WeWork employees used an alarmingly insecure printer password

A shared user account used by WeWork employees to access printer settings and print jobs had an incredibly simple password — so simple that a customer guessed it.

Jake Elsley, who works at a WeWork in London, said he found the user account after a WeWork employee at his location mistakenly left the account logged in.

WeWork customers like Elsley normally have an assigned seven-digit username and a four-digit passcode used for printing documents at WeWork locations. But the username for the account used by WeWork employees was just four-digits: “9999”. Elsley told TechCrunch that he guessed the password because it was the same as the username. (“9999” is ranked as one of the most common passwords in use today, making it highly insecure.)

Read more on Extra Crunch

The “9999” account is used by and shared among WeWork community managers, who oversee day-to-day operations at each location, to print documents for visitors who don’t have accounts to print on their own. The account cannot be used to access print jobs sent to other customer accounts.

Elsley said that the “9999” account could not see the contents of documents beyond file names, but that logging in to the WeWork printing web portal could allow him to release other people’s pending print jobs sent to the “9999” account to any other WeWork printer on the network.

The printing web portal can only be accessed on WeWork’s Wi-Fi networks, said Elsley, but that includes the free guest Wi-Fi network which doesn’t have a password, and WeWork’s main Wi-Fi network, which still uses a password that has been widely circulated on the internet.

Elsley reached out to TechCrunch to ask us to alert the company to the insecure password.

“WeWork is committed to protecting the privacy and security of our members and employees,” said WeWork spokesperson Colin Hart. “We immediately initiated an investigation into this potential issue and took steps to address any concerns. We are also nearing the end of a multi-month process of upgrading all of our printing capabilities to a best in class security and experience solution. We expect this process to be completed in the coming weeks.”

WeWork confirmed that it had since changed the password on the “9999” user account.

Is fintech’s Series A market hot, or just overhyped?

According to industry reports, venture capital deal-making has notably rebounded since dropping off briefly in March as shelter-in-place orders gripped much of the country.

As seed-stage fintech investors, this has certainly been our experience: “Hot” deals are getting funded faster than ever, and we increasingly see the large multistage global funds competing for the earliest access to companies. However, in our experience and anecdotal conversations with other early-stage investors, that excitement has not been translating to the Series A stage.

We’ve increasingly wondered if the Series A market in fintech is really as hot as it seems. As pre-seed and seed-stage investors, we know that the health of the Series A market is of critical importance.

In early October 2020, the Financial Venture Studio put together a brief survey of the Series A market in fintech and shared it with more than 100 investors with whom we work closely. Despite the high-level numbers indicating a healthy market, our research indicates a market that remains in flux, with significant ramifications for early-stage founders.

Why Series A is so interesting

Although the seed and pre-seed fintech market continues to attract substantial entrepreneurial and investor interest, it is also in some ways one of the easiest parts of the market to fund. The check size is smaller, the velocity of new deals is highest, and while the potential returns are also the highest, this is also the part of the market where information is most scarce. Perhaps counterintuitively, the fact that there is so little information on a business — aside from a plan, a team and maybe some early anecdotal evidence to support the vision — actually makes it easier to “pull the trigger” on deals where those data points align. There just often isn’t a lot more to dig into.

Similarly, by the time a company is raising Series B capital, they typically have some objective evidence that the idea is working. Companies are typically generating revenue, small teams have grown and become more sophisticated in how they operate, and importantly, the governance functions of a company have (hopefully) begun to take shape. The simple existence of a board member with invested capital at stake means that some of the more existential risks of the earliest stage have been mitigated.

In contrast, one of the big milestones for any startup has been to raise a Series A from an institutional investor. Besides an infusion of capital (which is often 2-3x the aggregate capital a company may have raised since its inception), this “stamp of approval” lends credibility to a small company that is trying to hire talent, sell to customers, and, in most cases, raise substantial subsequent capital.

Thus, it’s critical that Series A investors remain active; if not, many of these upstart companies may fail due to a lack of investment, even if they are able to demonstrate early market traction. The Series A funding market is one of — if not the most — critical funding stage in the innovation economy because it acts as a bridge between scrappy early innovation and commercialization at scale.

It stands to reason, then, that dollar amounts invested may not be the best barometer of the ecosystem’s health. What really matters is the volume of companies being funded and the variety of product approaches being pursued.

The post-COVID Series A

Once the initial shock of the pandemic wore off, the VC community had to get back to business, which admittedly is harder to do for funds that write $10 million+ checks and like getting to know founders in person. Still, Series A investors made it a point to let entrepreneurs know they were, and continue to be, “open for business.”

As investors have gotten more comfortable with the new normal, they have been more open to a virtual diligence process. Of the firms we surveyed, only 15% stated they have not completed a Series A investment during COVID-19 work restrictions. Of the firms who completed a Series A investment during COVID-19 (~85%), about half invested in a company whose founder(s) they had a limited or no relationship with prior to the onset of shelter-in-place orders.

The shift to a virtual environment means that process is more important than ever. Numerous investors have cited their renewed focus on following a structured approach to sourcing and diligence. The interpersonal aspect remains important to close a deal, but customer references, referrals from trusted seed-stage investors and a heightened scrutiny of metrics are all at the forefront of investors’ evaluations.

Original Content podcast: Bill Murray’s charm can’t hide the sadness of ‘On the Rocks’

“On the Rocks,” a new film on Apple TV+, focuses on a troubled marriage between Laura (a writer played by Rashida Jones) and Dean (a startup executive played by Marlon Wayans). When Laura begins to suspect Dean of cheating on her, she turns to her father Felix (Bill Murray) for help.

The film reunites Murray with his “Lost in Translation” director Sofia Coppola. It can feel feather-light at times, thanks to his seemingly effortless charm — it’s hard to resist Felix when he’s singing to a bar full of strangers or devouring caviar during an impromptu stakeout. But the script and performances also make it painfully clear that he’s let Laura down as a father, and that her disappointment hasn’t gone away.

As we discuss on the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, we loved watching beautifully shot footage of Murray and Jones in classic New York City bars and restaurants. We were, however, a bit less satisfied with the ending, which doesn’t really do justice to all the thorny emotional issues that the film raises.

In addition to reviewing “On the Rocks,” we also discuss Netflix’s imminent U.S. price increase and the new trailer for the pandemic thriller “Songbird”.

You can listen to our review in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also follow us on Twitter or send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

And if you’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:35 “Emily in Paris” listener response
4:50 “Songbird” trailer discussion
9:14 Netflix price discussion
15:50 “On the Rocks” review
33:00 “On the Rocks” spoiler discussion

CVE-2020-5425

Single Sign-On for Vmware Tanzu all versions prior to 1.11.3 ,1.12.x versions prior to 1.12.4 and 1.13.x prior to 1.13.1 are vulnerable to user impersonation attack.If two users are logged in to the SSO operator dashboard at the same time, with the same username, from two different identity providers, one can acquire the token of the other and thus operate with their permissions.

Note: Foundation may be vulnerable only if:
1) The system zone is set up to use a SAML identity provider
2) There are internal users that have the same username as users in the external SAML provider
3) Those duplicate-named users have the scope to access the SSO operator dashboard
4) The vulnerability doesn’t appear with LDAP because of chained authentication.

Human Capital: Uber Eats hit with claims of ‘reverse racism’

Nellie Peshkov, formerly Reddit’s VP of People and Culture, is now Chief People Officer. Her appointment to the C-suite is part of the much-needed, growing trend of tech companies elevating employees focused on diversity and inclusion to the highest leadership ranks.

Uber Eats hit with claims of “reverse racism”

Uber said it has received more than 8,500 demands for arbitration as a result of it ditching delivery fees for Black-owned restaurants via Uber Eats.

Uber Eats made this change in June, following racial justice protests around the police killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man. Uber Eats said it wanted to make it easier for customers to support Black-owned businesses in the U.S. and Canada. To qualify, the restaurant must be a small or medium-sized business and, therefore, not part of a franchise. In contrast, delivery fees are still in place for other restaurants.

In one of these claims, viewed by TechCrunch, a customer says Uber Eats violates the Unruh civil Rights Act by “charging discriminatory delivery fees based on race (of the business owner).” That claim seeks $12,000 as well as a permanent injunction that would prevent Uber from continuing to offer free delivery from Black-owned restaurants.

Uber driver claims rating system is racially biased
Uber is no stranger to lawsuits, so this one shouldn’t come as a surprise. Uber is now facing a lawsuit regarding its customer ratings and how the company deactivates drivers whose ratings fall below a certain threshold. The suit alleges the system “constitues race discrimination, as it is widely recognized that customer evaluations of workers are frequently racially biased.”

In a statement to NPR, Uber called the suit “flimsy” and said “ridesharing has greatly reduced bias for both drivers and riders, who now have fairer, more equitable access to work and transportation than ever before.”

Yes on Prop 22 gets another $3.75 million influx of cash
DoorDash put in an additional $3.75 million into the Yes on 22 campaign, according to a late contribution filing. Proposition 22 is the California ballot measure that aims to keep gig workers classified as independent contractors.

The latest influx of cash brought Yes on 22’s total contributions north of $200 million. As of October 14, the campaign had raised $189 million. But thanks to a number of late contributions, the total put toward Yes on 22 comes out to about $202,955,106.38, or, $203 million.

Prop 22 hit the most-funded California ballot measure long ago, but it’s now surpassed the $200 million mark.

TechCrunch Sessions: Justice is back

I am pleased to announce TechCrunch Sessions: Justice is officially happening again! Save the date for March 3, 2021.

We’ll explore inclusive hiring, access to funding for Black, Latinx and Indigenous people, and workplace tools to foster inclusion and belonging. We’ll also examine the experiences of gig workers and formerly incarcerated people who are often left out of Silicon Valley’s wealth cycle. Rounding out the program will be a discussion about the role of venture capital in creating a more inclusive tech ecosystem. We’ll discuss all of that and more at TC Sessions: Justice.

Is Wall Street losing its tech enthusiasm?

This is The TechCrunch Exchange, a newsletter that goes out on Saturdays, based on the column of the same name. You can sign up for the email here.

Over the past few months the IPO market made it plain that some public investors were willing to pay more for growth-focused technology shares than private investors. We saw this in both strong tech IPO pricing — the value set on companies as they debut — and in resulting first-day valuations, which were often higher.

One way to consider how far public valuations rose for tech startups, especially those with a software core in 2020, is to ask yourself how often you heard about a down IPO this year. Maybe a single time? At most? (You can catch up on 2020 IPO performance here, if you need to.)

IPO enthusiasm exposed a gap between what many venture capitalists and private investors were paying for tech shares, and what the public market was doing with its own valuation calculations. Insurtech startup Hippo’s $150 million private round from July is a good example. The company was valued at $1.5 billion in the round, a healthy uptick from its preceding private valuation. But if we valued it like the then-newly-public Lemonade, a related company, at the time, Hippo was priced inexpensively.

This week, however, the concept of private investors being more conservative than public investors in certain cases (some eight-figure private rounds happened this year at valuations that were even more bullish than public investor treatment of IPOs, to be clear) took a ding as most big tech companies lost ground, SaaS stocks sold off, and other tech firms struggled to keep up with investor enthusiasm.

Not only tech companies took a beating, but as I write to you on this Friday afternoon, the American stock markets were on a path for their worst week since March, CNBC reported, “led by major tech shares.”

A change in the wind? Perhaps. 

Notable is that it was just in September that VCs seemed resigned to having startup valuations pulled higher by public markets’ endless optimism for related companies. Canaan’s Maha Ibrahim told me during Disrupt 2020 that it was a time when VCs had to “play the game” and pay up for startups, so long as companies were being “rewarded in the public markets for high growth the way that Snowflake” was at the time. A16z’s David Ulevitch concurred.

Perhaps that dynamic is changing as stocks dip. If so, startup valuations could decline en masse, along with the more exotic areas of startup-related finance. The SPAC boom, for example, may wane. Chatting with Hippo’s CEO Assaf Wand this week, he posited that SPACs were a market-response to the public-private valuation gap, an accelerant-cum-bridge to help startups get public while demand was hot for their equity.

Without the same red-hot demand for growth and risk, SPACs could cool. So, too, could private valuations that the hottest startups have taken for granted. Whether what we’re feeling in the wind this week is a hiccup or tipping point is not clear. But the public market’s fever for tech equities may have broken at a somewhat awkward time for Airbnb, Coinbase, DoorDash and other not-quite-yet-IPOs.

Market Notes

It started to snow this week where I live, putting a somewhat sad cap on an otherwise turbulent week. Still! There’s lots from our world to get into. Here’s our week’s market notes:

  • Remember when we dug into how quickly startups grew in Q3? Another company that I’ve covered before, Drift, wrote in. The Boston-based marketing software company reported to The Exchange that it grew more than 50% in Q3 compared to the year-ago quarter, with its CEO adding that June and Q3 were the strongest month and three-month periods in its history.
  • The fintech boom continued with DriveWealth raising nearly $57 million this week, with the startup being yet another API-driven play. That a company sitting in-between two key startup trends of the year is doing well is not surprising. DriveWealth helps other fintech companies provide users access to the American equities markets. Alpaca, which also recently raised, is working along similar lines.

This week featured two IPOs that we cared about. MediaAlpha’s debut, giving the advertising-and-insurtech company a $19 per-share IPO price, quickly exploded out of the gate. Today the company is worth nearly $38 per share. Why? On its IPO day MediaAlpha CEO Steve Yi said that he had chosen the current moment because public markets had garnered an appreciation for insurtech. His share price growth seems to concur.

Until we look at Root, to some degree. Root, a neo-insurance provider focused on the automotive space, priced at $27 when it debuted this week, $2 above the top-end of its range. The company is now worth less than $24 per share. So, whatever wave MediaAlpha caught appears to have missed Root. 

I honestly don’t know what to make of the difference in the two debuts, but please email in if you do know (you can just reply to this email, and I’ll get your note).

Regardless, I chatted with Root CEO Alex Timm after his company went public. The executive said that Root had laid down plans to go public a year ago, and that it can’t control market noise around the time of its debut. Timm stressed the amount of capital that Root added to its coffers — north of $1 billion — is a win. I asked how the company intended to not fuck up its newly swollen accounts, to which Timm said that his company was going to stay “laser focused” on its core automotive insurance opportunity.

Oh, and Root is based in Ohio. I asked what its debut might mean for Midwest startups. Timm was positive, saying that the IPO could highlight that there are a lot of smart folks and GDP in the middle of the country, even if venture capital tallies for the region remain underdeveloped.

  • I know that by now you are tired of earnings, but Five9 did something that other companies struggled to accomplish, namely, beat expectations and bolstered its forward guidance. Its shares soared. The Exchange got on the phone with the call center software company to chat about its latest acquisition and earnings. How did it crush expectations as it did? By selling a product that its market needed when COVID-19 hit, the accelerating digital transformation more broadly, and rising e-commerce spend, which is driving more customer support work onto phone lines, it said. A lot of stuff at once, in other words. 
  • Five9 took on a bunch of convertible debt earlier this year, despite making gobs of adjusted profit. I asked its CEO Rowan Trollope how he was going to go about investing cash to take advantage of market tailwinds, while not overspending. He said that the company takes very regular looks at revenue performance, helping it tailor new spend nimbly. It’s apparently working.
  • What else? Peek this week at big, important rounds from SimilarWeb, PrimaryBid and EightFold, a company that I have known for some time. Oh, and I covered The Wanderlust Group’s Series B and Teampay’s Series A extension, which were good fun.

Various and Sundry

  • What’s going on in the world of venture debt as VC gets back to form? We dug in.
  • For the Europhiles amongst us, here’s what’s up with the continent’s VC receipts.
  • Here are 10 favorites from recent Techstars demo days.
  • And here’s some mathmagic about Databricks, after it was rumored to have an H1 2021 IPO target.
  • We’re way out of space this week, but I have some fun stuff in the tank for later, including a Capital G investor’s take on RPA, a call with the CEO of Zapier about no-code/low-code growth and notes from a chat about developer ecosystems with Dell Capital. More on all of that when the news calms down.

Stay safe, and vote.

Alex

MG Siegler talks portfolio management and fundraising 6 months into the COVID-19 pandemic

This week, GV General Partner (and TechCrunch alum) MG Siegler joined us on Extra Crunch Live for a far-ranging chat about what it takes to foster a good relationship between investor and startup, how portfolio management and investing has changed as the COVID-19 crisis drags on, and what Siegler expects will and won’t stick around in terms of changes in behavior in investment and entrepreneurship once the pandemic passes.

We last caught up with Siegler on the heels of his investment in Universe, a mobile-focused, e-commerce business-building startup. The coronavirus pandemic was relatively new and no one was sure how long it would last or what measures to contain it would look like. Now, with a few months of experience under his belt, Siegler told me that things have relatively settled into a new normal from his perspective as an investor – sometimes for worse, sometimes for better, but mostly just resulting in differences that require adaptation.

This select transcript has been edited for length and clarity. Aside from section headers, all text below is taken from MG Siegler’s responses to my questions.

Business impacts of coping with the pandemic six months on

Just talking about the business side of the equation, I do think that things have sort of stabilized in the day-to-day world here. For us, certainly, I think it’s it’s just as much of a factor though, of just learning how to operate in this in this weird and surreal environment, and knowing how to do remote meetings better. Knowing how to hop on quick Zoom calls, Hangouts, and phone calls, with portfolio companies, to help put out fires, and doing all board meetings remotely, and all that sort of stuff.

That seems like it’s pretty straightforward on paper, but in day-to-day operations, these are all different little learning things that you have to do and come across. I do feel like things are operating in a pretty streamlined manner, or as much as they can be at this point. But, you know, there’s always going to be some more wildcards – like we’re a week away, today, from from the US election.

The 2020s promise better tech solutions to humanity’s biggest problems

Editor’s note: Get this free weekly recap of TechCrunch news that any startup can use by email every Saturday morning (7 a.m. PT). Subscribe here.

Let’s think beyond Monday, for a minute, to the trends playing out in technology this coming decade. While humanity’s problems have never been greater, our tools have never been better. Here’s more, from Danny Crichton:

The 2010s were all about executing on the dreams of mobile, cloud, and basic data. Those ideas had historical antecedents going back in some cases decades or more (Vannevar Bush’s description of the internet dates to the 1940s, for instance). But for the first time, we had the infrastructure and the users to actually build these products and make them useful. It was quite possibly the most extensive greenfield opportunity in the history of technology.

Yet, that greenfield is increasingly fallow. Business has cycles and seasonality as much as media reporting does. The easy stuff has been done. Building an app to text people has been done by dozens before. There are a multitude of analytics packages, and payroll providers, and credit card issuers, and more. What’s required this decade is to start to encroach on the harder questions, topics like how we build a better society, make people more empowered to do deep and creative work, and how we can build a more resilient and sustainable planet for all.

None of these topics have pure point solutions — but that is what is going to make this coming decade so damn interesting. It’s going to take intense collaboration, multiple inventions and products, as well as legal and cultural changes, to realize these next improvements. If you have grown sick (as I have) of the latest apps and SaaS products du jour, this decade is going to be an amazing one to experience and build.

In a companion article for Extra Crunch, he explores five key areas of the future, that he calls: Wellness, Climate, Data Society, Creativity and Fundamentals. Here’s an excerpt from the Data Society part:

Data may be ubiquitous, but it’s amazing how much work it can still be to calculate an LTV, or the return on an advertising campaign. No-code tools solve some of these problems, but what we need is a whole revolution in our data tools. We need to be able to sketch out lines of inquiry and have our tools augment our thinking from data. What are we missing? What gaps in our thinking should we be filling in? What data am I lacking to make a fully-formed decision? Am I overly biased toward one statistic versus a more holistic depiction of my situation? From personal decisions to business strategy, we need better tools to abstract the complexity of today’s modern society.

We also need better thinking around how to network knowledge. Roam Research and some other tools are starting to get better at helping users think in terms of a knowledge graph, but there is an incredible amount of potential if these ideas can be democratized and packaged into easier-to-use interfaces. How do we handle the increasing depth of most fields of knowledge and allow more people to get to the frontiers as quickly as possible?

Finally, we need to further our understanding of complexity and chaos and build those theories into the fundamental structures of our society. How do we make governance more adaptable and resilience, so that when massive crises like COVID-19 happen, we don’t see a complete breakdown in our society? Can we create more flexible systems around ownership and property that can create more diverse housing, or material ownership, or intellectual property? Empowering technology (“blockchain!” but could be all kinds of things) coupled with legal changes could dramatically evolve these core elements of our society.

Even today, we are still locked into a mental model built around paper, titles, and maybe if you are lucky, an Excel spreadsheet. There is so much work to be done to empower each of us through data this decade.

Data education

The building blocks of the Data Society concept are getting remade faster than ever this year, as the pandemic has shuttered traditional commerce and education, and forced open alternative approaches. For example, somebody starting a small business today basically has to use a lot of software. But crossing this initial barrier means they can do things like automatically track the lifetime value of each customer. Previous generations of small businesses simply did not have the resources and skills to do such things with the low-tech options available.

That’s the generational power of no-code, as Danny detailed separately on TechCrunch:

In business today, it’s not enough to just open a spreadsheet and make some casual observations anymore. Today’s new workers know how to dive into systems, pipe different programs together using no-code platforms and answer problems with much more comprehensive — and real-time — answers.

It’s honestly striking to see the difference. Whereas just a few years ago, a store manager might (and strong emphasis on might) put their sales data into Excel and then let it linger there for the occasional perusal, this new generation is prepared to connect multiple online tools to build an online storefront (through no-code tools like Shopify or Squarespace), calculate basic LTV scores using a no-code data platform and prioritize their best customers with marketing outreach through basic email delivery services. And it’s all reproducible, as it is in technology and code and not produced by hand.

There are two important points here. First is to note the degree of fluency these new workers have for these technologies, and just how many members of this generation seem prepared to use them. They just don’t have the fear to try new programs, and they know they can always use search engines to find answers to problems they are having.

Second, the productivity difference between basic computer literacy and a bit more advanced expertise is profound. Even basic but accurate data analysis on a business can raise performance substantially compared to gut instinct and expired spreadsheets.

How do we realize this future? Zooming in from the generational perspective, Natasha Mascarenhas takes a closer look at how school teachers are adapting to the pandemic — and the emerging online education world they are entering. Some, at least, seem to be moving into supplemental part-time teaching. While the educational experience is not the same as in-person, it clearly has its own value. Here’s one company as an example:

Outschool is a platform that sells small-group classes led by teachers on a large expanse of topics, from Taylor Swift Spanish class to engineering lessons through Lego challenges. In the past year, teachers on Outschool  have made more than $40 million in aggregate, up from $4 million in total earnings the year prior.

CEO Amir Nathoo estimates that teachers are able to make between $40 to $60 per hour, up from an average of $30 per hour in earnings in traditional public schools. Outschool itself has surged over 2,000% in new bookings, and recently turned its first profit.

Outschool makes more money if teachers join the platform full-time: teachers pocket 70% of the price they set for classes, while Outschool gets the other 30% of income. But, Nathoo views the platform as more of a supplement to traditional education. Instead of scaling revenue by convincing teachers to come on full-time, the CEO is growing by adding more part-time teachers to the platform.

Maybe one day soon, a class about online business will be a graduation requirement for a high school diploma. And we’ll see that sort of education drive more success in the next generation of your local Main Street.

The problems of the coming decade might be harder than ever, but the solutions are there for the making.

Isometric Business data analytics process management or intelligence dashboard showing sales and operations data statistics charts and key performance indicators concept. (Isometric Business data analytics process management or intelligence dashboard

Image Credits: Intpro / Getty Images

How to execute a bottom-up SaaS growth plan

The combination of consumer tech product skills and enterprise revenue models fueled this decade’s explosion of SaaS success stories. This week, Caryn Marooney and David Cahn of Coatue management distilled the lessons of this model into a popular how-to article for Extra Crunch. Here’s an excerpt, showing how market leaders approach key metrics and pricing:

The MAP customer value framework:

Metrics: What are the key metrics the customers care about? Is there a threshold of value associated with this metric? Metrics can include things like minutes, messages, meetings, data and storage. Examples:

  • Zoom — Minutes: Free with a 40-minute time limit on group meetings.
  • Slack — Messages: Free until 10,000 total messages.
  • Airtable — Records: Free until 1,200 records.

Activity: How do your customers really use your product? Are they creators? Are they editors? Do different customers use your product differently? Examples:

  • Figma — Editors versus viewers: Free to view, starts changing after two edits.
  • Monday.com — Creators versus viewers: Free to view, creators are charged $30+/month.
  • Smartsheet — Creators versus viewers: Free to view, creators are charged $10+/month.

People: How do your customers fit into a broader organization? Are they mostly individuals? Groups? Part of an enterprise? Examples:

  • Superhuman — Individuals only: No free version, $30/month.

  • Asana — Small team versus bigger teams: Teams of <15 people can use the product free.

  • Atlassian — Free versus team versus enterprise: Pricing scales with size of team.

Root keeps the IPO market warm

The stock market was off this week, but not entirely. Root Insurance was the big IPO this week, ending at $24 per share. That’s a bit below its aggressive $27 opening price per share, but is still in the range of its target pricing from the other week. It is, in other words, a success already for the company  — and we’ll see what happens when the entire market stops gyrating around the elections.

“For the Midwest, Ohio-based Root’s IPO is a win,” Alex Wilhelm wrote for Extra Crunch. “The company shows that it is possible to build high-growth technology companies worth billions of dollars far from coastal hubs. For the broader insurtech space, Root’s IPO is a win. The company follows Lemonade to the public markets, setting a strong valuation mark again for the neo-insurance startup market. For similar companies like Clearcover, MetroMile and all startups that related to Root and Lemonade, it’s a good day.”

It’s still looking good for any software company with a growth story, as Alex goes on to say, and it’s looking good for more IPOs this year. Like Airbnb.

But enough about IPOs this year — Alex also built on previous coverage to explore Databricks going public next year, which sounds quite likely at this point.

Across the week

TechCrunch

Why you have to pay attention to the Indian startup scene

Yale may have just turned institutional investing on its head with a new diversity edict

Cloud infrastructure revenue grows 33% this quarter to almost $33B

We need new business models to burst old media filter bubbles

Former Facebook and Pinterest exec Tim Kendall traces ‘extractive business models’ to VCs

Extra Crunch

Good and bad board members (and what to do about them)

New GV partner Terri Burns has a simple investment thesis: Gen Z

As venture capital rebounds, what’s going on with venture debt?

In the ‘buy now, pay later’ wars, PayPal is primed for dominance

Dear Sophie: Any upgrade options for E-2 visa holders interested in changing jobs?

#EquityPod

From Alex:

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast (now on Twitter!), where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

A few notes before we get into this. One, we have a bonus episode coming this Saturday focused on this week’s earnings reports. And, second, we did not record video this week. So, if you like watching the show on YouTube, this is not the week for that!

Right, here’s what NatashaDanny and your humble servant got into this week:

We capped off with the latest from r2c, and then got the hell off the mics. Catch you all Saturday, and then back to regular programming on Monday morning.

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PDT and Thursday afternoon as fast as we can get it out, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

This Week in Apps: Facebook Gaming skips iOS, TikTok goes shopping, Apple One bundles arrive

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the TechCrunch series that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support and the money that flows through it all.

The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 204 billion downloads and $120 billion in consumer spending in 2019. People are now spending three hours and 40 minutes per day using apps, rivaling TV. Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus.

Here Comes Apple One

Thanks for all the market research, app developers.

Image Credits: Apple

Apple issued a slight beat on earnings this week, despite the COVID pandemic and a 20% decline in iPhone sales year-over-year, including a drop in China.

But for app developers who already have a large install base to serve across Apple’s mobile devices, it’s Apple’s expansion into the services market that may draw more attention. Apple continues to edge its way into nearly every category that has proven popular on mobile devices. Streaming music? Apple Music. Streaming TV and movies? Apple TV+. Paid news and magazine subscriptions? Apple News+. Cloud storage? iCloud. Payments? Apple Card and Apple Pay. Gaming? Apple Arcade. And so on.

Its latest effort, launching on October 30, is Apple One — a way for users to pay for multiple Apple services in a single bundle.

At launch, the $14.95 per month Individual bundle includes Apple Music, Apple TV+, 50GB of iCloud storage and Apple Arcade. The same thing as a Family Plan (up to six people) is $19.95 per month and ups the iCloud storage to 200GB. And for $29.95 per month on the Premier plan, you get 2TB of iCloud storage, and add in Apple News+ and the new Fitness+, which arrives later this quarter.

Image Credits: Apple

While each plan saves a little money than if paying individually, the most value can be found at the higher end. Which means Fitness+ could immediately gain an influx of new subscribers, even if the user primarily opted for the Premier plan because of its access to News+. That means Fitness+ doesn’t even have to try that hard to compete with third-party membership-based fitness apps. Instead, Fitness+ acquires users by its association with other known and valued Apple services.

As Apple stretches itself into new services markets — say, AirTags subscriptions, or something we haven’t thought of yet — like subscription medications (Health+?), financial news (Stocks+?), ridesharing (Car+?) social (FaceTime+?) — it will have a head start on user acquisition.

For app developers finding themselves having done the job of proving the market for a subscription-based business in their category, they’ll then be thrust into the role of trying to value add on top of a baseline product that offers a deeper integration with the iOS operating system than they’re allowed.

Cloud gaming’s unknown future on iOS

Image Credits: Facebook Gaming featuring Asphalt Legends

Speaking of services…this week Facebook launched its cloud gaming service that offers free-to-play games that Facebook users can play without leaving the social app.

The games are streamed from the cloud (meaning, Facebook’s servers), instead of requiring users download the titles locally.

This format for mobile gaming makes sense in mature markets that are now steadily moving to 5G. However, Facebook’s new service is only available on desktop and Android — not on iOS.

Facebook excluded Apple devices from the launch, citing Apple’s “arbitrary” policies around third-party apps. Though Apple recently updated its guidelines, it still doesn’t allow applications to act like third-party app stores where games are bought, used and streamed from within the main app directly. Instead, it’s permitting the model GameClub pioneered as a means of working around Apple’s rules last year. That is, there is a main app where users can subscribe and browse a catalog, but each individual game has to be listed on the App Store individually and be playable in some way — even if it’s just a demo.

There’s one school of thought (a point Facebook keeps pushing) that says Apple’s rules here are losing it money.

After all, Facebook says its avoidance of iOS is not about the 30% commission — it’s paying that on Android, in line with Google Play policies. Oh, why oh why doesn’t Apple want its 30%, too?, Facebook cries.

The answer is because Facebook’s iOS snub is part of its long-term strategy. To say it’s not about the money is disingenuous. Facebook at launch is already taking the 30% when in-app purchases are made on the web version of its cloud gaming services.

What’s really happening is that Facebook is making a calculated risk. It’s betting that regulators will ultimately force Apple to permit third-party app stores on iOS and maybe even end Apple’s requirements around in-app purchases, allowing alternative payments. If that comes to pass, the 30% goes back in Facebook’s own pocket.

Even if regulators only push Apple to allow third-party payment systems in addition to the Apple Pay requirement, Facebook could still make money when users picked the Facebook payment option. And it’s ready. Facebook has already built out Facebook Pay infrastructure and it’s now encouraging Facebook Pay usage by redesigning Facebook and Instagram as online shopping platforms.

This all makes the near-term loss of cloud gaming users on iOS worth the risk. Instead of catering to the iOS base, Facebook is raising a stink about “Apple’s rules” to make it look like Apple is harming the market and stifling competition. In reality, Facebook could very easily list its handful of gaming titles separately, if it desired, as per Apple’s current rules — especially because many are more casual games than those found on xCloud or Stadia.

But that wouldn’t help its larger goal: to see Apple’s App Store regulated.

It’s not even like Facebook is being shy about its motives here. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has publicly stated that Apple’s control of the App Store “deserves scrutiny.”

“I do think that there are questions that people should be looking into about that control of the App store and whether that is enabling as robust of a competitive dynamic,” he said in an Axios interview. “…I think some of the behavior certainly raises questions. And I do think it’s something that deserves scrutiny.”

TikTok Goes Shopping

Image Credits: Shopify

Remember how Walmart angled in on that TikTok acquisition (whose status is still unknown) and everyone was wondering what the heck Walmart was doing? Well, it was thinking ahead.

TikTok this week partnered with Shopify on a social commerce initiative. The deal aims to make it easier for Shopify’s moer than 1 million merchants to reach TikTok’s younger audience and drive sales, by creating and optimizing TikTok campaigns from their Shopify dashboard.

The ad tools allow merchants to create native, shareable content that turns their products into In-Feed video ads that will resonate with the TikTok community. Merchants will be able to target their audiences across gender, age, user behavior and video category (see, TikTok does have SOME data on you!), and then track the campaign’s performance over time.

As a part of this effort, Shopify merchants can also install or connect their “TikTok Pixel” — a tool that helps them to more easily track conversions driven by their TikTok ad campaigns.

The campaigns’ costs will vary, based on the merchant’s own business objectives and how much they want to spend.

The partnership will eventually expand to include other in-app shopping features, as well.

The TikTok-Shopify partnership could help the video platform better compete against other sources of social commerce, including the growing number of live stream shopping apps as well as efforts from Facebook and its family of apps.

Platforms

  • Epic says Apple has “no right to the fruits of Epic’s labor” in its latest court filing. “Consumers who choose to make in-app purchases in Fortnite pay for Epic’s creativity, innovation and effort—to enjoy an experience that Epic has designed,” the filing said. The company is making the point that it did the work to create an in-game marketplace for its players to use. The App Store and its payments system are not necessary — they’re forced upon Epic so Apple can ” maintain its monopoly,” Epic’s lawyers said.
  • Adoption of iOS 14 reaches 46.36% six weeks after launch, according to Mixpanel data.
  • Apple releases App Store server notifications into production. The notifications provide developers with real-time updates on a subscriber’s status, allowing app makers to create customized user experiences.
  • Facebook provides new guidance for partners on iOS 14 SKAdNetwork. The company said it will release an updated version of the Facebook SDK by early Q1 to support the upcoming iOS 14 privacy feature requirements, noting that “guidance from Apple remains limited.” The new version of the Facebook SDK will provide support for Apple’s SKAdNetwork API and conversion value management.
  • Google tests a new “app comparison” feature on Google Play that lets you analyze multiple apps across metrics, like ease of use, features, downloads and star rating. Google confirmed the test was live, but downplayed it saying it was “small” and the company had no plans for a broader rollout at this time.
  • Apple search crawler activity could be pointing to Apple’s plans to build its own search engine to rival Google. In iOS 14, Apple can now display its own search results when users type in queries from its home screen, bypassing Google.
  • ExxonMobile embraces Apple’s App Clips. The fuel company will bring the lightweight App Clips and Apple Pay to more than 11,500 Exxon and Mobil gas stations across the U.S., allowing consumers to scan a QR code on the pump to pay via an App Clip version of the ExxonMobil app.

Policies

  • Search engine app makers tell the European Commission that the Android choice screen isn’t working to remedy antitrust issues. Ecosia, DuckDuckGo, Lilo, Qwant and Seznam signed the letter to the Commission.
  • Big technology platforms asked the E.U. to protect them from legal liabilities over removing hate speech and illegal content, reports Bloomberg, citing a paper from Edima, an association representing Alphabet’s Google, Facebook, ByteDance and others.

Trends

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

  • U.S. home improvement brand app adoption doubled over 2019 since March, per Sensor Tower. As COVID stuck people at home, first-time installs of top home improvement brand apps in the U.S. from March to September 2020 doubled year-over-year, climbing 103%. MAUs grew 35% during that time.
  • U.S. Adoption of Food & Drink apps climbed 30% during COVID-19, also per Sensor Tower. Worldwide, these apps saw a slowdown in download growth in Q3 with a +14% growth rate — slower than other previous third quarters.
  • Samsung reclaims the No. 1 spot in the Indian smartphone market, beating Xiaomi. The new data from marketing research firm Counterpoint conflicts with a report last week from Canalys, making it a close race.
  • Facebook is losing users in the U.S. and Canada. The company reported during its Q3 earnings that user growth in these key markets was slowing after the COVID surge. The company now has 196 million users in North America, down from 198 million in Q2, and it expects the decline to continue. DAUs and MAUs in these markets were also flat or down slightly in the quarter.

Services

Security/Privacy

  • True, a social networking app that promised to protect user privacy, found to be exposing private messages and user locations.
  • A massive analysis of the COVID-19 tracing app ecosystem tracks the permissions the apps require, SDKs in use, location-tracking abilities and more.
  • PUBG Mobile to terminate all service and access to users in India on October 30, after the country banned the game from the world’s second largest internet market over cybersecurity concerns due to its China ties. PUBG already tried cutting ties with its Chinese publishing partner, Tencent Games, but critics called this a Band-Aid if Tencent still had a hand in game development.

App News



  • Sony’s PlayStation app gets an upgrade before the PS5 launch on November 12. The updated app introduced a completely redesigned interface, with a home screen where you can see what friends are playing, voice chat support for up to 15 people, integrated messages and PS Store and news. When, the PS5 arrives, the app will allow users to remotely launch their games, manage storage and more.
  • Instagram extends time limits on live streams to four hours, the same as Facebook live streams on mobile. It will also soon support archiving of live video content.
  • YouTube revamps its mobile app with new gestures, video chapter lists and others changes. The video chapter lists expand the feature introduced in May, and now turn chapters into scrollable lists, each with their own video thumbnail.
  • Tinder roll outs Face To Face, its opt-in video chat feature, to users worldwide. The dating company was pushed to accelerate its virtual options due to the pandemic.
  • Microsoft Office apps add mouse and trackpad support for iPadOS, meaning you can now use Apple’s new Magic Keyboard with apps like Word, Excel and PowerPoint.
  • Cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase is launching a debit card in the U.S. later this year. The Visa debit will work with Visa-compatible payment terminals, online checkout interfaces and ATMs. A mobile app will allow you to control how you want to spend your cryptocurrencies.
  • Eko asks court to freeze Quibi assets related to its turnstyle tech. Even though Quibi is shutting down, Eko’s case against the mobile streaming service continues. Eko wants a payout of at least $96.5 million for infringing on its intellectual property.
  • Netflix engineers detail the studio apps shift to Kotlin Multiplatform in new blog post.
  • TikTok countersues Triller. The China-based, ByteDance-owned video app asks a U.S. judge to rule on Triller’s patent infringement allegations. Triller had filed a suit in late July,
  • TikTok parent ByteDance launches a smart lamp with a camera, display and virtual assistant. The device works with a mobile app and its aimed at helping kids with homework, in an education push.
  • TikTok expands its in-app Election Guide to include Election Day resources like information about polling locations and hours, services that can help people having voting difficulties and those offering other details how the voting process works, as well as live election results from the AP.
  • Corsair acquires EpocCam. Gaming peripheral maker bought smartphone app EpocCam, a top video app that lets users turn their iPhone or iPad into a high-def webcam for their Windows or Mac PC. The app grew in popularity due to the pandemic, and its wide support for major video apps includes Zoom, Skype, OBS Studio, Google Meet and Microsoft Teams. Under Corsair’s Elgato subsidiary, the app has been relaunched to fit into the company’s expanded ecosystem of content creation tools.
  • Digital health startup Nutrium raises $4.9 million led by Indico Capital for its service and app which links dietitians and their patients.
  • Bay Area-based Jiko raises $40 million Series A from Upfront Ventures and Wafra Inc. for its mobile banking startup.
  • Helsinki-headquartered app management startup AppFollow raises $5 million Series A led by Nauta Capital. The company now has 70,000 clients on its platform, including McDonald’s, Disney, Expedia, PicsArt, Flo, Jam City and Discord.
  • Mobile device management startup Kandji raises $21 million Series A in a round led by Greycroft. The startup’s MDM solution helps larger companies manage their fleet of Apple devices and keep them in compliance.
  • SimilarWeb raises $120 million for its AI-based market intelligence platform for websites and mobile apps. The company counts more than half of the Fortune 100 as customers, including Walmart, P&G, Adidas and Google.
  • Phone forensics company Grayshift, a startup that helps feds break into iPhones, raises $47 millionThe round was led by PeakEquity Partners, for the company that claims to have doubled adoption, revenues, and employees in the last year.
  • Intelligent visual assistance startup TechSee raises $30 million to automate field work with AR and computer vision.
  • Betty Labs, parent company to Locker Room, a new social audio app connecting sports fans for live conversations, raised $9.3 million in seed funding led by Google Ventures.
  • Mobile gaming company Scopely raises $340 million at a $3.3 billion valuation. Scopely had just raised $200 million last year. Unlike other gaming giants, Epic and Unity, the company doesn’t make tools for gaming, it focuses on keeping players engaged. Today, those users spend 80 minutes per day on games like its Star Trek Fleet Command, MARVEL Strike Force, Scrabble GO and YAHTZEE with Buddies.

Filtertune

Image Credits: Lightricks

From the makers of Facetune, this new iOS app lets influencers create custom filters that can be shared across social media along with their photos, allowing fans to snap a screenshot of the photo — which includes a QR code on a banner — into order to import the custom preset photo filter into the app’s library. The filter can then be used to edit photos, and further personalized by the end user.

Clips 3.0 eyes TikTok with its biggest update ever

Image Credits: Apple

Apple rolled out an updated version of its casual video creation app, Clips. Before, the app only supported Instagram-like square video, but the new version, Clips 3.0, expands to include support for vertical and horizontal video, making it easier to export videos to apps like TikTok.

The new app also features a refreshed interface on iPhone and iPad, HDR recording with iPhone 12, support for a mouse, trackpad and keyboard cases on iPad, along with other smaller changes, like new stickers, sounds and posters. There are eight new social stickers (like “Sound On” for Instagram Stories), 24 new royalty-free soundtracks (bringing the total library to 100), and six new arrows and shapes, as well as a set of poster templates to use within videos.

Backbone

Image Credits: Backbone

The Backbone app works with the new $99 Backbone One mobile gaming controller for iPhone that lets you play games like Call of Duty: Mobile, Minecraft, Asphalt 9: Legends, hundreds of Apple Arcade titles and other iPhone games that support game controllers.

The controller also includes a Capture Button that lets you record gaming clips to share directly to social platforms like Instagram Stories and iMessage.

Read the TechCrunch review here.

New Releases in iOS 14 Widgets

Image Credits: Pinterest

  • Pinterest: The pinboarding app jumps into widgets with an update that lets you put either a small or large widget on your home screen that pulls photos from a Pinterest board — either one you follow or one you created. This allows you to set up a widget that rotates through a set of photos from an online resource, instead of requiring you to keep an on-device photo gallery.
  • TikTok: The short form video app updated this week to include three different widgets from small to large that allow you to easily access trending videos and sounds right from your iOS home screen.
  • Widgit: This new widget lets you put GIF-like animated images on your iOS 14 home screen (in-app purchases).

Equity shot: Boo! It’s the Halloween earnings special!

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast (now on Twitter!), where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

As promised, the whole gang is back, this time to chew on the biggest, baddest, worstest, and most troubling earnings reports from the current cycle. This week saw Amazon and Alphabet and Microsoft and Apple and Facebook report, along with a host of smaller companies.

Spoiler alert: there were more tricks than treats.

  • Danny, Natasha and Alex wanted to get to the bottom of the big tech results, asking what really mattered from each of them?
  • Then it was time to dig into themes. We saw plan price increases coming from Netflix and Spotify, advertising getting a boo-st from politics and 2020’s overall meltdown, and boo-ming billions of consumer interest in…desktops.
  • After that, a dive into the results of smaller SaaS and cloud companies, picking out trends that might help us see around the corner a bit; is the tech boom slowing, or is corporate growth merely failing to keep up with inflated investor expectations?
  • This week felt like a shudder ran through the spine of our economy. The earnings paint a neutral picture, which isn’t exactly an exhale to rejoice over. The coronavirus continues to be a threat that poses a risk to public businesses. For startups, that could mean a less frothy exit market nad lower valuations. And for the public, it means that the uncertain is still ahead of us. So wear a mask.

And with that, the show is back Monday morning. Have a good weekend, everyone.

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PDT and Thursday afternoon as fast as we can get it out, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.