Critical mass

Greetings from…somewhere. As I mentioned the other week, I’m taking a few weeks off. It’s the first time off I’ve had this year and the most consecutive days I’ve taken off in 15+ years of being a tech journalist. It’s been a hard/weird last few years, and burnout has a way of sneaking up on you while you’re not looking.

I’m trying to ignore the creeping sense of guilt about not doing a couple of proper year-end newsletters this time out. I’ll be back right after the Christmas break, though, and we can debrief on 2022 then, just as we ease into full freak-out mode pre-CES (the level of real robotics news at what is ostensibly a consumer show always feels like a bit of a crapshoot).

I also have some passing thoughts about the need for more focused robotics journalism out there that I’ve been wanting to get down on paper. That’s not to say there aren’t good people out there doing good work. But there’s a lot more that needs to be done to mainstream coverage. Apologies for pasting some thoughts over from LinkedIn. If you read those posts, feel free to skip the next couple of grafs. Consider this a minor manifesto of sorts.

Quoting myself here (I know, I know):

If you run a robotics startup and want coverage, come ready to answer difficult questions. Categories like crypto have been done a disservice by some breathless coverage. It’s our job to ask some hard and sometimes uncomfortable questions.

A good investor will have already prepared you for some of them, like market fit and ROI. Even seemingly simple questions like “Why does this need to exist?” and “Why are you the right person/team to execute it?” can be difficult for many founders to answer.

They shouldn’t be. You should be asking yourself these questions every day. If you can’t find meaningful answers, you might not be the right person for the job. Accepting that and pivoting isn’t failure. Ignoring it and carrying on ultimately might be, however.

I’ve been genuinely surprised that more major publications aren’t investing in robotics coverage. Now is the time to starting building coverage of robotics/automation. The category has largely been done a disservice, as it’s been more of an afterthought. I got my start writing about gadgets (it’s still a big part of my role at TechCrunch), so I completely understand the impulse to fall back on Skynet and Black Mirror jokes, rather than having a nuanced conversation.

But questions about ethics, automation/labor and the like are important to bake into these conversations. Asking difficult questions isn’t combative. It’s not doing the industry a disservice (unless said industry can’t stand up to scrutiny). It’s an important part of growing. Otherwise one day you wake up and have a Theranos or FTX on your hands.

Sometimes these things are scams from the outset, but oftentimes it’s the product of someone who believed in their mission, but ultimately didn’t get enough pushback along the way and began believing their own lies.

Asking the right questions comes with being immersed in a topic. Knowing the lay of the land, talking to the right people and finely honing your BS detector. I’m not here to be anyone’s cheerleader, but I’m also not in the business of criticizing for criticism’s sake. Coverage should reflect the product and the people who make it — for better and worse.

All right, that’s enough bloviating from me for a while. For the next couple of weeks, I’m leaving you in some very capable hands. We’ve got some insight from some very smart folks in the space. Coming up over the next couple of weeks are PlayGround Global’s Peter Barrett and UC Berkeley’s Ken Goldberg.

Q&A with Joyce Sidopoulos

Image Credits: MassRobotics

Today we’re kicking things off with MassRobotics’ chief of operations, Joyce Sidopoulos, who was also a great help for my recent trip to Boston. See you on the other side.

TC: What was the biggest robotics story of 2022? 

JS: There are a number of stories that are changing the landscape of the robotics industry, such as Hyundai’s announcement of a $400 million AI and robotics institute powered by Boston Dynamics, but one of the most impactful stories is Amazon’s acquisition of iRobot.

What are your biggest robotics predictions for 2023?

The adoption of robotics will continue to grow at a rapid pace, in spite of, or possibly due to, the predicted economic downturn. The last few years have proven the worth of many robot systems, such as those used in warehouses.

How profound of an impact has the pandemic had on robotics?

Very. The pandemic highlighted the value that robotics can provide, and spurred on more development and commercialization. The pandemic led to the realization that domestic manufacturing needs help and our supply chain is broken, areas which robotics can help solve. Industries began to adopt collaborative robots to help with workforce shortfalls and that will continue.

How much of an impact has the macroeconomic environment had on robotics investing?

We are definitely seeing that it is taking startups longer to raise rounds, but so far there are funds still available. MassRobotics recently held an investor demo day for about 30 of our startups and we had a great turnout of interested investors.

What underaddressed category deserves more focus from robotics startups and investors?

Climate change and sustainability. We will need to make significant strides in using technology to impact some of our global challenges, and we believe robotics can play a growing role, from wind turbine inspection to automated recycling.

How will automation impact the workforce of the future?

The best applications for robots today are where robots work in conjunction with human workers. Companies that have been successful in deploying robots have increased their workforce. Robots will replace dull, dirty and dangerous jobs. Those are the undesirable jobs that are not easily filled.

Are home robotics finally having their moment?

We are watching Amazon’s acquisition of iRobot closely. We believe there are plenty of opportunities for robots in the home in the future.

What more can/should the U.S. do to foster innovation in the category?

Increase the support for the startup community by investing in innovation centers (like MassRobotics) and create incentives for small and midsized firms to adopt robotics to allow them to be competitive on the world stage.

Critical mass by Brian Heater originally published on TechCrunch

https://techcrunch.com/2022/12/08/critical-mass/

Report indicates friction prior to Bret Taylor’s resignation from Salesforce

It seems that maybe Salesforce co-founder and CEO Marc Benioff was protesting a bit too much when he gave what seemed like a genuinely heartfelt goodbye to his protégé, Bret Taylor, last week, insisting to anyone who would listen that he was heartbroken to lose his friend and mentee.

That might not be the whole story. The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that there was tension between the two executives over Taylor’s role as co-CEO and his other job as Twitter board chair, a role he held until the end of October, when Elon Musk took over as owner and dissolved the board.

Certainly, the oddest part of the report was that people told the WSJ that Benioff was upset that Taylor wasn’t spending enough time on engineering and too much time with other CEOs and customers, a role that you would think Benioff would want his co-CEO to take on.

This was precisely the kind of thing that former co-CEO Keith Block brought to the job before he left the company in 2020. One would think that if the reason for Taylor’s departure was frustration at being unable to build something, engineering would be where he’d be spending the majority of his time.

The report went on to suggest that people were confused about which co-CEO to report to, which throws into focus the whole idea of the co-CEO role. As former Salesforce executive and current founder and CEO of Skyflow, Anshu Sharma, told TechCrunch earlier this week, it’s not really a role at all.

“What the fuck is a co-CEO and why do you need one? Well, I mean, you have a CEO and four other CXOs. What does a co-CEO wake up in the morning and do that’s not already being done by a CEO?” he asked.

It’s a fair question, and if the WSJ report is accurate, it seems that people inside Salesforce, including Benioff himself, had trouble figuring it out.

It also begs the question of whether those were just crocodile tears from Benioff at the announcement last week. It sure sounds like Taylor’s decision to leave wasn’t just because he had a hankering to return to building, as we had been led to believe.

We sought comment from Salesforce, but the company did not respond to our request by the time of publication. Should that change, we will update the post.

Report indicates friction prior to Bret Taylor’s resignation from Salesforce by Ron Miller originally published on TechCrunch

https://techcrunch.com/2022/12/08/report-indicates-friction-prior-to-bret-taylors-resignation-from-salesforce/

Airtable chief revenue officer, chief people officer and chief product officer are out

As part of Airtable’s decision to cut 20% of staff, or 254 employees, three executives are “parting ways” with the company as well, a spokesperson confirmed over email. The chief revenue officer, chief people officer and chief product officer are no longer with the company.

Airtable’s chief revenue officer, Seth Shaw, joined in November 2020 just one month before Airtable’s chief product officer Peter Deng came on board. Airtable’s chief people officer, Johanna Jackman, joined Airtable in May 2021 with an ambitious goal to double the company’s headcount to 1,000 in 12 months. The three executives are departing today as a mutual decision with Airtable, but will advise the company through the next phase of transition, the company says. All three executives were reached out to for further comment and this story will be updated with their responses if given.

An Airtable spokesperson declined to comment on if the executives were offered severance pay. The positions will be succeeded by internal employees, introduced at an all-hands meeting to be held this Friday.

Executive departures at this scale are rare, even if the overall company is going through a heavy round of cuts. But CEO and founder Howie Liu emphasized, in an email sent to staff but seen by TechCrunch, that the decision – Airtable’s first-ever lay off in its decade-long history – was made following Airtable’s choice to pivot to a more “narrowly focused mode of execution.”

In the email, Liu described Airtable’s goal – first unveiled in October – to capture enterprise clients with connected apps. Now, instead of the bottom-up adoption that first fueled Airtable’s rise, the company wants to be more focused in this new direction. Liu’s e-mail indicates that the startup will devote a majority of its resources toward “landing and expanding large enterprise companies with at least 1k FTEs – where our connected apps vision will deliver the most differentiated value.”

The lean mindset comes after Airtable reduced spend in marketing media, real estate, business technology and infrastructure, the e-mail indicates. “In trying to do too many things at once, we have grown our organization at a breakneck pace over the past few years. We will continue to emphasize growth, but do so by investing heavily in the levers that yield the highest growth relative to their cost,” Liu wrote.

Airtable seems to be emphasizing that its reduced spend doesn’t come with less ambition, or ability to execute. A spokesperson added over e-mail that all of Airtable’s funds from its $735 million Series F are “still intact.” They also said that the startup’s enterprise side, which makes up the majority of Airtable’s revenue, is growing more than 100% year over year; the product move today just doubles down on that exact cohort.

Current and former Airtable employees can reach out to Natasha Mascarenhas on Signal, a secure encrypted messaging app, at 925 271 0912. You can also DM her on Twitter, @nmasc_. 

Airtable chief revenue officer, chief people officer and chief product officer are out by Natasha Mascarenhas originally published on TechCrunch

https://techcrunch.com/2022/12/08/airtable-chief-revenue-officer-chief-people-officer-and-chief-product-officer-are-out/

Can You Tell a Real Tweet From One Written By an AI Chatbot?

Take the quiz to see how much artificial intelligence resembles the real thing

https://www.wsj.com/articles/chatgpt-twitter-quiz-ai-openai-11670511559?mod=rss_Technology

Pitch Deck Teardown: Rootine’s $10M Series A deck

I wish the company had included how much money it was raising on this slide to give it a sliver of additional context. But that’s an aside; I love the clarity here. Increasing ARR and membership numbers 3x and launching eight new products is a great set of goals. I wish the company had included deadlines (yes, 3x ARR … but when?), and “key hires” and “expand teams” are too fluffy. But most startups don’t include any of this, so very well done there.

One little detail, though: 30% growth, 40% tech, 20% community, 20% ops. Oops. I love the realism that everything in startups can run over budget, and I believe in the wisdom of raising more than you think you’ll need, but I’m pretty sure most investors would prefer the use of funds to add up to 100%.

As a startup, the lesson here is to show that you have clarity around why you are raising money, as well as what you’re going to accomplish with the money. It’s embarrassingly rare to see either of these things clearly outlined — and it’s literally the whole purpose of a pitch deck. Rootine’s example above is a good jumping-off point. Make it your own; make it good.

Traction galore

Rootine has a few traction slides in its deck (one that makes me unhappy, but we’ll get to that one), but I love how it flexes its numbers in various ways to show how well the company is doing. Slide 19 showcases some really cool traction:

[Slide 19] Holy traction, Batman. Image Credits: Rootine

An 18x increase in two years is objectively powerful. Not having numbers on the axes is a bit of a cheat (why‽), but the trend is clear, so that’s encouraging. The slide I really want to celebrate Rootine for, though, is the “summary” slide far earlier in the deck. Slide 2:

[Slide 3] Kicking off the story with a summary of the metrics. Image Credits: Rootine

I’m a sucker for a good business-by-the-numbers-type slide. I’m a little confused by the inconsistencies. TechCrunch

If you told me that a company that’s charging $70 per month for multivitamins would be able to raise a $10 million round, I’d demand to see the receipts, and I’d be very curious indeed to see its pitch deck. It looks like today is my lucky day!

Rootine is the company, and the founders were gracious enough to share their pitch deck with me. Let’s figure out what the investors saw in this startup.

The company first turned up in TechCrunch’s coverage as part of the Techstars accelerator back in 2018. Anthony Ha reported that the company had 1,500 paying customers in Europe and was gunning for a U.S. expansion. It looks like that was a long journey that ultimately worked out.

Rootine’s deck is my 30th teardown — time flies! You can see the rest of them here, in case today’s read isn’t quite enough pitch decking for you.


We’re looking for more unique pitch decks to tear down, so if you want to submit your own, here’s how you can do that


Slides in this deck

The Rootine deck consists of 29 slides, and the team tells me there have been no omissions or redactions — this is what the investors saw when they were getting pitched!

  1. Cover slide
  2. Summary slide
  3. Traction summary slide
  4. Team slide
  5. “Why” slide
  6. Market context slide
  7. Market size and market trajectory slide
  8. Problem slide
  9. Solution slide
  10.  “Community enhances member experience” — community slide
  11.  Business model slide
  12.  “The Precision Multivitamin”— product slide
  13.  “Supported by a variety of at-home lab tests”— product slide
  14.  “Innovative form factor for nutrition products”— product slide
  15.  Technology slide
  16.  “Feedback loop”— product slide
  17.  “How it works” slide — tracking member outcomes
  18.  Customer (“member”) results slide
  19.  Product traction slide
  20.  Customer traction slide
  21.  Partnership traction slide
  22.  Competitive landscape slide
  23.  Vision slide
  24.  Product road map slide
  25.  Revenue projection slide
  26.  Go-to-market evolution slide
  27.  Advisors slide
  28.  The ask and use of funds slide
  29.  Contact info slide

Three things to love

Rootine’s slide deck is a masterclass; it covers everything I would expect in a deck. It does go deeper than I would have liked into the product, but when I looked through it again, there’s not a lot I can remove from this deck to make it much better. Incidentally, there’s also not a lot I would add. That’s a great sign. Let’s check out some of the highlights.

An “ask” slide

By quite some considerable margin, the “ask and use of funds” slide is the most frequently screwed-up slide in pitch decks, in my experience. This one isn’t perfect, but I’m so glad it’s there, because it helps lead the conversation for what happens next.

[Slide 28] Great use of funds slide. Image Credits: Rootine

I wish the company had included how much money it was raising on this slide to give it a sliver of additional context. But that’s an aside; I love the clarity here. Increasing ARR and membership numbers 3x and launching eight new products is a great set of goals. I wish the company had included deadlines (yes, 3x ARR … but when?), and “key hires” and “expand teams” are too fluffy. But most startups don’t include any of this, so very well done there.

One little detail, though: 30% growth, 40% tech, 20% community, 20% ops. Oops. I love the realism that everything in startups can run over budget, and I believe in the wisdom of raising more than you think you’ll need, but I’m pretty sure most investors would prefer the use of funds to add up to 100%.

As a startup, the lesson here is to show that you have clarity around why you are raising money, as well as what you’re going to accomplish with the money. It’s embarrassingly rare to see either of these things clearly outlined — and it’s literally the whole purpose of a pitch deck. Rootine’s example above is a good jumping-off point. Make it your own; make it good.

Traction galore

Rootine has a few traction slides in its deck (one that makes me unhappy, but we’ll get to that one), but I love how it flexes its numbers in various ways to show how well the company is doing. Slide 19 showcases some really cool traction:

[Slide 19] Holy traction, Batman. Image Credits: Rootine

An 18x increase in two years is objectively powerful. Not having numbers on the axes is a bit of a cheat (why‽), but the trend is clear, so that’s encouraging. The slide I really want to celebrate Rootine for, though, is the “summary” slide far earlier in the deck. Slide 2:

[Slide 3] Kicking off the story with a summary of the metrics. Image Credits: Rootine

I’m a sucker for a good business-by-the-numbers-type slide. I’m a little confused by the inconsistencies. TechCrunch reported that the company had 1,500 or so customers back in 2018, so the 2019 “launch” seems odd. It’s also risky to show projected numbers as part of slides; having it in two colors (blue for “real” numbers and perhaps gray for the projected numbers) might have felt more honest.

I’d also have liked to see more detail about the numbers behind the numbers. Acquisition costs, margins and all the numbers that drive a business forward. Especially at a Series A, where a company is explicitly setting itself up for growth, it would be good to have more detailed breakdowns of how the various key metrics have evolved over time.

How has the customer acquisition cost (CAC) evolved over time? How has the initial spend per customer and assumed lifetime value per customer shifted? What about the costs of goods sold (COGS), etc.? As an investor, this is where I would spend a lot of my due diligence time, so it makes sense to include most — if not all — of that as part of the presentation. If you’re positioning yourself as being ready for growth, show that the numbers support that!

As a startup, consider how you can use the numbers driving your company to tell the story, both of what you have done and what you are about to do. If you have meaningful numbers that truly show the growth of your company — use ’em to ram that point home. What you are doing is hard; brag, brag, brag!

The path to $1 billion

[Slide 25] That’s a bold claim. Image Credits: Rootine

The whole purpose of a startup is to scale outrageously fast. The exponential curve Rootine is showing in this curve looks impressive, and I am unsurprised that the investors got excited. I also suspect investors would ask how at this point. I think making a claim to be a $1 billion business within six years is bold and exciting. But you’d best show up with the receipts.

I hinted at that above; I’d want to see the numbers that drive this aggressive curve. Doubts aside; if you’re playing the VC game and you’re raising growth capital, this is precisely the sort of claim you need to be able to make, backed with some confidence and the numbers to back it up.

In the rest of this teardown, we’ll take a look at three things Rootine could have improved or done differently, along with its full pitch deck!

Pitch Deck Teardown: Rootine’s $10M Series A deck by Haje Jan Kamps originally published on TechCrunch

https://techcrunch.com/2022/12/08/sample-series-a-pitch-deck-rootine/

Airtable, last valued at $11 billion for its no-code software, lays off over 250

Just days ago, Airtable published a memo about how laid off workers can use Airtable to search for jobs. “It’s been an unwelcome theme of 2022—layoffs,” the post said. “Each season seems to usher in a new wave of cuts. Meanwhile corporations cite similar concerns of rising inflation, the looming threat of an economic downturn and the need for stability during turbulent times. For the souls who lost their jobs this year it’s another cruel uncertainty they’ll have to surmount.”

(Update: The layoff was announced internally alongside an executive departure. Airtable’s chief revenue officer, chief people officer and chief people officer have all parted ways with the company, effective today, a spokesperson confirmed to TechCrunch.)

Now, Airtable’s employees are facing the same feeling.  Last valued at $11 billion, the no-code leader has conducted a round of layoffs today that impact around 254 employees across business development, engineering and other teams. The company spokesperson says that Airtable is continuing to hiring for “strategically important” roles, and that 20% of the staff was impacted today. 

Those impacted by Airtable’s layoffs today will get at least 16 weeks of severance pay, accelerated equity vesting, and for those on a visa, support from an immigration counsel, sources say. Employees were given the opportunity to meet 1:1 with a leader at the company, following the news.

In an e-mail obtained by TechCrunch, and first seen by tracker Layoffs.fyi, Airtable founder and CEO Howie Liu said that the company will be evolving from a bottoms-up adopted product to a company that brings connected apps to larger enterprises.

“We’ve rapidly expanded and executed on multiple fronts. At the time, I believed we could successfully pursue all of them in parallel,” Liu wrote in the email. “However, in taking a hard look at our efforts in the current market environment, we’ve identified the teams best positioned to capture the opportunity in enterprise in order to bring complete focus, alignment and accountability in our execution.”

The vision was part of the reason that TechCrunch spoke to Liu in October, as Airtable announced its more integrated, connected-apps approach. Then, the entrepreneur pointed to its $735 million Series F round from 2021 as a fortunate reason that Airtable has been able to stay well-capitalized amid the downturn.

“We have more than enough runway to get to profitability and then some,” Liu then said in an interview with TechCrunch, “We’re a private company so we’re not under the gun to show short-term results of profitability – so we’re very, very fortunate to not be under so much pressure and we would never gloat about that, but I do think it gives us a unique position [to hire talent].”

In today’s internal memo, Liu re-emphasized that Airtable is well capitalized, but slightly shifted in tone by adding that “being a lean organization becomes doubly important in times of economic uncertainty.” A spokesperson added that all of Airtable’s funds from its Series F are “still intact.”

The company is signaling that the layoff was less off a desperate attempt to extend runway, and more of a move made in order to re-align the company with what actually works. A spokesperson said that its enterprise side, which makes up the majority of Airtable’s revenue, is growing more than 100% year over year; the product move today just doubles down on that exact cohort.

This entire year was full of tech layoffs, but the final quarter has been especially massive as macroeconomic pressure reaches late-stage private companies. Yesterday, Plaid announced that it would officially cut 20% of staff, around a month after one of the most valuable fintechs, Stripe, cut 14% of its workforce. Elon Musk cut around 50% of Twitter’s workforce after he bought the social media platform, one of the largest layoffs percentage-wise that happened since the beginning of the pandemic.

Like others, Airtable is assuming a leaner, more focused business strategy to head into the new year.

Current and former Airtable employees can reach out to Natasha Mascarenhas on Signal, a secure encrypted messaging app, at 925 271 0912. You can also DM her on Twitter, @nmasc_. 

Airtable, last valued at $11 billion for its no-code software, lays off over 250 by Natasha Mascarenhas originally published on TechCrunch

https://techcrunch.com/2022/12/08/airtable-layoffs/

Women are rising through the ranks at VC firms, new survey shows

The next generation of women venture capitalists are rising through the leadership ranks — though there are some caveats to consider.

A new survey looking at compensation for women in the venture industry this year found a higher concentration of women in lower-level firm positions than last year, representing around 43% of directors and principals but only 18% of general partners. Smaller funds tend to be more gender-diverse: Venture groups with less than $100 million in assets under management are more likely than larger firms to have a strong representation of women in high-ranking positions.

The share of women represented in director and principal positions significantly increased in the past two years — from 27% in 2020 to 32% in 2021 to 43% currently. At the same time, the share of women in higher-level positions, such as managing general partner or senior managing director, stands below 25% and has for the past two years.

This indicates that either there is a broken rung hindering the professional mobility of women in the venture workplace and/or that the representation of women at these senior levels is set to increase as more women are hired, mentored and given the opportunity to rise within these firms. Jody Thelander, the founder and CEO of the consulting firm that provided the analysis for the report published by First Republic Bank, hopes that this data signals an upcoming change in the industry.

“Right now, we’re seeing greater transparency into compensation, career paths and succession planning than ever before. And there’s a stronger mandate for D&I, both from the managing directors and their limited partners,” Thelander told TechCrunch. “As a result, more and more women are looking at venture as a serious career path, and that’s why we are seeing them start to show up more in these junior ranks.”

Plus, the report noted, smaller firms having a strong representation of women in high-level positions likely means that more women are branching out to launch their own firms. The share of women who are managing general partners at firms with less than $100 million AUM is 31%, compared to 14% at firms with $500 million or more AUM. Regardless of where a woman goes, however, the issue of fair and equitable pay is always a topic of discussion.

Women are rising through the ranks at VC firms, new survey shows by Dominic-Madori Davis originally published on TechCrunch

https://techcrunch.com/2022/12/08/women-are-rising-through-the-ranks-at-vc-firms-new-survey-shows/

Reddit’s end-of-year Recap experience rolls out with personalized shareable cards

Reddit is rolling out its annual end-of-year Recap experience to give users a way to reflect on the time they spent on the platform in 2022. Your personalized Reddit Recap will show you a variety of stats, including a summary of the time you spent on Reddit, the content you most engaged with and the communities you viewed or joined. This year, Reddit is giving users a shareable card that displays your experience on the platform.

Users can click on the Narwhal icon under their profile in the Reddit app or the navigation bar on desktop to see their personalized Recap. Once you launch your Recap, you will see a series of shareable cards that include fun stats, such as your most upvoted comment and if you are team cat or dog.

Image Credits: Reddit

“Once users reach the end of their Recap experience, they have one last new and unique opportunity to see how they stack up against other redditors by being rewarded a Superpower Reddit Ability,” Reddit said in a blog post. “Based on earned Karma points, the card places redditors into one of three categories of Rare, Epic, or Legendary. To add to the experience, it also displays their most recent Avatar, the top three visited communities, and assigns a generated persona gathered from the topics they were most interested in.”

You can download and share your personalized card to see how you stack up against other users. If you don’t want your username or avatar on the card, you can choose to have the card say “Redditor” and display a generic avatar instead of your own.

As for Reddit as a whole, the company says users created more than 430 million posts, which is a 14% increase year-over-year. Reddit also saw more than 2.5 billion comments, up 7% from from last year. Reddit also revealed that the most-viewed community was r/amitheasshole.

End-of-year recaps have become increasingly popular due to the notable success of Spotify’s annual Wrapped experience. In the past, Reddit’s yearly recaps only used to include information about the platform as a whole, but since last year the Reddit has joined other companies in giving users shareable data about their browsing habits. Reddit’s recap experience comes a week after Spotify, Apple Music and YouTube rolled out their own end-of-year personalized experiences.

Reddit’s end-of-year Recap experience rolls out with personalized shareable cards by Aisha Malik originally published on TechCrunch

https://techcrunch.com/2022/12/08/reddits-end-of-year-recap-experience-rolls-out-with-personalized-shareable-cards/

Amazon launches Inspire, a TikTok-like shopping feed that supports both photos and videos

To get started with Inspire, customers will open the Amazon Shopping app and tap Inspire’s icon. Upon first launch, they’re prompted to choose from over 20 interests, including things like makeup, skin care, pets, gaming, plants, hiking, interior design, travel, running, and more in order to personalize their Inspire feed.

While Inspire focuses on short-form video content, it also offers support for photos, making it something of a hybrid between TikTok and Instagram. Like Instagram, you can double-tap anywhere on the screen to “like” the content with a red heart. However, you scroll through the Inspire experience much like using TikTok’s vertical video feed, where you swipe up from the bottom to see the next video. Engagment buttons are also off to the right side of the screen, as on TikTok.

Image Credits: Amazon

When you see something you like, you can tap on small buttons at the bottom of the window which link to the product on Amazon. Initially, a tap on these buttons will pop-up the product in an overlay window on top of the video, but a tap on “See all details” will take you to the item’s product page where you can read more, make a purchase, or add it to a list.

Over time, Amazon says the feed will better customize itself as Inspire learns more about the user’s interests by tracking their engagement and likes. Longer-term, the retailer plans to add more shoppable features to Inspire, as well as additional in-app functionality and content, to further improve the product.

Image Credits: Amazon

“We invent every day to make shopping easy and fun,” noted Amazon Shopping director Oliver Messenger in a statement about the launch. “Inspire is our new shopping experience that connects Amazon customers with shoppable content created by other customers, the latest influencers, and a wide range of brands. In just a few taps, customers can discover new products or get inspiration on what to buy, all tailored to their interests, and then shop for those items on Amazon,” Messenger said.

The company has already lined up a handful of Amazon Influencers to post on Inspire, including

Amazon is bringing a TikTok-like shopping experience to its app. The company today announced the launch of Inspire, a new short-form video and photo feed that allows consumers to explore products and ideas and shop from content created by influencers, brands, and other customers. The feature is designed to draw consumers’ attention away from apps like TikTok, where brands can directly market to consumers, in order to drive sales on Amazon.com instead.

The retailer said the shopping feature will initially roll out to select customers in the U.S. in early December, and will become broadly available to U.S. customers in the months that follow.

The launch follows tests earlier this year when Amazon had been spotted experimenting with a TikTok-like shopping feed in its app, which then had its own navigation button at the bottom of the Amazon mobile app. In the version launching now, that high-level placement in the main navigation remains the same, however the Inspir feed will now be accessible with a tap of a light bulb icon instead of the diamond icon that was seen in tests.

Image Credits: Amazon

To get started with Inspire, customers will open the Amazon Shopping app and tap Inspire’s icon. Upon first launch, they’re prompted to choose from over 20 interests, including things like makeup, skin care, pets, gaming, plants, hiking, interior design, travel, running, and more in order to personalize their Inspire feed.

While Inspire focuses on short-form video content, it also offers support for photos, making it something of a hybrid between TikTok and Instagram. Like Instagram, you can double-tap anywhere on the screen to “like” the content with a red heart. However, you scroll through the Inspire experience much like using TikTok’s vertical video feed, where you swipe up from the bottom to see the next video. Engagment buttons are also off to the right side of the screen, as on TikTok.

Image Credits: Amazon

When you see something you like, you can tap on small buttons at the bottom of the window which link to the product on Amazon. Initially, a tap on these buttons will pop-up the product in an overlay window on top of the video, but a tap on “See all details” will take you to the item’s product page where you can read more, make a purchase, or add it to a list.

Over time, Amazon says the feed will better customize itself as Inspire learns more about the user’s interests by tracking their engagement and likes. Longer-term, the retailer plans to add more shoppable features to Inspire, as well as additional in-app functionality and content, to further improve the product.

Image Credits: Amazon

“We invent every day to make shopping easy and fun,” noted Amazon Shopping director Oliver Messenger in a statement about the launch. “Inspire is our new shopping experience that connects Amazon customers with shoppable content created by other customers, the latest influencers, and a wide range of brands. In just a few taps, customers can discover new products or get inspiration on what to buy, all tailored to their interests, and then shop for those items on Amazon,” Messenger said.

The company has already lined up a handful of Amazon Influencers to post on Inspire, including Mae Badiyan, Practically Pursia, and others. The creators will be able to earn money from customers’ purchases via the Amazon Influencer Program.

“My audience wants engaging videos that introduce them to new products, which is why I’m excited to use Inspire to spotlight my favorite everyday essentials with the convenience of shopping those items immediately on Amazon,” noted Badiyan.

In addition, brands can post to Inspire, including vendors and sellers enrolled in Brand Registry with an active Brand Store, says Amazon.

Amazon has a long history of taking a popular format from social media in order to engage shoppers and inspire purchases. In previous years, it offered a Pinterest-like feature called Interesting Finds after first testing the idea in other variations, including as Amazon Collections in 2013, then Amazon Stream in 2015. In later years, it hosted an Instagram clone called Amazon Spark, but it finally wound down that program in 2019 after only a couple of years. Spark’s primary stakeholder, Amazon VP of Consumer Engagement Chee Chew had also departed at the beginning of 2019.

Elsewhere on the site, Amazon has drawn inspiration from live-stream shopping with Amazon Live and even once tried a YouTube copycat where anyone could upload videos.

Unfortunately, most of Amazon’s takes on social media tended to be fairly bland, as the content only exists to push products. Meanwhile, people browse social sites for more than just ideas about things to buy. They want to engage with creators, learn new things, laugh, and be entertained. It’s not clear if Inspire will be able to deliver on these factors, despite the shift to video.

Amazon Inspire is currently only available in the Amazon mobile app on iOS and Android, initially to select customers.

Credit: Amazon

Amazon launches Inspire, a TikTok-like shopping feed that supports both photos and videos by Sarah Perez originally published on TechCrunch

https://techcrunch.com/2022/12/08/amazon-launches-inspire-a-tiktok-like-shopping-feed-that-supports-both-photos-and-videos/

Ocho wants to rethink (and rebrand) personal finance for business owners

ocho-interface-fintech

When Ankur Nagpal sold Teachable for a quarter of a billion dollars, he felt lucky. Then, he quickly felt lost when trying to navigate the financial systems of a country he wasn’t born in and learn the institutional language often only spoken fluently by the historically wealthy.

It would be a few years of self-employment, and building a venture firm later, before Nagpal returned to the moment as one of the early catalysts for his newest startup, Ocho. The company, launching publicly today, wants to make it easier for business owners to set up and manage their own 401(k) retirement accounts.

Personal finance is hard – and that’s a tale as old, and difficult to disrupt, as time. And while Nagpal agrees that there’s no “north star” company that has shown how to tackle finance literacy at scale, he’s hoping that Ocho’s 10-person team may just have a not-so-boring wedge that changes that.

Ocho is joining the several fintech companies out there that aim to modernize, and really rebrand, the retirement account away from traditional providers like Charles Schwab or Fidelity, or expensive solutions like lawyers and consultants.

“I’ve started exploring the space, and we realize everyone – like Robinhood to Coinbase – is just spending unsustainable amounts of money to acquire customers, but are making no money themselves and continually sort of need these large funding rounds just to exist,” Nagpal said. “I’m actually expecting there to be a very rough 6, 12 or 18 months for fintech companies specifically.”

Ocho’s twist from competition, he thinks, is in its market focus. “There’s so many companies targeting startup founders and their wealth – there’s literally a new one launching every month or two all backed by big name VCs, but no one is focused on the business owner that is otherwise doing well but is not a startup founder or a startup employee,” he said.

Instead, Ocho is leaning into Nagpal’s background of working with creators when he was building Teachable. Teachable helped creators build revenue streams, Ocho wants to help those same creators take their earnings and invest, harvest and scale them in a smart way.

“At Teachable, we helped these people make money online and now there’s lots of places for creators, freelancers and entrepreneurs to make money online – but how do we help them think about building wealth?” Nagpal said. The long-term vision for Ocho is to offer products, beyond solo 401(k)s, that help business owners build wealth.

Human Interest is one of Ocho’s closest competitors; raising $200 million at a $1 billion valuation last year. Nagpal says that Ocho differentiates itself because its focused more on individuals, freelancers and creators, instead of Human Interest’s target of small and medium-sized businesses.

For now, Ocho is charging a flat $199 annual fee to help individuals start their retirement account. It takes about 10 minutes to set up, and 48 hours to get final confirmation.

The big challenge for the startup is getting the right solopreneurs to care about their retirement accounts. Its look for people who have income-generating businesses, but don’t have any full-time employees. If you have a side gig alongside your full-time job, you can create a 401(k) just for the side hustle, but can’t put full-time income into the retirement account.

Image Credits: Ocho

Nagpal thinks he can nail early adoption through smart education material and outreach, referring to personal finance trends on TikTok as an example of consumer demand for more information. He says that 40% of the Ocho staff is working on marketing or education, and that the balance will be retained even as the company scales.

If education is so important to getting Ocho to work, one may wonder why it’s launching with a fintech product. The answer is simple: deadlines. Users need to make a retirement account by December 31, 2022, if they want one for 2023 – which puts the fintech in a relevant, but time pressed, position.

Nagpal isn’t worried about the seasonality of the 401(k) product because of the upcoming product roadmap, which includes the education product, investment flows into the retirement product like being able to invest in startups and ETFs, and even HSAs, often described as a 401(k) for healthcare.

To power that ambitious product spree, Ocho has raised $2.5 million from Nagpal’s own venture firm, Vibe Capital. The entrepreneur says that he raised the $60 million debut fund for Vibe Capital with the idea that he would incubate a startup or two out of the firm, which materialized today now that it owns 20% of Ocho.

Nagpal admitted that the idea of a founder using his own venture firm to seed his own startup may appear to be the “mother of all conflicts of interest” but reasoned that it was everything but. He emailed all LPs in his fund about the investment, got a unanimous yes, and ended up raising at a much lower price for the startup than if they had gone out into the fair market. It’s still uncommon to see founders sell a company, start a venture firm and then use that same venture firm to seed their next company.

Perhaps the unique connection between Nagpal’s first company, to his firm, to his newest startup, could hint at what his approach to personal finance may be: diversify across multiple vehicles, redefine what a supercharged investment could look like, and keep on learning.

Ocho-team

Ocho’s starting team.

Ocho wants to rethink (and rebrand) personal finance for business owners by Natasha Mascarenhas originally published on TechCrunch

https://techcrunch.com/2022/12/08/ocho-launch-401k-retirement-account/