Oppo announces 5G and 10x lossless zoom handsets

Saturday afternoon is a rough time for a press conference — particularly with the official kickoff of Mobile World Congress still a few days away. That said, there are certain advantages to being an early bird. Chief among them is the ability to claim firsts — namely having the first 5G handset of the show.

That might not mean a lot in the grand scheme of things, but in a week that’s expected to be dominated by 5G announcements, it’s a way to stand out from the crowd. Of course, like the rest of the promised 5G handsets we’ve heard about so far — with the noble exception of Samsung’s — details are still pretty scarce

What we do know is that the handset — along with so many others set to be announced this week — will be powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855. Fitting, given that we can almost certainly expect some 5G news out of the chipmaker this week. Oppo also says the device will be on display on the show floor this week — actually firing it up and experiencing those next generation speeds in person, however, is a different thing entirely.

Another bit of news out of the event is the promise of 10x lossless zoom (16mm-160mm) for the company’s next flagship. If its works as advertised that’s a nice little distinguisher from the competition — though 10x zoom likely isn’t a day to day feature for most smartphone users. That device is due out at some point in Q2. 

via Click on the link for the full article

Startups Weekly: Flexport, Clutter and SoftBank’s blood money

The Wall Street Journal published a thought-provoking story this week, highlighting limited partners’ concerns with the SoftBank Vision Fund’s investment strategy. The fund’s “decision-making process is chaotic,” it’s over-paying for equity in top tech startups and it’s encouraging inflated valuations, sources told the WSJ.

The report emerged during a particularly busy time for the Vision Fund, which this week led two notable VC deals in Clutter and Flexport, as well as participated in DoorDash’s $400 million round; more on all those below. So given all this SoftBank news, let us remind you that given its $45 billion commitment, Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) is the Vision Fund’s largest investor. Saudi Arabia is responsible for the planned killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Here’s what I’m wondering this week: Do CEOs of companies like Flexport and Clutter have a responsibility to address the source of their capital? Should they be more transparent to their customers about whose money they are spending to achieve rapid scale? Send me your thoughts. And thanks to those who wrote me last week re: At what point is a Y Combinator cohort too big? The general consensus was this: the size of the cohort is irrelevant, all that matters is the quality. We’ll have more to say on quality soon enough, as YC demo days begin on March 18.

Anyways…

Surprise! Sort of. Not really. Pinterest has joined a growing list of tech unicorns planning to go public in 2019. The visual search engine filed confidentially to go public on Thursday. Reports indicate the business will float at a $12 billion valuation by June. Pinterest’s key backers — which will make lots of money when it goes public — include Bessemer Venture Partners, Andreessen Horowitz, FirstMark Capital, Fidelity and SV Angel.

Ride-hailing company Lyft plans to go public on the Nasdaq in March, likely beating rival Uber to the milestone. Lyft’s S-1 will be made public as soon as next week; its roadshow will begin the week of March 18. The nuts and bolts: JPMorgan Chase has been hired to lead the offering; Lyft was last valued at more than $15 billion, while competitor Uber is valued north of $100 billion.

Despite scrutiny for subsidizing its drivers’ wages with customer tips, venture capitalists plowed another $400 million into food delivery platform DoorDash at a whopping $7.1 billion valuation, up considerably from a previous valuation of $3.75 billion. The round, led by Temasek and Dragoneer Investment Group, with participation from previous investors SoftBank Vision Fund, DST Global, Coatue Management, GIC, Sequoia Capital and Y Combinator, will help DoorDash compete with Uber Eats. The company is currently seeing 325 percent growth, year-over-year.

Here are some more details on those big Vision Fund Deals: Clutter, an LA-based on-demand storage startup, closed a $200 million SoftBank-led round this week at a valuation between $400 million and $500 million, according to TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lunden’s reporting. Meanwhile, Flexport, a five-year-old, San Francisco-based full-service air and ocean freight forwarder, raised $1 billion in fresh funding led by the SoftBank Vision Fund at a $3.2 billion valuation. Earlier backers of the company, including Founders Fund, DST Global, Cherubic Ventures, Susa Ventures and SF Express all participated in the round.

Here’s your weekly reminder to send me tips, suggestions and more to kate.clark@techcrunch.com or @KateClarkTweets

Menlo Ventures has a new $500 million late-stage fund. Dubbed its “inflection” fund, it will be investing between $20 million and $40 million in companies that are seeing at least $5 million in annual recurring revenue, growth of 100 percent year-over-year, early signs of retention and are operating in areas like cloud infrastructure, fintech, marketplaces, mobility and SaaS. Plus, Allianz X, the venture capital arm attached to German insurance giant Allianz, has increased the size of its fund to $1.1 billion and London’s Entrepreneur First brought in $115 million for what is one of the largest “pre-seed” funds ever raised.

Flipkart co-founder invests $92M in Ola
Redis Labs raises a $60M Series E round
Chinese startup Panda Selected nabs $50M from Tiger Global
Image recognition startup ViSenze raises $20M Series C
Circle raises $20M Series B to help even more parents limit screen time
Showfields announces $9M seed funding for a flexible approach to brick-and-mortar retail
Podcasting startup WaitWhat raises $4.3M
Zoba raises $3M to help mobility companies predict demand

Indian delivery men working with the food delivery apps Uber Eats and Swiggy wait to pick up an order outside a restaurant in Mumbai. ( INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/Getty Images)

According to Indian media reports, Uber is in the final stages of selling its Indian food delivery business to local player Swiggy, a food delivery service that recently raised $1 billion in venture capital funding. Uber Eats plans to sell its Indian food delivery unit in exchange for a 10 percent share of Swiggy’s business. Swiggy was most recently said to be valued at $3.3 billion following that billion-dollar round, which was led by Naspers and included new backers Tencent and Uber investor Coatue.

Lalamove, a Hong Kong-based on-demand logistics startup, is the latest venture-backed business to enter the unicorn club with the close of a $300 million Series D round this week. The latest round is split into two, with Hillhouse Capital leading the “D1” tranche and Sequoia China heading up the “D2” portion. New backers Eastern Bell Venture Capital and PV Capital and returning investors ShunWei Capital, Xiang He Capital and MindWorks Ventures also participated.

Longtime investor Keith Rabois is joining Founders Fund as a general partner. Here’s more from TechCrunch’s Connie Loizos: “The move is wholly unsurprising in ways, though the timing seems to suggest that another big fund from Founders Fund is around the corner, as the firm is also bringing aboard a new principal at the same time — Delian Asparouhov — and firms tend to bulk up as they’re meeting with investors. It’s also kind of time, as these things go. Founders Fund closed its last flagship fund with $1.3 billion in 2016.”

If you enjoy this newsletter, be sure to check out TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, Equity. In this week’s episode, available here, Crunchbase News editor-in-chief Alex Wilhelm and I discuss Pinterest’s IPO, DoorDash’s big round and SoftBank’s upset LPs.

Want more TechCrunch newsletters? Sign up here.

via Click on the link for the full article

YouTube demonetizes anti-vaccination videos

YouTube will demonetize channels that promote anti-vaccination views, after a report by BuzzFeed News found ads, including from health companies, running before anti-vax videos. The platform will also place a new information panel that links to the Wikipedia entry on “vaccine hesitancy” before anti-vax videos. Information panels (part of YouTube’s efforts to combat misinformation) about the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine had already appeared in front of anti-vaccination videos that mentioned it.

In a statement to BuzzFeed News, a YouTube spokesperson said “we have strict policies that govern what videos we allow ads to appear on, and videos that promote anti-vaccination content are a violation of those policies. We enforce these policies vigorously, and if we find a video that violates them, we immediately take action and remove ads.”

This is the second issue this week that has prompted YouTube advertisers to suspend their ads BuzzFeed News’ initial report on Feb. 20 came as several major advertisers, including Nestle and Epic Games, said they were pausing ads after YouTube creator Matt Watson revealed how the platform’s recommendation algorithm was being exploited by what he described as a “soft-core pedophilia ring.”

BuzzFeed News found that the top search results for queries about vaccine safety were usually from legitimate sources, like hospitals, but then YouTube’s Up Next algorithm would often recommend anti-vaccination videos. Ads, which are placed by YouTube’s advertising algorithm, appeared in front of many of those videos. YouTube also told BuzzFeed it would implement changes to its Up Next algorithm to prevent the spread of anti-vax videos.

Outbreaks of measles throughout the United States and in other countries have prompted scrutiny into the role of social media and tech companies, including Facebook and Google, in spreading misinformation.

Advertisers contacted by BuzzFeed News who said they will take action to prevent their ads from running in front of anti-vax videos include Nomad Health, Retail Me Not, Grammarly, Brilliant Earth, CWCBExpo, XTIVIA, and SolarWinds. Vitacost told BuzzFeed News that it had already pulled ads after the child exploitation issues became known.

Anto-vax channels now demonetized include VAXXED TV, LarryCook333, and iHealthTube.

via Click on the link for the full article

Briq, the next building block in tech’s reconstruction of the construction business, raises $3 million

Bassem Hamdy has been in the construction business for a long time.

He spent the last few years at the construction software business Procore, now a $3 billion dollar company developing technology for the construction industry, and now Hamdy is ready to unveil his next act as chief executive and co-founder of Briq, a new software service for the industry.

Hamdy started Briq with his own cash, amassed through secondary sales as Procore climbed the ranks of startups to reach its status as a construction industry unicorn. And the company has just raised $3 million in financing to fund its expansion.

“With enough secondaries you can afford to make your own decisions,” Hamdy says. 

His experience in construction dates back to his earliest days. Hailing from a family of construction engineers Hamdy describes himself as a black sheep who went into the financial services industry — but construction kept pulling him back.,

Beginning in the late nineties with CMIC, which was construction enterprise resource planning, and continuing through to Procore, Hamdy has had success after success in the business, but Briq is the culmination of all of that experience, he says. 

“As much as data entry helps people it’s data intelligence software that changes things,” says Hamdy. 

Briq chief executive Bassem Hamdy

The Santa Barbara, Calif.-based company is part of a growing number of Southern California technology startups building businesses to service large swaths of specific industries — specifically real estate and construction.

Already, Procore is a $3 billion behemoth, and ServiceTitan has become a billion dollar company as well, with its software and services for air conditioning and appliance repairmen.

Now Bassem’s Briq, with backing from Eniac Ventures and MetaProp NYC, is hoping to join their ranks.

“Bassem built and helped run the most successful construction software businesses in the world. It is rare and humbling to have an opportunity to help build a company from the ground up with an industry legend,” says Tim Young, Founding General Partner at Eniac Ventures . “The technology Bassem and his team are building will do something the industry has never seen before: break down data silos to leverage information in real time. Bassem has built and run the most successful construction software businesses in the world, and his knowledge of the construction space and the data space is second to none.”

The company, formerly called Brickschain, uses a combination of a blockchain based immutable ledger and machine learning tools to provide strategic insights into buildings and project developments.

Briq’s software can predict things like the success of individual projects, where demand for new projects is likely to occur and how to connect data around construction processes.

Briq has two main offerings, according to Hamdy. ProjectIQ, which monitors and manages individual projects and workflows — providing data around different vendors involved in a construction project; and MarketIQ, which provides market intelligence around where potential projects are likely to occur and which projects will be met with the most demand and success.

Joining Hamdy in the creation of Briq is Ron Goldschmidt, an experienced developer of quantitative-based trading strategies for several businesses. Hamdy, a former Wall Streeter himself has long realized the power of data in the construction business. And with the new tools at his disposal — including the blockchain based ledger system that forms the backbone of Briq’s project management software, Hamdy thinks he has developed the next big evolution in technology for the industry.

Briq already counts Webcore, a major contractor and developer, as one of its clients along with Kobayashi, Probuild, Hunter Roberts OEG, and Gartner Builders. In all, the company has contracts with nearly twelve different developers and contractors.

All of the insights that Briq can provide through its immutable ledger can add up to big savings for developers. Hamdy estimates that there’s roughly $1 trillion in waste in the construction industry.

Briq relies on IBM’s Hyperledger for its blockchain backbone and through that, the company has a window into all of the decisions made on a project. That ledger forms the scaffolding on which Briq can build out its projections and models of how much a building will cost, and how could conceivably made on a project.

“Construction and infrastructure are integral to society, but the decision-making process behind how, when, where, and why we build is no longer working,” said Briq Co-Founder & CEO Bassem Hamdy, in a statement. “We aren’t just solving a construction problem, we are solving a societal problem. If we are to meet the infrastructure needs of both the developed and developing world, we must improve our decision-making and analysis around the data we have. We are thrilled to have the support of Eniac Ventures as we enter the next phase of our journey.”

 

 

via Click on the link for the full article

Twitter co-founder Ev Williams to step down from the company’s board

Ev Wiliams, a co-founder of Twitter and the social media business’s former chief executive officer, is stepping down from its board of directors effective at the end of the month, according to documents submitted to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Friday, first reported by CNBC.

In a series of tweets, Williams addressed the news.

“I’m very lucky to have served on the board for 12 years (ever since there was a board),” he wrote. “It’s been overwhelmingly interesting, educational—and, at times, challenging… Thank you, and for starting this crazy company with me—and continuing to make it better and better. And to my fellow board members, new and old—some of the most thoughtful people I’ve ever known.”

Wiliams, the founder and CEO of online publishing platform Medium and co-founder and partner at Obvious Ventures, served as Twitter’s chief executive from 2008 to 2010 following Jack Dorsey’s, Twitter’s current CEO, original stint as CEO. Williams was succeeded by Dick Costolo, who after a five-year stint at the helm, relinquished the throne back to Dorsey.

Twitter’s board of directors includes Bret Taylor, president and chief product officer at Salesforce; Debra Lee, president and CEO of BET Networks; and executive chairman Omid Kordestani.

Twitter’s stock closed up 3 percent Friday, trading at nearly $32 a piece for a market cap of north of $24 billion.

via Click on the link for the full article

Latchel wants to make maintenance easier for landlords and property managers

Relationships between landlords and their tenants don’t need to be fraught ones. With Y Combinator -backed Latchel, landlords and property managers can access a 24/7 maintenance service that takes requests from tenants and deploys the right professional to fix the things that need fixing.

At first we thought of doing a high-tech property management system,” Latchel founder Ethan Lieber told TechCrunch. “As we looked more into it and talked to other property management companies, maintenance kept coming up as a problem. So we decided to focus on maintenance.”

Latchel has a bunch (of handypeople — all vetted and with at least two years of experience –in its network that it relies on for work inside buildings. In some cases, however, larger property management groups already have people they like to work with. At that point, Latchel simply takes over the relationship and coordinates between the handypeople and residents. In the event Latchel’s on-demand team of vetted handypeople cannot troubleshoot the issue, Latchel deploys one of the 3K+ contractors on its platform.

“It’s such a hard industry to get positive reviews from tenants in,” Lieber said. “You’re basically talking about someone in an emergency situation — not getting heat, the toilet is overflowing, etcetera. If you’re not handling it well, it exacerbates. If you can communicate the right things to the right people at the right time, it absolves that exacerbation.”

Still, the real estate space is unique and hard to acquire customers, Lieber said. Right now, while Latchel does support larger property managers, it’s focused on the DIY landlords — the ones who may be managing buildings in their “spare” time or as a second job. In order to support the growth of DIY landlord customers, Latchel is looking to build its contractor network. Part of its sell to contractors is the constant stream of work that results from Latchel’s relationships with property managers and landlords.

In March 2018, Latchel was running its service on 2,000 units. Today, Latchel supports 27,500 units across 50 cities in the U.S. and has been adding about 4,000 to 5,000 new units a month. That averages out to about 250 units per customer, Lieber said. Looking into next month, Latchel wants to add an additional 6,000 units. The month after, it wants to add an additional 9,000.

The cost of Latchel depends on the service level and the number of units. If a landlord or property manager just want basic services (tenant calls, coordination of emergency work) for after-hours coverage, Latchel charges a $25 account fee and then 80 cents per unit per month.

Currently, Latchel is conducting a beta test with properties that have fewer than 10 units to guarantee a maximum price of services per unit, Lieber said. If Latchel is unable to negotiate a good enough price for the contractor, Latchel will reimburse customers for any costs over the guaranteed max price.

Since launching its full-service solution last March, Latchel says its average tenant review is 4.7 out of 5 stars. In all, Latchel says it has reduced the amount of time spent on maintenance to 15 minutes per day for property management companies with 100 units or fewer.

via Click on the link for the full article

Elon Musk finally hosted meme review with the co-creator of Rick and Morty

Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has been teasing — and his fanbase has been making pleas — to host a meme review. And after tweeted hints, meme review has arrived via YouTube star PewDiePie.

Musk tweeted last month a photo and a question “Host meme review?”

On Friday, Musk and Justin Roiland, one of the creators of Adult Swim’s Rick and Morty, appeared on YouTuber PewDiePie’s show for a meme review.

During the segment, Musk and Roiland rate various memes, like the one pictured below, The pair provide commentary and funny quips.

It looks like Musk and Roiland’s appearance has helped push PewDiePie above T-Series, an Indian music company on YouTube that has had the most subscribers.  PewDiePie now has about a 20,000 subscriber lead.

The final meme, which pictures what appears to be a dead deer at the bottom of a pool, is what pushes Musk over the edge when he asks, “Jeez is that true? What, that actually happened? Oh my god,” as he bursts into fits of uncomfortable laughter.

You can watch the whole episode that PewDiePie uploaded on February 22 or skip to about minute 13 for Musk and Roiland.

 

via Click on the link for the full article

Apple confirms its plans to close retail stores in the patent troll-favored Eastern District of Texas

Apple has confirmed its plans to close retail stores in the Eastern District of Texas – a move that will allow the company to better protect itself from patent infringement lawsuits, according to the Apple news site MacRumors which broke the news of the stores’ closures. Apple says that the impacted retail employees will be offered new jobs with the company as a result of these changes.

The company will shut down its Apple Willow Bend store in Plano, Texas as well as its Apple Stonebriar store in Frisco, Texas, MacRumors reported, and Apple confirmed. These stores will permanently close up shop on Friday, April 12. Customers in the region will instead be served by a new Apple store located at the Galleria Dallas Shopping Mall, which is expected to open April 13.

Apple did not comment on the stores’ dates of closure or the new store’s opening.

However, it’s common for Apple to leave little downtown during retail stores transitions – though most closures are related to renovations or other reasons that aren’t about trying to escape patent lawsuits.

The Eastern District of Texas had become a popular place for patent trolls to file their lawsuits, though a more recent Supreme Court ruling has attempted to crack down on the practice. The court ruled that patent holders could no longer choose where to file.

Apple has had to make big payouts to patent trolls in recent years: $625.6 million to patent holding firm VirnetX in 2016 over protocol patents; VirnetX won $368 million from Apple in 2013; and more recently $502.6 million over four communication patents.

VirnetX tends to be referred to as a “patent troll” because it makes most of its revenue by suing tech companies. In addition to Apple, it sued Microsoft over patents in Skype and has been in litigation with Cisco. Its cases and subsequent wins are often held up as another example of how patent law in the U.S. is in need of reform.

The Apple store closures could have had a notable impact on area jobs, had Apple not offered new positions to its retail staff.

Apple today employs 1,000 people in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, which has been an increase of 33 percent in the past five years.

The company also recently invested almost $30 million in its Dallas area stores.

Outside the metro, Apple is also investing in Texas with its $1 billion for the new campus in Austin, which will accommodate an additional 5,000 employees on top of the 6,200 already in the area.

A rep for Apple confirmed the stores’ closures in a statement, but wouldn’t comment on the company’s reasoning:

“We’re making a major investment in our stores in Texas, including significant upgrades to NorthPark Center, Southlake and Knox Street. With a new Dallas store coming to the Dallas Galleria this April, we’ve made the decision to consolidate stores and close Apple Stonebriar and Apple Willow Bend. All employees from those stores will be offered positions at the new Dallas store or other Apple locations.”

 

via Click on the link for the full article

Report: Zoom, the video conferencing company, may be a public company as early as April

The video conferencing company Zoom is aiming to file a public S-1 by the end of March, according to a new report in Business Insider that adds the company could go public as soon as April.

Business Insider reported last month that Zoom had filed confidentially with the SEC to go public, just months after Reuters reported that the San Jose, Ca.-based company had chosen investment bank Morgan Stanley to lead its eventual IPO.

Zoom was valued at $1 billion when it raised it last funding in 2017 in the form of a $100 million check from Sequoia Capital. Reuters sources however said they expect the company to be valued at several billion dollars at the IPO.

The company, founded in 2011, has raised $145 million altogether, including from Emergence Capital and Horizons Ventures. Its earliest backers include Qualcomm Ventures, Yahoo founder Jerry Yang, WebEx founder Subrah Iyar, and former Cisco SVP and General Counsel Dan Scheinman, who has been an active angel investor in recent years.

We had a chance to sit down with CEO Eric Yuan last year at a small industry event hosted by the venture firm NextWorld Capital. He talked about coming to the United States as a student from China and applying for a U.S. visa nine times over the course of two years before finally receiving it and arriving in Silicon Valley in 1997. We also talked about his experience as the 10th employee of WebEx, and his frustration that the company’s code remained stubbornly unchanged after it was sold for $3.2 billion to Cisco in 2007.

He wasn’t alone, clearly. When Yuan struck out on his own to found Zoom, fully 45 employees from WebEx joined him, a decision for which they’re likely thankful now. Financial rewards aside, Yuan was ranked at the top of Glassdoor’s annual list of best-rated CEOs last year.

We’ll be able to take a deeper dive into the health of Zoom once its reported S-1 is made public. In the meantime, you can check out our chat here.

via Click on the link for the full article

Fortnite goes big on esports for 2019 with $100 million prize pool

Epic Games, maker of the ultra popular Battle Royale game Fortnite, is putting up another $100 million in prize cash for competitive tournaments in 2019.

The company made waves in the esports world last year, announcing $100 million prize pool for the 2018 competitive year, dwarfing every other competitive title in one fell swoop.

This year, a significant portion of the $100 million will be awarded to participants of the first-ever Fortnite World Cup. Each of the 200 players who qualify and compete will walk away with at least $50,000, with the winner taking home $3 million.

The Fortnite World Cup will take place July 26 – 28 in New York City, offering $30 million total in prizes. One-hundred of the top solo players will be invited, along with the top 50 duos teams.

So how do you get in on this?

Fortnite is holding weekly open online qualifiers, each worth $1 million, from April 13th to June 16th. Eligible players who consistently place well will have a shot at being one of those top 200 players.

This announcement comes at an interesting time for Fortnite. While the game still reigns supreme in terms of popularity, other Battle Royale games are picking up traction. Apex Legends (an EA and Respawn title), in particular, is growing in popularity. Several of the top Twitch streamers, including Ninja, Shroud, Timthetatman, High Distortion and Annemunition have started playing more Apex and participated in the first Apex Legends Twitch Rivals tournament.

Keeping the attention of these streamers is surely a priority for Fortnite, and for a game that pulls in some $300 million a month in in-game purchases, spending $100 million a year is a small price to pay.

via Click on the link for the full article