Postman, a five-year-old startup that is attempting to simplify development, tests and management of APIs through its platform, has raised $50 million in a new round to scale its business.
The Series B for the startup, which began its journey in India, was led by CRV and included participation from existing investor Nexus Venture Partners . The startup, with offices in India and San Francisco, closed its Series A financing round four years ago and has raised $58 million to date.
Postman offers a development environment which a developer or a firm could use to build, publish, document, design, monitor, test and debug their APIs. Postman, like some other startups such as RapidAPI, also maintains a marketplace to offer APIs for quick integration with other popular services.
The startup was co-founded by Abhinav Asthana, a former intern at Yahoo . Asthana was frustrated with how APIs were an afterthought for many developers, as they usually got around to building them in the eleventh hour. Additionally, developers were relying on their own workflows and there was no organized platform that could be used by many, he explained in an interview with TechCrunch.
Even big software firms have not looked into this space yet, and many have instead become a customer of Postman. “We are solving a fundamental problem for the technology landscape. Big companies tend to be slower as they have many other things on their plate,” said Asthana.
Five years later, Postman has grown significantly. More than 7 million users and 300,000 companies, including Microsoft, Twitter, Best Buy, AMC Theaters, PayPal, Shopify, BigCommerce and DocuSign today use Postman’s platform.
The modern software development relies heavily on APIs as more businesses begin to talk with one another. According to research firm Gartner, more than 65% of global infrastructure service providers’ revenue will be generated through services enabled by APIs by 2023, up from 15% in 2018.
Asthana said Postman intends to use the fresh capital to scale its startup, products and grow its team. “We are scaling rapidly across all dimensions. There are many use cases that we still want to address over the coming months. We will also experiment with sales and invest in improving user experience,” he added.
Postman offers some of its services in limited capacity for free to users. For the rest, it charges between $8 to $18 per user to its customers. That’s how the company generates revenue. Asthana declined to share the financial performance of the startup, but said its customer base was “growing phenomenally.”
Postman said CRV general partner Devdutt Yellurkar has joined its board of directors.[ + ]
Nine months ago, the once high-flying venture capital fund Social Capital made the bold decision to stop accepting outside capital and operate as a family office, in essence.
The co-founder of the outfit, brazen billionaire and early Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya, pledged to upend his investment strategy and make fewer but much larger investments as a means to improve his returns. Naturally, a near-complete exodus of Social Capital’s venture capitalists followed.
Today, the firm’s three founders, Palihapitiya, Mamoon Hamid and Ted Maidenberg, have gone their separate ways. Palihapitiya is rewriting the Social Capital playbook, Hamid is busy reinvigorating Kleiner Perkins and Maidenberg is building on top of the data-driven strategy and proprietary software dubbed “Magic 8-Ball” he built at Social Capital, with a new firm called Tribe Capital.
Quietly, Tribe Capital’s co-founders, Maidenberg and former Social Capital partners Arjun Sethi and Jonathan Hsu, have deployed millions of dollars in Social Capital portfolio companies like Slack and Carta, hired several former Social Capital employees and flexed a data-first approach that looks pretty damn familiar.
Social Capital began laying the foundation for a data-driven approach to investing years ago. Now, Tribe Capital is doubling down.
From its founding in 2011, Social Capital established itself as a contrarian fund out to “fix capitalism.” Its strategy and reputation as an up-and-comer unafraid of new tricks earned it stakes in Slack, SurveyMonkey, Box, Bust and many other admirable upstarts.
As the firm matured, its partners experimented. In 2016, its early-stage investment team made the daring choice to rely on data rather than gut-feel alone to make its investment decisions, confronting a timeworn ideology that the best VCs have a special skill-set that enables them to spot future unicorns.
Using an operating system for early-stage investing dubbed “capital-as-a-service” and the growth and data analysis tool Magic 8-Ball — a sort of QuickBooks for startup data — Social Capital forwent the traditional pitch process and rapidly evaluated thousands of companies on the basis of metrics and achievements alone.
Palihapitiya, Maidenberg, Hamid and the other members of the partnership were on a mission to do venture the right way. Until they weren’t.
“I found us incrementally drifting away from our core mission, and our strategy was increasingly that of a traditional investment firm,” Palihapitiya wrote last year. “It became harder to take the risks we took in 2011 and it became easier to play the same game as every other VC.”
At its peak, Social Capital employed a team of 80. Once Palihapitiya confirmed his intent to transition the firm away from venture, the team began to shrink, fast. Today, the firm employs 30, including partners Ray Ko, Andy Artz and Jay Zaveri. One-third of that number were hired after the big pivot.
Social Capital’s former investors have since identified their second acts.
In the last year, Sakya Duvvuru, a former partner, founded Nellore Capital Management, and Carl Anderson, another former partner, started Marcho Partners.
Tony Bates joined Genesys as its CEO, Mike Ghaffary accepted a general partner role at Canvas Ventures, Ashley Carroll is consulting full-time, Kristen Spohn says she is still exploring opportunities, Adam Nelson joined South Park Commons as a venture partner and Tejinder Gill joined Collaborative Fund as a principal.
Hamid, for his part, resolved to re-establish Kleiner Perkins’ once-stellar reputation.
“Kleiner Perkins was a firm that was in desperate need of a change of its own,” Hamid tells TechCrunch. “It was a unique opportunity and I was about to turn 40. I thought, there is one thing I wanted to do in my career that I hadn’t done before and that was to turn around one of the best venture firms of all time.”
Hamid’s August 2017 departure from Social Capital represented the beginning of the end of the partnership. Though Hamid, a co-founder and leading dealmaker, asserts turmoil at the firm began after his exit.
Nine months after Hamid made the call to move on, Arjun Sethi, who once led Social Capital’s early-stage investment team, made the same call as did Maidenberg and Hsu. Simultaneously, growth equity chief Tony Bates and vice chairman Marc Mezvinsky were said to be departing.
The mass exodus continued, culminating in Palihapitiya’s final declaration: Social Capital was finished with venture capital.
Maidenberg, Sethi and Hsu built Tribe Capital in the image of Social Capital. With similar DNA, the three men are attempting to upgrade an early-stage investment strategy they not only created, but nearly perfected.
“Those guys did a very good job working for me,” Palihapitiya tells TechCrunch. “I’m super proud to see them launch their own venture fund. It was a really important, defining experience for me; I hope they have the same level of success, if not more.”
But where Social Capital was mission-driven, regularly backing healthcare and education businesses, Tribe Capital makes no such claim. And where Social Capital leaned on data to inform its investment thesis, Tribe is putting its full weight into it.
“We are believers that it’s hard to do a lot of things well, so we wanted to focus on one thing we are good at: early-stage venture with the approach of recognizing early-stage product-market fit,” Hsu tells TechCrunch. “At Social Capital we did that, but we did 30 other things, too.”
In total, seven former Social Capital investors and employees are working on Tribe. Georgia Kinne, a former Social Capital executive assistant, leads operations. Two former Social Capital data scientists, Jake Ellowitz and Brendan Moore, joined Tribe in the same role. And Alexander Chee, Social Capital’s former head of product development, is on board as an entrepreneur-in-residence.
Tribe won’t say how much capital they have raised yet or how exactly their three funds are structured, aside from confirming that only one is operating as a traditional venture fund. Paperwork filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in late April, however, confirms a $150 million target for the debut venture effort. Tribe declined to comment on fundraising specifics.
It’s been a year since Tribe began investing. In that time, it’s put money in Slack, Front, Cover, SFOX and Prodigy. Most recently, it participated in Carta’s $300 million Series E, which valued the business at $1.7 billion. All of these companies, with the exception of Prodigy, were previously backed by Social Capital.
Tribe is making deals of all shapes and sizes across industries, with a particular focus on enterprise, fintech and SaaS startups. In addition to deploying heftier sums to late-stage businesses like Slack, Tribe has made 10 seed bets of roughly $25,000 each, leveraging its data platform to make investment calls.
“The income statement and balance sheet are the lingua franca for an established company to communicate the financial health of its business,” Hsu writes. “These accounting concepts are often unhelpful when inspecting an unprofitable early-stage company. For a startup, what’s needed is a common quantitative language for what matters, namely, a quantitative framework for assessing product-market fit.”
Tribe’s quantitative framework is called Magic 8-Ball, a diligence tool for potential investments created by Maidenberg and Hsu during their Social Capital tenure. The tool measures product-market fit, growth trajectory and more of early-stage businesses, where, as Hsu mentions, financial data may be lacking.
“We use data like accountants; it’s not a magical AI machine,” Hsu said. “If other firms want to copy, by all means, they can try. We aren’t here to be antagonistic, we are here to be partners to founders and other investors.”
So far, Magic 8-Ball has poured through data provided by some 200 companies, with plans to hit 1,000 per year. In total, Tribe has deployed $100 million.
Tribe’s 8-Ball tool is said to be much more complex than the earlier model, according to a source with knowledge of the platform. It’s like when Yahoo engineers Jan Koum and Brian Acton left the search and email giant to build something even better, the source, who asked not to be named, said. That business became the messaging powerhouse WhatsApp.
Hamid, who’s not affiliated with Tribe but aware of their investment strategy, made a similar comparison.
“It’s like if you’re an engineer at Cisco working on WebEx,” Hamid tells TechCrunch. “You’re a great engineer but you can do better, you can [do your own] company. Guess what? That’s Zoom. That’s Eric Yuan . And Zoom is worth $20 billion and WebEx was worth $3 billion. That’s pretty. That’s the story of Silicon Valley. That’s creative disruption.”
Hamid, however, was careful to point out the differences between Social Capital and Tribe. The DNA may be similar but they aren’t identical.
Social Capital represented a new kind of venture firm in favor of creative disruption. Tribe Capital represents a second go, a sort of Social Capital 2.0 sans Chamath Palihapitiya.
Bogged down by the conflict surrounding its leader’s flair for controversy, Social Capital wasn’t set up to succeed. The Magic-8 Ball, on the other hand, may be just right.
“Why did we get back together instead of going elsewhere? That is a reasonable question,” Hsu said. “We had good job offers but we had a viewpoint of the world that we wanted to keep working on together.”[ + ]
Let’s rewind a decade. It’s 2009. Vancouver, Canada.
Stewart Butterfield, known already for his part in building Flickr, a photo-sharing service acquired by Yahoo in 2005, decided to try his hand — again — at building a game. Flickr had been a failed attempt at a game called Game Neverending followed by a big pivot. This time, Butterfield would make it work.
To make his dreams a reality, he joined forces with Flickr’s original chief software architect Cal Henderson, as well as former Flickr employees Eric Costello and Serguei Mourachov, who like himself, had served some time at Yahoo after the acquisition. Together, they would build Tiny Speck, the company behind an artful, non-combat massively multiplayer online game.
Years later, Butterfield would pull off a pivot more massive than his last. Slack, born from the ashes of his fantastical game, would lead a shift toward online productivity tools that fundamentally change the way people work.
In mid-2009, former TechCrunch reporter-turned-venture-capitalist M.G. Siegler wrote one of the first stories on Butterfield’s mysterious startup plans.
“So what is Tiny Speck all about?” Siegler wrote. “That is still not entirely clear. The word on the street has been that it’s some kind of new social gaming endeavor, but all they’ll say on the site is ‘we are working on something huge and fun and we need help.’”
Siegler would go on to invest in Slack as a general partner at GV, the venture capital arm of Alphabet .
“Clearly this is a creative project,” Siegler added. “It almost sounds like they’re making an animated movie. As awesome as that would be, with people like Henderson on board, you can bet there’s impressive engineering going on to turn this all into a game of some sort (if that is in fact what this is all about).”
After months of speculation, Tiny Speck unveiled its project: Glitch, an online game set inside the brains of 11 giants. It would be free with in-game purchases available and eventually, a paid subscription for power users.[ + ]
Chipper Cash’s Ugandan chief executive, Ham Serunjogi, pitched the U.S. football legend directly. “He was quite excited about what we’re doing and his belief that the next wave of [tech] growth will come from…Africa,” Serunjogi told TechCrunch.
Chipper Cash went live in October 2018, joining a growing field of fintech startups aiming to scale digital finance applications across Africa’s billion-plus population.
The venture Serunjogi co-founded with Ghanaian Maijid Moujaled offers no-fee, P2P, cross-border mobile-money payments in Africa.
Based in San Francisco — with offices in Ghana and Nairobi — Chipper Cash has processed 250,000 transactions for more than 70,000 active users, according to Serunjogi.
In conjunction with the seed round, Chipper Cash is launching Chipper Checkout: a merchant-focused, C2B mobile payments product.
This side of the startup’s offerings isn’t free, and Chipper Cash will use revenues from Chipper Checkout — in addition to income generated from payment volume float — to support its no-fee mobile money business.
Sheel Mohnot, who led 500 Startups’ investment in Chipper Cash, likened the company’s model to PayPal.
“When PayPal started it was just a consumer to consumer free app. It still is free for consumer to consumer, but they monetized the merchant side. That model is tried and tested. It just doesn’t exist in Africa, so Chipper has the opportunity to do that,” he told TechCrunch.
In addition to Kenya’s M-Pesa — the global success story for digital payments — there are a number of mobile money products in Africa, from MTN’s Mobile Money in Ghana to Tigo Pesa in Tanzania.
The limiting factor, though, according to Chipper Cash’s CEO, is interoperability, or that mobile-money transfers across product platforms, currencies and borders generally don’t work.
“Our tech settles cross-border currency transactions in real time, and that’s part of the value proposition of the platform,” he said.
The startup will expand beyond its current operations in Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda within the next 12 months. Chipper Cash also plans to tap the global remittance market for Sub-Saharan Africa, a large pool of roughly $38 billion, in the near future.
Remittances won’t be the firms’ top focus, however. Serunjogi believes there’s more volume to be found within Africa. “Demographics, migration and regional economic-integration within the continent means there’ll be an infinitely growing amount of cross-border commercial activity within Africa,” he said. “When it comes to payments, the pie is growing and…the percentage of that pie that is digital payments will also grow.”
The journey for Chipper Cash’s founders from Africa to founding a startup and pitching to Joe Montana passes through Iowa. Serunjogi and Moujaled met when doing their undergraduate degrees at Grinnell College. Stints at Silicon Valley companies followed: Facebook for Serunjogi and Flickr, Yahoo! and Imgur for Moujaled.
Chipper Cash was accepted in 500 Startups’ Batch 24 in 2018 and their demo day for the accelerator program gained the attention of Liquid 2 Ventures.
The VC fund’s Rocio Wu invited them to pitch to Joe Montana and the team in March 2019.
“Africa is extremely fragmented with different languages, cultures and currencies, Chipper Cash is uniquely positioned to tackle cross-border mobile payments with interoperability,” Wu told TechCrunch on the investment.
Wu will join Chipper Cash as a board observer. The startup is the second Africa investment for the fund. Liquid 2 Ventures is also an investor in logistics startup Lori Systems, the 2017 Startup Battlefield Africa winner.
Startups building financial technologies for Africa’s 1.2 billion population are gaining greater attention of investors. As a sector, fintech (or financial inclusion) attracted 50% of the estimated $1.1 billion funding to African startups in 2018, according to Partech.
By a number of estimates, the continent’s 1.2 billion people represent the largest share of the world’s unbanked and underbanked population. An improving smartphone and mobile-connectivity profile for Africa (see GSMA) turns this scenario into an opportunity for mobile-based financial products.
As more startups enter African fintech, Chipper Cash believes it can compete on its cross-currency and no-fee offerings and the growing size of the market. “It’s so large that it is unlikely to be a zero-sum game in terms of who wins. There will be multiple successful players,” said Serunjogi.
Chipper Cash also joins a list of African-founded, Africa-focused fintech firms that have chosen to set up HQs in San Francisco with offices and operations on the continent. Payments gateway company Flutterwave and lending venture Mines.io (both with Nigerian founders) maintain SF headquarters with operations in Lagos. Serunjogi touts the benefits of this two-continent organizational structure for access to both VC and developer markets in the U.S. and Africa.
As for Chipper Cash’s continuing relationship with investor Joe Montana, “Having access to a someone with the leadership qualities of Joe to provide advice and guidance…that’s something that’s priceless,” said Serunjogi.[ + ]
Honestbee, the online grocery delivery service in Asia, is nearly out of money and trying to offload its business.
The company has held early conversations with a number of suitors in Asia, including ride-hailing giants Grab and Go-Jek, over the potential acquisition of part, or all, of its business, according to two industry sources with knowledge of the talks.
Founded in 2015, Honestbee works with supermarkets and retailers to deliver goods to customers using its store pickers, delivery fleet and mobile apps. The company is based in Singapore and operates in eight markets across Asia: Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Japan. In some markets it has expanded to food deliveries and, in Singapore, it operates an Alibaba-style online/offline store called Habitat.
The company makes its money by taking a cut of transactions from consumer transactions, while it also monetizes delivery services separately.
Despite looking impressive from the outside, the company is currently in crisis mode due to a cash crunch — there’s a lot happening right now.
From talking to several former and current staff, TechCrunch has come to learn that Honestbee is laying off employees, it has a range of suppliers who are owed money, it has “paused” its business in the Philippines, it has closed R&D centers in Vietnam and India, it isn’t going to make payroll in some markets and a range of executives have quit the firm in recent months.
The issue is that the company is running out of money thanks to a business model with tight margins that’s largely unproven in Asia Pacific.
One source told TechCrunch that the company doesn’t currently have the funds to pay its staff this month. A source inside the company confirmed that Honestbee has told Singapore-based staff that they won’t be paid in time, but it isn’t clear about employees based in other markets. Previously, staff have been paid inconsistently — with late salary payments sent as bank transfers happening twice this year, according to the source.
One reason that the Philippines business has closed temporarily — as Tech In Asia first reported this week — is that it is out money, and waiting on Honestbee HQ in Singapore to provide further capital. Already, the saga has proven to be too much for Honestbee’s head of the Philippines — Crystal Gonzalez — who has quit the company, according to a source within Honestbee Philippines.
Gonzalez helped build Viber’s business in the Philippines, where it is a top messaging player, and she was previously with Yahoo before launching Honestbee. She is said to have grown frustrated at a lack of funds when the Philippines is the company’s best-performing market on paper.
Indeed, the situation is so dire that suppliers and partners have been paid late, or left unpaid entirely, in the Philippines and other markets. Honestbee takes payment for grocery deliveries, after which it is supposed to provide the transaction, minus its cut, to its supermarket partners. But it has been slow to pay vendors, with two in Singapore — FairPrice and U Stars — cutting ties with the startup.
On the subject of financials, Honestbee looks to be toward the end of its runway.
The company has always taken a fairly secretive line on its financing. On launch, it announced a $15 million Series A investment from Formation8, a firm which included Honestbee CEO Joel Sng as a partner, but it has said nothing more since. (It appears that Honestbee stake has transferred to the firm’s successor, Formation Group, according to its website.) Tech In Asia dug up filings last year that show it has raised a further $46 million from more Korean investors, but the startup declined to comment on its financing when contacted by TechCrunch.
It looks like that capital is nearly gone, at least based on what has been declared.
Internal numbers for Honestbee in December 2018, seen by TechCrunch, show that it lost nearly $6.5 million, with around $2.5 million in net revenue for the month. GMV — the total amount of transactions on its platform before deductions to partners — reached nearly $12.5 million in December, but costs — chiefly discounts to lure new customers and online marketing spend — dragged the company down. A former employee said that monthly retention is often single-digit percent in some markets because of the “outrageous” use of coupons to hit short-term revenue goals.
That internal data showed that the Philippines business accounted for around 40 percent of Honestbee’s overall GMV, which backs up Gonzalez’ apparent frustration at a lack of investment. That said, the Philippines unit remains some way from profitability, with a net loss of more than $1 million in December.
Three markets — Singapore, the Philippines and Taiwan — accounted for more than 80 percent of GMV and net income, making it unclear why Honestbee continues to operate in other countries, including the expensive Japanese market, when its funding level is perilously low.
More pertinently, operating at that burn rate would give Honestbee less than 10 months of runway if it used the $61 million capital float that it is known to have raised. That suggests that the company has raised more money; however, none of the sources who spoke to TechCrunch were able to verify whether there has been additional fundraising.
Current and former employees explained that Honestbee doesn’t have a CFO and that all high-level decisions, and particularly those around budgets and spending, are managed by CEO Sng and his right-hand man, Roger Koh, whose LinkedIn lists his current job as a principal with Formation 8.
Filings in Singapore indicate that Honestbee has $55.9 million in assets through two registered companies. A common shareholder across the two is Brian Koo, a member of the LG family who founded the Formation 8 fund, and the Formation Fund which launched after Formation 8 was shuttered.
While the financials are hazy, it is very clear that Honestbee is up against it right now.
The company released a statement earlier this week that makes some admissions around layoffs and restructuring but still glosses over current struggles:
In 2014, honestbee started in Singapore with the mission of providing a positive social and financial impact on the lives and businesses that we touch. Today, we are a regional business with footprints in Hong Kong, Thailand, Indonesia, Taiwan, Philippines, Japan and Malaysia.
Over the years, we have continued to be committed to our staff, partners and consumers. We have made good progress to implement new process and ways of working to remain efficient and relevant in the ever-changing business environment. The launch of habitat by honestbee in Singapore was a valuable lesson for us where it showed the potential growth in the O2O business and *it has been voted one of the must-see retail innovations in the world this year.
Following a strategic review of our company’s business, we are temporarily suspending our food verticals in Hong Kong and Thailand to simplify what we do and how we do it to better meet what our consumers want. Some roles within the organization will no longer be available. Approximately 6% of our global headcount in the organization are affected.
The status of honestbee in the remaining markets remain unchanged as we evaluate and we will continue to operate and contribute to honestbee Pte Ltd.
Sources close to the company told TechCrunch that more job losses are likely to come beyond the six percent in this statement. Executives who saw the writing on the wall have left in recent months, including the heads of business for Japan and Indonesia, a senior member of the team behind Habitat and the company’s head of people. One executive hired to raise capital for Honestbee quit within a month; he declined to comment and doesn’t list the company on his LinkedIn bio.
Secondly, Honestbee’s temporary suspension of food services in Hong Kong and Thailand isn’t likely to have a huge impact on its overall business, as groceries are the primary focus and neither market is particularly huge for the company. While Habitat has gotten attention for its forward-thinking, a physical retail store will require significant capital and it is likely, in its early days, to only increase the burn rate. Sources in the company told TechCrunch that, already, it has switched suppliers for some items as invoices went unpaid.
Despite the chaos, the potential of a sale is real.
The Singapore-based company has pledged to make at least half a dozen acquisitions in 2019 and a deal to boost its nascent food and grocery play in Southeast Asia has some merit. Grab has the challenge of competing with Go-Jek, its $9.5 billion-valued rival that built a strong offering in Indonesia and is expanding across Southeast Asia with an emphasis on its food delivery. Grab, meanwhile, is active in eight markets across Southeast Asia and is now actively expanding from transportation services to food and more.
Likely adding to the frustration for Honestbee, its rival HappyFresh this week announced a $20 million investment. HappyFresh has undergone tough times, too. It pulled out of markets in 2016 to make its business more sustainable and today its CEO Guillem Segarra told TechCrunch that it is now operationally profitable.
Honestbee declined to respond to a range of questions from TechCrunch on whether it has plans to sell its business, its financing history and whether it has delayed paying employees.
Update: The original version of this story has been updated to note that Formation Group is not the parent of Formation 8.
If you have a tip about this story or others, you can contact TechCrunch reporter Jon Russell in the following ways:
Zipline, the San Francisco-based UAV manufacturer and logistics services provider, has launched a program in Ghana today for drone delivery of medical supplies.
Working with the Ghanaian government, Zipline will operate 30 drones out of four distribution centers to distribute vaccines, blood and life-saving medications to 2,000 health facilities across the West African nation daily.
“We’ll do 600 flights a day…and serve 12 million people. This is going to be the largest drone delivery network on the planet,” Zipline CEO Keller Rinaudo told TechCrunch on a call from Accra.
“No one in Ghana should die because they can’t access the medicine they need in an emergency,” Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo said in a statement. “That’s why Ghana is launching the world’s largest drone delivery service…a major step towards giving everyone in this country universal access to lifesaving medicine.”
The Ghana program adds a second country to Zipline’s live operations. Zipline got off the ground in Rwanda and has leveraged its experience in East Africa to begin testing medical delivery services in the United States.
Zipline has been making moves in Africa since at least 2016 — after it raised capital and solidified its mission to carve out a global revenue-generating business around UAV delivery of critical medical supplies.
Founded in 2014, Zipline designs and manufactures its own UAVs, launch and landing systems and logistics software. After a testing period in coordination with the government of Rwanda, Zipline went live in the East African country in 2016, claiming the first national drone-delivery program at scale in the world.
Through its nonprofit foundation, the logistics giant UPS came in to partner with Zipline on the Rwanda program, and that support continues.
“They’re providing funding to build a lot of the infrastructure required, they are an adviser to us and they provide some logistical support in moving equipment,” Rinaudo said of Zipline’s collaboration with the UPS Foundation. Zipline has also received grants and support from The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Pfizer .
Zipline then carried its experience in Africa to the U.S. In May 2018 the company was accepted into the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Pilot Program (UAS IPP). Out of 149 applicants, the Africa-focused startup was one of 10 selected to participate in a drone pilot in the U.S. — and started testing beyond visual line of sight medical delivery services in North Carolina.
“Healthcare logistics is a $70 billion global industry, and it’s still only serving a golden billion on the planet,” says Rinaudo. “The economics of our business is pretty simple. We’re using small, electric, fully autonomous vehicles…these kinds of systems are much more efficient than the analog way of delivering things.”
Zipline is eyeing additional countries for delivery operations beyond Ghana, Rwanda and its pilot operations in the U.S. “We’ll be launching in several additional countries, not all of which are in Africa,” said Rinaudo, though he declined to disclose specifics.
Zipline is well aware that its drone logistics systems have applications beyond medical supply chain services and Rinaudo confirmed moving cargo other than medical supplies is something Zipline has considered.
If the company moves toward other commercial applications, it could leverage its programs and relationships in Africa. The continent has become a testbed for commercial drone delivery and regulatory structures.
Over the last two years South Africa passed commercial drone legislation to train and license pilots, and Malawi opened a Drone Test Corridor to African and global partners. Over the same period, Kenya, Ghana and Tanzania have issued or updated drone regulatory guidelines and announced future UAV initiatives. The government of Tanzania launched a medical drone delivery program in 2018, with DHL as one of the main partners.
In addition to its launch today in Ghana, Zipline plans to move from pilot-phase to live-delivery of medical supplies in the U.S. sometime this summer, a company spokesperson confirmed.[ + ]
Roughly a year ago, entrepreneurs Caterina Fake and Jyri EngestrWed, 03 Apr 2019 16:14:00 +0000
Caterina Fake is known for her trend-spotting; here’s some of what she’s chasing now
The entity has long existed as a proxy to Alibaba — some might argue Yahoo was the same in its final years — and the sale is expected to net shareholders around $40 billion.
Altaba was formed following Verizon’s 2017 acquisition of Yahoo to create Oath — disclaimer: that’s TechCrunch’s parent, and it is now called Verizon Media Group — to keep hold of the 15 percent stake in Alibaba and a 35.5 percent stake in Yahoo Japan that Yahoo owned.
Those Yahoo Japan shares were unloaded in September for more than $4 billion, and now Altaba will shift its remaining Alibaba holdings — that’s around 11 percent of the company following a partial sale last year; Altaba is Alibaba’s second-largest stakeholder — and disappear from the world by Q4.
The sale is expected to generate a net return of around $40 billion for Altaba stockholders — the provided range is between $39.8 billion and $41.1 billion based on share prices and associated expenditure — and it’ll happen in two parts. The first will see up to 50 percent of the stake sold; the rest will be traded if Altaba receives approval from its stockholders.
Therein Altaba — and Yahoo’s long association with Alibaba — will be over. The reality is that this essentially happened following the Oath deal; Altaba was merely created to hold the asset and at some point that would mean liquidating it. That day is now confirmed and on its way.
“Since June of 2017 we have taken a series of aggressive actions designed to drive shareholder value and these have yielded measurable results as our trading discount has narrowed and our stock has meaningfully outperformed a composite of its underlying assets. The right next action for shareholders is the plan we are announcing today as it represents the most definitive step, generally within our control, that we could take to reduce the discount to net asset value at which our Shares trade,” said Altaba CEO Thomas J. McInerney in a statement.
“Stocks are for trading. Any shareholder has the right to deal stock anytime on the market, for any purpose. We’re happy to have had Yahoo invest in Alibaba in the past and to see it now collecting a strong return on its investment,” an Alibaba spokesperson told TechCrunch.
The story of Yahoo’s involvement with Alibaba is a legendary one.
Yahoo invested $1 billion for 30 percent of Alibaba back in 2005 through a (now famous) story between Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang and Alibaba president Jack Ma. Ma, a former English teacher who was then a government employee, was assigned to accompany Yang on a planned trip to see the Great Wall of China, and their relationship went from there.
Yahoo infamously sold half of its stake back to Alibaba in 2012 through a deal that valued the shares at $13. Just two years later, Alibaba went public in a record-breaking U.S. IPO. Shares were $68 at the bell, and today they are worth around $181, so Yahoo missed out on an even greater fortune.[ + ]
Google today officially launched AMP for Email, its effort to turn emails from static documents into dynamic, web page-like experiences. AMP for Email is coming to Gmail, but other major email providers like Yahoo Mail (which shares its parent company with TechCrunch), Outlook and Mail.ru will also support AMP emails.
It’s been more than a year since Google first announced this initiative. Even by Google standards, that’s a long incubation phase, though there’s also plenty of back-end work necessary to make this feature work.
The promise of AMP for Email is that it’ll turn basic messages into a surface for actually getting things done. “Over the past decade, our web experiences have changed enormously—evolving from static flat content to interactive apps—yet email has largely stayed the same with static messages that eventually go out of date or are merely a springboard to accomplishing a more complex task,” Gmail product manager Aakash Sahney writes. “If you want to take action, you usually have to click on a link, open a new tab, and visit another website.”
With AMP for Email, those messages become interactive. That means you’ll be able to RSVP to an event right from the message, fill out a questionnaire, browse through a store’s inventory or respond to a comment — all without leaving your web-based email client.
Some of the companies that already support this new format are Booking.com, Despegar, Doodle, Ecwid, Freshworks, Nexxt, OYO Rooms, Pinterest and redBus. If you regularly get emails from these companies, then chances are you’ll receive an interactive email from them in the coming weeks.
For developers, supporting this format should be fairly easy, especially if they have prior experience with building AMP pages. The format supports many popular AMP markup features, including carousels, forms and lists. It’s also worth noting that these messages still include standard HTML markup as a fallback for email clients that support AMP.
Since its first announcement, Google has also brought on a number of partners that will support AMP for Email on their platforms. These include email delivery and analytics platform SparkPost, the email design and marketing tool Litmus, Twilio Sendgrid and Amazon’s SES and Pinpoint email and marketing tools.
Not everybody is going to like this (including our own Devin Coldewey). AMP itself, after all, remains somewhat controversial given that it creates a new markup and infrastructure that wouldn’t be necessary if people created faster and simpler web sites to begin with. Bringing it to email, which for all its shortcomings remains one of the few formats that reliably work across all vendors and clients, won’t be everybody’s cup of tea, either. Marketers, however, are bound to love it and I doubt most users are going to care about the politics here if it allows them to get their work done faster.
[ + ]
Tim Armstrong will leave Verizon Communications with an awards and benefits package worth more than $60 million. The Wall Street Journal calculated the total amount based on a securities filing from last Monday by combining Armstrong’s compensation in 2018, severance and a special incentive package he was given by Verizon when it acquired AOL in 2015. Armstrong was head of Oath (now called Verizon Media), which took a write down of $4.5 billion last year and laid off seven percent of its workforce as it struggled to compete with other digital media companies.
Oath, the company’s digital media unit, was created in 2017 by merging AOL and Yahoo, two companies acquired by Verizon Communications. (Disclosure: TechCrunch was part of AOL, then Oath and now Verizon Media).
Verizon Communications announced Oath’s $4.5 billion after-tax write down at the end of last year. It said the sum, which basically cancelled out the benefits of the merger, was due to increased competition in digital advertising and other market pressures last year had resulted in lower-than-expected 2018 results and that it expected those issues to continue.
The business unit also announced in late January that it would lay off seven percent of its workforce, or about 800 employees.
After months of rumors, Verizon Communications announced that Armstrong would be succeeded as CEO of Oath by Guru Gowrappan last September. Armstrong formally left the company at the end of 2018.
TechCrunch has contacted Verizon for comment.[ + ]
A study of tracking cookies running on government and public sector health websites in the European Union has found commercial adtech to be operating pervasively even in what should be core not-for-profit corners of the Internet.
The researchers used searches including queries related to HIV, mental health, pregnancy, alcoholism and cancer to examine how frequently European Internet users are tracked when accessing national health service webpages to look for publicly funded information about sensitive concerns.
The study also found that most EU government websites have commercial trackers embedded on them, with 89 per cent of official government websites found to contain third party ad tracking technology.
The research was carried out by Cookiebot using its own cookie scanning technology to examine trackers on public sector websites, scanning 184,683 pages on all 28 EU main government websites.
Only the Spanish, German and the Dutch websites were found not to contain any commercial trackers.
The highest number of tracking companies were present on the websites of the French (52), Latvian (27), Belgian (19) and Greek (18) governments.
The researchers also ran a sub-set of 15 health-related queries across six EU countries (UK, Ireland, Spain, France, Italy and Germany) to identify relevant landing pages hosted on the websites of the corresponding national health service — going on to count and identify tracking domains operating on the landing pages.
Overall, they found a majority (52 per cent) of landing pages on the national health services of the six EU countries contained third party trackers.
Broken down by market, the Irish health service ranked worst — with 73 per cent of landing pages containing trackers.
While the UK, Spain, France and Italy had trackers on 60 per cent, 53 per cent, 47 per cent and 47 per cent of landing pages, respectively.
Germany ranked lowest of the six, yet they still found a third of the health service landing pages contained trackers.
Searches on publicly funded health service sites being compromised by the presence of adtech suggests highly sensitive inferences could be being made about web users by the commercial companies behind the trackers.
Cookiebot found a very long list of companies involved — flagging for example how 63 companies were monitoring a single German webpage about maternity leave; and 21 different companies were monitoring a single French webpage about abortion.
“Vulnerable citizens who seek official health advice are shown to be suffering sensitive personal data leakage,” it writes in the report. “Their behaviour on these sites can be used to infer sensitive facts about their health condition and life situation. This data will be processed and often resold by the ad tech industry, and is likely to be used to target ads, and potentially affect economic outcomes, such as insurance risk scores.”
“These citizens have no clear way to prevent this leakage, understand where their data is sent, or to correct or delete the data,” it warns.
It’s worth noting that Cookiebot and its parent company Cybot’s core business is related to selling EU data protection compliance services. So it’s not without its own commercial interests here. Though there’s no doubting the underlying adtech sprawl the report flags.
Where there’s some fuzziness is around exactly what these trackers are doing, as some could be used for benign site functions like website analytics.
Albeit, if/when the owner of the freebie analytics services in question is also adtech giant Google that still may not feel reassuring, from a privacy point of view.
Across both government and health service websites, Cookiebot says it identified a total of 112 companies using trackers that send data to a total of 131 third party tracking domains.
It also found 10 companies which actively masked their identity — with no website hosted at their tracking domains, and domain ownership (WHOIS) records hidden by domain privacy services, meaning they could not be identified. That’s obviously of concern.
Here’s the table of identified tracking companies — which, disclosure alert, includes AOL and Yahoo which are owned by TechCrunch’s parent company, Verizon.
Adtech giants Google and Facebook are also among adtech companies tracking users across government and health service websites, along with a few other well known tech names — such as Oracle, Microsoft and Twitter.
Cookiebot’s study names Google “the kingpin of tracking” — finding the company performed more than twice as much tracking as any other, seemingly as a result of Google owning several of the most dominant ad tracking domains.
Google-owned YouTube.com, DoubleClick.net and Google.com were the top three tracking domains IDed by the study.
“Through the combination of these domains, Google tracks website visits to 82% of the EU’s main government websites,” Cookiebot writes. “On each of the 22 main government websites on which YouTube videos have been installed, YouTube has automatically loaded a tracker from DoubleClick .net (Google’s primary ad serving domain). Using DoubleClick.net and Google.com, Google tracks visits to 43% of the scanned health service landing pages.”
“Given its control of many of the Internet’s top platforms (Google Analytics, Maps, YouTube, etc.), it is no surprise that Google has greater success at gaining tracking access to more webpages than anyone else,” it continues. “It is of special concern that Google is capable of cross-referencing its trackers with its 1st party account details from popular consumer-oriented services such as Google Mail, Search, and Android apps (to name a few) to easily associate web activity with the identities of real people.”
Under European data protection law “subjective” information that’s associated with an individual — such as opinions or assessments — is absolutely considered personal data.
So tracker-fuelled inferences being made about site visitors are subject to EU data protection law — which has even more strict rules around the processing of sensitive categories of information like health data.
That in turn suggests that any adtech companies doing third-party-tracking of Internet users and linking sensitive health queries to individual identities would need explicit user consent to do so.
The presence of adtech trackers on sensitive health data pages certainly raises plenty of questions.
We asked Google for a response to the Cookiebot report, and a spokesperson sent us the following statement regarding sensitive category data specifically — in which it claims: “We do not permit publishers to use our technology to collect or build targeting lists based on users’ sensitive information, including health conditions like pregnancy or HIV.”
Google also claims it does not itself infer sensitive user interest categories.
Furthermore it said its policies for personalized ads prohibit its advertisers from collecting or using sensitive interest categories to target users. (Though saying you’re telling someone not to do something is not the same as that thing not being done. That would depend on the enforcement.)
Google’s spokesperson was also keen to point to its EU user consent policy — where it says it requires site owners that use its services to ensure they have correct disclosures and consents for personalised ads and cookies from European end users.
The company warns it may suspend or terminate a site’s use of its services if they have not obtained the right disclosures and consents. It adds there’s no exception for government sites.
On tags and disclosure generally, the Google spokesperson provided the following comment: “Our policies are clear: If website publishers choose to use Google web or advertising products, they must obtain consent for cookies associated with those products.”
Where Google Analytics cookies are concerned, Google said traffic data is only collected and processed per instructions it receives from site owners and publishers — further emphasizing that such data would not be used for ads or Google purposes without authorization from the website owner or publisher.
Albeit sloppy implementations of freebie Google tools by resource-strapped public sector site administrators might make such authorizations all too easy to unintentionally enable.
So, tl;dr — as Google tells it — the onus for privacy compliance is on the public sector websites themselves.
Though given the complex and opaque mesh of technology that’s grown up sheltering under the modern ‘adtech’ umbrella, opting out of this network’s clutches entirely may be rather easier said than done.
Cookiebot’s founder, Daniel Johannsen, makes a similar point to Google’s in the report intro, writing: “Although the governments presumably do not control or benefit from the documented data collection, they still allow the safety and privacy of their citizens to be compromised within the confines of their digital domains — in violation of the laws that they have themselves put in place.”
“More than nine months into the GDPR [General Data Protection Regulation], a trillion-dollar industry is continuing to systematically monitor the online activity of EU citizens, often with the unintentional assistance of the very governments that should be regulating it,” he adds, calling for public sector bodies to “lead by example – at a minimum by shutting down any digital rights infringements that they are facilitating on their own websites”.
“The fact that so many public sector websites have failed to protect themselves and their visitors against the inventive methods of the tracking industry clearly demonstrates the educational challenge that the wider web faces: How can any organisation live up to its GDPR and ePrivacy obligations if it does not control unauthorised tracking actors accessing their website?”
Cookiebot gives the example of social sharing tool, ShareThis, which automatically adds buttons to each webpage to make it easy for visitors to share information across social media platforms.
The ShareThis social plugin is used by Ireland’s public health service, the Health Service Executive (HSE). And there Cookiebot found it releases trackers from more than 20 ad tech companies into every webpage it is installed on.
“By analysing web pages on HSE.ie, we found that ShareThis loads 25 other trackers, which track users without permission,” it writes. “This result was confirmed on pages linked from search queries for “mortality rates of cancer patients” and “symptoms of postpartum depression”.”
“Although website operators like the HSE do control which 3rd parties (like ShareThis) they add to their websites, they have no direct control over what additional “4th parties” those 3rd parties might smuggle in,” it warns.
We’ve reached out to ShareThis for a response.
Another example flagged by the report is what Cookiebot dubs “YouTube’s Tracking Cover-Up”.
Here it says it found that even when a website has enabled YouTube’s so-called “Privacy-enhanced Mode”, in a bid to limit its ability to track site users, the mode “currently stores an identifier named “yt-remote-device -id” in the web browser’s “Local Storage”” which Cookiebot found “allows tracking to continue regardless of whether users click, watch, or in any other way interact with a video – contrary to Google’s claims”.
“Rather than disabling tracking, “privacy-enhanced mode” seems to cover it up,” they claim.
Google did not provide an on the record comment regarding that portion of the report.
Instead the company sent some background information about “privacy-enhanced mode” — though its points did not engage at all with Cookiebot’s claim that tracking continues regardless of whether a user watches or interacts with a video in any way.
Overall, Google’s main point of rebuttal vis-a-vis the report’s conclusion — i.e. that even on public sector sites surveillance capitalism is carrying on business as usual — is that not all cookies and pixels are ad trackers. So it’s claim is a cookie ‘signal’ might just be harmless background ‘noise’.
(In additional background comments Google suggested that if a website is running an advertising campaign using its services — which presumably might be possible in a public sector scenario if an embedded YouTube video contains an ad (for example) — then an advertising cookie could be a conversion pixel used (only) to measure the effectiveness of the ad, rather than to track a user for ad targeting.
For DoubleClick cookies on websites in general, Google told us this type of cookie would only appear if the website specifically signed up with its ad services or another vendor which uses its ad services.
It further claimed it does not embed tracking pixels on random pages or via Google Analytics with Doubleclick cookies.)
The problem here is the lack of opacity in the adtech industry which requires users to take ad targeters at their word — and trust that an adtech giant like Google, which makes pots of money off of tracking web users to target them with ads, has nonetheless built perfectly privacy-respecting, non-leaky infrastructure that operates 100% as separately and cleanly as claimed, even as the entire adtech industry’s business incentives are pushing in the opposite direction.
And with trust in adtech at such a historic low — plus regulation having been rebooted in Europe to put the focus on enforcement (which is encouraging a cottage industry of GDPR ‘compliance’ services to wade in) — the industry’s preferred cloak of complex opacity is under attack on multiple front (including from policymakers) and does look to be on borrowed time.
And as more light shines in and risk steps up, sensitive public sector websites could just decide to nix using any of these freebie plugins.
In another “inventive” case study highlighted by the report, Cookiebot writes that it documented instances of Facebook using a first party cookie workaround for Safari’s intelligent tracker blocking system to harvest user data on two Irish and UK health landing pages.
So even though Apple’s browser natively purges third party cookies to enhance user privacy by default Facebook’s engineers appear to have managed to create a workaround.
Cookiebot says this works by Facebook’s new first party cookie — “_fbp” — storing a unique user ID that’s then forwarded as a URL parameter in the pixel tracker “tr” to Facebook.com — “thus allowing Facebook to track users after all”, i.e. despite Safari’s best efforts to prevent pervasive third party tracking.
“In our study, this combined tracking practice was documented on 2 Irish and UK landing pages featuring health information about HIV and mental illness,” it writes. “These types of workarounds of browser tracking prevention are highly intrusive as they undermine users’ attempts to protect their personal data – even when using browsers and extensions with the most advanced protection settings.”
Reached for a response to the Cookiebot report Facebook also did not engage with the case study of its Safari third party cookie workaround.
Instead, a spokesman sent us the following line: “[Cookiebot’s] investigation highlights websites that have chosen to use Facebook’s Business Tools — for example, the Like and Share buttons, or the Facebook pixel. Our Business Tools help websites and apps grow their communities or better understand how people use their services. For example, we could tell them that their site is most popular among people aged 20-25.”
In further information provided to us on background the company confirmed that data it receives from websites can be used for enhancing ad targeting on Facebook. (It said Facebook users can switch off ad personalization based on such signals — via the “Ads Based on Data from Partners” setting in Ad Preferences.)
It also said organizations that make use of its tools are subject to its Business Tools terms — which Facebook said require them to provide users with notice and obtain any required legal consent, including being clear with users about any information they share with it.
Facebook further claimed it prohibits apps and websites from sending it sensitive data — saying it takes steps to detect and remove data that should not be shared with it.
Commenting on the report in a statement, Diego Naranjo, senior policy advisor at digital rights group EDRi, called for European regulators to step up to defend citizens’ privacy.
“For the last 20 years, Europe has fought to regulate the sprawling chaos of data tracking. The GDPR is a historical attempt to bring the information economy in line with our core civil liberties, securing the same level of democratic control and trust online as we take for granted in our offline world. Yet, as this study has provided evidence of, nine months into the new regulation, online tracking remains as hidden, uncontrollable, and plentiful as ever,” he writes in the report. “We stress that it is the duty of regulators to ensure their citizens’ privacy.”
Naranjo also warned that another EU privacy regulation, the ePrivacy Regulation — which is intended to deal directly with tracking technologies — risks being watered down.
In the wake of GDPR it’s become the focus of major lobbying efforts, as we’ve reported before.
“One of the great added values of the ePrivacy Regulation is that it is meant to raise the bar for companies and other actors who want to track citizens’ behaviour on the Internet. Regrettably, now we are seeing signs of the ePrivacy Regulation becoming watered out, specifically in areas concerning “legitimate interest” and “consent”,” he warns.
“A watering down of the ePrivacy Regulation will open a Pandora’s box of more and more sharing, merging and reselling of personal data in huge online commercial surveillance networks, in which citizens are being unwittingly tracked and micro-targeted with commercial and political manipulation. Instead, the ePrivacy Regulation must set the bar high in line with the wishes of the European Parliament, securing that the privacy of our fellow citizens does not succumb to the dominion of the ad tech industry.”
Reached for comment on the report, UK data protection watchdog, the ICO, told us:
Transparency is a fundamental requirement of data protection legislation, including privacy of electronic communications. We are interested in how, and what, people are told about the use of their personal data for online advertising when they visit websites or access apps, as well as how accurate this information is.
Our work is ongoing and we are engaging with key stakeholders from across industry, as well as civil society, to deepen our knowledge of this complex ecosystem and the issues posed.
This report was updated with comment from the ICO