Cobalt.io grabs $29M Series B to continue building out pentesting platform


The promise of SaaS has always been about taking tedious, expensive manual tasks and finding a way to build a platform to automate them. Cobalt.io is doing that with pentesting, the process of testing an application for security vulnerabilities before it goes out the door. Today, the startup announced a $29 million Series B led by Highland Europe.

The company’s platform provides a way to move beyond traditional pentesting consultancies to connect pentesting professionals with companies who need their services. Beyond being a pure employment connection platform, the reports those pros generate, and the issues that need to be fixed get incorporated into the tools developers are using like Jira to help resolve them in the their existing workflow.

Cobalt CEO Jacob Hansen says the company began fundraising at the beginning of the year, just as the pandemic was beginning to take hold in Europe. He saw a lot of those discussions wither as some firms simply stopped investing, but he eventually hooked up with Highland Europe after a strong Q1 and Q2 where the company actually became cash flow positive, an unusual achievement for a startup at this stage.

The company also has 600 customers on the platform and Hansen projects it will be up to 900 by the end of the year. These customers buy a certain number of pentest credits on a subscription basis, based on the number of programs they need to test and the cadence of their testing. So as an example, a company with 4 applications might buy 8 credits to test twice a year.

Hansen says that the company’s retention numbers are comparable with other SaaS businesses. “If you’re a mid-enterprise or enterprise customer we’re at around 120% net dollar retention. And if it’s an SMB below a couple hundred employees, then we’re just below 100%,” he said. He pointed out that small businesses have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic, which probably has had an impact on that number.

The company started the year with 100 employees. Today, it has 105, choosing to keep it lean until it saw how COVID would affect the business, but the plan is to accelerate now with the new capital moving to 150 this year and 200 by next year.

When it comes to building a diverse workforce, Hansen says Chief Strategy Officer Caroline Wong is in charge of the company’s diversity efforts. He admits there is no formula for success, but you obviously know when your company isn’t diverse.

“It’s difficult to measure what success is, other than you don’t want everybody to be the same, but one thing that I’ve tried to do is to build a leadership team with people who have a lot of different perspectives,” he said. The other thing he says, is he tries to make decisions with the understanding of his own privilege through his upbringing in Denmark.

As the company grows, he wants to put more resources into engineering with the goal of making the process of signing up, getting a subscription and using the service to be even simpler. Hansen also hopes to build many more integrations into the platform with the broader applications security ecosystem.

The company was founded in 2013 and has raised $37 million with today’s investment, according to Crunchbase data. As part of the terms of this deal, Highland’s Gajan Rajanathan will be joining the board.

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The promise of SaaS has always been about taking tedious, expensive manual tasks and finding a way to build a platform to automate them. Cobalt.io is doing that with pentesting, the process of testing an application for security vulnerabilities before it goes out the door. Today, the startup announced a $29 million Series B led by Highland Europe.

The company’s platform provides a way to move beyond traditional pentesting consultancies to connect pentesting professionals with companies who need their services. Beyond being a pure employment connection platform, the reports those pros generate, and the issues that need to be fixed get incorporated into the tools developers are using like Jira to help resolve them in the their existing workflow.

Cobalt CEO Jacob Hansen says the company began fundraising at the beginning of the year, just as the pandemic was beginning to take hold in Europe. He saw a lot of those discussions wither as some firms simply stopped investing, but he eventually hooked up with Highland Europe after a strong Q1 and Q2 where the company actually became cash flow positive, an unusual achievement for a startup at this stage.

The company also has 600 customers on the platform and Hansen projects it will be up to 900 by the end of the year. These customers buy a certain number of pentest credits on a subscription basis, based on the number of programs they need to test and the cadence of their testing. So as an example, a company with 4 applications might buy 8 credits to test twice a year.

Hansen says that the company’s retention numbers are comparable with other SaaS businesses. “If you’re a mid-enterprise or enterprise customer we’re at around 120% net dollar retention. And if it’s an SMB below a couple hundred employees, then we’re just below 100%,” he said. He pointed out that small businesses have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic, which probably has had an impact on that number.

The company started the year with 100 employees. Today, it has 105, choosing to keep it lean until it saw how COVID would affect the business, but the plan is to accelerate now with the new capital moving to 150 this year and 200 by next year.

When it comes to building a diverse workforce, Hansen says Chief Strategy Officer Caroline Wong is in charge of the company’s diversity efforts. He admits there is no formula for success, but you obviously know when your company isn’t diverse.

“It’s difficult to measure what success is, other than you don’t want everybody to be the same, but one thing that I’ve tried to do is to build a leadership team with people who have a lot of different perspectives,” he said. The other thing he says, is he tries to make decisions with the understanding of his own privilege through his upbringing in Denmark.

As the company grows, he wants to put more resources into engineering with the goal of making the process of signing up, getting a subscription and using the service to be even simpler. Hansen also hopes to build many more integrations into the platform with the broader applications security ecosystem.

The company was founded in 2013 and has raised $37 million with today’s investment, according to Crunchbase data. As part of the terms of this deal, Highland’s Gajan Rajanathan will be joining the board.



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AI as a blueprint for fintech startups


While most startup founders would prefer not to pore over laws, regulations and interpretive materials to design a perfect product, it’s an essential exercise for those developing financial services solutions. For fintechs and the other finserv-related startups (e.g., regtech, suptech, etc.) understanding the regulatory obligations of customers and prospects will be core to your mission. In some cases, the process of interpretation and analysis might be a heavy lift involving expert outside counsel, lobbying efforts, and specialized consulting services.

A complicating factor for any fintech looking to solidify its understanding of regulatory paradigms is the gray area where regulators have issued cursory guidance, or no guidance at all. One gray-ish realm where financial services regulators have shown interest, but are largely treading lightly, has been offering guidance about the use of artificial intelligence (“AI”). However, a few regulators are now applying institutional and intellectual rigor to the subject given its use in almost every aspect of banking and finance.

In June, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s (“FINRA”) Office of Financial Innovation issued a report called “Artificial Intelligence in the Securities Industry.”1 FINRA is the self-regulatory organization responsible for oversight of broker-dealers in the United States — in simpler terms, it regulates the big and small brokerage firms that offer financial advice. FINRA has consistently been one of the more technologically engaged regulators — in 2018 they solicited industry comments on AI, which led to the report, and produced reports on the use of regulatory technology and selected cybersecurity practices. (The U.K.’s FCA as well as the CFTC in the U.S. have also been key boosters for innovation in financial services, including the use of AI.)

FINRA’s AI Report is particularly interesting for fintechs since it explores how firms (read: fintech clients) are deploying AI as well as the agency’s expectations for AI oversight. Fintechs can use this report as a blueprint — identifying areas for potential AI product growth and as a guidepost for the regulatory and operational concerns that firms, and by extension fintechs themselves, must manage when implementing AI.


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While most startup founders would prefer not to pore over laws, regulations and interpretive materials to design a perfect product, it’s an essential exercise for those developing financial services solutions. For fintechs and the other finserv-related startups (e.g., regtech, suptech, etc.) understanding the regulatory obligations of customers and prospects will be core to your mission. In some cases, the process of interpretation and analysis might be a heavy lift involving expert outside counsel, lobbying efforts, and specialized consulting services.

A complicating factor for any fintech looking to solidify its understanding of regulatory paradigms is the gray area where regulators have issued cursory guidance, or no guidance at all. One gray-ish realm where financial services regulators have shown interest, but are largely treading lightly, has been offering guidance about the use of artificial intelligence (“AI”). However, a few regulators are now applying institutional and intellectual rigor to the subject given its use in almost every aspect of banking and finance.

In June, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s (“FINRA”) Office of Financial Innovation issued a report called “Artificial Intelligence in the Securities Industry.”1 FINRA is the self-regulatory organization responsible for oversight of broker-dealers in the United States — in simpler terms, it regulates the big and small brokerage firms that offer financial advice. FINRA has consistently been one of the more technologically engaged regulators — in 2018 they solicited industry comments on AI, which led to the report, and produced reports on the use of regulatory technology and selected cybersecurity practices. (The U.K.’s FCA as well as the CFTC in the U.S. have also been key boosters for innovation in financial services, including the use of AI.)

FINRA’s AI Report is particularly interesting for fintechs since it explores how firms (read: fintech clients) are deploying AI as well as the agency’s expectations for AI oversight. Fintechs can use this report as a blueprint — identifying areas for potential AI product growth and as a guidepost for the regulatory and operational concerns that firms, and by extension fintechs themselves, must manage when implementing AI.





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CrunchMatch supercharges virtual networking at TC Sessions: Mobility 2020


Ready for our first virtual TC Sessions Mobility 2020? As we like to say, it’s not just one long webinar. We’re creating the quality production levels you’d expect from our IRL events (thanks, technology). This session spans two days — October 6-7 — to give you more time to take in the speakers, the interviews, the trends and the world-class networking.

We even overhauled CrunchMatch, our AI-powered networking platform, to help bridge the physical distance of a virtual conference. The platform helps you connect and schedule 1:1 video meetings with the people who align with your business goals. Who’s at the top your must-meet list? Investors, founders, engineers, R&D teams, manufacturing mavens, supply-chain experts? An upgraded algorithm makes matching and recommendations faster and more precise — and the more you use CrunchMatch the smarter it gets.

When you register for TC Sessions: Mobility 2020, you’ll answer a few quick questions about your business preferences, and within minutes you’ll be automatically registered for CrunchMatch — and receive an email telling you how and when to access the platform. It’s the tool you want to make your networking more targeted and efficient.

“The CrunchMatch platform, which is basically speed-dating for techies, was very helpful. I scheduled at least 10 short, precise meetings. I learned about startups in stealth mode, what big corporations were up to — things not yet picked up by the press. It was great, and I followed up on three or four of those connections.” — Jens Lehmann, technical lead and product manager, SAP.

We’ve built networking right into the Mobility agenda, so you won’t suffer from acute FOMO. Here’s just a taste of what we have planned.

  • The Next Opportunities in Micromobility: Worldwide, numerous companies are operating shared micromobility services — so many that the industry is well into a consolidation phase. Despite the over-saturation of the market, there are still opportunities for new players. Dor Levi, head of bikes and scooters at Lyft, Danielle Harris, director of mobility innovation at Elemental Excelerator and Dmitry Shevelenko, founder at Tortoise will discuss.
  • Investing in Mobility: Reilly Brennan, Amy Gu and Olaf Sakkers will come together to debate the uncertain future of mobility tech and whether VC dollars are enough to push the industry forward.

Want to save some cash? Buy your TC Sessions: Mobility 2020 early-bird pass before prices go up on September 4 at 11:59 pm PT. Then get your networking on with CrunchMatch and drive (autonomously, or otherwise) your mobility business to the next level.

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at TC Sessions: Mobility 2020? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

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Ready for our first virtual TC Sessions Mobility 2020? As we like to say, it’s not just one long webinar. We’re creating the quality production levels you’d expect from our IRL events (thanks, technology). This session spans two days — October 6-7 — to give you more time to take in the speakers, the interviews, the trends and the world-class networking.

We even overhauled CrunchMatch, our AI-powered networking platform, to help bridge the physical distance of a virtual conference. The platform helps you connect and schedule 1:1 video meetings with the people who align with your business goals. Who’s at the top your must-meet list? Investors, founders, engineers, R&D teams, manufacturing mavens, supply-chain experts? An upgraded algorithm makes matching and recommendations faster and more precise — and the more you use CrunchMatch the smarter it gets.

When you register for TC Sessions: Mobility 2020, you’ll answer a few quick questions about your business preferences, and within minutes you’ll be automatically registered for CrunchMatch — and receive an email telling you how and when to access the platform. It’s the tool you want to make your networking more targeted and efficient.

“The CrunchMatch platform, which is basically speed-dating for techies, was very helpful. I scheduled at least 10 short, precise meetings. I learned about startups in stealth mode, what big corporations were up to — things not yet picked up by the press. It was great, and I followed up on three or four of those connections.” — Jens Lehmann, technical lead and product manager, SAP.

We’ve built networking right into the Mobility agenda, so you won’t suffer from acute FOMO. Here’s just a taste of what we have planned.

  • The Next Opportunities in Micromobility: Worldwide, numerous companies are operating shared micromobility services — so many that the industry is well into a consolidation phase. Despite the over-saturation of the market, there are still opportunities for new players. Dor Levi, head of bikes and scooters at Lyft, Danielle Harris, director of mobility innovation at Elemental Excelerator and Dmitry Shevelenko, founder at Tortoise will discuss.
  • Investing in Mobility: Reilly Brennan, Amy Gu and Olaf Sakkers will come together to debate the uncertain future of mobility tech and whether VC dollars are enough to push the industry forward.

Want to save some cash? Buy your TC Sessions: Mobility 2020 early-bird pass before prices go up on September 4 at 11:59 pm PT. Then get your networking on with CrunchMatch and drive (autonomously, or otherwise) your mobility business to the next level.

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at TC Sessions: Mobility 2020? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

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Further delay to GDPR enforcement of 2018 Twitter breach


Twitter users have to wait to longer to find out what penalties, if any, the platform faces under the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) for a data breach that dates back around two years.

In the meanwhile the platform has continued to suffer security failures — including, just last month, when hackers gained control of scores of verified accounts and tweeted out a crypto scam.

The tech firm’s lead regulator in the region, Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC), began investigating an earlier Twitter breach in November 2018 — completing the probe earlier this year and submitting a draft decision to other EU DPAs for review in May, just ahead of the second anniversary of the GDPR’s application.

In a statement on the development, Graham Doyle, the DPC’s deputy commissioner, told TechCrunch: “The Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC) issued a draft decision to other Concerned Supervisory Authorities (CSAs) on 22 May 2020, in relation to this inquiry into Twitter. A number of objections were raised by CSAs and the DPC engaged in a consultation process with them. However, following consultation a number of objections were maintained and the DPC has now referred the matter to the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) under Article 65 of the GDPR.”

Under the regulation’s one-stop-shop mechanism, cross-border cases are handled by a lead regulator — typically where the business has established its regional base. For many tech companies that means Ireland, so the DPC has an oversized role in the regulation of Silicon Valley’s handling of people’s data.

This means it now has a huge backlog of highly anticipated complaints relating to tech giants including Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn and indeed Twitter. The regulator also continues to face criticism for not yet ‘getting it over the line’ in any of these complaints and investigations pertaining to big tech. So the Twitter breach case is being especially closely watched as it looks set to be the Irish DPC’s first enforcement decision in a cross-border GDPR case.

Last year commissioner Helen Dixon said the first of these decisions would be coming “early” in 2020. In the event, we’re past the halfway mark of the year with still no enforcement to show for it. Though the DPC emphasizes the need to follow due process to ensure final decisions stand up to any challenge.

The latest delay in the Twitter case is a consequence of disagreements between the DPC and other regional watchdogs which, under the rules of GDPR, have a right to raise objections on a draft decision where users in their countries are also affected.

It’s not clear what specific objections have been raised to the DPC’s draft Twitter decision, or indeed what Ireland’s regulator has decided in what should be a relatively straightforward case, given it’s a breach — not a complaint about a core element of a data-mining business model.

Far more complex complaints are still sitting on the DPC’s desk. Doyle confirmed that a complaint pertaining to WhatsApp’s legal basis for sharing user data with Facebook remains the next most progressed in the stack, for example.

So, given the DPC’s Twitter breach draft decision hasn’t been universally accepted by Europe’s data watchdogs it’s all but inevitable Facebook -WhatsApp will go through the same objections process. Ergo, expect more delays.

Article 65 of the GDPR sets out a process for handling objections on draft decisions. It allows for one month for DPAs to reach a two-thirds majority, with the possibility for a further extension of another month — which would push a decision on the Twitter case into late October.

If there’s still not enough votes in favor at that point, a further two weeks are allowed for EDPB members to reach a simple majority. If DPAs are still split the Board chair, currently Andrea Jelinek, has the deciding vote. So the body’s role in major decisions over big tech looks set to be very key.

We’ve reached out to the EDPB with questions related to the Twitter objections and will update this report with any response.

The Article 65 process exists to try to find consensus across a patchwork of national and regional data supervisors. But it won’t silence critics who argue the GDPR is not able to be applied fast enough to uphold EU citizens’ rights in the face of fast-iterating data-mining giants.

To wit: Given the latest developments, a final decision on the Twitter breach could be delayed until November — a full two years after the investigation began.

Earlier this summer a two-year review of GDPR by the European Commission, meanwhile, highlighted a lack of uniformly vigorous enforcement. Though commissioners signalled a willingness to wait and see how the one-stop-shop mechanism runs its course on cross-border cases, while admitting there’s a need to reinforce cooperation and co-ordination on cross border issues.

“We need to be sure that it’s possible for all the national authorities to work together. And in the network of national authorities it’s the case — and with the Board [EDPB] it’s possible to organize that. So we’ll continue to work on it,” justice commissioner, Didier Reynders, said in June.

“The best answer will be a decision from the Irish data protection authority about important cases,” he added then.

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Twitter users have to wait to longer to find out what penalties, if any, the platform faces under the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) for a data breach that dates back around two years.

In the meanwhile the platform has continued to suffer security failures — including, just last month, when hackers gained control of scores of verified accounts and tweeted out a crypto scam.

The tech firm’s lead regulator in the region, Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC), began investigating an earlier Twitter breach in November 2018 — completing the probe earlier this year and submitting a draft decision to other EU DPAs for review in May, just ahead of the second anniversary of the GDPR’s application.

In a statement on the development, Graham Doyle, the DPC’s deputy commissioner, told TechCrunch: “The Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC) issued a draft decision to other Concerned Supervisory Authorities (CSAs) on 22 May 2020, in relation to this inquiry into Twitter. A number of objections were raised by CSAs and the DPC engaged in a consultation process with them. However, following consultation a number of objections were maintained and the DPC has now referred the matter to the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) under Article 65 of the GDPR.”

Under the regulation’s one-stop-shop mechanism, cross-border cases are handled by a lead regulator — typically where the business has established its regional base. For many tech companies that means Ireland, so the DPC has an oversized role in the regulation of Silicon Valley’s handling of people’s data.

This means it now has a huge backlog of highly anticipated complaints relating to tech giants including Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn and indeed Twitter. The regulator also continues to face criticism for not yet ‘getting it over the line’ in any of these complaints and investigations pertaining to big tech. So the Twitter breach case is being especially closely watched as it looks set to be the Irish DPC’s first enforcement decision in a cross-border GDPR case.

Last year commissioner Helen Dixon said the first of these decisions would be coming “early” in 2020. In the event, we’re past the halfway mark of the year with still no enforcement to show for it. Though the DPC emphasizes the need to follow due process to ensure final decisions stand up to any challenge.

The latest delay in the Twitter case is a consequence of disagreements between the DPC and other regional watchdogs which, under the rules of GDPR, have a right to raise objections on a draft decision where users in their countries are also affected.

It’s not clear what specific objections have been raised to the DPC’s draft Twitter decision, or indeed what Ireland’s regulator has decided in what should be a relatively straightforward case, given it’s a breach — not a complaint about a core element of a data-mining business model.

Far more complex complaints are still sitting on the DPC’s desk. Doyle confirmed that a complaint pertaining to WhatsApp’s legal basis for sharing user data with Facebook remains the next most progressed in the stack, for example.

So, given the DPC’s Twitter breach draft decision hasn’t been universally accepted by Europe’s data watchdogs it’s all but inevitable Facebook -WhatsApp will go through the same objections process. Ergo, expect more delays.

Article 65 of the GDPR sets out a process for handling objections on draft decisions. It allows for one month for DPAs to reach a two-thirds majority, with the possibility for a further extension of another month — which would push a decision on the Twitter case into late October.

If there’s still not enough votes in favor at that point, a further two weeks are allowed for EDPB members to reach a simple majority. If DPAs are still split the Board chair, currently Andrea Jelinek, has the deciding vote. So the body’s role in major decisions over big tech looks set to be very key.

We’ve reached out to the EDPB with questions related to the Twitter objections and will update this report with any response.

The Article 65 process exists to try to find consensus across a patchwork of national and regional data supervisors. But it won’t silence critics who argue the GDPR is not able to be applied fast enough to uphold EU citizens’ rights in the face of fast-iterating data-mining giants.

To wit: Given the latest developments, a final decision on the Twitter breach could be delayed until November — a full two years after the investigation began.

Earlier this summer a two-year review of GDPR by the European Commission, meanwhile, highlighted a lack of uniformly vigorous enforcement. Though commissioners signalled a willingness to wait and see how the one-stop-shop mechanism runs its course on cross-border cases, while admitting there’s a need to reinforce cooperation and co-ordination on cross border issues.

“We need to be sure that it’s possible for all the national authorities to work together. And in the network of national authorities it’s the case — and with the Board [EDPB] it’s possible to organize that. So we’ll continue to work on it,” justice commissioner, Didier Reynders, said in June.

“The best answer will be a decision from the Irish data protection authority about important cases,” he added then.



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Moon lander startup ispace raises $28 million and launches a new lunar data platform


ispace, one of the startups working on putting a private lunar lander on the Moon sometime in the next few years has raised a $28 million Series B funding round, which will be used to help it continue to develop its commercial lander ahead of planned 2022 and 2023 launches. Alongside the investment, the Japanese startup is also announcing a new data platform business that will leverage the lunar data it will collect to provide other companies, space agencies, research organizations and more with an informed basis for planning their own Moon missions and eventual lunar commercial developments.

The $28 million Series B, which was led by IF SPV 1st Investment Partnership (through Incubate Fund), and includes funding by Space Frontier Fund (a fund whose LPs include Toyota, Mizuho Bank and more), Takasago Thermal Engineering Co and Mitsui Sumitomo, brings the startup’s total funding to date to $125 million. The funds will also be used to help ispace develop a larger version of its HAKUTO-R lunar lander, which is set to be put into use for the company’s third and following Moon missions.

The lunar data business that ispace is developing, which is called ‘Blueprint Moon,’ anticipates increasing investment in human presence on and near the Moon. The commercialization of space thus far has focused on Earth’s own orbital environment, but with NASA planning a spate of lunar missions, as well as an orbital lunar space station and sustained human surface activities, as well as interest and investment from many other space agencies globally.

ispace has managed to attract a lot of strategic commercial partners already to support its lander program, including Takasago Thermal, which will be testing its own electrolysis tech on the Moon on a future mission with ispace, and Mitsui Sumitomo, which is creating a lunar insurance product that will be able to underwrite future commercial Moon missions. Blueprint Moon will use existing publicly available lunar data, along with information collected on future ispace surface missions, to help other businesses and agencies create similar business, research and exploration opportunities in the future, while also generating more near-term revenue for the startup as it continues to focus on its more ambitious launches.

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ispace, one of the startups working on putting a private lunar lander on the Moon sometime in the next few years has raised a $28 million Series B funding round, which will be used to help it continue to develop its commercial lander ahead of planned 2022 and 2023 launches. Alongside the investment, the Japanese startup is also announcing a new data platform business that will leverage the lunar data it will collect to provide other companies, space agencies, research organizations and more with an informed basis for planning their own Moon missions and eventual lunar commercial developments.

The $28 million Series B, which was led by IF SPV 1st Investment Partnership (through Incubate Fund), and includes funding by Space Frontier Fund (a fund whose LPs include Toyota, Mizuho Bank and more), Takasago Thermal Engineering Co and Mitsui Sumitomo, brings the startup’s total funding to date to $125 million. The funds will also be used to help ispace develop a larger version of its HAKUTO-R lunar lander, which is set to be put into use for the company’s third and following Moon missions.

The lunar data business that ispace is developing, which is called ‘Blueprint Moon,’ anticipates increasing investment in human presence on and near the Moon. The commercialization of space thus far has focused on Earth’s own orbital environment, but with NASA planning a spate of lunar missions, as well as an orbital lunar space station and sustained human surface activities, as well as interest and investment from many other space agencies globally.

ispace has managed to attract a lot of strategic commercial partners already to support its lander program, including Takasago Thermal, which will be testing its own electrolysis tech on the Moon on a future mission with ispace, and Mitsui Sumitomo, which is creating a lunar insurance product that will be able to underwrite future commercial Moon missions. Blueprint Moon will use existing publicly available lunar data, along with information collected on future ispace surface missions, to help other businesses and agencies create similar business, research and exploration opportunities in the future, while also generating more near-term revenue for the startup as it continues to focus on its more ambitious launches.



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China’s Waterdrop nabs $230M for its crowdfunded, mutual aid insurance platform


When people in the US or Europe think of crowdfunding and medical expenses, sites like GoFundMe, where people fundraise around specific predicaments, come to mind. But today comes news of how another approach — a platform based around crowdfunding and mutual aid that pays out when its members fall into medical dire straits — is picking up some significant steam in its growth, and its financial backing.

Waterdrop, which goes by Shuidihuzhu in China (translated as “water drop mutual help”), today said that it has raised $230 million in a new round of funding jointly led by two strategic investors, the insurance giant Swiss Re and returning investor Tencent, whose WeChat platform is used to sign up users and buy products using a quick QR code scheme.

Previous investors IDG Capital and Wisdom Choice Global Fund also participated in the Series D. The startup is not disclosing its valuation, but when the round had partially closed at $200 million earlier this month, Pitchbook noted that its pre-money valuation was $1.8 billion, which puts the valuation now at just over $2 billion.

The funding will be used not just to keep growing the platform, but incorporating partnerships with others in the healthcare ecosystem, from pharmaceutical companies and insurance businesses, through to hospitals and pharmacies, and other clinical care facilities, in part by way of a new service it’s launched called Haoyaofu, to provide members with lowr-cost medications and treatments.

Waterdrop has also been looking at how it can get more involved in facilitiating more services. medical consultations, providing overeseas medical treatment, and more healthcare services like cancer screening and routine exams, cornerstones of how health insurance already operates.

“We are excited about the huge growth potential that lies ahead of us. Our long-term goal is to become a leading online healthcare platform in China with an ecosystem that includes insurers, pharmaceutical companies, hospitals and drug stores, as well as nursing institutions and rehabilitation institutions,” said Peng Shen, founder and CEO of Waterdrop, in a statement. “We are committed to not only helping users with financing issues but also providing them with integrated healthcare services along the way.”

Beijing-based Waterdrop noted that this is Swiss Re’s first investment into an insurance startup in China, and the largest private fundraise for an insurtech company so far this year in any market, which it says was spurred in part by the global surge not just in the attention that healthcare is getting as a result of the coronavirus health pandemic, but the push towards better tech-based solutions to meet a new set of demands across the ecosystem, from healthcare providers through to those working on medicines and other innovations, through to the needs of patients.

“As a leading online InsurTech company, Waterdrop is well positioned to tackle the pain points of traditional insurance and pave the way for future breakthroughs in the industry, such as the accelerated technological innovation and digitalization of the industry worldwide that we have witnessed during the COVID-19 situation,” said Ning Zhou, head of principal investment and acquisition for Asia for Swiss Re.

Indeed, the same uncertainty that COVID-19 has brought to many industries has ironically been a boost for insurance startups. Lemonade, the US-based insurance tech startup, raised more in its IPO, $319 million and is currently has a market cap of $3.5 billion.

The “water drop” reference in the startup’s name comes from the basic premise behind the business model, requiring low buy-in (ie, just a drop of water) from its customers.

One part of the Waterdrop business — which today is live only in China, with a beta version of an international site launched in April 2019 — focuses on mutual aid for medical conditions. In one part, users contribute very incremental amounts money, starting as low as half a cent, towards a mutual aid scheme, where Waterdrop then pays out up to 300,000 yuan (about $43,000) when members unexpectedly find themselves struck with a major medical setback.

Children, middle-aged and young people have a list of 106 conditions that are covered, including cancer. Other age groups (and presumably other categories of users such as those with pre-existing health conditions) have a smaller and different list of conditions that are covered.

The other part of that business focuses on mutual aid for those who suffer an accident that results in a permanent disability or death, which pays out up to 100,000 yuan ($14,500) in these cases.

Those sums may not sound like much, but in a country where some 600 million people earn as little as only 1,000 yuan ($144) each month, these can be significant sums, either in place of having other more costly insurance programs, or as a complement to these. (The average monthly per capita income, it should be noted, is much higher, at 30,000 yuan.)

Another part of the business focuses on more traditional health insurance services, with monthly payments again starting at low amounts of money, such as a long term serious health insurance that starts at 4 yuan ($0.58) per month.

A third part is a more traditional crowdfunding platform for healthcare costs.

Waterdrop has not been without bumps, as you would expect. An expose in December unveiled how employees, under pressure to meet aggressive growth targets, were cutting due diligence corners in sign-ups and in some cases lying on application forms. (The company in response said it fired the team responsible and worked to put in place better measures to block things like this from happening again.)

It has also built public black lists to name and shame those who have tried to scam others on its crowdfunding platform, which points to a persistent problem of that also getting abused.

Despite that, all together, the Waterdrop businesses have seen a lot of growth.

The Insurance Mall now has 120 million unique insurance enrollees, with a written premium of US$865 million in the first half of 2020, which is close to the total written premium for full year 2019 (essentially saying business has doubled to date). For the full year 2020, Waterdrop Insurance Mall expects to record a total written premium of $2.0 billion, or more than 100% year-on-year growth, with a total earned premium of $865 million, or 300% year-on-year growth. Waterdrop Crowdfunding, meanwhile, has raised $4.6 billion from 320 million unique users over 1 billion+ donations as of the end of July 2020. And Waterdrop Mutual has paid out $233 million to 12,819 families so far.

As a point of comparison, in April 2019, Waterdrop claimed 78.8 million users with payouts of 440 million yuan, or $65.34 million, 3,100 families so far.

The Swiss Re investment is significant not only for the funding itself, but because Waterdrop is not alone in the market, with another major competitor backed by Alibaba called Xiang Hu Bao (which translates less prosaically and simply as “mutual protection”) that is hot on its heels for growth.

“We will continue to build on our solid partnership with Waterdrop and together we will support the ongoing development of the issurance industry and promote digital innovation,” said Russell Higginbotham, CEO Reinsurance Asia and Regional President, Swiss Re, in a statement.

For investor Tencent, having a significant stake in a healthcare company that ties in its services with its WeChat messaging platform is one way to continue to have leverage in this growing area against one of its big rivals in the country.

“Amid the rapid expansion of the Chinese commercial health insurance market, Waterdrop has seized the market opportunity very well and used the power of technological innovation to help tens of millions of families,” said Yu Haiyang, MD of Tencent Investment, in a statement. “Tencent continues to be a long-term supporter of Waterdrop and will help it build an even better user experience.”

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When people in the US or Europe think of crowdfunding and medical expenses, sites like GoFundMe, where people fundraise around specific predicaments, come to mind. But today comes news of how another approach — a platform based around crowdfunding and mutual aid that pays out when its members fall into medical dire straits — is picking up some significant steam in its growth, and its financial backing.

Waterdrop, which goes by Shuidihuzhu in China (translated as “water drop mutual help”), today said that it has raised $230 million in a new round of funding jointly led by two strategic investors, the insurance giant Swiss Re and returning investor Tencent, whose WeChat platform is used to sign up users and buy products using a quick QR code scheme.

Previous investors IDG Capital and Wisdom Choice Global Fund also participated in the Series D. The startup is not disclosing its valuation, but when the round had partially closed at $200 million earlier this month, Pitchbook noted that its pre-money valuation was $1.8 billion, which puts the valuation now at just over $2 billion.

The funding will be used not just to keep growing the platform, but incorporating partnerships with others in the healthcare ecosystem, from pharmaceutical companies and insurance businesses, through to hospitals and pharmacies, and other clinical care facilities, in part by way of a new service it’s launched called Haoyaofu, to provide members with lowr-cost medications and treatments.

Waterdrop has also been looking at how it can get more involved in facilitiating more services. medical consultations, providing overeseas medical treatment, and more healthcare services like cancer screening and routine exams, cornerstones of how health insurance already operates.

“We are excited about the huge growth potential that lies ahead of us. Our long-term goal is to become a leading online healthcare platform in China with an ecosystem that includes insurers, pharmaceutical companies, hospitals and drug stores, as well as nursing institutions and rehabilitation institutions,” said Peng Shen, founder and CEO of Waterdrop, in a statement. “We are committed to not only helping users with financing issues but also providing them with integrated healthcare services along the way.”

Beijing-based Waterdrop noted that this is Swiss Re’s first investment into an insurance startup in China, and the largest private fundraise for an insurtech company so far this year in any market, which it says was spurred in part by the global surge not just in the attention that healthcare is getting as a result of the coronavirus health pandemic, but the push towards better tech-based solutions to meet a new set of demands across the ecosystem, from healthcare providers through to those working on medicines and other innovations, through to the needs of patients.

“As a leading online InsurTech company, Waterdrop is well positioned to tackle the pain points of traditional insurance and pave the way for future breakthroughs in the industry, such as the accelerated technological innovation and digitalization of the industry worldwide that we have witnessed during the COVID-19 situation,” said Ning Zhou, head of principal investment and acquisition for Asia for Swiss Re.

Indeed, the same uncertainty that COVID-19 has brought to many industries has ironically been a boost for insurance startups. Lemonade, the US-based insurance tech startup, raised more in its IPO, $319 million and is currently has a market cap of $3.5 billion.

The “water drop” reference in the startup’s name comes from the basic premise behind the business model, requiring low buy-in (ie, just a drop of water) from its customers.

One part of the Waterdrop business — which today is live only in China, with a beta version of an international site launched in April 2019 — focuses on mutual aid for medical conditions. In one part, users contribute very incremental amounts money, starting as low as half a cent, towards a mutual aid scheme, where Waterdrop then pays out up to 300,000 yuan (about $43,000) when members unexpectedly find themselves struck with a major medical setback.

Children, middle-aged and young people have a list of 106 conditions that are covered, including cancer. Other age groups (and presumably other categories of users such as those with pre-existing health conditions) have a smaller and different list of conditions that are covered.

The other part of that business focuses on mutual aid for those who suffer an accident that results in a permanent disability or death, which pays out up to 100,000 yuan ($14,500) in these cases.

Those sums may not sound like much, but in a country where some 600 million people earn as little as only 1,000 yuan ($144) each month, these can be significant sums, either in place of having other more costly insurance programs, or as a complement to these. (The average monthly per capita income, it should be noted, is much higher, at 30,000 yuan.)

Another part of the business focuses on more traditional health insurance services, with monthly payments again starting at low amounts of money, such as a long term serious health insurance that starts at 4 yuan ($0.58) per month.

A third part is a more traditional crowdfunding platform for healthcare costs.

Waterdrop has not been without bumps, as you would expect. An expose in December unveiled how employees, under pressure to meet aggressive growth targets, were cutting due diligence corners in sign-ups and in some cases lying on application forms. (The company in response said it fired the team responsible and worked to put in place better measures to block things like this from happening again.)

It has also built public black lists to name and shame those who have tried to scam others on its crowdfunding platform, which points to a persistent problem of that also getting abused.

Despite that, all together, the Waterdrop businesses have seen a lot of growth.

The Insurance Mall now has 120 million unique insurance enrollees, with a written premium of US$865 million in the first half of 2020, which is close to the total written premium for full year 2019 (essentially saying business has doubled to date). For the full year 2020, Waterdrop Insurance Mall expects to record a total written premium of $2.0 billion, or more than 100% year-on-year growth, with a total earned premium of $865 million, or 300% year-on-year growth. Waterdrop Crowdfunding, meanwhile, has raised $4.6 billion from 320 million unique users over 1 billion+ donations as of the end of July 2020. And Waterdrop Mutual has paid out $233 million to 12,819 families so far.

As a point of comparison, in April 2019, Waterdrop claimed 78.8 million users with payouts of 440 million yuan, or $65.34 million, 3,100 families so far.

The Swiss Re investment is significant not only for the funding itself, but because Waterdrop is not alone in the market, with another major competitor backed by Alibaba called Xiang Hu Bao (which translates less prosaically and simply as “mutual protection”) that is hot on its heels for growth.

“We will continue to build on our solid partnership with Waterdrop and together we will support the ongoing development of the issurance industry and promote digital innovation,” said Russell Higginbotham, CEO Reinsurance Asia and Regional President, Swiss Re, in a statement.

For investor Tencent, having a significant stake in a healthcare company that ties in its services with its WeChat messaging platform is one way to continue to have leverage in this growing area against one of its big rivals in the country.

“Amid the rapid expansion of the Chinese commercial health insurance market, Waterdrop has seized the market opportunity very well and used the power of technological innovation to help tens of millions of families,” said Yu Haiyang, MD of Tencent Investment, in a statement. “Tencent continues to be a long-term supporter of Waterdrop and will help it build an even better user experience.”



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Tokyo-based collaboration platform BeaTrust lands $2.8 million seed round


BeaTrust co-founder Masato Kume, co-founder and chief executive officer Kunio Hara and Ryo Nagaoka, vice president of engineering

Founded just four months ago, Tokyo-based BeaTrust has raised a JPY 300 million (about USD $2.83 million) seed round for its enterprise collaboration platform. The startup’s ambitious goal is to change corporate culture at large Japanese companies before expanding into other countries.

The round came from CyberAgent Capital; DNX Ventures; ITOCHU Technology Ventures; STRIVE; One Capital; Delight Ventures; PKSHA/SPARX Algorithm 1st; and Mizuho Capital, along with undisclosed individual participants.

BeaTrust’s platform allows employees at large companies to discover colleagues in different departments with similar interests and skills, and gives them tools to work together on projects.

The startup’s co-founders, Kunio Hara and Masato Kume, met while working at Google in Japan. Before Google, Hara held positions in Tokyo and Silicon Valley at Sumitomo Corporation, Softbank, Silicon Graphics and Microsoft, while Kume worked at Asatsu-DK. During their time at Google, the two focused on helping Japanese startups scale by using Google’s tools.

Hara told TechCrunch that BeaTrust was inspired by his experience working at companies in the United States and Japan, and by the co-founders’ time at Google, where they found cross-department collaboration was an intrinsic part of the culture. The two began to think about how they could bring the same qualities to large Japanese corporations.

“From the standpoint of employees at Google, working there is like a lifestyle. We work together and think about how to facilitate cross-cultural innovation among employees, and that needs a communication and digital infrastructure to support those ideas,” said Hara.

BeaTrust wants to transform Japanese corporate culture, which Hara described as “very siloed and top-down, with very strict rules,” making it harder for people in different teams or departments to communicate or even get to know one another. “There are a lot of initiatives to hire talented people, but it’s not an environment that helps people connect with one another and ask each other for help, which is what leads to new projects,” he added.

The platform is currently in closed beta stage, testing with three late-stage startups that have about 100 to 200 employees each. Its first feature is employee profiles that list skills and experience. Next, BeaTrust will launch tools for users to visualize how teams at their company are organized and modules to enable collaboration on different kinds of projects, including software development.

BeaTrust’s founders said as the platform grows, its target audience will be large enterprises with thousands of employees. The platform is not meant to be a replacement for Slack, which launched in Japan three years ago, or other enterprise communication tools like Microsoft Teams or ChatWork, but serve as a complement, Kume said. Slack and its competitors are meant to enable individual teams within large companies to collaborate, while BeaTrust is designed to help employees discover and strike up working relationships with colleagues they don’t know yet.

While its initial goal is to reshape corporate culture in Japan, BeaTrust founders are also eyeing expansion into European and Asian countries, and markets where large companies are continuing to mandate or encourage remote work because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“That’s becoming imperative for us because what we hear from a lot of large enterprises is that employees are not used to working remotely, so they need to think about how to shift their lifestyle and continue employee innovation,” Kume said.

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BeaTrust co-founder Masato Kume, co-founder and chief executive officer Kunio Hara and Ryo Nagaoka, vice president of engineering

Founded just four months ago, Tokyo-based BeaTrust has raised a JPY 300 million (about USD $2.83 million) seed round for its enterprise collaboration platform. The startup’s ambitious goal is to change corporate culture at large Japanese companies before expanding into other countries.

The round came from CyberAgent Capital; DNX Ventures; ITOCHU Technology Ventures; STRIVE; One Capital; Delight Ventures; PKSHA/SPARX Algorithm 1st; and Mizuho Capital, along with undisclosed individual participants.

BeaTrust’s platform allows employees at large companies to discover colleagues in different departments with similar interests and skills, and gives them tools to work together on projects.

The startup’s co-founders, Kunio Hara and Masato Kume, met while working at Google in Japan. Before Google, Hara held positions in Tokyo and Silicon Valley at Sumitomo Corporation, Softbank, Silicon Graphics and Microsoft, while Kume worked at Asatsu-DK. During their time at Google, the two focused on helping Japanese startups scale by using Google’s tools.

Hara told TechCrunch that BeaTrust was inspired by his experience working at companies in the United States and Japan, and by the co-founders’ time at Google, where they found cross-department collaboration was an intrinsic part of the culture. The two began to think about how they could bring the same qualities to large Japanese corporations.

“From the standpoint of employees at Google, working there is like a lifestyle. We work together and think about how to facilitate cross-cultural innovation among employees, and that needs a communication and digital infrastructure to support those ideas,” said Hara.

BeaTrust wants to transform Japanese corporate culture, which Hara described as “very siloed and top-down, with very strict rules,” making it harder for people in different teams or departments to communicate or even get to know one another. “There are a lot of initiatives to hire talented people, but it’s not an environment that helps people connect with one another and ask each other for help, which is what leads to new projects,” he added.

The platform is currently in closed beta stage, testing with three late-stage startups that have about 100 to 200 employees each. Its first feature is employee profiles that list skills and experience. Next, BeaTrust will launch tools for users to visualize how teams at their company are organized and modules to enable collaboration on different kinds of projects, including software development.

BeaTrust’s founders said as the platform grows, its target audience will be large enterprises with thousands of employees. The platform is not meant to be a replacement for Slack, which launched in Japan three years ago, or other enterprise communication tools like Microsoft Teams or ChatWork, but serve as a complement, Kume said. Slack and its competitors are meant to enable individual teams within large companies to collaborate, while BeaTrust is designed to help employees discover and strike up working relationships with colleagues they don’t know yet.

While its initial goal is to reshape corporate culture in Japan, BeaTrust founders are also eyeing expansion into European and Asian countries, and markets where large companies are continuing to mandate or encourage remote work because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“That’s becoming imperative for us because what we hear from a lot of large enterprises is that employees are not used to working remotely, so they need to think about how to shift their lifestyle and continue employee innovation,” Kume said.



Source link

Riff raises $1.5M seed led by Balderton for its ‘voice-first’ chat tool for remote working


Riff, a London-based startup developing what it describes as a “voice-first” chat tool for remote working, has raised $1.5 million in seed funding, prior to a full launch next year.

Leading the round is Balderton Capital, which is better known for Series A round but quite often does seed investments on the quiet. Also participating is Seedcamp and various angels, including Carlos Gonzalez-Cadenas, COO of GoCardless, Nicolas Brusson, CEO of BlaBlaCar and Tim Sadler, CEO of Tessian.

Founded by CEO Isabel Bescos, who was former head of corporate strategy at BlaBlaCar, and a former member of Balderton’s investment team, and CTO Matthew Scheybeler, who co-founded blinkx, Riff wants to solve many of the pain points felt by teams trying to communicate across different locations. While tools like Slack and Zoom are built first for text and video, respectively, Bescos and Scheybeler think audio is the missing piece of the puzzle, but used in a way that encourages the spontaneity and serendipity experienced by in-person teams.

“Instant messaging tools can be distracting, jammed with notifications and hard-to-follow threads, and on the other hand, video conferencing tools often require additional software, and tend to be used for pre-scheduled, formal meetings,” the pair tell me. “What is lacking is something that enables effortless and spontaneously collaboration throughout the day. The remote equivalent of turning to ask a colleague a quick question, or to discuss the project you are working on”.

Currently operating as a limited private beta, Riff aims to replicate the ease and spontaneity of team working but remotely. Although I haven’t seen the app for myself, I understand that it does this via a sidebar that means voice — both push to talk or left open — is always just one click away.

“With Riff, users can instantly speak to any team member while collaborating on a piece of work,” explain its founders. “For example, Riff is particularly helpful whenever several members of a team need to work together on an urgent problem, such as solving a technical bug which could take several hours. Riff allows you to be connected to your team for long periods of time without the intensity of being on camera for hours on end. People can also drop in and out as needed without the need for scheduled calls”.

More broadly, Bescos and Scheybeler say they were partly inspired by the world of video games where leaving an audio channel open amongst a social group or team of gamers is commonplace, either via in-game audio or an aoo like Discord.

“We wanted to take the speed and fluidity with which online gamers converse whilst gaming, and transpose it into the enterprise,” they add. “Rather than inundating users with notifications, Riff hopes to simplify interactions. Speaking on Riff is less distracting than Slack or Email, but faster than scheduling and waiting for a video call”.

Cue statement from Balderton general partner Suranga Chandratillake, who led on behalf of the VC firm: “We are inundated with notifications, pop-ups, chat tools and various distractions vying for our attention when trying to communicate and work with others. Yet none have managed to get to the crux of what it’s really like to be able to collaborate quickly with colleagues in an office. As more of us work remotely, there needs to be a better way. We see huge potential in Riff’s unique approach to solving this challenge, and we’re thrilled to partner with them to bring its array of benefits to more companies”.

Meanwhile, Riff plans to use the seed investment get Riff to a public beta later this year ahead of a general release in 2021, and to further build out the team.

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Riff, a London-based startup developing what it describes as a “voice-first” chat tool for remote working, has raised $1.5 million in seed funding, prior to a full launch next year.

Leading the round is Balderton Capital, which is better known for Series A round but quite often does seed investments on the quiet. Also participating is Seedcamp and various angels, including Carlos Gonzalez-Cadenas, COO of GoCardless, Nicolas Brusson, CEO of BlaBlaCar and Tim Sadler, CEO of Tessian.

Founded by CEO Isabel Bescos, who was former head of corporate strategy at BlaBlaCar, and a former member of Balderton’s investment team, and CTO Matthew Scheybeler, who co-founded blinkx, Riff wants to solve many of the pain points felt by teams trying to communicate across different locations. While tools like Slack and Zoom are built first for text and video, respectively, Bescos and Scheybeler think audio is the missing piece of the puzzle, but used in a way that encourages the spontaneity and serendipity experienced by in-person teams.

“Instant messaging tools can be distracting, jammed with notifications and hard-to-follow threads, and on the other hand, video conferencing tools often require additional software, and tend to be used for pre-scheduled, formal meetings,” the pair tell me. “What is lacking is something that enables effortless and spontaneously collaboration throughout the day. The remote equivalent of turning to ask a colleague a quick question, or to discuss the project you are working on”.

Currently operating as a limited private beta, Riff aims to replicate the ease and spontaneity of team working but remotely. Although I haven’t seen the app for myself, I understand that it does this via a sidebar that means voice — both push to talk or left open — is always just one click away.

“With Riff, users can instantly speak to any team member while collaborating on a piece of work,” explain its founders. “For example, Riff is particularly helpful whenever several members of a team need to work together on an urgent problem, such as solving a technical bug which could take several hours. Riff allows you to be connected to your team for long periods of time without the intensity of being on camera for hours on end. People can also drop in and out as needed without the need for scheduled calls”.

More broadly, Bescos and Scheybeler say they were partly inspired by the world of video games where leaving an audio channel open amongst a social group or team of gamers is commonplace, either via in-game audio or an aoo like Discord.

“We wanted to take the speed and fluidity with which online gamers converse whilst gaming, and transpose it into the enterprise,” they add. “Rather than inundating users with notifications, Riff hopes to simplify interactions. Speaking on Riff is less distracting than Slack or Email, but faster than scheduling and waiting for a video call”.

Cue statement from Balderton general partner Suranga Chandratillake, who led on behalf of the VC firm: “We are inundated with notifications, pop-ups, chat tools and various distractions vying for our attention when trying to communicate and work with others. Yet none have managed to get to the crux of what it’s really like to be able to collaborate quickly with colleagues in an office. As more of us work remotely, there needs to be a better way. We see huge potential in Riff’s unique approach to solving this challenge, and we’re thrilled to partner with them to bring its array of benefits to more companies”.

Meanwhile, Riff plans to use the seed investment get Riff to a public beta later this year ahead of a general release in 2021, and to further build out the team.



Source link

Author and professional poker player Annie Duke on how conspiracy theories gain ground


Earlier today, Facebook said it has removed hundreds of QAnon groups from its site, and that it’s restricting many  more groups, along with hundreds of pages, and more than 10,000 Instagram accounts.

As the New York Times observed in its report about the maneuvers, four-year-old QAnon, once a fringe phenomenon, has gone mainstream in recent months despite a wide range of patently outlandish conspiracy theories, including that the world is run by pedophiles trying to damage Donald Trump and that 5G cellular networks are spreading the coronavirus.

How is this happening exactly? Because we happened to be talking this week with the famed former professional poker player turned best-selling author Annie Duke — an academic who has made a career in most recent years of writing about decision theory, including in her upcoming book “How to Decide: Simple Tools for Making Better Choices” —  we asked for her thoughts about whether and why more people than ever have grown susceptible to conspiracy theories.

She had some interesting things to say that we thought worth sharing. Stay tuned for a longer piece from our conversation about her new book and how it can help both founders and investors.

Our brains don’t like randomness. We as human beings are always trying to figure out this cause and effect that’s just kind of random, yet our brains don’t like; we try to connect dots and create causality where it doesn’t exist.

Belief in conspiracy theories isn’t correlated to intelligence. It’s kind of a different thing that’s going on with how comfortable are you with saying, ‘Shit happens. Sometimes life is random and there’s a lot of luck involved and what are you going to do?’ versus [people who] really want things to make sense and to [maintain] the illusion of control over outcomes.

If you say, ‘These random things can happen like COVID and people are dying and you’re now stuck in your home, it’s hard to think about that as luck expelling itself all over you because that has implications [regarding how much control] you have over your destiny. We’re very deterministic in how we  think . . . so we’re always connecting things together to make it feel like decisions and outcomes and things are much more deterministic than they are.

We’re also natural pattern recognizers, even where patterns don’t exist. It’s so we can partly figure out that, ‘When I went to this part the plains, there were a lot of lions, [so for safety’s sake I shouldn’t go back],’ and so we can recognize faces. It’s [hard] to understand that the world is not as you see it and that we impose things on the world all the time. [Editor’s note: here, Duke points to this visual illusion (below) of two side-by-side cubes that look to be in motion but are not.]

We shouldn’t have so much confidence that we know the truth, but we really believe that the cubes spinning. So [one solution is] don’t have so much confidence that we know the truth, and know that you’re imposing your reality on the world, as opposed to reality imposing itself on you.

Conspiracy theories are not new, in any case, they’ve been going on a long time. The bigger issue now is how easily they are amplified.

One of the heuristics we have to determine whether something is true or not is processing fluency, meaning how easy is it for us to process a message. If we hear something over and over again, it’s increases it’s truthiness, in the words of Stephen Colbert. If you add a picture — so I say giraffes are the only animal that can’t jump, and I include picture of a giraffe — that increases this truthiness.

You can see where that interacts with social media. With theories plus repetition, it’s harder to figure out fact from fiction.


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Earlier today, Facebook said it has removed hundreds of QAnon groups from its site, and that it’s restricting many  more groups, along with hundreds of pages, and more than 10,000 Instagram accounts.

As the New York Times observed in its report about the maneuvers, four-year-old QAnon, once a fringe phenomenon, has gone mainstream in recent months despite a wide range of patently outlandish conspiracy theories, including that the world is run by pedophiles trying to damage Donald Trump and that 5G cellular networks are spreading the coronavirus.

How is this happening exactly? Because we happened to be talking this week with the famed former professional poker player turned best-selling author Annie Duke — an academic who has made a career in most recent years of writing about decision theory, including in her upcoming book “How to Decide: Simple Tools for Making Better Choices” —  we asked for her thoughts about whether and why more people than ever have grown susceptible to conspiracy theories.

She had some interesting things to say that we thought worth sharing. Stay tuned for a longer piece from our conversation about her new book and how it can help both founders and investors.

Our brains don’t like randomness. We as human beings are always trying to figure out this cause and effect that’s just kind of random, yet our brains don’t like; we try to connect dots and create causality where it doesn’t exist.

Belief in conspiracy theories isn’t correlated to intelligence. It’s kind of a different thing that’s going on with how c