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Fashion platform Zilingo acquires Sri Lankan SaaS startup nCinga for $15.5M

05:54 | 17 December

Singapore’s fashion startup Zilingo has acquired Sri Lanka’s SaaS startup nCinga in a $15.5 cash and stock deal, the two said today.

nCinga, founded in 2013, offers an IoT platform to enable real-time production monitoring on factory floors and data analytics tools. Its acquisition is one of Sri Lanka’s largest tech exits in recent times, the two said.

A long customer of nCinga, Zilingo said it will deploy the Sri Lankan startup’s Manufacturing Execution System (MES) software across its network of 6,000 factories and 75,000 businesses.

Ankiti Bose, co-founder and chief executive of Zilingo, said, nCinga’s product has helped the startup “drastically improve” efficiency and drive insights by digitizing the shop floor. “Their work has been crucial to our mission of creating a transparent, sustainable, economically viable and socially responsible apparel supply chain,” she said.

More to follow…



Amazon’s third-party merchants are now barred from using FedEx Ground for Prime shipments

05:52 | 17 December

Third-party vendors were told by Amazon over the weekend that they are barred from using FedEx’s ground delivery services for Prime shipments. The Wall Street Journal reports that a message sent by Amazon to merchants on Sunday said the ban will last “until the delivery performance of these ship methods improves.” The e-commerce platform will still allow FedEx Ground for non-Prime shipments and FedEx Express, a faster but pricier option, for Prime.

Third-party sellers now account for more than half the products sold on and the company’s decision on FedEx’s ground delivery comes during the peak of the holiday shopping season. Over the summer, FedEx ended partnerships with Amazon to provide it with express air deliveries and ground shipments.

An Amazon spokesperson said that the company is managing cutoffs for delivery by Christmas and want to ensure that customers receive their packages on time. TechCrunch has also contacted FedEx for comment.

Both FedEx and UPS both experienced recent shipping delays, which they said were caused by record shipping volumes and weather issues.

Amazon has also been under scrutiny by federal antitrust regulators, with some complaints centered on whether or not it forces sellers to rely on its own logistics network. The company’s focus on its warehouse and delivery services, combined with its status as the largest online retailer in the U.S., has turned it into a major competitor against FedEx, UPS and the United States Postal Service.

A recent Morgan Stanley report estimates that Amazon is currently delivering about 46% of the items ordered through its U.S. site and predicts Amazon Logistics not only start providing shipments for non-Amazon orders, but overtake FedEx, UPS and the USPS in shipment volume by 2022.



SpaceX successfully launches Falcon 9 rocket and lands the booster, but misses the fairing catch

04:09 | 17 December

SpaceX has successfully launched its 13th rocket this year, and its 11th Falcon 9 (the company also flew two Falcon Heavy missions in 2019). The launch included the re-use of a twice flown Falcon 9 booster stage, which it recovered again with a landing at sea aboard one of its droneship landing pads, and a recovery attempt of both halves of the nose cone fairing that protects the spacecraft’s cargo and that is shed before the upper stage reaches its target orbit.

This launch carried a Boeing-built satellite that was created to provide communications services for customers Kacific and SKY Perfect JSAT, and it seems to have delivered the payload to the target orbit as planned. But primary mission success is only half the story here – and the other half is key to SpaceX’s efforts to make even more of its launch system reusable over time.

Elon Musk’s rocket company has been recovering Falcon 9 (and more recently, Super Heavy) boosters since 2015 and has done 47 successful first stage recoveries in total, but its fairing catching system is a much more recent introduction. SpaceX first controlled the descent of, and recovered a fairing half in 2017 – but did so by dropping it into the ocean. It later began attempting to recover it using a barge recovery ship to keep from having to fish it out of the sea, and managed to do that successfully for the first time with one half of the two-part fairing used in a Falcon Heavy launch this past June.

The attempt to catch the fairings was not successful – SpaceX said on Twitter that both halves missed the waiting boats “narrowly,” but added that recovery teams will still seek to pull them from the ocean and see about re-using them on future missions. SpaceX re-flew a recovered fairing in November for the first time, and Musk has said previously that re-use of this part could save SpaceX as much as $6 million per mission, which is around 10% of the total cost of launch.



Indian B2B food tech startup HungerBox raises $12M from Paytm and others

02:50 | 17 December

HungerBox, an Indian food tech startup that has courted 10 of the 11 largest companies in the country to use its services, today announced it has raised $12 million from Paytm and others as it looks to sign clients in Southeast Asia.

The three-year-old startup’s new financing round, a Series C, was funded by a consortium of Indian and international investors, including payments firm Paytm and NPTK, an Asian VC fund that invests in emerging firms. Existing investors Sabre Partners and Neoplux also participated in the round, which pushes the Bangalore-based startup’s to-date raise to $16.5 million.

HungerBox offers management services to companies and institutions to improve and run their in-house cafeterias and canteens. HungerBox also enables its clients to connect with food partners through an app and get real-time updates of their order.

The startup, which also provides these firms with a point-of-sale machine, helps them get better insight into the quality of food being catered to their employees, and enables scheduled delivery and tracking of orders to address the long queues, said Sandipan Mitra, co-founder and chief executive of HungerBox, in an interview with TechCrunch.

“We all talk about the food delivery to consumers, but not many are looking to improve the quality of food and how it is being catered to tens of millions of employees in the country each day,” he said. “It’s a challenge that has not been addressed well.”

It turns out, when a startup finally looked into the space, many quickly jumped to appreciate it. HungerBox has amassed more than 126 large businesses and institutions — with more than 100,000 workforce each, across 18 Indian cities, said Mitra. Food delivery startups Swiggy and Zomato have started to explore this space, too, in recent quarters.

HungerBox is processing 560,000 orders each day, a figure that is growing 10% every month, claimed Mitra. The startup’s solutions are today employed at more than 535 cafeterias for its clients that work in IT / technology, retail, healthcare, aviation, education, financial services and manufacturing, he said. He declined to reveal the name of the clients, citing confidential agreements.

Annual food sales on the HungerBox platform have exceeded $100 million, he said.

The startup, which employs 1,500 people, will use the fresh capital to fuel its expansion in 10 additional Indian cities and to markets in Southeast Asia, said Mitra.

In a statement, Madhur Deora, president of Paytm, said HungerBox has enabled Paytm to add new use cases for the company’s payments business and digitization of offline transactions.

“HungerBox is the market leader in the institutional food tech space and we will partner closely with them and bring the benefits of Paytm’s ecosystem to HungerBox,” he said.



Carbon will print parts for Lamborghini’s Sián FKP 37 hybrid sports car

02:19 | 17 December

Carbon today announced the expansion of its partnership with Lamborghini. The white-hot 3D-printing startup will manufacture central and lateral dashboard air vents for the carmaker’s Sián FKP hybrid sports car.

The move follows the deal announced earlier this year that found Carbon printing a fuel cap and an air duct clip for Lamborghini’s Urus SVU. Baby steps, honestly, but important ones nonetheless. Lamborghini follows in Ford’s footsteps with the Carbon partnership.

It’s clear that automotive companies are interested in introducing custom 3D-printed parts, and Carbon has proven a degree of scalability with partnerships with companies like Adidas. It was clear from the outset, however, that such a deal would need to begin with smaller pieces, before injection molding could be replaced outright.

According to Carbon, the addition of 3D printing reduced the time to production by 12 weeks over more traditional manufacturing tools. The units were put through the paces, too, subjecting the EPX 82 material to a battery of stress tests.

“With the Carbon Digital Manufacturing Platform, we were able to go from an initial concept to showing the final part on a show car in only three weeks, passing through many different design iterations to get the best result,” Lamborghini CTO Maurizio Reggiani said in a release. “Just three months later, we were able to move into production.”

In a recent conversation with TechCrunch, Carbon’s new CEO Ellen Kullman noted the company’s push toward developing existing partnerships before rushing into new ones. “[T]here’s a lot of building out to do of what we’ve already committed to,” she told the site.



Brand power vs. product power

01:46 | 17 December

David Friend Contributor
David Friend is the CEO of cloud storage company Wasabi, and co-founder of cyber security company Carbonite, recently bought for $1.4 billion. Wasabi is his sixth startup.

Most tech companies — particularly B2B companies — either don’t understand the power of a brand, or do a really poor job of creating one.

An informal survey of a dozen of my young CEO friends showed that, given the choice, 10 out of 12 — 83% — would rather spend an extra dollar on product development than brand-building. It is dangerous (or at least foolish) to assume that the ROI on product development is greater than the ROI on brand building.

As a serial entrepreneur and CEO, I have had to make this choice many times. In 2006, I co-founded PC backup company Carbonite . I left the company five years ago after taking it public and I no longer have any financial interest in it, which is why I can write about it now — it was just sold for $1.4 billion to OpenText. There were many other backup products on the market at that time and many more appeared over the first five years of the company’s life. I would argue that Carbonite was slicker than most of the others, but essentially every backup product accomplishes the same result.

Unlike Carbonite’s competitors, we focused on our brand. That meant raising more money than we would have if we were just investing in R&D. But, after five years of investing in our brand, we had eleven times the brand recognition of any other consumer backup company and we dominated the market.

Here’s why: a study by Kettlefire Creative showed that 59% of people prefer to buy brands that they have heard of. Since none of our competitors had widely recognized brands, we got most of that 59%. Of the remaining 41%, we fought it out on other criteria and won most of that as well. Put yourself in the shoes of a potential customer looking to back up their PC. What do you worry about? Well, before we even launched the company, we asked PC owners to choose the five most important attributes of their ideal backup company from a list of ten possible attributes, and we found the following:

1. Trustworthy: you won’t look at my files or allow anyone to see them (1127 votes)

2. Peace of mind: when I go to retrieve my backup, it will always be there (811 votes)

3. Reliable: it backs up everything and doesn’t stop (696 votes)

4. Helpful: if I lose my computer, I want to talk to a human who can help me (446 votes)

5. Easy: it should be simple and require little attention (444 votes)

The attributes that didn’t make the top five:

6. Fast: backups happen quickly



As the Nasdaq sets new records, a reminder how highly valued tech stocks are today

00:54 | 17 December

Today the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite closed at an all-time record high of 8,814.23, up 0.91% on the day.

The Nasdaq is up more than 32% on the year. Turning the clock back, the Nasdaq Composite is up around 60% from the end of 2016. Compared to the anti-records set in 2009 during the doldrums that followed the 2008 crisis, the Nasdaq is up a staggering 594%.

The huge run in value of technology stocks since the last recession is historic. And, given the length of the current global economic expansion, somewhat lost on regular folks.

Times are good, and it’s worth reminding ourselves of how good. After all, the private markets — the world of startups, venture capital and the next big companies — follow the public markets’ lead. If we understand what’s going on with tech stocks, we’ll better understand what is happening with your local startup cohort.

Or more precisely, if you’ve been confused about why every startup is worth a bajillion (plus or minus) dollars, this is why.

A record run

Putting today’s Nasdaq level into historical context is a bit difficult. It has been so long since the last, lasting correction in the value of technology companies that their aggregate share price chart is simply up and to the right. Can you recall the last time tech stocks dropped real value, and stayed down?

Probably not. The reason why is that compared to the post-2008 expansion, the 2000-era technology bubble appears small, pathetic and short-lived. Via YCharts, here’s a look at the Nasdaq Composite going back into the ’80s:

That, in a nutshell is why there are so many unicorns in the market; that chart is why SaaS multiples are still around 10-11x ARR (per Bessemer, which is rebuilding its cloud index page at the moment). That chart is a part of why Uber’s valuation got ahead of its real value. It’s also why venture capital funds have gotten larger, private equity deals more expensive and SoftBank may raise a second Vision Fund despite a host of high-profile wobbles. It’s how Microsoft added mow than 50% of its total value this year.

You get the idea.

The stock market is incredibly strong right now, a fact that is pushing lots of private investors to pay more for growth in anticipation that companies’ revenue multiples will stay high (as dictated by public comps, or what larger companies are willing to pay for startups). So long as the Nasdaq keeps going up, that bet makes the punters look smart.

So what?

We could have written this post a few times in the past week, let alone this year.  Of course, we can’t post a similar entry every time a tech-focused index hits a new record high — you’d fine it repetitive. But we also can’t not mention it every time, as it is critical to recall that today’s warm climate for startups is predicated on a public market trend that will not — cannot — last.

When will things change? No one knows. So far this December there’s no mini-crash to worry about. Things just look good, and healthy, and flush with new records.



Instagram hides false content behind warnings, except for politicians

00:51 | 17 December

Instagram is giving politicians the same free reign to spread misinformation as its parent company Facebook. Instagram is expanding its limited fact checking test in the US from May and will now work with 45 third-party organizations to assess the truthfulness of photo and video content on its app. Material rated as false will be hidden from the Explore and hashtag pages, and labled with an interstitial warning blocking the content elsewhere until users tap again to see the post.

This goes an important step further than Facebook’s early attempts to append warnings on links alongside content but that still let users immediately consume the misinformation. In October Facebook announced it would use a similar interstitial warning system.

Instagram will use image matching technology to find additional copies of false content and apply the same label, and do this across Facebook and Instagram content. That could become a talking point for Facebook as it tries to dissuade regulators from breaking up the company and spinning off Instagram.



Terradepth raises $8 million to build a fleet of autonomous deep ocean data robots

00:49 | 17 December

Plenty of the ocean remains unexplored, even though it’s a huge trove of potentially valuable information. Current methods for mapping and gathering ocean data, especially deep ocean data, generally require humans in the mix (even if controlling vehicles remotely), are immensely expensive and are not designed for long periods of operation. Startup Terradepth, founded by two ex-Navy SEALs and based in Austin, Texas, is aiming to change all that singing autonomous submersible vehicles that can, if deployed as a fleet with adequate scale, provide access to deep ocean information on a data-as-a-service basis.

The startup has raised $8 million in funding in a new round led by storage hardware company Seagate Technology, and the funding will help it pursue its ambitious goal of demonstrating their technology at work in an open-water environment by next summer. From their, it hopes to scale its operations the following year, and ultimately operate an entire networked fleet of its fully autonomous underwater robots, which it calls “Autonomous Hybrid Vehicles ” or AxV.

Terradepth says that its technology will be able to operate at a scale and cost not previously possible because of their use of autonomous navigation, and it will aim to offer both raw data, or information processed through their own machine-learning powered analytics layer, or cloud-based third-party analytics. They aim to offer multispectral imaging, surveillance and monitoring/forecasting services for off-shore equipment and resources.

In addition to co-founders Joe Wolfel and Judson Kauffman, Terradepth’s small team includes a range of roboticists and engineers with expertise in both software and hardware. Their vehicles are designed to alternate between deep ocean passes and trips to the water’s surface, with underwater AxV communicating with the surface-based robots which are simultaneously recharging, which then pass on data collected to satellites for relaying back to data centres and customers.



Where top VCs are investing in digital health

23:31 | 16 December

The world of healthcare has notoriously been described as “broken” — plagued with high-friction workflows, sky-high costs and convoluted business models.

Over the past several years, a long list of innovative startups and salivating venture investors have pinned their focus on repairing the healthcare industry, but its digital transformation still appears to be in the very early innings. After a record-setting 2018, however, digital health investing continued to reach meteoric heights in 2019.

Mammoth pools of capital have flooded into various sub-verticals and business models, backing collections of new B2B and B2C companies focused on optimizing healthcare workflows, improving healthcare access and offering lower-cost distribution models. Over the past two years, digital health startups have raised well over $10 billion in funding across nearly 1,000 deals, according to data from Pitchbook and Crunchbase.

As we close out another strong year for innovation and venture investing in the sector, we asked nine leading VCs who work at firms spanning early to growth stages to share what’s exciting them most and where they see opportunity in the sector:

Participants discuss trends in digital therapeutics, telehealth, mental health and the latest in biotech and medical devices, while also diving into startups improving medical practitioner efficiency, evaluating the evolving regulatory environment and debating valuations and offering a ‘temp check’ on the market for digital health startups leveraging ML.

Annie Case, Kleiner Perkins

Although Kleiner Perkins has a long history of investing in iconic health companies, we believe it is still the early innings of digital health as a category today.

When I evaluate new opportunities in the space, I often start by thinking through how the company will move the needle on cost, quality, and access to care — the “iron triangle” of health care systems. Conventional wisdom has been that it’s impossible to improve all three dimensions simultaneously, but we are seeing companies leverage technology to shift this paradigm in meaningful ways.

It’s no longer just a promise. For example, is using artificial intelligence to detect and alert stroke teams to suspected large vessel occlusion strokes, enabling patients to get treatment faster. Their workflows improve access to life-saving care, deliver higher quality through reduced time to treatment (every minute counts as ‘time is brain’ in stroke care), and dramatically reduce the costs associated with long-term disability.

We are also seeing companies provide this type of tech-enabled care outside of the hospital setting. Modern Health is a mental health benefits platform that employers are making available to their employees. The platform triages individual employees to the right level of care, providing clinical care to those with diagnosable depression or anxiety, and making self-guided or preventative care available to everyone else. Their solution improves quality and access by offering mental health services to every employee and reduces the cost associated with untreated mental illness, lost productivity, or employee churn.

Heading into 2020, we’re eager to back digital health companies in new areas that leverage technology to impact cost, quality, and access. A few spaces that I’m excited about are behavioral health (mental health, substance abuse, addiction, etc), care navigation, digital therapeutics, and new models integrating telehealth, remote care and AI to better leverage medical professionals’ time.

Zavain Dar and Adam Goulburn, Lux Capital

Below are some thoughts and coming predictions on health tech broadly:

  1. Digital therapeutics continue to pick up steam — on the back of Pear and Akili, more companies push to FDA and enter the market. In addition, broader consumer platforms like Calm and Headspace look to broaden their offerings by investigating clinical approvals.
  2. At least one major pharma looks to expand its consumer surface area by acquiring one of the new digital, consumer-facing generics platform (ex Hims, Ro, NuRx).
  3. Venture funding for biotech continues to boom with at least three Series A’s of $100M or more in size.
  4. Drug discovery for neurodegeneration sees a renaissance. High-profile failings of Biogen and the beta-amyloid hypothesis sees a shift of innovation to early-stage biotech and venture creation.
  5. Big pharma has its DeepMind moment acquiring at least one machine-learning (AI) enabled drug discovery company.
  6. Clinical trial tech investments heat up; new companies and technologies emerge to make trials patients first and systems get smarter at finding the right patients at their point of care; large incumbents like IQVIA, LabCorp and PPD get acquisitive.
  7. At least three traditional Sand Hill Road tech venture firms open life science practices or raise dedicated funds.
  8. Machine learning targets chemistry driven by large advancements in transformer (NLP) models; has the time for computational chemistry finally come?
  9. HCIT sees a renaissance driven by increased CIO responsibility towards data interoperability. Companies either working on federated ML to allow systems to speak to each other or lightweight edge applications enabling rapid clinical deployment will see quick uptake and traction, until now impossible in HC.

Kristin Baker Spohn, Charles River Ventures (CRV)

In the last 10 years, digital health has exploded. Over $16B has been invested in the sector by VCs and we’ve seen IPOs from Livongo, Progyny and Health Catalyst, just in the last year alone. That said, there’s still a lot that mystifies people about the sector — there are spots that are overheated and models that will struggle to deliver venture scale outcomes. I’ve seen digital health evolve first hand as both an operator and investor, and I’m more excited than ever about the future of the space.

A few areas and trends that I’ve been following recently include:


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