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  • Vynn Capital snags investment from Malaysia’s MAVCAP for its maiden Southeast Asia fund

    Vynn Capital, a new entrant to Southeast Asia’s startup ecosystem, is gearing up to close its maiden fund after it landed an undisclosed sum from Malaysia Venture Capital Management Bhd (MAVCAP) as one of its anchor LPs.

    Founded by former Gobi Ventures VC Victor Chua and Singaporean investor Darren Chua (no relation) one year ago, Kuala Lumpur-based Vynn is targeting a $40 million fund for Southeast Asia. The firm has already made four investments and, on the LP side, gone after traditional businesses and Southeast Asia’s family corporations. Landing MAVCAP — which is Malaysia’s largest investor has backed VC funds including Gobi — is a major coup for a debut fund.

    “The investment from MAVCAP is a very good validation for Vynn Capital,” said Victor Chua, who is Malaysian. “Personally, having been active in the local and regional ecosystem, I’ve benefited from the growth trajectory of the ecosystem and am now able to launch a new fund that is addressing the need of the traditional businesses to be innovative.”

    “The thesis of the fund is Southeast Asia, but through our investment we are focused on how it will be invested in Malaysian deals,” MAVCAP’s Shahril Anas told TechCrunch in an interview. “We have some carry and expect returns that we can invest into local entrepreneurs in Malaysia, we are also keen to look at how other countries’ economies interact with startups.”

    Anas said the approach is to be very hands-off, MAVCAP has various other fund investments, but he reiterated that there may be specific data or insight that the organization looks to glean.

    Southeast Asia is emerging from the shadows of China and India to become a target market for startups and, by extension, the investors who write the checks to finance them.

    Beyond a cumulative population of over 600 million people, the region’s ‘digital economy’ is tipped to grow to $240 billion by 2025 from $31 million in 2015, according to a report from Google and Singapore sovereign fund Temasek.

    Some of the other investors vying for a slice of the opportunity include new funds from Openspace Ventures ($135 million), Indonesia-focused Intudo ($50 million), Qualgro ($100 million) and Golden Gate Ventures ($100 million) and Sequoia India ($695 million).


    Author: Jon Russell
    Posted: 22 February 2019, 6:00 am

  • Uber is reportedly close to making a tactical exit from India’s food delivery industry

    Uber has said adamantly that it won’t exit India (or any more markets) following a hattrick of retreats from China, Russia and Southeast Asia, but does that include its food delivery business?

    The answer could well be yes. If media reports are right, Uber is on the cusp of a tactical exit from India’s food delivery industry.

    India’s Economic Times is reporting that Uber is in the final stages of a deal that would see Swiggy, the food delivery service that recently raised $1 billion and expanded to general deliveries, eat up Uber Eats in India in exchange for giving the U.S. ride-hailing firm a 10 percent share of its business. Swiggy was most recently said to be valued at $3.3 billion following that billion-dollar round, which was led by Naspers including new backers Tencent and Uber investor Coatue.

    Uber Eats is touted as a major revenue generator for the company, The Information previously reported that it grossed $1.5 billion in sales in the first quarter of 2018 alone, and the company has pushed expansion hard in Asia. Uber Eats landed in India nearly two years ago but it finds itself in the middle of a dogfight between Swiggy, which raised capital three times last year, and Zomato, which is backed by Alibaba.

    Already, the battle has taken its toll on peripheral players that include FoodPanda, the service acquired by Uber rival Ola in late 2017. Ola is reported to have slashed costs at FoodPanda and shift the focus to a more sustainable cloud kitchen strategy. Yet Zomato and Swiggy continue to be aggressive.

    Based on that backdrop, and Uber’s upcoming IPO, it would make sense to consolidate costs and yet retain a stake in the market. Uber did exactly that through its exit deal with Grab in Southeast Asia, which saw it hand over its transport and food delivery businesses in exchange for a 27.5 percent stake in Grab .

    That deal, which I argued was a win not a loss for Uber, got the company out of an expensive subsidies war and gave it a stake in a growing business. It could well be a recipe that Uber repeats for India’s food delivery space.

    Note: The original version of this article was updated to note that Coatue is an investor in both Uber and Swiggy.


    Author: Jon Russell
    Posted: 22 February 2019, 4:36 am

  • Japan’s Hayabusa 2 has landed on an asteroid, shot it with a special bullet, and returned to space

    The Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa 2 has just completed the next phase of its multi-part, multi-year mission by shooting a bullet into the asteroid it had been circling and returning to space.

    Hopefully, the spacecraft has been able to collect samples of asteroid material kicked off from the surface by the impact from the specially made bullet that the Hayabusa craft shot.

    The landing and mining mission is the sequel to an earlier mission (the first Hayabusa voyage), which was a seven year voyage during which the spacecraft observed an asteroid, collected samples and returned to Earth.

    Scientists said that collecting material from the Ryugu asteroid could offer clues to support a hypothesis of how water and life formed on the surface of the Earth in the early days of the planet’s formation. Ryugu is a near earth asteroid that scientists have identified as carbon-rich (a C-type), which may have water in their rocks.

    Japan’s Hayabusa 2 is expected to return to Earth in 2020 with its rocky haul.

    According to the rocket’s Twitter feed the rocket began its descent roughly 20 kilometers above the asteroid’s surface in the early hours of the 21st and touched down a few hours ago.

    The descent and collection was supposed to take place last year, when the spacecraft deployed two rovers on the surface of the asteroid to scout its geography. Those rovers relayed images of a terrain that was a bit more rocky than scientists had expected, so more planning had to be done before the mission could be carried out.

     


    Author: Jonathan Shieber
    Posted: 22 February 2019, 3:50 am

  • Baidu’s video site iQiyi adds 37M subscribers in 2018 amid mounting losses

    China’s Baidu, which is often compared to Alphabet’s Google, is showing no signs of slowing down its pace of betting on video content as its core advertising unit feels the squeeze from rivals. The company’s latest financial results show its video streaming business iQiyi posted a net loss of 9.1 billion yuan or $1.3 billion in 2018, compared to just 3.74 billion yuan in 2017.

    Not long ago, iQiyi announced raising $500 million in convertible notes to fuel its spending spree. The video site, which filed for a $1.5 billion U.S. IPO last February, aspires to be the “Disney of China” with a Netflix-style production house and a plan to merchandise a library of intellectual property. Baidu also felt the heat as content costs from 2018 jumped 75 percent to $3.42 billion mainly on account of iQiyi expenses.

    The cash burn appears to be paying off. IQiyi added 36.6 million subscribers last year, bringing its total users to 87.4 million. 98.5 percent of them were paying, a promising ratio given Chinese users were long used to getting free content in a country with rampant online piracy. IQiyi’s most serious contender Tencent Video had 82 million users as of Q3.

    2018 also turned out to be the first time Baidu has crossed the 100 billion yuan earnings mark as the firm pocketed 102.3 billion yuan ($14.88 billion) in total revenues, an increase of 28 percent from 2017.

    In Q4 alone, Baidu’s total revenues grew 22 percent to $3.96 billion at a slower rate compared to the previous quarter. Online advertising from search results, news feed and video content still made up the majority of the company’s income despite the considerable resources the behemoth has poured into autonomous driving and other AI-focused efforts.

    Meanwhile, Baidu’s lucrative advertising business is facing heightened competition from ByteDance, the fast-ascending new media company with a suite of news and video apps that are proven popular with marketers. The Beijing-based firm that’s also unnerved Tencent was expected to achieve $7.4 billion in revenues last year, Bloomberg reported citing sources.

    To fend off attackers, Baidu has broadened its advertising inventory beyond the web to include the likes of elevators. In another move, Baidu paid $133 million in cash prizes luring users to its namesake search app on the eve of Chinese New Year. But its search service has over the years been a repeated target for criticism on issues ranging from false medical ads to more recently the subpar quality of its search results. Baidu has nonetheless held onto its commanding position in a market where Google is absent and smaller players like Bing and Sogou remain the underdogs.

    On the AI front, Baidu made a total of 13 investments in 2018 that made it the most prolific corporate venture capital focused on the realm, according to a report from CB Insights. Microsoft’s M12 venture and Google Ventures followed closely behind.

    Though Baidu’s AI business is far from achieving mass commercialization, the segment has scored some notable landmarks. Over 200 million devices now use DuerOS, the company’s answer to the Alexa voice assistant. Baidu’s autonomous driving open platform Apollo has accumulated 135 original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) including Volvo, which is working with its Chinese ally to deliver level four self-driving passenger vehicles that can operate on pre-mapped roads with minimum human intervention.


    Author: Rita Liao
    Posted: 22 February 2019, 3:15 am

  • Facebook will shut down its spyware VPN app Onavo

    Facebook will end its unpaid market research programs and proactively take its Onavo VPN app off the Google Play store in the wake of backlash following TechCrunch’s investigation about Onavo code being used in a Facebook Research app the sucked up data about teens. The Onavo Protect app will eventually shut down, and will immediately cease pulling in data from users for market research though it will continue operating as a Virtual Private Network in the short-term to allow users to find a replacement.

    Facebook has also ceased to recruit new users for the Facebook Research app that still runs on Android but was forced off of iOS by Apple after we reported on how it violated Apple’s Enterprise Certificate program for employee-only apps. Existing Facebook Research app studies will continue to run, though.

    With the suspicions about tech giants and looming regulation leading to more intense scrutiny of privacy practices, Facebook has decided that giving users a utility like a VPN in exchange for quietly examining their app usage and mobile browsing data isn’t a wise strategy. Instead, it will focus on paid programs where users explicitly understand what privacy they’re giving up for direct financial compensation.

    Onavo billed itself as a way to “limit apps from using background data and “use a secure VPN network for your personal info” but also noted it would collect the “Time you spend using apps, mobile and Wi-Fi data you use per app, the websites you visit, and your country, device and network type” A Facebook spokesperson confirmed the change and provided this statement: “Market research helps companies build better products for people. We are shifting our focus to reward-based market research which means we’re going to end the Onavo program.”

    Facebok acquired Onavo in 2013 for a reported $200 million to use its VPN app the gather data about what people were doing on their phones. That data revealed WhatsApp was sending over twice as many messages per day as Messenger, BuzzFeed’s Ryan Mac and Charlie Warzel reported, convincing Facebook to pay a steep sum of $19 billion to buy WhatsApp. Facebook went on to frame Onavo as a way for users to reduce their data usage, block dangerous websites, keep their traffic safe from snooping — while Facebook itself was analyzing that traffic. The insights helped it discover new trends in mobile usage, keep an eye on competitors, and figure out what features or apps to copy. Cloning became core to Facebook’s product strategy over the past years, with Instagram’s version of Snapchat Stories growing larger than the original.

    But last year, privacy concerns led Apple to push Facebook to remove the Onavo VPN app from the App Store, though it continued running on Google Play. But Facebook quietly repurposed Onavo code for use in its Facebook Research app that TechCrunch found was paying users in the U.S. and India ages 13 to 35 up to $20 in gift cards per month to give it VPN and root network access to spy on all their mobile data.

    Facebook ran the program in secret, obscured by intermediary beta testing services like Betabound and Applause. It only informed users it recruited with ads on Instagram, Snapchat and elsewhere that they were joining a Facebook Research program after they’d begun signup and signed non-disclosure agreements. A Facebook spokesperson claimed in a statement that “there was nothing ‘secret’ about this”, yet it had threatened legal action if users publicly discussed the Research program.

    But the biggest problem for Facebook ended up being that its Research app abused Apple’s Enterprise Certificate program meant for employee-only apps to distribute the app outside the company. That led Apple to ban the Research app from iOS and invalidate Facebook’s certificate. This shut down Facebook’s internal iOS collaboration tools, pre-launch test versions of its popular apps, and even its lunch menu and shuttle schedule to break for 30 hours, causing chaos at the company’s offices.

    To preempt any more scandals around Onavo and the Facebook Research app and avoid Google stepping in to forcibly block the apps, Facebook is now taking Onavo off the Play Store and stopping recruitment of Research testers. That’s a surprising voluntary move that perhaps shows Facebook is finally getting in tune with the public perception of its shady actions. The company has repeatedly misread how users would react to its product launches and privacy invasions, leading to near constant gaffes and an unending news cycle chronicling its blunders.

    Without Onavo, Facebook loses a powerful method of market research, and its future initiatives here will come at a higher price. Facebook has run tons of focus groups, surveys, and other user feedback programs over the past decade to learn where it could improve or what innovations it could co-opt. And with more apps recently turning on encryption, Onavo likely started learning less about their usage. But given how cloning plus acquisitions like WhatsApp and Instagram have been vital to Facebook’s success, it’s likely worth paying out more gift cards and more tightly monitoring its research practices. Otherwise Facebook could miss the next big thing that might disrupt it.

    Hopefully Facebook will be less clandestine with its future market research programs. It should be upfront about its involvement, make certain that users understand what data they’re giving up, stop researching teens or at the very least verify the consent of their parents, and avoid slurping up sensitive information or data about a user’s unwitting friends. For a company that depends on people to trust it with their content, it has a long way to go win back our confidence.


    Author: Josh Constine
    Posted: 22 February 2019, 1:43 am

  • Watch SpaceX launch the first private moon landing mission (Update: Success!)

    Update: Success! All payloads deployed successfully. Now we just have to wait on that moon landing…

    Calling all lunatics — the first fully private moon landing mission is about to take off from Cape Canaveral. A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying SpaceIL’s Beresheet lander is set to take off about an hour from now, at 5:45 Pacific time. Watch it right here!

    The launch isn’t just the lander — in fact, the lander is only a small part of the payload. The primary passenger is Nusantara Satu, an Indian communications satellite that will provide connectivity to rural areas in the country difficult to reach by ordinary means. Once it gets to its geosynchronous orbit it will deploy the U.S. Air Force Research Lab’s S5 experimental satellite, which will track objects and debris around that altitude.

    But by the time those deploy (about 44 minutes after launch), Beresheet will be well on its way; it’s entering a transfer orbit with an eye to lunar insertion and touchdown on the surface there in April.

    Should it accomplish its task, the Israeli satellite will be the first private mission to land on the moon. So far it’s just been us, Russia and China — others have passed by or orbited, to be sure, but no one has made a soft landing and taken pictures, as Beresheet intends to do.

    It was originally planned to do this for Google’s ill-fated Lunar Xprize, which went unclaimed despite serious interest — the truth is it was just a bit too ambitious for its own good. But several of the companies and teams that entered are still going strong, moving forward at their own paces.

    At around $100 million, Beresheet will be the cheapest moon landing mission by far, and as the first to do so on a privately engineered and built (not to mention previously flown) rocket, as a secondary payload and with a private launch coordinator… let’s just say that it’s likely to set records all over the place if all goes well.

    The first thing that needs to happen, of course, is takeoff. So tune in below at 5:45:


    Author: Devin Coldewey
    Posted: 22 February 2019, 12:36 am

  • Podcasting startup WaitWhat raises $4.3M as interest in audio content explodes

    WaitWhat, the digital content production engine behind LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman’s Masters of Scale podcast, has secured a $4.3 million Series A investment led by Cue Ball Capital and Burda Principal Investments.

    Launched in January 2017, WaitWhat will use the cash to create additional media properties across a variety of mediums, including podcasts.

    Investors are gravitating toward podcast startups as consumer interest in original audio content skyrockets. Podcasting, though an infantile industry that hit just $314 million in revenue in 2017, is maturing, raking in venture capital rounds large and small and recording its first notable M&A transaction with Spotify’s acquisition of Gimlet and Anchor earlier this month. The music streaming giant shelled out a total of $340 million for the podcast production platform and the provider of a suite of podcast creation, distribution and monetization tools, respectively. It plans to spend an additional $500 million on audio storytelling platforms as part of a larger plan to become the Netflix of audio.

    WaitWhat, for its part, dubs itself the “media invention company.” Founded by June Cohen and Deron Triff, a pair of former TED executives responsible for expanding the nonprofit’s digital media business, WaitWhat is today launching Should This Exist, a new podcast hosted by Flickr founder and tech investor Caterina Fake.  Fake will interview entrepreneurs about the human side and the impact of technology in the show created in partnership with Quartz.

    “People don’t just transact with content; they want to feel connected to it through a sense of wonder, awe, curiosity, and mastery,” Cohen said in a statement. “These are contagious emotions, and research shows they stimulate sharing. Where many media companies aim for volume — putting out lots of content with a short shelf life — we’re building a completely distinctive portfolio of premium properties that are continually increasing in value, inspiring deep audience engagement, and creating opportunities for format expansion.”

    Other investors in the round include Reid Hoffman, MIT Media Lab director Joi Ito and Liminal Ventures. WaitWhat previously raised a $1.5 million round from Victress Capital, Human Ventures and Able Partners, all of which have joined the A round.


    Author: Kate Clark
    Posted: 22 February 2019, 12:08 am

  • Sunsama’s $10/month task management calendar cleans up your online productivity

    I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard friends lament how difficult it is to find a decent calendar app. The stock calendar apps are certainly serviceable, but there’s so much that they can’t handle in terms of managing and prioritizing tasks.

    Sunsama, launching out of Y Combinator’s latest batch, is taking a crack at solving the calendar conundrum with a $10-per-month professionals-focused productivity planner.

    Co-founders Ashutosh Priyadarshy and Travis Meyer began with the idea that the relationship between task managers and calendars were a mess. Devotees to “get things done” to-do apps end up re-typing tasks they’ve been assigned on project-based systems like Trello and Asana, which just leads to a whole lot of confusion. Sunsama’s third-party integrations make it easy to drag these tasks into your to-do list every morning and keep things updated as your tasks evolve and priorities need to shift.

    “[Sunsama is] more than just a bunch of integrations,” Meyer told TechCrunch. “It’s a methodology for planning your day and streamlining your daily workflow, on your own, or with the teammates you work closely with.”

    The company takes some pretty clear design inspiration from existing enterprise apps. The influences from Google Calendar, Slack and Trello are pretty clear, but the resulting interface all works together very thoughtfully with a drag-and-drop organizational flow that lets you import projects from linked services. It all makes for a very friendly, pretty system that can enable you to fly through the often cumbersome work of populating your to-do list in the first place. The company currently supports integrations with Asana, Trello, Slack, GitHub, GitLab, Jira and Todoist.

    While a lot of other task management apps rely on a freemium model or low annual subscription, Sunsama takes $10-per-month for their service. It’s definitely an expense, but the founders see apps like $30-per-month email service Superhuman as a sign that professionals are willing to drop some cash on a service that cleans up their digital life.

    The company wants to snag individual users, but getting small teams onto the service could be their clearest route to wider adoption. When your entire team is on Sunsama, you’re able to check out what other members of your channels have on deck when they’re working on a particular project. There’s the risk of getting lost in the fray of other necessary platforms on the company level, but the founders think the deep integrations will keep people turning to Sunsama when they want to see how a project is going.

    The startup seems to have taken more than a few on-boarding cues from Superhuman, which takes you off the waitlist only after they’ve gotten a chance to personally talk you through their service and see whether you’re a good fit. You can sign-up to request Sunsama access on their site now.


    Author: Lucas Matney
    Posted: 21 February 2019, 11:18 pm

  • California to close data breach notification loopholes under new law

    California, which has some of the strongest data breach notification laws in the U.S., thinks it can do even better.

    The golden state’s attorney general Xavier Becerra announced a new bill Thursday that aims to close loopholes in its existing data breach notification laws by expanding the requirements for companies to notify users or customers if their passport and government ID numbers, along with biometric data, such as fingerprints, and iris and facial recognition scans, have been stolen.

    The updated draft legislation lands a few months after the Starwood hack, which Becerra and Democratic state assembly member Marc Levine, who introduced the bill, said prompted the law change.

    Marriott-owned hotel chain Starwood said data on fewer than 383 million unique guests was stolen in the data breach, revealed in September, including guest names, postal addresses, phone numbers, dates of birth, genders, email addresses, some encrypted payment card data and other reservation information. Starwood also disclosed that five million passport numbers were stolen.

    Although Starwood came clean and revealed the data breach, companies are not currently legally obligated to disclose that passport numbers or biometric data have been stolen. Under California state law, only Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers, banking information, passwords, medical and health insurance information and data collected through automatic license plate recognition systems must be reported.

    That’s set to change, under the new California assembly bill 1130, the state attorney general said.

    “We have an opportunity today to make our data breach law stronger and that’s why we’re moving today to make it more difficult for hackers and cybercriminals to get your private information,” said Becerra at a press conference in San Francisco. “AB 1130 closes a gap in California law and ensures that our state remains the nation’s leader in data privacy and protection,” he said.

    Several other states, like Alabama, Florida and Oregon, already require data breach notifications in the event of passport number breaches, and also biometric data in the case of Iowa and Nebraska, among others.

    California remains, however, one of only a handful of states that require the provision of credit monitoring or identity theft protection after certain kinds of breaches.

    Thursday’s bill comes less than a year after state lawmakers passed the California Privacy Act into law, greatly expanding privacy rights for consumers — similar to provisions provided to Europeans under the newly instituted General Data Protection Regulation. The state privacy law, passed in June and set to go into effect in 2020, was met with hostility by tech companies headquartered in the state, prompting a lobbying effort to push for a superseding but weaker federal privacy law.


    Author: Zack Whittaker
    Posted: 21 February 2019, 10:22 pm

  • Lime hires its first CFO

    Lime is hiring Ted Tobiason, former managing director in tech equity capital markets at Morgan Stanley, to serve as its chief financial officer.

    This comes following Lime’s behemoth $310 million Series D round earlier this month. Led by Bain Capital Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz, Fidelity Ventures, GV and IVP, the round values Lime at $2.4 billion.

    Lime, which got its beginnings as a bike-share company, has deployed its scooters and bikes in more than 100 cities in the U.S. and 27 international cities. Since June, Lime has more than doubled the number of cities where it operates in the U.S. Lime has also partnered with Uber to offer Lime scooters within the Uber app.

    Additionally, Lime recently brought on Nancy Lee, formerly of Google, to lead its human resources efforts as chief human resources officer. Lee formerly worked at Google as its head of diversity. She retired from the company in December 2016, but has since found a new home with Lime.

    “During her tenure at Google, Nancy played a key role in encouraging Google to disclose its diversity demographic data publicly,” Lime wrote in a blog post. “Her commitment to inclusion and transparency will be instrumental in leading Lime’s cross-cultural team throughout 2019 and beyond.”

    Lime has been on a hiring spree as of late, filling out the ranks in its executive team. Earlier this month, Lime appointed its head of engineering, Li Fan, to CTO and hired Duke Stump, formerly of Lululemon, to serve as its CMO.

    “Both Ted and Nancy have outstanding experience at companies that have scaled from small to large,” Lime CEO Toby Sun said in a statement. “With their leadership, we’re excited to take Lime to the next level in building a world-class business and people-first company.”


    Author: Megan Rose Dickey
    Posted: 21 February 2019, 10:01 pm

  • Stop limiting quantum computing to speed

    The classical computing paradigm has always been tied to speed, at least in the popular imagination. Sure, in reality the goals for classical computing have always been more complex: the increasing ability to handle bigger, more numerous or just more nuanced data sets, manipulated in new ways to suss out valuable insights, and so forth. But speed is how we judge our smartphones, tablets and laptops: how fast are they? Therefore, which one is the “best”?

    So it’s little wonder this illusory yardstick has carried over into discussions of quantum computing. When you read the popular press about quantum computing, it’s all about speed, speed, speed. Everything is about speed. And that sort of thinking will prevent us from grasping just what quantum computing can do for us.

    First of all, classical computing’s preoccupation with speed is now viewed as antiquated and potentially harmful, as the search for speed blinded us to energy efficiency, arguably the focus of the most urgent current research and development work.

    Extrapolating this quantitative fixation to quantum computing is a distraction and doesn’t capture the qualitative difference between classical computing and quantum computing.

    Everyone is talking about the limitations of classical machines and how they might be overcome with a quantum computer. But too often the focus is on speed, transactional speed. I’ve literally been asked how much faster quantum computers will be at executing trades. Better yet, I’ve been asked for a chart showing speed comparisons between your standard rack mount computers you would find in a data center and quantum computers.

    This simply isn’t the way we should be looking at this amazing new technology. Instead, we should be thinking of problem-solving in a way we never even thought of. That’s what quantum computers are for. These machines aren’t designed to solve problems that we’re solving today, only faster — they’re designed to solve problems we haven’t even imagined. They’re a completely new class of machine with completely new capabilities.

    Think instead of the classic traveling salesman challenge: if provided with a list of towns and the distances between each one, what is the shortest possible route that includes every town yet returns to the point of origin?

    We need to use our imagination to discover what quantum computing can do for us.

    Or consider the Seven Bridges of Königsberg. This formerly Prussian city occupied both sides of the Pregel River, including two islands in the river, all connected to each other by seven bridges. Could a walk through the city be devised that crossed each of these bridges only once? Leonhard Euler proved in 1736 that it couldn’t. This brain teaser really demanded analytical techniques that could be tested mathematically. And that “negative” finding led Euler to create what is widely considered to be the first theorem of graph theory and the first proof in the theory of networks.

    An odd problem with no answer led to mathematical breakthroughs. What if Euler had had a quantum computer? Would that have helped? I confess I have no idea, but my point is that we need to use our imagination to discover what quantum computing can do for us, divorced from the speed-obsessed world of classical computing, which isn’t really analogous.

    Quantum computers are completely different than classical computers in their design and they are capable of doing things we’ve never even dreamed of.

    Quantum computers will not replace classical computers, we’re going to have both, because they’re designed to do different things.

    Classical computers use bits, represented by a 0 or 1. They perform calculations in essentially the same way we did when we used an abacus. Because of this, the types of problems we can solve with classical computers are effectively the same we can solve by hand. This means the types of problems classical computers are good for are limited to problems in which the evaluation time doesn’t grow too quickly with the size of the input. In other words, if the evaluation time increases exponentially with input, you’re probably going to be dead by the time a classical computer gets around to getting you an answer (if it ever does).

    Quantum computers use qubits, or quantum bits. A qubit can be 0 or 1 just like its classical counterpart; however, it also can be in a superposition of these states, which looks like this:

    a|0⟩  + b|1⟩

    Where a and b are complex numbers. When we measure a qubit, we get 0 with probability |a^2| or 1 with probability |b^2|. Quantum computers use unitary transformations on the state of the qubits to perform calculations. So combine these two factors and now you have computational possibilities simply not possible by hand — or classical computer. This means better factoring, searching and simulation of quantum mechanics. All of which mean a completely new era of computing that in my belief will change computing more in the next 10 years than it has changed in its entire history.

    Instead of fixating on speed, we need to imagine what sorts of computational challenges will be quantum computing’s sweet spot? If these computers aren’t meant for the calculations of the past, then they’re not meant to be utilized to solve the problems of the past either. What quantum computing is meant for is to solve completely new problems we haven’t even dreamed of yet.


    Author: David Riggs
    Posted: 21 February 2019, 10:00 pm

  • Pokémon GO will soon let you change teams for about $8

    Early on in Pokémon GO, you’re asked to make a decision: Which team do you want to be on? Instinct (Yellow)? Valor (Red)? Mystic (Blue)?

    The question comes a bit out of the blue. Especially amongst those who started early and have stuck with the game, it’s not uncommon to hear people grumble about how they wish they’d chosen differently. But once you choose, it’s final; changing teams means making a whole new account and starting the grind from Level 1. Well, until now.

    Pokémon GO will soon let you change your team by way of an in-game “Team Medallion” item. Realizing that there are too many Mystic in your area and want to mix it up a bit? You can switch to Valor. Are most of your friends Instinct and you want to help them hold gyms? You can.

    But there are catches: It’ll cost money, and you can only do it once a year. It’ll cost you 1,000 Pokécoins — that’s the in-game currency, (slowly) obtainable by holding in-game locations or in exchange for real money via in-app purchase. A pack of 1,200 coins currently goes for $10, so 1,000 coins works out to a little over $8.

    As for why there’s a once-per-year cap? It helps make sure people have some degree of loyalty to their chosen teams… but it also helps maintain the game’s mechanics. There are some advantages to playing alongside members of your team — stat boosts in the big group boss battles (or “Raids”), a few extra Pokéballs when your team does the most damage in said raids, etc. — and letting people change too much might screw that up a bit.

    This is the latest in a streak of recent additions meant to fulfill longstanding requests from the playerbase, and perhaps respark the interest of some players who moved on. They added trading (a staple of the main series) in June of last year, and player-vs-player battles (another staple) in December. App Annie says the game is currently the 67th most popular title in the iOS app store.

    Niantic says the team medallion should roll out on February 26th.


    Author: Greg Kumparak
    Posted: 21 February 2019, 9:48 pm

  • As shared kitchens heat up, a China-based startup, Panda Selected, nabs $50 million led by Tiger Global

    A few weeks ago, we told you that former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick looks to be partnering with the former COO of the bike-sharing startup Ofo, Yanqi Zhang, to bring his new L.A.-based company, CloudKitchens, to China. Kalanick didn’t respond to our request for more information, but according to the South China Morning Post (SCMP), his plan is to provide local food businesses with real estate, facilities management, technology and marketing services.

    He might want to move quickly. Kitchens that invite restaurants to share their space to focus on take-out orders is a concept that’s picking up momentum fast in China. And one company looks to have just assumed pole position in that race: Panda Selected, a Beijing-based shared-kitchen company that just raised $50 million in Series C funding led by Tiger Global Management, with participation from earlier backers DCM and Glenridge Capital. The round brings its total funding to $80 million.

    Little wonder there’s a contest afoot. China’s food-delivery market is already worth $37 billion dollars, according to the SCMP, which says 256 million people in China used online food ordering services in 2016, and the number is expected to grow to 346 million this year.

    And that’s still a little less than a quarter of the country’s population of 1.4 billion people.

    Panda Selected is wasting little time in trying to reach them. While SCMP says that online delivery services already blanket 1,300 cities. Panda Selected, founded just three years ago, says it already operates 120 locations that cover China’s biggest centers, including Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen and Hangzhou. It claims to work with more than 800 domestic catering brands, including Luckin Coffee, Kungfu and TubeStation. The company also says that its kitchens are typically 5,000-square-feet in size and can accommodate up to 20 restaurants in each space.

    With its new funding, it expects to double that number over the next eight months, too, its  founder, Haipeng Li, tells Bloomberg. That’s going to make it difficult to challenge, especially by any U.S.-based company, given overall relations between the two countries and the ever-changing regulatory environment in China.

    Then again, this may be just the first inning. Stay tuned.


    Author: Connie Loizos
    Posted: 21 February 2019, 9:38 pm

  • DoorDash raises $400M round, now valued at $7.1B

    Delivery company DoorDash is announcing that it has raised $400 million in Series F financing.

    Earlier this month, The Wall Street Journal reported that the company was looking to raise $500 million at a valuation of $6 billion or more. In fact, DoorDash now says the funding came at a $7.1 billion valuation.

    The round was led by Temasek and Dragoneer Investment Group, with participation from previous investors SoftBank Vision Fund, DST Global, Coatue Management, GIC, Sequoia Capital and Y Combinator.

    DoorDash has been raising money at an impressive rate, with a $535 million round last March followed by a $250 million round (valuing the company at $4 billion) in August.

    Co-founder and CEO Tony Xu told me the round is “a reflection of superior performance over the past year.” Apparently, the company is currently seeing 325 percent growth, year-over-year, and it points to recent data from Second Measure showing that the service has overtaken Uber Eats in U.S. market share for online food delivery — DoorDash now comes in second to Grubhub.

    “I think the numbers speak for themselves,” Xu said. “If you just run the math on DoorDash’s course and speed, we’re on track to be number one.”

    Tony Xu of DoorDash

    He attributed the company’s growth to three factors: its geographic reach (3,300 cities in the United States and Canada), its selection of partners (not just restaurants — Walmart is using DoorDash for grocery deliveries) and DoorDash Drive, which allows businesses to use the DoorDash network to make their own deliveries.

    He added that DoorDash has been “growing in a disciplined way, turning markets towards profitability.”

    The funding, Xu said, will allow the company to continue investing in Drive, in its DashPass subscription service (where you pay $9.99 per month for free deliveries on orders of $15 or more from select restaurants) and in more hiring. And while DoorDash is currently available in all 50 states, Xu said there’s still plenty of room to cover additional territory in the U.S. and especially Canada.

    “To me, this round … really changes the position of the company, not only as we march towards market leadership, but as we go beyond restaurants and become the last mile for commerce,” he said.

    Not all of DoorDash’s recent news has been good. Along with Instacart, the company has been under scrutiny for subsidizing its driver payments with customer tips.

    When asked about the criticism, Xu said the current compensation system was tested “not in a quarter, not in a month, but tested for months” before being implemented in 2017, and since then, there’s been a “significant increase” in retention among “dashers,” along with improved dasher satisfaction and on-time deliveries.

    “When it comes to this pay model that has been in the press, the most important thing, I would say, is looking again at the facts and results,” he said.


    Author: Anthony Ha
    Posted: 21 February 2019, 9:34 pm

  • Pinterest files confidentially to go public

    Visual search engine Pinterest has joined a long list of high-flying technology companies planning to go public in 2019. The business has confidentially submitted paperwork to the Securities and Exchange Commission for an initial public offering slated for later this year, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal.

    Pinterest declined to comment.

    Founded in 2008 by Ben Silbermann, earlier reports indicated the company was planning to debut on the stock market in April. In late January, Pinterest took its first official step toward a 2019 IPO, hiring Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase as lead underwriters for its offering.

    The company garnered a $12.3 billion valuation in 2017 with a $150 million financing.

    Touting 250 million monthly active users, Pinterest has raised nearly $1.5 billion in venture capital funding from key stakeholders Bessemer Venture Partners, Andreessen Horowitz, FirstMark Capital, Fidelity and SV Angel. The business brought in some $700 million in ad revenue in 2018, per reports, a 50 percent increase year-over-year.

    Pinterest employs 1,600 people across 13 cities, including Chicago, London, Paris, São Paulo, Berlin and Tokyo. The company says half its users live outside the U.S.

    Pinterest will likely follow Lyft, Uber and Slack to the public markets, which have all filed confidential paperwork for IPOs or, in Slack’s case, a reported direct listing, expected in the coming months.


    Author: Kate Clark
    Posted: 21 February 2019, 9:19 pm

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