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Confrere, the video calling service for professionals and clients, raises $1.5M seed

Confrere, the video calling service for professionals and clients, raises .5M seed

Confrere, a video calling service designed specifically for professionals who need to hold online consultations or meeting with clients, has raised $1.5 million in seed funding.

Leading the round is Berlin’s Point Nine Capital, with participation from Nordic Makers, The Nordic Web Ventures, and Fathom Capital. A number of angel investors also took part in the round, including Albert Armengo (the founder of Doctoralia, sold to Docplanner), as well as a number of physicians who are users of the product.

Notably, Confrere was co-founded by CEO Svein Yngvar Willassen, who previously founded and headed up appear.in, another video calling service but one designed for team collaboration. The startup’s other co-founders are CTO Dag-Inge Aas and CPO Ida Aalen.

“I knew from my time with appear.in that meetings between professionals and their clients were a different use case than team meetings,” Yngvar Willassen tells me. “Appear.in and other current video tools do not serve that use case well. I found that it would probably be better to make a new service for this”.

That’s because a typical professional receives many client calls after another, and this also makes it awkward to use typical room-based systems like Zoom or appear.in. “In addition, of course, needing to download and install an application is out of the question. It needs to run in the browser, also on mobile phones,” says the Confrere CEO.

To that end, Confrere’s UX is tailored for professional-client calls, and enables professionals to receive multiple clients after each other without the risk of clients bumping into each other. It works in the browser on Android and iPhone; you simply send a link or add a button to your website to start receiving calls. In addition, Confrere offers an API that makes it easy for other SaaS companies to add video calling to their offering.

“The largest group [of users] are professionals like physicians, therapists, tutors, recruiters, lawyers and so on. Basically, everyone who spends a lot of their day meeting their customers or clients in their office as part of their business. We believe all of these businesses have the potential to work more efficiently by utilising video communication with customers,” says Yngvar Willassen.

Adds Confrere’s Aalen: “The fact that you can brand your video calls, charge for your services over video, and where it’s super easy for the end user to enter the video call… is simply not something anyone else is doing. Some might say it’s a niche market, but we believe it’s a market with huge potential. There are so many professions that typically have 1-1 meetings with their customers, clients or leads, and many of them could have been done on video instead of meeting face to face. We’re creating a new market”.

Confrere, the video calling service for professionals and clients, raises .5M seed
Source: TechCrunch

Alibaba goes big on Russia with joint venture focused on gaming, shopping and more

Alibaba goes big on Russia with joint venture focused on gaming, shopping and more

Alibaba is doubling down on Russia after the Chinese e-commerce giant launched a joint venture with one of the country’s leading internet companies.

Russia is said to have over 70 million internet users, around half of its population, with countless more attracted from Russian-speaking neighboring countries. The numbers are projected to rise as, like in many parts of the world, the growth of smartphones brings more people online. Now Alibaba is moving in to ensure it is well placed to take advantage.

Mail.ru, the Russia firm that offers a range of internet services including social media, email and food delivery to 100 million registered users, has teamed up with Alibaba to launch AliExpress Russia, a JV that they hope will function as a “one-stop destination” for communication, social media, shopping and games. Mail.ru backer MegaFon, a telecom firm, and the country’s sovereign wealth fund RDIF (Russian Direct Investment Fund) have also invested undisclosed amounts into the newly-formed organization.

To recap: Alibaba — which launched its AliExpress service in Russia some years ago — will hold 48 percent of the business, with 24 percent for MegaFon, 15 percent for Mail.ru and the remaining 13 percent take by RDIF. In addition, MegaFon has agreed to trade its 10 percent stake in Mail.ru to Alibaba in a transaction that (alone) is likely to be worth north of $500 million.

That figure doesn’t include other investments in the venture.

“The parties will inject capital, strategic assets, leadership, resources and expertise into a joint venture that leverages AliExpress’ existing businesses in Russia,” Alibaba explained on its Alizila blog.

Alibaba looks to have picked its horse in Russia’s internet race: Mail.ru [Image via KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images]

The strategy, it seems, is to pair Mail.ru’s consumer services with AliExpress, Alibaba’s international e-commerce marketplace. That’ll allow Russian consumers to buy from AliExpress merchants in China, but also overseas markets like Southeast Asia, India, Turkey (where Alibaba recently backed an e-commerce firm) and other parts of Europe where it has a presence. Likewise, Russian online sellers will gain access to consumers in those markets. Alibaba’s ‘branded mall’ — TMall — is also a part of the AliExpress Russia offering.

This deal suggests that Alibaba has picked its ‘horse’ in Russia’s internet race, much the same way that it has repeatedly backed Paytm — the company offering payments, e-commerce and digital banking — in India with funding and integrations.

Already, Alibaba said that Russia has been a “vital market for the growth” for its Alipay mobile payment service. It didn’t provide any raw figures to back that up, but you can bet that it will be pushing Alipay hard as it runs AliExpress Russia, alongside Mail.ru’s own offering, which is called Money.Mail.Ru.

“Most Russian consumers are already our users, and this partnership will enable us to significantly increase the access to various segments of the e-commerce offering, including both cross-border and local merchants. The combination of our ecosystems allows us to leverage our distribution through our merchant base and goods as well as product integrations,” said Mail.Ru Group CEO Boris Dobrodeev in a statement.

This is the second strategic alliance that MegaFon has struck this year. It formed a joint venture with Gazprombank in May through a deal that saw it offload five percent of its stake in Mail.ru. MegaFon acquired 15.2 percent of Mail.ru for $740 million in February 2017.

The Russia deal comes a day after Alibaba co-founder and executive chairman Jack Ma — the public face of the company — announced plans to step down over the next year. Current CEO Daniel Zhang will replace him as chairman, meaning that the company will also need to appoint a new CEO.

Alibaba goes big on Russia with joint venture focused on gaming, shopping and more
Source: TechCrunch

Crowdcube acquires business reporting software Supdate

Crowdcube acquires business reporting software Supdate

In what looks like an undeniably good strategic fit, U.K.-based business reporting software startup Supdate has been acquired by equity crowdfunding platform Crowdcube. Terms of the deal remain undisclosed, although I’m told it was an all-cash acquisition.

I understand that Crowdcube is essentially buying the Supdate user base and tech/IP, and that Supdate founder Duane Jackson is not joining Crowdcube but will be helping on the technical side during the handover. The idea is that Supdate will become part of part of the existing suite of “post-funding benefits” available to businesses that raise on Crowdcube, such as access to Amazon’s Launchpad Programme.

Founded out of Jackson’s own frustration as an angel investor, whereby startups he’d backed didn’t always keep him updated regularly, Supdate offers SaaS for businesses to create and share company news and metrics with shareholders. The premise was that well-designed software could help streamline and to some degree automate these updates, helping investors stay in the loop without a founder using up too much bandwidth writing reports.

Jackson — who previously founded and sold online accounting software company KashFlow — says that partnering with a crowdfunding platform was “an obvious route to market” for Supdate, which is why he approached Crowdcube. Those conversations quickly progressed to the possibility of Crowdcube acquiring Supdate. The timing was good, too, since Jackson has already begun working on a new venture in the accounting space. Here we go again, you might well say.

Adds Darren Westlake, co-founder and CEO of Crowdcube: “Crowdcube has funded over 600 companies, averaging 350 investors each and so ensuring businesses can easily connect with their shareholders to keep them updated is really valuable to our investor community. We’ve been fans of Supdate for a long time, and when we recently began talking with Duane in more detail, it quickly became obvious that Supdate would be a natural fit for Crowdcube and our growing Funded Club”.

Meanwhile, Crowdcube is giving its alumni of over 600 funded businesses access to Supdate, as well as providing ongoing access to Supdate’s existing customer base.

Crowdcube acquires business reporting software Supdate
Source: TechCrunch

Hate speech, collusion, and the constitution

Hate speech, collusion, and the constitution

Half an hour into their two-hour testimony on Wednesday before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey were asked about collaboration between social media companies. “Our collaboration has greatly increased,” Sandberg stated before turning to Dorsey and adding that Facebook has “always shared information with other companies.” Dorsey nodded in response, and noted for his part that he’s very open to establishing “a regular cadence with our industry peers.”

Social media companies have established extensive policies on what constitutes “hate speech” on their platforms. But discrepancies between these policies open the possibility for propagators of hate to game the platforms and still get their vitriol out to a large audience. Collaboration of the kind Sandberg and Dorsey discussed can lead to a more consistent approach to hate speech that will prevent the gaming of platforms’ policies.

But collaboration between competitors as dominant as Facebook and Twitter are in social media poses an important question: would antitrust or other laws make their coordination illegal?

The short answer is no. Facebook and Twitter are private companies that get to decide what user content stays and what gets deleted off of their platforms. When users sign up for these free services, they agree to abide by their terms. Neither company is under a First Amendment obligation to keep speech up. Nor can it be said that collaboration on platform safety policies amounts to collusion.

This could change based on an investigation into speech policing on social media platforms being considered by the Justice Department. But it’s extremely unlikely that Congress would end up regulating what platforms delete or keep online – not least because it may violate the First Amendment rights of the platforms themselves.

What is hate speech anyway?

Trying to find a universal definition for hate speech would be a fool’s errand, but in the context of private companies hosting user generated content, hate speech for social platforms is what they say is hate speech.

Facebook’s 26-page Community Standards include a whole section on how Facebook defines hate speech. For Facebook, hate speech is “anything that directly attacks people based on . . . their ‘protected characteristics’ — race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, sex, gender, gender identity, or serious disability or disease.” While that might be vague, Facebook then goes on to give specific examples of what would and wouldn’t amount to hate speech, all while making clear that there are cases – depending on the context – where speech will still be tolerated if, for example, it’s intended to raise awareness.

Twitter uses a “hateful conduct” prohibition which they define as promoting “violence against or directly attacking or threatening other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or serious disease.” They also prohibit hateful imagery and display names, meaning it’s not just what you tweet but what you also display on your profile page that can count against you.

Both companies constantly reiterate and supplement their definitions, as new test cases arise and as words take on new meaning. For example, the two common slang words to describe Ukrainians by Russians and Russians by Ukrainians was determined to be hate speech after war erupted in Eastern Ukraine in 2014. An internal review by Facebook found that what used to be common slang had turned into derogatory, hateful language.

Would collaboration on hate speech amount to anticompetitive collusion?

Under U.S. antitrust laws, companies cannot collude to make anticompetitive agreements or try to monopolize a market. A company which becomes a monopoly by having a superior product in the marketplace doesn’t violate antitrust laws. What does violate the law is dominant companies making an agreement – usually in secret – to deceive or mislead competitors or consumers. Examples include price fixing, restricting new market entrants, or misrepresenting the independence of the relationship between competitors.

A Pew survey found that 68% of Americans use Facebook. According to Facebook’s own records, the platform had a whopping 1.47 billion daily active users on average for the month of June and 2.23 billion monthly active users as of the end of June – with over 200 million in the US alone. While Twitter doesn’t disclose its number of daily users, it does publish the number of monthly active users which stood at 330 million at last count, 69 million of which are in the U.S.

There can be no question that Facebook and Twitter are overwhelmingly dominant in the social media market. That kind of dominance has led to calls for breaking up these giants under antitrust laws.

Would those calls hold more credence if the two social giants began coordinating their policies on hate speech?

The answer is probably not, but it does depend on exactly how they coordinated. Social media companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat have grown large internal product policy teams that decide the rules for using their platforms, including on hate speech. If these teams were to get together behind closed doors and coordinate policies and enforcement in a way that would preclude smaller competitors from being able to enter the market, then antitrust regulators may get involved.

Antitrust would also come into play if, for example, Facebook and Twitter got together and decided to charge twice as much for advertising that includes hate speech (an obviously absurd scenario) – in other words, using their market power to affect pricing of certain types of speech that advertisers use.

In fact, coordination around hate speech may reduce anti-competitive concerns. Given the high user engagement around hate speech, banning it could lead to reduced profits for the two companies and provide an opening to upstart competitors.

Sandberg and Dorsey’s testimony Wednesday didn’t point to executives hell-bent on keeping competition out through collaboration. Rather, their potential collaboration is probably better seen as an industry deciding on “best practices,” a common occurrence in other industries including those with dominant market players.

What about the First Amendment?

Private companies are not subject to the First Amendment. The Constitution applies to the government, not to corporations. A private company, no matter its size, can ignore your right to free speech.

That’s why Facebook and Twitter already can and do delete posts that contravene their policies. Calling for the extermination of all immigrants, referring to Africans as coming from shithole countries, and even anti-gay protests at military funerals may be protected in public spaces, but social media companies get to decide whether they’ll allow any of that on their platforms. As Harvard Law School’s Noah Feldman has stated, “There’s no right to free speech on Twitter. The only rule is that Twitter Inc. gets to decide who speaks and listens–which is its right under the First Amendment.”

Instead, when it comes to social media and the First Amendment, courts have been more focused on not allowing the government to keep citizens off of social media. Just last year, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a North Carolina law that made it a crime for a registered sex offender to access social media if children use that platform. During the hearing, judges asked the government probing questions about the rights of citizens to free speech on social media from Facebook, to Snapchat, to Twitter and even LinkedIn.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg made clear during the hearing that restricting access to social media would mean “being cut off from a very large part of the marketplace of ideas [a]nd [that] the First Amendment includes not only the right to speak, but the right to receive information.”

The Court ended up deciding that the law violated the fundamental First Amendment principle that “all persons have access to places where they can speak and listen,” noting that social media has become one of the most important forums for expression of our day.

Lower courts have also ruled that public officials who block users off their profiles are violating the First Amendment rights of those users. Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald, of the Southern District of New York, decided in May that Trump’s Twitter feed is a public forum. As a result, she ruled that when Trump blocks citizens from viewing and replying to his posts, he violates their First Amendment rights.

The First Amendment doesn’t mean Facebook and Twitter are under any obligation to keep up whatever you post, but it does mean that the government can’t just ban you from accessing your Facebook or Twitter accounts – and probably can’t block you off of their own public accounts either.

Collaboration is Coming?

Sandberg made clear in her testimony on Wednesday that collaboration is already happening when it comes to keeping bad actors off of platforms. “We [already] get tips from each other. The faster we collaborate, the faster we share these tips with each other, the stronger our collective defenses will be.”

Dorsey for his part stressed that keeping bad actors off of social media “is not something we want to compete on.” Twitter is here “to contribute to a healthy public square, not compete to have the only one, we know that’s the only way our business thrives and helps us all defend against these new threats.”

He even went further. When it comes to the drafting of their policies, beyond collaborating with Facebook, he said he would be open to a public consultation. “We have real openness to this. . . . We have an opportunity to create more transparency with an eye to more accountability but also a more open way of working – a way of working for instance that allows for a review period by the public about how we think about our policies.”

I’ve already argued why tech firms should collaborate on hate speech policies, the question that remains is if that would be legal. The First Amendment does not apply to social media companies. Antitrust laws don’t seem to stand in their way either. And based on how Senator Burr, Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, chose to close the hearing, government seems supportive of social media companies collaborating. Addressing Sandberg and Dorsey, he said, “I would ask both of you. If there are any rules, such as any antitrust, FTC, regulations or guidelines that are obstacles to collaboration between you, I hope you’ll submit for the record where those obstacles are so we can look at the appropriate steps we can take as a committee to open those avenues up.”

Hate speech, collusion, and the constitution
Source: TechCrunch

Coinbase plots to become the New York Stock Exchange of crypto securities

Coinbase plots to become the New York Stock Exchange of crypto securities

The future of Coinbase looks something like the New York Stock Exchange. That’s according a vision laid out by CEO Brian Amstrong who was interviewed on stage at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco today.

Coinbase is known for being the most popular exchange for converting fiat currency into crypto — most of the largest traded exchanges are crypto-to-crypto — but he foresees a future in which it plays host to a growing number of cryptocurrencies as it becomes standard for companies to create their own token, which runs alongside equity as an alternative investment system.

“It makes sense that any company out there who has a cap table… should have their own token. Every open source project, every charity, potentially every fund or these new types of decentralized organizations [and] apps, they’re all going to have their own tokens,” Armstrong said.

“We want to be the bridge all over the world where people come and they take fiat currency and they can get it into these different cryptocurrencies,” he added.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

That tokenized future could see Coinbase host hundreds of tokens within “years” and even potentially “millions” in the future, according to Armstrong. That’s a big jump on the five cryptocurrencies that it currently supports today, and it would make it way larger than financial institutions like the New York Stock Exchange, which is actually a Coinbase investor and is getting into Bitcoin, or the NASDAQ.

One of the critical pieces of making this vision a reality is, of course, regulation. This week at Disrupt, others in crypto space have argued that a lack of clarity around crypto regulation is costing the U.S. as innovation and startups are being developed in overseas markets. As the founder of a U.S.-based crypto startup that is valued at over $1 billion and is hiring hard, Armstrong doesn’t subscribe to that thesis but he did admit that there is “a big open question” over whether the majority of the new rush of tokens he foresees will be securities or not.

Still, Coinbase has made moves to add security tokens to its portfolio with the acquisition of a securities dealer earlier this year.

“We do feel a substantial subset of these tokens will be securities,” he said. “Our approach has always been to be the most trusted [exchange] and the easiest to use. So we want to be the legal compliant place where you can start to trade these tokens that are classified as securities.”

“Web 1.0 was about publishing information, web 2.0 was about interaction and web 3.0 is going to be about value transfer on the internet because now the web has this native currency and so applications can be built that instantly tap into this global economy on the internet,” Armstrong added.

How international can crypto become? The Coinbase CEO thinks that the total number of people in the crypto ecosystem can reach one billion within the next five years, up from around 40 million today.

You can watch the full video from Armstrong’s interview below.

https://techcrunch.com/wp-content/themes/techcrunch-2017/features/shortcodes/vidible-callback-js.php?id=0

Note: The author owns a small amount of cryptocurrency. Enough to gain an understanding, not enough to change a life.

Coinbase plots to become the New York Stock Exchange of crypto securities
Source: TechCrunch

Kry expands its telehealth service to France — under new brand, Livi

Kry expands its telehealth service to France — under new brand, Livi

Swedish telehealth startup Kry, which bagged a $66M Series B in June for market expansion, is executing on that plan — announcing today it will launch into the French market on September 15.

This will be the fourth market for the 2014 founded European startup, after its home market of Sweden, along with Norway and Spain. When we spoke to Kry in June it also said it was eyeing a UK launch, and it says now the country is “coming up next” on its launch map.

Kry’s boast for its service is it lets patients ‘see’ a healthcare professional within 15 minutes — via a remote video consultation on their smartphone or tablet. It recruits doctors locally, in each market where it operates.

The French launch introduces a new brand name for the service, which will be called Livi in the market.

Livi will also be Kry’s brand for all markets outside the Nordics (derived from the Swedish word for ‘life’ — which is ‘liv’).

European state-funded healthcare services vary by country but in France Kry says the government is implementing a national system for public reimbursement of digital healthcare consultations via video — “in light of unequal access, increasing costs and over-usage of emergency services”.

So it’s evidently aiming for Livi to tap into that public money pot.

“I am very excited about bringing our service to French patients,” said Kry CEO and co-founder Johannes Schildt in a statement. “Our vision is great healthcare for everyone, regardless of who you are or where you live. Using digitalization we will fast forward the future of healthcare, making it patient focused, proactive and economically sustainable. The fact that France is opening up for digital healthcare on a national level should be an inspiration to the rest of Europe.”

Over in the UK, the new minister responsible for health, Matt Hancock — who was previously in charge of digital matters — has made increasing the National Health Service’s use of technology one of his key priorities, announcing yesterday a further £200M to plough into upgrading NHS IT systems.

Which will also, presumably, be music to health app makers’ ears.

Kry says its telehealth service has now generated more than half a million patient meetings, across its existing markets, saying it grew 740% in 2017 — which it claims makes it the largest digital healthcare provider in Europe.

In its home market of Sweden it also says it accounts for more than 3% of all primary care doctor visits.

While in March this year it added an online psychology service to its offering, and says it’s now the largest provider of cognitive behavioral therapy treatments in Sweden.

Investors in the digital health business include Index Ventures, Accel, Creandum, and Project A.

Kry expands its telehealth service to France — under new brand, Livi
Source: TechCrunch

Facebook is opening its first data center in Asia

Facebook is opening its first data center in Asia

Facebook is opening its first data center in Asia. The company announced today that it is planning an 11-story building in Singapore that will help its services run faster and more efficiently. The development will cost SG$1.4 billion, or around US$1 billion, the company confirmed.

The social networking firm said that it anticipates that the building will be powered 100 percent by renewable energy. It said also that it will utilize a new ‘StatePoint Liquid Cooling’ system technology, which the firm claims minimizes the consumption of water and power.

Facebook said that the project will create hundreds of jobs and “form part of our growing presence in Singapore and across Asia.”

A render of what Facebook anticipates that its data center in Singapore will look like

Asia Pacific accounts for 894 million monthly users, that’s 40 percent of the total user base and it makes it the highest region based on users. However, when it comes to actually making money, the region is lagging. Asia Pacific brought in total sales of $2.3 billion in Facebook’s most recent quarter of business, that’s just 18 percent of total revenue and less than half of the revenue made from the U.S. during the same period. Enabling more efficient services is one step to helping to close that revenue gap.

Facebook isn’t the only global tech firm that’s investing in data centers in Asia lately. Google recently revealed that it plans to develop a third data center in Singapore. The firm also has data centers for Asia that are located in Taiwan.

Facebook is opening its first data center in Asia
Source: TechCrunch

Here are the six startups participating in Betaworks LiveCamp

Here are the six startups participating in Betaworks LiveCamp

Betaworks this morning revealed this list of six startups participating in its fourth Camp accelerator program. Launched in 2016, the program brings together a collection of young companies united under a single theme.

This time out, things are focused on live-streaming, for a program fittingly titled, LiveCamp. Betaworks settled on the topic based on the popularity of apps like Twitch and HQ Trivia. It’s admittedly a bit more nebulous than past topics like BotCamp, VoiceCamp and VisionCamp.

“When first settling on our next Camp program we knew that ‘live’ as a category would be a bit harder to define than our previous themes like voice-computing and augmented reality,” Betaworks’ Peter Rojas told TechCrunch, “but while these companies may each be building a wildly different product, they all share a common theme of bringing people together in real time for a shared experience.”

Betaworks has put together a nice little package for the half-dozen winners, including an 11-week in-house bootcamp and $200K per company. In addition, Betaworks will receive 8 percent common stock from each.

It’s a fittingly diverse array of companies, running the gamut from gaming to meditation to here’s the latest batch:

  • Bunch: An app that lets users play games over video chat, from HQ to Flappy Bird.
  • Cityrow Go: On-demand streaming of exercise — kind of a Peloton, but for rowing courses.
  • Content Flow: Live video streaming technology company, with a proprietary player.
  • Cultural Genesis: A digital gaming remix studio from Santa Monica, California.
  • Ghost Commander: A hybrid theater/gaming experience that lets users impact narrative structure.
  • Journey Meditation: On-demand and live-streamed meditation courses.

Here are the six startups participating in Betaworks LiveCamp
Source: TechCrunch