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Chinese hardware makers turn to crowdfunding as they look to go global

April 18, 2021 No Comments

China’s tech giants have had a rough time in Western markets over the last few years. Huawei and DJI have been hit by trade restrictions, while TikTok and WeChat are threatened with their apps being banned in the U.S. Overall, Chinese companies with an overseas footprint are increasingly wary of rising geopolitical tensions.

But at an event hosted by California-based crowdfunding platform Indiegogo for Chinese consumer product makers in Shenzhen, businesses from sizes ranging from a startup making portable power stations to 53-year-old home appliances behemoth Midea listened attentively as Indiegogo’s China managers shed light on how to court Western consumers.

“The first stage is to let ourselves be heard by the world. We have done that,” Li Yongqin, general manager of Indiegogo China, exhorted a room of entrepreneurs. “Next, we will bravely ride the tide and accept the challenge of becoming the brands loved by users around the world.”

For Midea, “crowdfunding gives us a very direct way to understand consumers,” said Chen Zhenrui, who oversees the group’s overseas e-commerce initiative. Platforms like Indiegogo and Kickstarter are ways for individuals and organizations to raise capital from a large number of people to fund a project. In most cases, backers get perks or rewards from the project they fund.

Midea raised $ 1.5 million last year for a new air conditioner unit launched on Indiegogo, an almost negligible amount compared to the 280 billion yuan ($ 42 billion) annual revenue it generated in 2019. But the support from its 3,600 backers on Indiegogo was more a proof of concept.

Within a few weeks, Midea learned that a compact air conditioner that saddles snugly on the window sill, blocks out noise and saves energy could entice many American consumers. Like other established Chinese home appliances makers, Midea had been exporting for several decades.

But “in the past, much of our overseas business was in the traditional, B2B export realm. I think we are still far from being a world-class brand,” said Chen.

When Midea first launched on Indiegogo, a user left comments on its campaign page calling the project a scam: How could a Fortune Global 500 company be on Indiegogo?

“Through rounds of communication, we got to know each other. That user gave us a big push,” Chen recalled, adding that Midea used a dozen suggestions from Indiegogo backers to improve its product.

Li Yongqin, general manager of Indiegogo China, exhorted a room of entrepreneurs to develop brands loved by global users. Photo: TechCrunch

More and more traditional manufacturers from China are giving crowdfunding a shot. Padmate, based in the southern coastal city of Xiamen, built a new earbud brand called Pamu from its foundation as a white-label maker of sound systems.

Edison Shen, a director at Padmate, said that traditional export was getting harder as old-school distributors became squeezed by new retail channels like e-commerce. By creating their own brands and reaching consumers directly, factories could also improve profit margins. Padmate went on Indiegogo in 2018 and raised over $ 6.6 million in one of its wireless headphone campaigns.

Most of the projects on Indiegogo will go beyond the 9-million-backer crowdfunding site onto mainstream platforms, listing on Amazon as well as advertising on Google and Facebook. Though the core services of these American Big Tech firms aren’t available in China, they have all set up some form of operational presence in China, whether it’s stationing staff in the country like Amazon or working through local ad resellers like Facebook.

Indiegogo itself opened its China office in Shenzhen five years ago and has since seen China-based projects raise over $ 300 million through its platform, according to Lu Li, general manager for Indiegogo’s global strategy. China is now the company’s fastest-growing market and accounted for over 40% of the campaigns that raised over $ 1 million in 2020.

Kickstarter, a rival to Indiegogo, also saw a surge in projects from China, which reached a record $ 60.5 million in funding in 2020. The Brooklyn-based company recently began looking for a contractor in Shenzhen or the adjacent city Hong Kong to help it research the Chinese market.

“In recent years, more Chinese companies are getting the hang of crowdfunding and taking their brand global, so ‘blockbuster’ campaigns [from China] are also on the rise,” observed Li.

Gadgets – TechCrunch


Facebook to test new business discovery features in US News Feed

April 17, 2021 No Comments

Facebook announced this morning it will begin testing a new experience for discovering businesses in its News Feed in the U.S. When live, users tap on topics they’re interested in underneath posts and ads in their News Feed in order to explore related content from businesses. The change comes at a time when Facebook has been arguing how Apple’s App Tracking Transparency update will impact its small business customers — a claim many have dismissed as misleading, but nevertheless led some mom and pop shops to express concern about the impacts to their ad targeting capabilities, as a result. This new test is an example of how easily Facebook can tweak its News Feed to build out more data on its users, if needed.

The company suggests users may see the change under posts and ads from businesses selling beauty products, fitness or clothing, among other things.

The idea here is that Facebook would direct users to related businesses through a News Feed feature, when they take a specific action to discover related content. This, in turn, could help Facebook create a new set of data on its users, in terms of which users clicked to see more, and what sort of businesses they engaged with, among other things. Over time, it could turn this feature into an ad unit, if desired, where businesses could pay for higher placement.

“People already discover businesses while scrolling through News Feed, and this will make it easier to discover and consider new businesses they might not have found on their own,” the company noted in a brief announcement.

Facebook didn’t detail its further plans with the test, but said as it learned from how users interacted with the feature, it will expand the experience to more people and businesses.

Image Credits: Facebook

Along with news of the test, Facebook said it will roll out more tools for business owners this month, including the ability to create, publish and schedule Stories to both Facebook and Instagram; make changes and edits to Scheduled Posts; and soon, create and manage Facebook Photos and Albums from Facebook’s Business Suite. It will also soon add the ability to create and save Facebook and Instagram posts as drafts from the Business Suite mobile app.

Related to the business updates, Facebook updated features across ad products focused on connecting businesses with customer leads, including Lead Ads, Call Ads and Click to Messenger Lead Generations.

Facebook earlier this year announced a new Facebook Page experience that gave businesses the ability to engage on the social network with their business profile for things like posting, commenting and liking, and access to their own, dedicated News Feed. And it had removed the Like button in favor of focusing on Followers.

It is not a coincidence that Facebook is touting its tools for small businesses at a time when there’s concern — much of it loudly shouted by Facebook itself — that its platform could be less useful to small business owners in the near future, when ad targeting capabilities become less precise as users vote “no” when Facebook’s iOS app asks if it can track them.

Mobile – TechCrunch


Grover raises $71M to grow its consumer electronics subscription business

April 15, 2021 No Comments

A startup tapping into the concept of the circular economy, where people don’t buy items outright but pay an incremental amount to use them temporarily, has raised some funding to scale its business in Europe and beyond. Grover, a Berlin-based startup that runs a subscription model where people can for set fees rent out consumer electronics like computers, smart phones, games consoles and scooters, has picked up €60 million ($ 71 million).

The funding is coming in the form of €45 million in equity and €15 million in venture debt.

The company, which as of September last year had 100,000 subscriptions and now has around 150,000, said it aims to triple subscriptions to 450,000 by the end of 2021. It will be using the funds to expand to more markets — both to grow its business in Germany, Austria and the Netherlands (where it’s already operating) and to launch in Spain and the U.S. — and to add more product categories into the mix, including health and fitness devices, consumer robots and smart appliances.

And, it plans to invest in more innovation around its rental services. These have seen a new wave of interest in particular in the past year of pandemic life, which has put a strain on many people’s finances; definitely made it harder to plan for anything, including what gadgets you might need one week or the next; and turned the focus for many people on consuming less, and getting more mileage out of what they and others already have.

“Now more than ever, consumers value convenience, flexibility and sustainability when they shop for and use products. This is especially true when it comes to technology and all of the possibilities that it has to offer — whether that’s productivity, fun, or staying in touch with our loved ones,” said Michael Cassau, CEO and founder of Grover, in a statement. “The fresh funding allows us to bring these possibilities to even more people across the world. It enables us to double down on creating an unparalleled customer experience for our subscribers, and to push the boundaries of the most innovative ways for people and businesses to access and enjoy technology. The strong support from our investors confirms not only the important value our service brings to people, but also Grover’s vast growth potential. We’re still just scratching the surface of a €1 trillion global market.”

JMS Capital-Everglen led the Series B equity round, with participation also from Viola Fintech, Assurant Growth, existing investors coparion, Augmentum Fintech, Circularity Capital, Seedcamp and Samsung Next, and unnamed founders and angel investors from Europe and North America, among others. Kreos Capital issued the debt.

Samsung is a strategic investor: Together with Grover it launched a subscription service in December that currently covers select models from its S21 series, among other devices, such as the Tab S7, Galaxy A models, and with plans to introduce wearables, smart home devices, TVs, notebooks and more into the Grover fold. “Samsung powered by Grover,” as it’s called, started in Germany, so one plan may be to use some of this investment to roll that out to other markets.

The funding is coming on the heels of a year when Berlin-based Grover said its business grew 2.5x (that is, 150%). Its most recent annual report noted that it had 100,000 active users as of September of last year, renting out 18,000 smartphones, 6,000 pairs of AirPods and more than 1,300 electric scooters in that period. It also said that in the most recent fiscal year, it posted net revenues of about $ 43 million, with $ 71 million in annual recurring revenue, and tipping into profitability on an EBITDA basis.

It raised €250 million ($ 297 million) in debt just before the start of the pandemic, and previously to that also raised a Series A of $ 44 million in 2018, and $ 48 million in 2019 in a combination of equity and debt in a pre-Series B. It’s not disclosing its valuation.

The company’s service falls into a wider category of startups building services around the subscription economy model, which has touched asset-intensive categories like cars, but also much lighter, internet-only consumables like music and video streaming.

Indeed, Grover has been regularly referred to as the “Netflix for gadgets,” in part a reference to the latter company’s history starting out by sending out physical DVDs to people’s homes (which they returned when finished to get other films, under a subscription model).

Similar to cars and films, there is definitely an argument to be made for owning gadgets on a subscription. The pricier that items become — and the more of them there are battling for a share of consumers’ wallets against many of the other things that they can spend money to own or use — the less likely it is that people will be completely happy to fork out money or build in financing to own them, not least because the value of a gadget typically depreciates the minute a consumer does make the purchase.

At the same time, more consumers are subscribing, and often paying electronically, to services that they use regularly: Whether it’s a Prime subscription, or Spotify, the idea with Grover — and others that are building subscriptions around physical assets — is to adopt the friction-light model of subscribing to a service and apply it to physical goods.

And for retailers, it’s another alternative to offer customers — alongside buying outright, using credit or offering by-now-pay-later or other kinds of financing in order to close a deal. Shopping cart abandonment, and competition for shoppers online, are very real prospects, so anything to catch incremental wins is a win. And if they are working in a premium (cost-per-month of use, say) to give customers possession of the gadget in question, if they manage to secure enough business this way, it actually might prove to be even more lucrative than outright sales, especially if the maintenance of those goods is offloaded to a third party like Grover.

Although some people have regularly been wary of the idea of used consumer electronics, or other used goods, that has been shifting. There have been a number of companies seeing strong growth in the last year on the back of helping consumers resell their own items. This has been helped in part by buyers being more focused on spending less (and sellers maybe earning back some money in the process), but also being keen to reduce their own footprints in the world by using items that are already out in circulation. In Europe alone, last week, Brighton-based MPB raised nearly $ 70 million for its used-camera equipment marketplace. Other recent deals have included used-goods marketplace Wallapop in Spain raising $ 191 million and clothing-focused Vestiaire Collective raising $ 216 million.

What is interesting here is — whether it’s a sign of the times, or because Grover might have cracked the subscription model for gadgets — the company seems to be progressing in an area that has definitely seen some fits and bumps over the years.

Lumoid out of the U.S. also focused on renting out tech gear, but, despite finding some traction and inking a deal with big box retailer Best Buy, it failed to raise the funding it needed to run its service and eventually shut down. It’s also not alone in trying to tackle the market. Others in the same space include Tryatec and Wonder, which seems to be focused more on trying out technology from startups.

The big question indeed is not just whether Grover will find more of a market for its rental/subscription model, but also whether it has cracked those economics around all of the supply chain management, shipping and receiving goods, reconditioning or repairing when needed, and simply keeping strong customer service throughout all of that. As we’ve seen many times, a good idea on one level can prove extremely challenging to execute on another.

Gadgets – TechCrunch


Willo launches its tooth-brushing robot for kids

April 13, 2021 No Comments

Are you 100% sure that your children are brushing their teeth properly? A New York-based startup called Willo has been working for several years on a device that should transform the tooth-brushing experience for children.

Willo isn’t a new toothbrush — electric or not. It’s an oral care device that doesn’t look like a toothbrush at all. The startup has worked with dental professionals to start from scratch with oral care in mind.

The device can be quite intimidating when you don’t see it in action as it takes quite a bit of shelf space and you don’t know what you’re supposed to do. But when you see it in action, it looks easier than expected. Willo specifically targets children because they tend to struggle to reach every tooth and brush properly.

Kids are supposed to grab the handle and put the mouthpiece in their mouth. They can start brushing by pressing the button and that’s it. They don’t have to do anything else. The silicone-based mouthpiece also features soft bristles. It starts vibrating in your kid’s mouth when they press the button.

The handle is connected to a bigger home station that contains a water tank with a special rinse liquid. Kids don’t have to use toothpaste and don’t have to rinse their mouth. Everything is handled by the device.

Finally, Willo is a connected device, which means that parents can track oral care in a mobile app. You can also set up multiple users — your kids will have to swap the mouthpiece before using the device.

Image Credits: Willo

If you’re thinking about buying a device for your children, Willo costs $ 199. You then have to pay $ 13 per month to receive rinse pods as well as new mouthpieces that always fit.

While the product is going live today, the startup has already tested it with real families. These children rated the device 4.73/5 and parents gave an NPS of 70+. They’ve all kept using Willo after the testing phase.

Behind this product, there’s a team of 33 people in France and the U.S. They have filed over 50 patents over the past 7 years — 30 of them have been granted so far. The company has raised $ 17 million in total funding from Kleiner Perkins, Bpifrance and Matt Rogers’ fund Incite.

It’s true that the concept of a toothbrush hasn’t changed at all. Making a device that changes the way you brush your teeth is an ambitious bet. But it’s clear that the startup has made a lot of efforts to tackle this challenge. Now let’s see if they manage to convince parents.

Image Credits: Willo

Gadgets – TechCrunch


Google denies Pixel 5a 5G cancelation, confirming it’s coming this year

April 12, 2021 No Comments

Sometimes you’ve just got to confirm an unannounced product to put the rumors to bed, I guess. That was Google’s strategy this afternoon, following earlier rumors from Android Central that a chip shortage had put the kibosh on the mid-budget phone.

In a comment to TechCrunch, a Google spokesperson noted, “Pixel 5a 5G is not cancelled. It will be available later this year in the U.S. and Japan and announced in line with when last year’s a-series phone was introduced.”

That time frame would put the device’s arrival around late-summer, meaning it won’t arrive in time for Google I/O in May, as some speculated. Interestingly, the company appears to be limiting the device’s availability to two countries — at least at launch. That could, perhaps, be due to earlier-reported component shortages.

As The Verge notes, the company hasn’t been particularly precious when it comes to product announcements. The company took a similar approach ahead of the release of the Pixel. Either way, this isn’t exactly the standard big company approach to rumor denial, which is to either not answer or otherwise deflect.

Google may well be on edge about its Pixel line these days. The phone line hasn’t exactly taken the mobile world be storm, resulting in longstanding rumors that the company is looking to shake things up. That, in part, has seemingly been confirmed by some fairly high-profile exits.

Still, even while there have been issues on the premium side, the company’s budget “a” line has helped buoy its overall numbers. No word yet on specific specs, but the handset is not expected to be a radical departure from its predecessor.

 

Mobile – TechCrunch


Facebook Had Years to Fix Flaw That Leaked 500M Users’ Data

April 10, 2021 No Comments

Software makers can’t catch every bug every time, but Facebook had ample warning about the privacy problems with its “contact import” feature.
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Sonos delivers a near-perfect portable speaker with the new Sonos Roam

April 8, 2021 No Comments

Sonos has a new speaker that starts shipping later this month, and it’s a significant departure from the company’s usual offerings in a number of ways. The all-new Sonos Roam is a compact, portable speaker with a built-in battery and Bluetooth connectivity — but still very much a Sonos system team player, with wifi streaming, multi-room feature, voice assistant support and surprisingly great sound quality.

The basics

Priced at $ 169, the Sonos Roam is truly diminutive, at just over 6 inches, by roughly 2.5 inches for both height and depth. It weighs under a pound, and is available in either a matte white or black finish, which is par for the course for Sonos in terms of colorways. Roam is also IP67-rated, meaning it’s effectively waterproof, with a resistance rating of up to 30 minutes at depths of up to 1 meter (3.3 feet).

Sonos has placed the speaker’s control surface at one end of the device, including a microphone button, volume controls and a play/pause button. These are actual, tactile buttons, rather than touch-sensitive surfaces like you’d find on other Sonos speakers, which makes sense for a speaker designed to be used on the go, and in conditions where touch controls might get flummoxed by things like rain and water.

The Roam also has a power button on the back, next to a USB-C port for charging. It also offers wireless charging, via a receiver found in the base of the speaker, which can be used with Sonos’ own forthcoming magnetic charging adapter (sold separately), or with any standard Qi-powered wireless charger you want.

In addition to wifi streaming, Sonos Roam can also connect to any device via Bluetooth 5.0. It also features AirPlay 2 for connecting to Apple devices when on wifi, and it works out of the box with Spotify Connect. The built-in battery is rated for up to 10 hours of playback on a full charge, according to Sonos, and can also provide up to 10 days of its sleep-like standby mode.

Design and performance

This is the smallest speaker yet released by Sonos, and that’s definitely a big plus when it comes to this category of device. The dimensions make it feel like a slightly taller can of Red Bull, which should give you some sense of just how portable it is. Unlike Sonos’ first portable speaker with a built-in battery, the Sonos Move, the Roam truly feels like something designed to be thrown in a bag and brought with you wherever you happen to need it.

Despite its small size, the Sonos Roam offers impressive sound — likely the best I’ve yet encountered for a portable speaker in this size class. Inside, it manages to pack in dual amplifiers, one tweeter and a separate custom racetrack mid-woofer, which Sonos developed to help deliver both lows and mids with a faithfulness that normally escapes smaller speakers. The Roam also gets a lot louder than you’d probably expect it could, while keeping audio quality clear and free of distortion at the same time.

One of the keys to the Roam’s great sound quality is Sonos’ Automatic Trueplay tech, which tunes the audio to best suit its surroundings actively and continually. This feature requires that the mic be enabled to work, but it’s well worth having on in most settings, and makes a big difference while streaming in both Bluetooth and wifi modes. This also helps the speaker adjust when it’s switched from horizontal to vertical orientation, and it’s one of the main reasons that the Roam punches above its weight relative to other speakers in this size and price category.

The Roam would be a winner based on audio quality alone for the price, but the extra Sonos system-specific features it boasts really elevate it to a true category leader. These include a standby mode that preserves battery while keeping the Roam available to your system for wifi streaming via the Sonos app (handy, and also optional since you can hold the power button down for five seconds to truly power off and preserve your charge for even longer, which is great for travel).

One of Roam’s truly amazing abilities is a hand-off feature that passes playback of whatever you’re using it to listen to on to the nearest Sonos speaker in your system when you long press the play/pause button. This works almost like magic, and is a great speaker superpower for if you’re wandering around the house and the yard doing chores with the Roam in your pocket.

Bottom line

Sonos waited a long time to release their first travel-friendly portable speaker, but they obviously used that time wisely. The Sonos Roam is the most thoughtfully-designed, feature-rich and best-sounding portable speaker you can get for under $ 200 (and better than many more expensive options, at that). Even if you don’t already have a Sonos system to use it with, it’s an easy choice if you’re in the market for a portable, rugged Bluetooth speaker — and if you’re already a Sonos convert, the decision gets that much easier.

Gadgets – TechCrunch


The Opportunities—and Obstacles—for Women at NSA and Cyber Command

April 6, 2021 No Comments

WIRED spoke with three women working in cybersecurity in the US intelligence committee about the progress of recent years and the work that remains.
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The Best Electric Toothbrushes for Your Pearly Whites

April 5, 2021 No Comments

Yes, you’ll have to recharge your toothbrush, but these electric models put better oral hygiene within easy reach.
Feed: All Latest


Cryptocurrency wallet and blockchain tech startup imToken raises $30 million Series B

April 3, 2021 No Comments

ImToken, the blockchain tech startup and crypto wallet developer, announced today it has raised $ 30 million in Series B funding led by Qiming Venture Partners. Participants included returning investor IDG Capital, and new backers Breyer Capital, HashKey, Signum Capital, Longling Capital, SNZ and Liang Xinjun, the co-founder of Fosun International.

Founded in 2016, the startup’s last funding announcement was for its $ 10 million Series A, led by IDG, in May 2018. ImToken says its wallet for Ethereum, Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies now has 12 million users, and over $ 50 billion in assets are currently stored on its platform, with total transaction value exceeding $ 500 billion.

The company was launched in Hangzhou, China, before moving to it current headquarters to Singapore, and about 70% of its users are in mainland China, followed by markets including South Korea, the United States and Southeast Asia.

ImToken will use its latest funding to build features for “imToken 3.0.” This will include keyless accounts, account recovery and a suite of decentralized finance services. It also plans to expand its research arm for blockchain technology, called imToken Labs and open offices in more countries. It currently has a team of 78 people, based in mainland China, the United States and Singapore, and expects to increase its headcount to 100 this year.

In a press statement, Qiming Venture Partners founding managing partner Duane Kuang said, “In the next ten to twenty years, blockchain will revolutionize the financial industry on a global scale. We believe that imToken is riding this trend, and has strongly positioned itself in the market.”

Gadgets – TechCrunch


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