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Tue, 25 Jun 2019 17:35:11 +0000

David’s Bridal once owned 50% of the $36 billion wedding gown market before it filed for bankruptcy last year. Brides were growing sick of the lack of styles and sizes plus high prices at expensive brick & mortar shops. The industry was destined for disruption by software that would replace overhead costs and inflexibility with direct-to-consumer personalization.

That’s why I profiled a new custom wedding dress startup back in 2016 called Anomalie despite little funding or traction. The rise of Instagram meant every bride wanted to look unique on a budget, not pay $5000 for a cookie-cutter $200 dress that happened to be white. Anomalie was willing to embrace software to offer 4 billion design permutations and break the markup cartel by selling gowns starting at $1000.

2.5 years later, Anomalie has begun to prove that cheaper doesn’t have to look cheap and custom doesn’t have to cause a headache. 13% of US brides, 275,000 out of 2.1 million, created an Anomalie account in the last year. With David’s Bridal looking shaky and wedding dresses being a seven-times larger market than bedding and mattresses, investors eagerly proposed to Anomalie. Today the startup announces a $13.6 million Series A led by consumer product VC Goodwater Capital .

“I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of working with brides. Other companies would kill for this costumer. She’s so obsessed with every detail of her wedding dress. it’s just a perfect environment to collect data” says Anomalie co-founder and CEO Leslie Voorhees. “Long lead time, high margin, this industry that’s completely f*cked up —  it’s the perfect place to start this mass customization engine beginning with the wedding dress” she tells me, hinting at the startup’s potential to customize other clothing too.

Anomalie is also flexing its tech muscle today with the launch of its new dress sketch visualizer. Choose between a few options on shape, cut, color, pattern, and fabric, and you’ll see an algorithmic sketch of your dream dress appear instantly. Anomalie then pairs you with a squad of its designers to finalize the details, ship swatches, and get you your gown with a 100% refund policy if it’s not right.

The startup’s nest egg will go towards hiring more engineers plus bringing more of production in-house to offer additional features like this. But Voorhees insists that “I don’t think we’ll ever completely automate away the stylists. Customer don’t care about AI or machine learning, but they want to trust us to pull the ideas out of their heads.”

Anomalie co-founder and CEO Leslie Voorhees

Anomalie was woven out of Voorhees’ frustrations picking her own wedding dress. She’d been managing factories and supply chains in Asia for Nike and Apple, and it made no sense why slapping “bridal” on a dress could make it up to ten-times more expensive.

Her investigation uncovered that most brands were outsourcing their manufacturing, so she did an end-run, contacted factories directly, and got her dress made custom for a fraction of the price. So many of her pals demanded help doing the same that the Harvard Business School grad soft-launched Anomalie with her husband Calley Means [Disclosure: who I know from college] in the summer of 2016.

The startup’s gowns now average $1,400. Growth has been swift since weddings are so photographed and shared, with Anomalie reaching an outstanding net promoter score of 91. A friend of mine recently bought her dess through the company and it looked stunning and one-of-a-kind without breaking the bank. And since they’re custom, Anomalie makes inclusivity and advantage by offering larger sizes absent elsewhere

Meanwhile, Anomalie’s incumbent competitors have struggled. Gap and J.Crew abandoned the wedding dress business in the last few years. David’s Bridal emerged from bankruptcy with its 300 retail stores still operating, but it’s slipped to 30 percent US market share. It’s now owned by lenders including Oaktree Capital Group, which is a bad omen given that firm was responsible for driving Toys”R”Us into liquidation instead of keeping it open. No other players have a sizable foot or well-known brand besides super high-end designer Vera Wang.

Anomalie capitalized on David’s troubles by poaching its head of bridal production Angela Ng, who now leads the startup’s Hong Kong team and relieves Voorhees of constant trips to China. It also hired former Sephora VP of digital Marcy Zelmar and former TrueCar VP of engineering Aaron Tavistock. Their goal is to sell more dresses to get Anomalie more data, more factory modularization, and more control over its manufacturing.

Anomalie’s dress visualizer turns a few style selections into a sketch of your potential gown

The new funding round that builds on its $4.5 million seed round was joined by Signia, SoGal Ventures, Lerer Hippeau’s BN Capital Fund, and Fin’s Sam Lessin also includes strategic angels like former Stitch Fix CTO Jeff Barrett and ThirdLove underwear CEO Heidi Zak. At Anomalie’s San Francisco headquarters, mannequins sporting design prototypes stand beside software teams optimizing the new dress visualizer. And when I say the dresses are custom, I mean they can get about as weird as you want. Anomalie is finishing up a dress with lyrics from the couple’s favorite song embroidered in a secret language from their favorite TV show…and it still looks beautiful.

“One of the coolest things about Anomalie is that they’re not just using digital as a distribution strategy, but to also deliver a differentiated product experience” says Goodwater partner Eric Kim. “Anomalie’s sketch-builder is a great expression of this emphasis on product and customer centricity.” Wedding dresses have been largely ignored by startups despite the market being bigger than luggage ($34 billion), or shaving ($21 billion), oral care ($10 billion) and hair loss ($4 billion) combined.

The challenge is that unlike those products, bridal gowns are “a zero failure game. This is like airplane engines and heart rate monitors” Voorhees stresses. Anomalie must maintain perfect quality, times, and customer experience to avoid ruining someone’s big day. “Never messing up a dress or losing a dress — we take this really, really seriously.” She knows a few viral disasters could sink the ship. It also has to stay ahead of fresh entrants like COUTURME, a new Y Combinator startup making custom evening gowns as well as wedding dresses.

Anomalie’s SF headquarters. Photo by Summer Wilson

Anomalie sees global demand for a better experience, and thinks it can apply its data set to wedding dresses for more cultures as well as additional types of clothing. “We are building up a large repository of female measurements and creating tech plus operational processes around ‘mass customization’ that can be applied to other garments” Voorhees reveals. “Our aspirations are around bringing more body inclusivity + customization to women’s fashion, not just bridal.”

And while Anomalie could always find a retail partner to get more exposure, it’s tough for brick & mortar brands to operate online without cannibalizing their sales. “We think the women’s closet of the future contains staples from Stitch Fix, rotating dresses from Rent the Runway, and signature custom garments from Anomalie.”

The Anomalie just needs to educate brides that they can actually have the dress of their dreams, and now it wants to inspire that dream on-site too. Full of ambition and verve, Voorhees concludes, “What’s Pinterest valued at when it’s basically a wedding dress search engine?”

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Tue, 25 Jun 2019 17:23:29 +0000
Wedding dress customizer Anomalie raises $13M as bridal stores crumble

Welcome to this week’s transcribed edition of This is Your Life in Silicon Valley. We’re running an experiment for Extra Crunch members that puts This is Your Life in Silicon Valley in words – so you can read from wherever you are.

This is Your Life in Silicon Valley was originally started by Sunil Rajaraman and Jascha Kaykas-Wolff in 2018. Rajaraman is a serial entrepreneur and writer (Co-Founded, and is currently an EIR at Foundation Capital), Kaykas-Wolff is the current CMO at Mozilla and ran marketing at BitTorrent. Rajaraman and Kaykas-Wolff started the podcast after a series of blog posts that Sunil wrote for The Bold Italic went viral.

The goal of the podcast is to cover issues at the intersection of technology and culture – sharing a different perspective of life in the Bay Area. Their guests include entrepreneurs like Sam Lessin, journalists like Kara Swisher and politicians like Mayor Libby Schaaf and local business owners like David White of Flour + Water.

This week’s edition of This is Your Life in Silicon Valley features Tim Kendall, the former President of Pinterest and current CEO of Moment. Tim ran monetization at Facebook, and has very strong opinions on smartphone addiction and what it is doing to all of us. Tim is an architect of much of the modern social media monetization machinery, so you definitely do not want to miss his perspective on this important subject.

For access to the full transcription, become a member of Extra Crunch. Learn more and try it for free. 

Sunil Rajaraman: Welcome to season three of This is Your Life in Silicon Valley. A Podcast about the Bay Area, technology, and culture. I’m your host, Sunil Rajaraman and I’m joined by my cohost, Jascha Kaykas-Wolff.

Jascha Kaykas-Wolff: Are you recording?

Rajaraman: I’m recording.

Kaykas-Wolff: I’m almost done. My phone’s been buzzing all afternoon and I just have to finish this text message.

Rajaraman: So you’re one of those people who can’t go five seconds without checking their phone.

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Tue, 25 Jun 2019 17:00:31 +0000
‘This is Your Life in Silicon Valley’: Former Pinterest President, Moment CEO Tim Kendall on Smartphone Addiction

Squire, a Y Combinator-backed business management platform for barbershops, just raised an $8 million Series A round led by Trinity Ventures. Since launching in 2016, Squire has grown to operate in 28 cities across three countries with more than $100 million in transactions processed to date.

Across the 28 cities where Squire operates, the company says it sees the most traction in cities like New York, San Francisco, Miami, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Toronto.

“They’ve been very effective and efficient in acquiring these businesses,” Trinity Ventures General Partner Schwark Satyavolu told TechCrunch. “They’ve been very cost effective and figured out a product model that is efficient.”

With the funding in tow, Squire plans to recruit additional engineers, build out a sales team and start spending money on marketing.

Squire has a tiered business model that ranges from $30 per month to $250 per month, depending on the size and needs of the barbershop. The most basic plan includes features like booking capabilities and reports while the complete plan features all of that plus a custom app, support for multiple locations, loyalty rewards and a wait list.

Squire initially didn’t charge barbershops, but quickly realized shops were willing to pay for what it was offering.

“In talking to customers, we realized there was a lot of opportunity to build value in a backend management system,” Squire co-founder Songe LaRon told TechCrunch. “And when we started working on those features, they would often expect to pay something. When we said it was free, they were actually a bit skeptical.”

Down the road, Squire sees a future where it could extend its model into other verticals, but says it’s currently focused on barbershops and the $20 billion market opportunity in men’s grooming.

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Tue, 25 Jun 2019 16:53:02 +0000
Barbershop management platform Squire raises $8 million Series A round

Not that long ago, visiting the website of an auto dealership was a little like going to a store without a cash register. The retailer’s website might list all the cars, trucks and SUVs in its inventory, but there would be no way to actually buy one online.

A digital commerce startup called Drive Motors jumped in to fill that void. Unlike Carvana and Shift and other online used car startups that have emerged on the scene, this company is providing the “buy button” for  dealerships and automakers by creating a native transaction layer within their existing webpages and stores.

Now, the three-year-old company is flush with a fresh injection of capital, high-profile investors and a new name that founder Aaron Krane says better reflects its broader vision and business plan. 

The startup, now called Modal, has raised $5 million in capital from new investors, including Peter Thiel, Japanese dealer conglomerate IDOM, and Ally Ventures, the investing arm of national auto lender Ally Financial.

The company started small, first landing local dealerships in California as customers of its real-time financing and digital commerce platform. Today, its customers include auto brands and some of the largest dealer groups in the country. In 2018, the startup saw its online monthly volume per store double to more than $1.8 million per month, and more than $10 million per month for top-performing individual stores.

That transaction layer is still the core feature of the company’s business, Krane told TechCrunch. Modal has added several new features since its last funding round, including real-time financing, digital documents and in-store point of sale.

Krane initially landed on the name Drive Motors because it sounded relevant to the auto dealerships he wanted to win over and not the Silicon Valley tech world where he had come from. (Krane founded Drive Motors after selling his fantasy sports startup Hitpost to Yahoo, and becoming an entrepreneur-in-residence at Khosla Ventures.)

The new name and capital just better reflects its broader strategy, he added. Krane landed on the name Modal because it embodies the company’s primary mission of delivering transactions within someone else’s experience.

“We want to be invisible, we want to be a fully self-contained embedded feature within a car brand’s vehicle page, or a car retailer’s vehicle page,” Krane said. “We don’t want to change the context on the buyer at all; that’s a philosophy that starts at the top and penetrates all the way down even the smallest decisions in our company.”

That notion of transparency and self-contained interactions led Krane to the new name because “modal,” in software terminology, means a self-contained user interface that is overlaid on top of an existing application page and keeps that existing application page in full view the whole time.

The new name also hints towards where the company is headed.

“The platform starts with just creating accessibility to a digital transaction, but it becomes the ultimate channel to introduce an entire ownership operating system, which can span everything from the more contemporary mundane automotive needs like servicing, all the way through introducing the most far out mobility or connected vehicle features,” Krane said.

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Tue, 25 Jun 2019 16:36:04 +0000
Peter Thiel-backed auto commerce startup Drive Motors has a new name and $5M in capital

The groups behind a push to get the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to investigate YouTube’s alleged violation of children’s privacy law, COPPA, have today submitted a new letter to the FTC that lays out the appropriate sanctions the groups want the FTC to now take. The letter comes shortly after news broke that the FTC was in the final stages of its probe into YouTube’s business practices regarding this matter.

They’re joined in pressing the FTC to act by COPPA co-author, Senator Ed Markey, who penned a letter of his own, which was also submitted today.

The groups’ formal complaint with the FTC was filed back in April 2018. The coalition, which then included 20 child advocacy, consumer and privacy groups, had claimed YouTube doesn’t get parental consent before collecting the data from children under the age of 13 — as is required by the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, also known as COPPA.

The organizations said, effectively, that YouTube was hiding behind its terms of service which claims that YouTube is “not intended for children under 13.”

This simply isn’t true, as any YouTube user knows. YouTube is filled with videos that explicitly cater to children, from cartoons to nursery rhymes to toy ads — the latter which often come about by way of undisclosed sponsorships between toy makers and YouTube stars. The video creators will excitedly unbox or demo toys they received for free or were paid to feature, and kids just eat it all up.

In addition, YouTube curates much of its kid-friendly content into a separate YouTube Kids app that’s designed for the under-13 crowd — even preschoolers.

Meanwhile, YouTube treats children’s content like any other. That means targeted advertising and commercial data collection are taking place, the groups’ complaint states. YouTube’s algorithms also recommend videos and autoplay its suggestions — a practice that led to kids being exposed to inappropriate content in the past.

Today, two of the leading groups behind the original complaint — the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) and Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) — are asking the FTC to impose the maximum civil penalties on YouTube because, as they’ve said:

Google had actual knowledge of both the large number of child-directed channels on YouTube and the large numbers of children using YouTube. Yet, Google collected personal information from nearly 25 million children in the U.S over a period of years, and used this data to engage in very sophisticated digital marketing techniques. Google’s wrongdoing allowed it to profit in two different ways: Google has not only made a vast amount of money by using children’s personal information as part of its ad networks to target advertising, but has also profited from advertising revenues from ads on its YouTube channels that are watched by children.

The groups are asking the FTC to impose a 20-year consent degree on YouTube.

They want the FTC to order YouTube to destroy all data from children under 13, including any inferences drawn from the data, that’s in Google’s possession. YouTube should also stop collecting data from anyone under 13, including anyone viewing a channel or video directed at children. Kids’ ages also need to be identified so they can be prevented from accessing YouTube.

Meanwhile, the groups suggest that all the channels in the Parenting and Family lineup, plus any other channels or video directed at children, be removed from YouTube and placed into a separate platform for children. (e.g. the YouTube Kids app).

This is something YouTube is already considering, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal last week.

This separate kids platform would have a variety restrictions, including no commercial data collection; no links out to other sites or online services; no targeted marketing; no product or brand integration; no influencer marketing; and even no recommendations or autoplay.

The removal of autoplaying videos and recommendations, in particular, would be a radical change to how YouTube operates, but one that could protect kids from inappropriate content that slips in. It’s also a change that some employees inside YouTube itself were vying for, according to The WSJ’s report. 

The groups also urge the FTC to require Google to fund educational campaigns around the true nature of Google’s data-driven marketing systems, admit publicly that it violated the law, and submit to annual audits to ensure its ongoing compliance. They want Google to commit $100 million to establish a fund that supports the production of noncommercial, high-quality and diverse content for kids.

Finally, the groups are asking that Google faces the maximum possible civil penalties —  $42,530 per violation, which could be counted as either per child or per day. This monetary relief needs to be severe, the groups argue, so Google and YouTube will be deterred from ever violating COPPA in the future.

View this document on Scribd

While this laundry list of suggestions is more like a wish list of what the ideal resolution would look like, it doesn’t mean that the FTC will follow through on all these suggestions.

However, it seems likely that the Commission would at least require YouTube to delete the improperly collected data and isolate the kids’ YouTube experience in some way. After all, that’s precisely what it just did with Tik Tok (previously which earlier this year paid a record $5.7 million fine for its own COPPA violations. It also had to implement an age gate where under-13 kids were restricted from publishing content.

The advocacy groups aren’t the only ones making suggestions to the FTC.

Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.) also sent the FTC a letter today about YouTube’s violations of COPPA — a piece of legislation that he co-authored.

In his letter, he urges the FTC take a similar set of actions, saying:

“I am concerned that YouTube has failed to comply with COPPA. I therefore, urge the Commission to use all necessary resources to investigate YouTube, demand that YouTube pay all monetary penalties it owes as a result of any legal violations, and instruct YouTube to institute policy changes that put children’s well-being first.”

His suggestions are similar to those being pushed by the advocacy groups. They include demands for YouTube to delete the children’s data and cease data collection on those under 13; implement an age gate on YouTube to come into compliance with COPPA; prohibit targeted and influencer marketing; offer detailed explanations of what data is collected if for “internal purposes;” undergo a yearly audit; provide documentation of compliance upon request; and establish a fund for noncommercial content.

He also wants Google to sponsor a consumer education campaign warning parents that no one under 13 should use YouTube and want Google to be prohibited from launching any new child-directed product until it’s been reviewed by an independent panel of experts.

View this document on Scribd

The FTC’s policy doesn’t allow it to confirm or deny nonpublic investigations. YouTube hasn’t yet commented on the letters.

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Tue, 25 Jun 2019 16:10:49 +0000
U.S. Senator and consumer advocacy groups urge FTC to take action on YouTube’s alleged COPPA violations

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. iPadOS preview

Brian Heater checks out the new, forked version of iOS with tablet-specific features like a richer Home Screen, support for multitasking within a single app and giving iPad users more control over their files.

In addition, we’ve got initial impressions on macOS Catalina (with new ways for Apple to serve up content) and iOS 13 (with a gorgeous Dark Mode).

2. Hackers are stealing years of call records from hacked cell networks

According to researchers, the hackers have systematically broken in to more than 10 cell networks around the world over the past seven years to obtain massive amounts of call records — including times and dates of calls, and their cell-based locations — on at least 20 individuals.

3. SpaceX records another first for reusable rocketry by catching Falcon Heavy fairing with a boat

The maneuver saw a SpaceX-owned barge called Ms. Tree rigged with a giant net. It then navigated to a point off the Florida coast to await a falling nosecone from the Falcon Heavy launch.

4. SoftBank-backed Getaround acquires Norwegian car rental startup for $12M

Nabobil, which first launched in 2015, has 180,000 registered users and reached 130,000 bookings in May. For now, the startup will keep its name, and its full team will remain in place in Oslo, Norway.

5. Live like a robber baron for a night with Airbnb Luxe

The price varies from $600 to $1 million per night, and what you get ranges from castles in France to award-winning homes in New Zealand and South Africa.

6. Monzo, the UK challenger bank, raises Tue, 25 Jun 2019 16:02:54 +0000
Daily Crunch: We preview new Apple operating systems

Sidewalk Labs, the smart city technology firm owned by Google’s parent company Alphabet, released a plan this week to redevelop a piece of Toronto’s eastern waterfront into its vision of an urban utopia — a ‘mini’ metropolis tucked inside a digital infrastructure burrito and bursting with gee-whiz tech-ery.

A place where high-tech jobs and affordable housing live in harmony, streets are built for people, not just cars, all the buildings are sustainable and efficient, public spaces are dotted with internet-connected sensors and an outdoor comfort system with giant “raincoats” designed to keep residents warm and dry even in winter. The innovation even extends underground, where freight delivery system ferries packages without the need of street-clogging trucks. 

But this plan is more than a testbed for tech. It’s a living lab (or petri dish, depending on your view), where tolerance for data collection and expectations for privacy are being shaped, public due process and corporate reach is being tested, and what makes a city equitable and accessible for all is being defined.

It’s also more ambitious and wider in scope than its original proposal.

“In many ways, it was like a 50-sided Rubik’s cube when you’re looking at initiatives across mobility, sustainability, the public realm, buildings and housing and digital governance,” Sidewalk Labs CEO Dan Doctoroff said Monday describing the effort to put together the master plan called Toronto Tomorrow: A New Approach for Inclusive Growth.

Even the harshest critics of the Sidewalk Labs plan might agree with Doctoroff’s Rubik cube analogy. It’s a complex plan with big promises and high stakes. And despite the 1,500-plus page tome presenting the idea, it’s still opaque.

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Tue, 25 Jun 2019 16:00:52 +0000
Sidewalk Labs’ blueprint for a ‘mini’ smart city is a massive data mine

Microsoft today announced OneDrive Personal Vault, a new security layer on top of its OneDrive online file storage service that adds additional security features to keep your files save. The security features ensure that the only way to access these files is with a strong authentication method or two-step verification, which can include a fingerprint or face recognition with a Window Hello-compatible device, PIN code or a one-time code sent by email or SMS (which isn’t necessarily the most secure method, of course), or by using Microsoft Authenticator.

In addition, Microsoft is also doubling the storage plan for its $1.99/month standalone OneDrive subscription from 50GB to 100GB. If you’re on a free plan, you’ll be able to try Personal Vault, too, but Microsoft will limit the number of files you can store in it.

The new Personal Vault will be available to OneDrive users on the web, on Windows 10 and through Microsoft’s mobile apps. It’ll roll out to users in Australia, New Zealand and Canada soon and become available to all OneDrive users by the end of the year.

By default, all OneDrive files are already encrypted at rest and in transit. Personal Vault essentially adds another layer of optional security features on top of this. In that OneDrive app, this is represented by a special Personal Vault folder that you can then use to save your most important files — or those with the largest amount of sensitive information (think financial records etc.).

On Windows 10 PCs, Personal Vault also sets up a Bitlocker-encrypted area on your local hard drive to sync your Personal Vault files.

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Tue, 25 Jun 2019 16:00:40 +0000
Microsoft adds an extra security layer to its OneDrive storage service

When it comes to a cloud success story, Snowflake checks all the boxes. It’s a SaaS product going after industry giants. It has raised bushels of cash and grown extremely rapidly — and the story is continuing to develop for the cloud data lake company.

In September, Snowflake’s co-founder and president of product Benoit Dageville will join us at our inaugural TechCrunch Sessions: Enterprise event on September 5 in San Francisco.

Dageville founded the company in 2012 with Marcin Zukowski and Thierry Cruanes with a mission to bring the database, a market that had been dominated for decades by Oracle, to the cloud. Later, the company began focusing on data lakes or data warehouses, massive collections of data, which had been previously stored on premises. The idea of moving these elements to the cloud was a pretty radical notion in 2012.

It began by supporting its products on AWS, and more recently expanded to include support for Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud.

The company started raising money shortly after its founding, modestly at first, then much, much faster in huge chunks. Investors included a Silicon Valley who’s who such as Sutter Hill, Redpoint, Altimeter, Iconiq Capital and Sequoia Capital .

Snowflake fund raising by round. Chart: Crunchbase

Snowflake fund raising by round. Chart: Crunchbase

The most recent rounds came last year, starting with a massive $263 million investment in January. The company went back for more in October with an even larger $450 million round.

It brought on industry veteran Bob Muglia in 2014 to lead it through its initial growth spurt. Muglia left the company earlier this year and was replaced by former ServiceNow chairman and CEO Frank Slootman.

TC Sessions: Enterprise (September 5 at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center) will take on the big challenges and promise facing enterprise companies today. TechCrunch’s editors will bring to the stage founders and leaders from established and emerging companies to address rising questions, like the promised revolution from machine learning and AI, intelligent marketing automation and the inevitability of the cloud, as well as the outer reaches of technology, like quantum computing and blockchain.

Tickets are now available for purchase on our website at the early-bird rate of $395.

Student tickets are just $245 – grab them here.

We have a limited number of Startup Demo Packages available for $2,000, which includes four tickets to attend the event.

For each ticket purchased for TC Sessions: Enterprise, you will also be registered for a complimentary Expo Only pass to TechCrunch Disrupt SF on October 2-4.

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Tue, 25 Jun 2019 16:00:06 +0000
Snowflake co-founder and president of product Benoit Dageville is coming to TC Sessions: Enterprise

Startup Join wants to modernize the back office for an industry that’s everywhere, but maybe not top of mind, especially when it comes to project management software: Commercial construction. The company has raised a $4 million seed round, co-led by Signalfire and Building Ventures and including participation by existing investor Bolt.

The startup’s core product is a collaborative decision-making platform designed to facilitate more effective working relationships between everyone involved in the preconstruction phase of a building project, including owners, contractors, designers, tradespeople and suppliers. The platform includes visualization tool, including timeline and budget planners, along with trend predictions so that you can see how changes to the plan will affect the project overall.

It also includes permission-based account access control, so that you can ensure everyone working on the project has the visibility they need to the pieces they touch. Join’s product also provides insights based on past project performance so that future ones can benefit from the successes of the past.

Join’s foundation is based on the observation that commercial construction industry is following a path blazed by the software industry before it, from a so-called ‘waterfall’ product development mode, whereby you more or less follow rigid steps in sequence, to a more agile mode in which each phase is more fluid and the project’s scope can change in the execution. Join believes construction is following a similar path, hence the need now for a tool like this.

The founding team behind Join includes co-founder and CEO Andrew Zukoski, Drew Wolpert, Ye Wang and Jim Forester. Both Zukoski and Wolpert have experience at, a startup borne of Google X, that focused on supporting architecture, engineering and construction industry improvement via cloud-based solutions, and Wang has a background in manufacturing design technology from past work at both Onshape and Autodesk .

Join will make use of this round, which brings its total funding to $5.2 million including a pre-seed round led by Bolt, to bring on additional product development talent to help it set up for public launch of the platform to customers.

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Tue, 25 Jun 2019 15:47:10 +0000
Join raises $4M seed round to build a better construction planning platform

Federal authorities have announced its latest crackdown on illegal robocallers — taking close to a hundred actions against several companies and individuals blamed for the recent barrage of spam calls.

In the so-called “Operation Call It Quits,” the Federal Trade Commission brought four cases — two filed on its behalf by the Justice Department — and three settlements in cases said to be responsible for making more than a billion illegal robocalls.

Several state and local authorities also brought actions as part of the operation, officials said.

Each year, billions of automatically dialed or spoofed phone calls trick millions into picking up the phone. An annoyance at least, at worse it tricks unsuspecting victims into turning over cash or buying fake or misleading products. So far, the FTC has fined companies more than $200 million but only collected less than 0.01% of the fines because of the agency’s limited enforcement powers.

In this new wave of action, the FTC said it will send a strong signal to the robocalling industry.

Andrew Smith, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said Americans are “fed up” with the billions of robocalls received every year. “Today’s joint effort shows that combatting this scourge remains a top priority for law enforcement agencies around the nation,” he said.

It’s the second time the FTC has acted in as many months. In May, the agency also took action against four companies accused of making “billions” of robocalls.

The FTC said its latest action brings the number of robocall violators up to 145.

Several of the cases involved shuttering operations that offer consumers “bogus” credit card interest rate reduction services, which the FTC said specifically targeted seniors. Other cases involved the use of illegal robocalls to promote money-making schemes.

Another cases included actions against Lifewatch, a company pitching medical alert systems, which the FTC contended uses spoofed caller ID information to trick victims into picking up the phone. The company settled for $25.3 million. Meanwhile, Redwood Scientific settled for $18.2 million, suspended due to the inability for defendant Danielle Cadiz to pay, for “deceptively” marketing dentistry products, according to the FTC’s complaint.

The robocalling epidemic has caught the attention of the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates the telecoms and internet industries. Last month, its commissioners proposed a new rule that would make it easier for carriers to block robocalls.

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