers building access control products will call the Castra API, which will measure the trust code of the person using that phone. It provides a convenient approach to locking a device, increases convenience and makes passwords a thing of the past for device users.

Machine learning and artificial intelligence API-based security solutions like COMBAT and Castra are where the industry trend is moving. There are skeptics who question their safety, arguing that just as a brain can be tricked, so can machine learning algorithms and AI algorithms. Ultimately the value of these solutions lies in the technologies and the intelligence of the individual algorithms staying ahead of the curve of their malicious counterparts.

The post Using machine learning and AI to develop API-based security solutions appeared first on SD Times.

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After canceling ‘Rift 2’ overhaul, Oculus plans a modest update to flagship VR headset

Facebook’s virtual reality arm may soon find itself in the unfamiliar position of playing catch-up with hardware competitors.

Last week, TechCrunch reported that Oculus co-founder Brendan Iribe had decided to leave Facebook partially due to his “fundamentally different views on the future of Oculus” and decisions surrounding the cancellation of a next-generation “Rift 2” project.

The company’s prototype “Rift 2” device, codenamed Caspar, was a “complete redesign” of the original Rift headset, a source familiar with the matter tells us. Its cancellation signified an interest by Facebook leadership to focus on more accessible improvements to the core Rift experience that wouldn’t require the latest PC hardware to function. Iribe did not agree with the direction, with a source telling us that he was specifically not interested in “offering compromised experiences that provided short-term user growth but sacrificed on comfort and performance.”

Former Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe sharing details on the Oculus Rift in 2015

In the wake of the overhaul’s cancellation, the company will be pursuing a more modest product update — possibly called the “Rift S” — to be released as early as next year, which makes minor upgrades to the device’s display resolution while more notably getting rid of the external sensor tracking system, sources tell us. Instead, the headset will utilize the integrated “inside-out” Insight tracking system which is core to Facebook’s recently-announced Oculus Quest standalone headset.

The “Constellation” tracking system on the current-generation Rift offers precise accuracy thanks to the static external sensors that track the headset and Touch controllers. While the Insight system would likely offer users a much more simplified setup process, a clear pain point of the first-generation product, “inside-out” tracking systems have greater limitations when it comes to the lighting conditions they work in and are generally less accurate than systems with external trackers.

While Oculus has long led the way on hardware advances, this release could be seen as the company playing catch-up with competitors like Microsoft, which has partnered with OEMs including Samsung, Lenovo and LG to release headsets on its Windows Mixed Reality platform that also feature inside-out tracking as well as higher resolution displays than the Oculus Rift.

“While we don’t comment on rumors/speculation about our future products, as we shared last week, PC VR remains a part of our strategy and is a category we will continue to invest in. In addition to hardware, we have a robust software roadmap and are funding content well into 2020,” an Oculus spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg introducing the $399 Oculus Quest

There are some clear benefits for Oculus pushing iterative hardware in an iPhone-like “S” manner, especially around affordability, as a more drawn out device life cycle gives both Oculus and PC component manufacturers time to reduce VR’s high barrier to entry in terms of cost.

The cancellation of its Caspar “Rift 2” project, does suggest a less aggressive pace of innovation for the company with its flagship premium VR product. The move away from a redesign could alienate early adopters and send them to other platforms. It could also lead Oculus into a situation where new titles that take advantage of the latest systems aren’t compatible with Rift hardware.

At its Oculus Connect developer conference, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg shared that the Oculus Rift, Quest and Go represented “the completion of its first-generation of VR products.” As Zuckerberg continues to double-down on his long-term goal to bring 1 billion users into VR, the need to build the Oculus user base is growing more important but it’s unclear how essential the company believes leading the high-end PC VR market is to defining that early mainstream success.

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SpaceX shuffles Starlink leadership, hoping to accelerate launch

SpaceX is changing the lineup at the Seattle-based offices of Starlink, the company’s nascent satellite broadband division. A Reuters report depicts a whirlwind visit by CEO Elon Musk as a middle management bloodbath, but SpaceX says it’s just the usual fast-moving space company stuff.

Starlink plans to put thousands of satellites into space with which to blanket the world in broadband — SpaceX isn’t the only aspirant to this plan, but it is farther along than some. It launched a pair of prototype satellites in February, Tintin A and B, which are reportedly working perfectly well as ongoing test platforms.

Space is no place to rush into, however, but that clashed with aggressive timelines set by Musk years ago and apparently not quite being met. Reuters reported that several leads on the project were pushing for more testing, and Musk visited Seattle to provide a kick in the pants.

Among those reported fired were VP of satellites Rajeev Badyal and designer Mark Krebs, both of whom have overseen the project through and after launch. SpaceX did not directly confirm their departures but confirmed that Starlink had seen significant restructuring.

“We have incorporated lessons learned and re-organized to allow for the next design iteration to be flown in short order,” a SpaceX representative told TechCrunch, saying the move was consistent with the “rapid iteration design and testing” the company is known for.

Will it be enough to put more birds in the air by mid-2019, as Musk hopes? That remains to be seen, but the SpaceX strategy of launching early and often has so far paid off in the long run, so perhaps this maneuver will as well.

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CBS launches a streaming entertainment network, ET Live

CBS is today launching another streaming network, this time focused on entertainment news. The service, which is called ET Live, was developed by CBS Interactive and CBS TV’s “Entertainment Tonight” news magazine, and will be available both as a standalone app as well as a part of the CBS streaming app aimed at cord cutters, CBS All Access.

The new service will deliver 24/7 coverage of entertainment news, including breaking news, celebrity interviews, features, behind-the-scenes, red carpet coverage, plus trends stories across celebrity fashion, beauty and lifestyle.

The content isn’t just a rehash of the “Entertainment Tonight” on-air broadcast, the network claims. Instead, it will feature original programming and a roster of new hosts, including Lauren Zima, Denny Directo, Cassie DiLaura, Tanner Thomason, Jason Carter and Melicia Johnson.

The flagship show’s current hosts – Nancy O’Dell, Kevin Frazier, Nischelle Turner and Keltie Knight – will make regular appearances, however, to promote what’s up next and other exclusives.

At launch, the service is available on its own website at ETLive.com and through an ET Live app on iOS, Android, Apple TV, and Amazon Fire TV, with more platforms expected in the future.

It’s also being integrated into CBS All Access’s live feed across platforms, and as feed within CBSN, the network’s 24/7 streaming news service.

The new streaming network is the latest of several launches aimed at bringing more CBS content to a new generation of viewers who no longer tune in to traditional pay TV.

A few months ago, CBS debuted a portfolio of streaming services under the brand CBS Local. These help deliver local news to cord cutters and other digital media consumers, including its CBS All Access subscribers. It also operates news network CBSN, which it added to CBS All Access last year. And it launched streaming sports news service, CBS Sports HQ, earlier this year. This can now also be found in CBS All Access.

Like CBSN, CBS Sports HQ, and your local CBS News (where available), the new ET Live feed is available in the “Live” section of the CBS All Access app. Users can toggle between the various live streams with a tap, then can choose to watch live or jump back to watch previous segments on-demand.

ET’s brand made sense to be the next to transition to reach over-the-top viewers because of its existing reach, including on digital platforms. The TV show has nearly 5 million daily viewers, while the ETonline.com website averages 20 million monthly U.S. uniques, per comScore. Its social audience is even larger, with over 70 million U.S. users monthly, the network says.

“From CBS All Access to CBSN and CBS Sports HQ, we are dedicated to bringing consumers best-in-class streaming services,” said Rob Gelick, Executive Vice President and General Manager, CBS Entertainment Digital for CBS Interactive, in a statement about the launch.

“ET Live is a natural expansion of our strategy and expertise in this area. We have the great advantage of being able to apply key learnings from our leading digital entertainment properties and marry that with the #1 entertainment brand in ‘Entertainment Tonight’ to create a new offering for the next generation of entertainment consumers, those that are platform-agnostic and expect content to be accessible anytime, anywhere,” he said.

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Lime recalls some scooters due to fire concerns

Lime, the electric scooter and bike-share startup, has pulled some of its scooters from the streets of Los Angeles, San Diego and Lake Tahoe. That’s because of two hardware challenges the company has experienced, Lime wrote in a blog post last night.

In August, Lime says it became aware of a potential issue with some of its Segway Ninebot scooters. Specifically, Lime identified a problem with one of the two batteries in some of its earlier scooter versions.

“In several isolated instances, a manufacturing defect could result in the battery smoldering or, in some cases, catching fire,” Lime wrote on its blog. “We took this issue very seriously. Immediately upon learning of the defect, we worked with Segway Ninebot to create a software program to detect the potentially affected batteries. We then worked independently to create an even more thorough software program to ensure that no potentially faulty scooters remained in circulation. When an affected battery was identified — with a red code — we promptly deactivated the scooter so that no members of the public could ride or charge it.”

Lime says it then removed those scooters from circulation and “at no time were riders or members of the public put at risk.” But fast forward to more “recently,” and Lime has received another report that one of its Segway Ninebot scooters may be vulnerable to battery failure. In total, Lime says less than 0.01 percent of its scooter fleet is affected.

In addition to potential battery failures leading to fire, Lime has experienced issues with scooter manufacturer Okai. Specifically, Lime says it’s received reports that the baseboards can break after repeated abuse.

“It’s possible for Okai baseboards to crack or break if ridden off a curb at high speed,” Lime said. “We are currently studying this issue and incorporating these learnings into our design process.”

It’s not clear if Lime will continue to work with Segway, which it partnered with a few months ago around a next generation of scooters. It’s also not clear if Lime will continue to use scooters from Okai. I’ve reached out to Lime to learn more.

Other electric scooter companies rely on Segway’s Ninebot, including Bird. I’ve reached out to Bird and Segway for comment.

It’s worth noting that in San Francisco, operators Skip and Scoot do not use Segway scooters. Skip modifies the Speedway Mini4 36V 21Ah while Scoot works with Telepod.

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Scared to trade stocks? Titan algorithmically invests for you

Titan could put an end to stock market FOMO. The app choose the best 20 stocks by scraping top hedge fund data, adds some shorts based on your personal risk profile, and puts your money to work. No worrying about market fluctuations or constantly rebalancing your portfolio. You don’t have do anything, but can get smarter about stocks thanks to its in-app explanations and research reports. Titan wants to be the easiest way to invest in stocks for a mobile generation who want an affordable coach to guide them through the market themselves.

“Our goal is to take things that aren’t accessible [in wealth management] and make them accessible, starting with hedge fund” says Titan co-founder Joe Percoco. That potential to democratize one of the keys to financial mobility has won Titan a $2.5 million seed round from Y Combinator’s co-founder Paul Graham, president Sam Altman, and partners including Gmail creator Paul Bucheit. The rest of the capital comes from Maverick Ventures, BoxGroup, and Liquid2 Ventures.

Titan is where investing meets virality” says Graham. “Those are two very powerful forces.” Since TechCrunch broke the news of Titan’s launch in August, it’s doubled its assets under management to $20 million and hired its first non-founder engineer.

Now it’s launching in-app educational videos so stock market dummies can get up to speed if they want to understand where there money’s going amidst a swirling see of financial news..”There are so many different headlines telling so many different narratives” Percoco tells me. “Everyone is searching for explanations in a voice they trust. An ‘ETF’ can’t talk back. Sometimes a human face is better than writing. A video can really help people make choices.” Here’s it’s two-minute video about Facebook’s Q2 earnings a few months ago, explaining why the share price crashed 25 percent:

Percoco and Clayton Gardner met on their first day of Wharton business school while their third co-founder was earning a hedge fund patent and studying computer science at Stanford. They went on to work at hedge funds and private equity firms like Goldman Sachs, but got fed up just growing the fortunes of the already rich.

So they started Titan to invent a modern, mobile version of BlackRock, the investment giant founded in the 80s. Titan uses the public disclosures of hedge funds to find consensus around the 20 best performing stocks. With as little as $1000, users can let Titan robo-manage their investments for a 1 percent fee on assets. Users provide some info on how big they want to gamble, and Titan personalizes their portfolio with more or less conservative shorts to hedge their bets.

Titan’s simplicity combined with the sense of participation could help it grow quickly. It sits between do-it-yourself options like Robinhood or E*Trade where you’re basically left to fend for yourself, and totally passive options like Wealthfront and Betterment, where you’re so divorced from your portfolio that you’re not learning. Managed hedge funds and fellow active investment vehicles like BlackRock with a human advisor can require a $100,000 minimum investment that’s too steep for millennials.

“Even the best hedge fund in the world is only going to send you a PDF every 90 days” Percoco explains. But Titan doesn’t want you nervously checking your portfolio non-stop. “Our median user checks the app once per day.” That seems like a healthy balance between awareness and sanity. It thinks its education and informative push notifications make it worth a higher required investment and fees than Wealthfront charges.

 

Essentially, Titan is a stock trading auto-pilot merged with a flight simulator so you improve your finance skills without having to fear a crash. Percoco tells me the sense of accomplishment that engenders is why clients say they’re telling friends about Titan. “When I invest, I look for companies that are growing quickly and making a huge positive impact on the world. Titan is one of those companies” investor Altman says. “I think they could improve the financial wellbeing of an entire generation.”

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Lendix is now called October

French startup Lendix is changing its name to October. The company is using this opportunity to redesign its branding assets and refresh the design of the website for new users. The product remains the same — a lending platform connecting individual and institutional investors with small and medium companies.

From what I’ve heard, October had to change its name due to some trademark issue. But the company used this opportunity to move away from its original, pretty boring name. Lendix is a straightforward name that suggests that it’s all about lending money.

But there are so many companies with “lend” in their names that it quickly became a disadvantage — Lendopolis, Unilend, Lendosphère, LendingClub…

October is easy to understand and to write down in a casual conversation. If the company wants to branch out and start offering other financial products, it won’t be awkward.

That’s about it. I just wanted to note the change given that I’ve covered October a few times over the years.

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