Wij willen met u aan tafel zitten en in een openhartig gesprek uitvinden welke uitdagingen en vragen er bij u spelen om zo, gezamelijk, tot een beste oplossing te komen. Oftewel, hoe kan de techniek u ondersteunen in plaats van dat u de techniek moet ondersteunen.

Microsoft is pulling out of an investment in an Israeli facial recognition technology developer as part of a broader policy shift to halt any minority investments in facial recognition startups, the company announced late last week.

The decision to withdraw its investment from AnyVision, an Israeli company developing facial recognition software, came as a result of an investigation into reports that AnyVision’s technology was being used by the Israeli government to surveil residents in the West Bank.

The investigation, conducted by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and his team at Covington & Burling, confirmed that AnyVision’s technology was used to monitor border crossings between the West Bank and Israel, but did not “power a mass surveillance program in the West Bank.”

Microsoft’s venture capital arm, M12 Ventures, backed AnyVision as part of the company’s $ 74 million financing round which closed in June 2019. Investors who continue to back the company include DFJ Growth and OG Technology Partners, LightSpeed Venture Partners, Robert Bosch GmbH, Qualcomm Ventures, and Eldridge Industries.

Microsoft first staked out its position on how the company would approach facial recognition technologies in 2018, when President Brad Smith issued a statement calling on government to come up with clear regulations around facial recognition in the U.S.

Smith’s calls for more regulation and oversight became more strident by the end of the year, when Microsoft issued a statement on its approach to facial recognition.

Smith wrote:

We and other tech companies need to start creating safeguards to address facial recognition technology. We believe this technology can serve our customers in important and broad ways, and increasingly we’re not just encouraged, but inspired by many of the facial recognition applications our customers are deploying. But more than with many other technologies, this technology needs to be developed and used carefully. After substantial discussion and review, we have decided to adopt six principles to manage these issues at Microsoft. We are sharing these principles now, with a commitment and plans to implement them by the end of the first quarter in 2019.

The principles that Microsoft laid out included privileging: fairness, transparency, accountability, non-discrimination, notice and consent, and lawful surveillance.

Critics took the company to task for its investment in AnyVision, saying that the decision to back a company working with the Israeli government on wide-scale surveillance ran counter to the principles it had set out for itself.

Now, after determining that controlling how facial recognition technologies are deployed by its minority investments is too difficult, the company is suspending its outside investments in the technology.

“For Microsoft, the audit process reinforced the challenges of being a minority investor in a company that sells sensitive technology, since such investments do not generally allow for the level of oversight or control that Microsoft exercises over the use of its own technology,” the company wrote in a statement on its M12 Ventures website. “Microsoft’s focus has shifted to commercial relationships that afford Microsoft greater oversight and control over the use of sensitive technologies.”

 

 


TechCrunch

The North American International Auto Show, which was scheduled for June in Detroit, has been canceled as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread and the city prepares to repurpose the TCF Center into a temporary field hospital.

NAIAS is held each year in the TCF Center, formerly known as the Cobo Center. Organizers said they expected the Federal Emergency Management Agency to designate the TCF Center as a field hospital.

“Although we are disappointed, there is nothing more important to us than the health, safety and well-being of the citizens of Detroit and Michigan, and we will do what we can to support our community’s fight against the coronavirus outbreak,” NAIAS Executive Director Rod Alberts said in an emailed statement.

The NAIAS is the latest in a long line of events and conventions that have been canceled as COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, has spread from China to Europe, and now the U.S. and the rest of the world.

More than 100 convention centers and facilities around the country are being considered to potentially serve as temporary hospitals. Alberts said it became clear that TCF Center would be an inevitable option to serve as a care facility.

The NAIAS, also known as the Detroit Auto Show, will be held in June 2021. Organizers are discussing plans for a fundraising activity later this year to benefit the children’s charities that were designated as beneficiaries of the 2020 Charity Preview event.

This year’s show was highly anticipated because it had moved from January to summer, following years of encouragement to schedule it during the warmer months.

All tickets purchased for the 2020 NAIAS show, including tickets for the Public Show, Industry Preview and Charity Preview will be fully refunded, organizers said. Charity Preview ticket holders will be given the option of a refund, or the opportunity to donate the proceeds of their refund to one of the nine designated Charity Preview beneficiaries. The NAIAS ticket office will be in contact with all ticket holders, according to the organizers.


TechCrunch

TechCrunch is out hunting for bright spots in the startup world as we all come to grips with the pandemic — particularly where checks are actually being written despite everything.

D2C is back to the future

First up this week, we surveyed top direct-to-consumer investors, and they seemed pretty optimistic despite the struggles of some sector leaders. Here’s Lightspeed Venture Partners Nicole Quinn, for example, on investor activity versus current opportunity:

I would argue it is too weak as investors look at the unit economics of some of the recent IPOs and think that is true for all of D2C. In reality, there are sectors such as beauty where many companies have product margins >90% or true brands such as Rothy’s where there is such a strong word-of-mouth effect and this gives them an unfair advantage with far better unit economics than the average.

Other respondents include: Ben Lerer and Caitlin Strandberg from Lerer Hippeau, Gareth Jefferies from Northzone, Matthew Hartman of Betaworks Ventures, Alexis Ohanian of Initialized Capital and Luca Bocchio of Accel.

Arman Tabatabai has the full investor survey on Extra Crunch, while Connie Loizos has a separate interview with Ohanian over on TechCrunch.

Proptech will be going (more) remote

Arman also ran a popular investor survey on real estate and proptech a few months back, so a virus update edition was warranted given the existential questions facing the future of physical space. Here’s one clarifying explanation from Andrew Ackerman of Dreamit Ventures:

Startups targeting residential landlords and property managers could be big winners. Anything that makes tenants more comfortable like residential tenant amenity platforms (e.g. Amenify) or automates maintenance requests (e.g. TravtusAptly), simplifies maintenance itself (e.g NestEgg) or eases operations like package receiving (e.g. Luxer One) are suddenly top of mind.

VC investors have a saying, “Don’t make me think,” and right now, we are thinking hard about what COVID-19 means for our portfolio, so don’t be surprised if we are a little slower than normal to write checks. That said, we are acutely aware of the fact that some of our best returns came from investments made during difficult times. Fortunately, we think quickly.

Read the full thing on Extra Crunch.

A new era for consumer tech

It’s no surprise that SaaS companies are seeing new growth from millions staying at home. But what else is going on besides work? Josh Constine pulls together the rebirth of Houseparty, the integration of Zoom into popular social networks and other trends today to elegantly explain the big picture: social tools actually being used like everyone had hoped(!).

What is social media when there’s nothing to brag about? Many of us are discovering it’s a lot more fun. We had turned social media into a sport but spent the whole time staring at the scoreboard rather than embracing the joy of play. But thankfully, there are no Like counts on Zoom . Nothing permanent remains. That’s freed us from the external validation that too often rules our decision-making. It’s stopped being about how this looks and started being about how this feels. Does it put me at peace, make me laugh, or abate the loneliness? Then do it. There’s no more FOMO because there’s nothing to miss by staying home to read, take a bath, or play board games. You do you.

Check it out on TechCrunch, then be sure to check out our ongoing coverage of where this is headed: virtual worlds(!?). Eric Peckham analyzed the sprawling topic in an eight-part series last month, then sat down for an in-house TechCrunch interview this week to explain how he sees the pandemic impacting the existing trends. 

More than two billion people play video games in the context of a year. There’s incredible market penetration in that sense. But, at least for the data I’ve seen for the U.S., the percent of the population who play games on a given day is still much lower than the percent of the population who use social media on a given day.

The more that games become virtual worlds for socializing and hanging out beyond just the mission of the gameplay, the more who will turn to virtual worlds as a social and entertainment outlet when they have five minutes free to do something on their phone. Social media fills these small moments in life. MMO games right now don’t because they are so oriented around the gameplay, which takes time and uninterrupted focus. Virtual worlds in the vein of those on Roblox where you just hang out and explore with friends compete for that time with Instagram more directly.

Some SEM prices are going down due to the pandemic

Danny Crichton put on his data scientist hat for Extra Crunch and analyzed more than 100 unicorns across tech sectors and looked how how the pricing of their keywords has changed due to the pandemic/recession.

The results aren’t surprising — there has been a collapse in prices for almost all ads (with some very interesting exceptions we will get to in a bit). But the variations across startups in their online ad performance says a lot about industries like food delivery and enterprise software, and also the long-term revenue performance of Google, Facebook and other digital advertising networks.

cloud ice cream cone imagine

Big tech should do more to help startups now

Besides offering wily developer platforms, I mean. Josh argued on TechCrunch that hosting costs and associated expenses should be spared or delayed by the dominant companies to be nice, and to avoid crushing their own ecosystems.

Google, Amazon and Microsoft are the landlords. Amidst the coronavirus economic crisis, startups need a break from paying rent. They’re in a cash crunch. Revenue has stopped flowing in, capital markets like venture debt are hesitant and startups and small-to-medium sized businesses are at risk of either having to lay off huge numbers of employees and/or shut down. Meanwhile, the tech giants are cash rich. Their success this decade means they’re able to weather the storm for a few months. Their customers cannot.

On the other hand, now is also a good time for mid-sized startups to try to take market share from incumbents who don’t act friendly enough to the rest of the startup world…..

Odds and ends

  1. Eliot Peper, author of a variety of popular sci-fi and tech fiction stories (and occasional TechCrunch contributor), has a new book out called “Uncommon Stock: Version 1.0” about a small startup that accidentally crosses paths with a drug cartel. Current subscribers to this newsletter will find that the link above takes them to a free download (that ends Sunday).
  2. I had been planning to moderate a panel at SXSW on the topic of remote work, but other events flipped that on its head. The panel, featuring Katrina Wong, VP of Marketing at Hired, Darren Murph, Head of Remote at Gitlab, and Nate McGuire, Founder of Buildstack, happened on Zoom. And now the video is available here — check out to get key tips on going remote-first from these experts.

Across the week

TechCrunch

Now might be the perfect time to rethink your fundraising approach

How child care startups in the U.S. are helping families cope with the COVID-19 crisis

Private tech companies mobilize to address shortages for medical supplies, masks and sanitizer

One neat plug-in to join a Zoom call from your browser

Extra Crunch

When is it time to stop fundraising?

Slack’s slowing growth turns around as remote work booms

A look inside one startup’s work-from-home playbook

Lime’s valuation, variable costs and diverging categories of on-demand companies

#EquityPod

From Alex:

The three of us were back today — NatashaDanny and Alex — to dig our way through a host of startup-focused topics. Sure, the world is stuffed full of COVID-19 news — and, to be clear, the topic did come up some — but Equity decided to circle back to its roots and talks startups and accelerators and how many pieces of luggage does an urban-living person really need?

The answer, as far as we can work it out, is either one piece or seven. Regardless, here’s what we got through this week:

  • Big news from 500 Startups, and our favorite companies from the accelerator’s latest demo day. Y Combinator is not the only game in town, so TechCrunch spent part of the day peekin’ at 500 and its latest batch of companies. We got into some of the startups that stuck out, tackling problems within the influencer market, trash pickup and esports.
  • Plastiq raised $ 75 million to help people and businesses use their credit card anywhere they want. And no, it wasn’t closed after the pandemic hit.
  • We also talked through Fast’s latest $ 20 million round led by Stripe. Stripe, as everyone recalls, was most recently a topic on the show thanks to a venture whoopsie in the form of a check from Sequoia to Finix.1 But all that’s behind us. Fast is building a new login and checkout service for the internet that is supposed to be both speedy and independent.
  • All the Stripe talk reminded us of one of the startups that launched so it could beat it out: Brex. The startup, which has amassed over $ 300 million in known venture capital to date, recently acquired three companies.
  • We chatted through the highlights of our D2C venture survey, focused on rising CAC costs in select channels, the importance of solid gross margins and why Casper wasn’t really a bellwether for its industry.

Listen here!


TechCrunch

There’s a new COVID-19 test from healthcare technology maker Abbott that looks to be the fastest yet in terms of producing results, and that can do so on the spot right at point-of-care, without requiring a round trip to a lab. This test for the novel coronavirus causing the current global pandemic has received emergency clearance for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and will begin production next week, with output of 50,000 per day possible starting next week.

The new Abbott ID NOW COVID-19 test uses the Abbott ID NOW diagnostics platform, which is essentially a lab-in-a-box that is roughly the size of a small kitchen appliance. It’s size, and the fact that it can produce either a positive result in just five minutes, or a negative one in under 15, mean that it could be a very useful means to extend coronavirus testing beyond its current availability to more places including clinics and doctor’s offices, and cut down on wait times both in terms of getting tested and receiving a diagnosis.

Unlike the rapid tests that have been used in other countries, and that received a new type of authorization under an FDA guideline that doesn’t confirm the accuracy fo the results, this rapid testing solution uses the molecular testing method, which works with saliva and mucus samples swabbed from a patient. This means that it works by identifying a portion of the virus’ DNA in a patient, which means it’s much better at detecting the actual presence of the virus during infection, whereas other tests that search the blood for antibodies that are used in point-of-care settings can only detect antibodies, which might be present in recovered patients who don’t actively have the virus.

The good news for availability of this test is that ID NOW, the hardware from Abbott that it runs on, already “holds the largest molecular point-of-care footprint in the U.S.,” and is “widely available” across doctor’s offices, urgent care clinics, emergency rooms and other medical facilities.

In total, Abbott now says that it believes it will produce 5 million tests in April, split between these new rapid tests and the lab tests that it received emergency use authorization for by the FDA on March 18.

Testing has been one of the early problems faced by the U.S. in terms of getting a handle on the coronavirus pandemic: The country has lagged behind other nations globally in terms of per capita tests conducted, which experts say has hampered its ability to properly track and trace the spread of the virus and its resulting respiratory disease. Patients have reported having to go to extreme lengths to receive a test, and endure long waits for results, even in cases where exposure was likely and their symptoms match the COVID-19 profile.


TechCrunch

StockX, the high-flying resale marketplace that connects buyers and sellers of sneakers, streetwear, handbags and other collectible items who agree on pricing, has seen its fortune rise along with the $ 6 billion global sneaker resale market, which is part of the broader $ 100 billion sneaker category. In fact, the company, which was assigned a billion-dollar-plus valuation last year, says $ 1 billion worth of merchandise was sold through its platform last year.

The big question is whether StockX can maintain its momentum. Not only are other rivals biting at the heels of the five-year-old, Detroit-based outfit, which has raised roughly $ 160 million from investors, but some believe the streetwear “bubble” is on the verge of bursting. Add to the mix a pandemic that’s putting millions of people out of work (and in some cases jeopardizing the health of those still showing up), and you might assume that answer is no.

Yet in an online event earlier this week hosted by this editor and conducted by Erin Griffith of the New York Times, StockX CEO Scott Cutler insisted that the exact opposite is true. By his telling, business is booming. In fact, perhaps unsurprisingly, he argued that StockX looks more durable than the traditional public market right now, and he’s well-acquainted with the latter, having earlier spent nine years as an executive with the New York Stock Exchange. (Cutler was also formerly an executive at eBay and StubHub.)

Below is part of their talk, edited lightly for length.

Griffith kicked off the interview by giving Cutler a chance to describe in his own words how StockX works.

“So if you’re a buyer of sneakers, you’ve got choices as to where you want to do that you could go to Nike or Adidas, you could go to a retailer . . . There are other marketplaces like eBay, as an example, where one person has an item to sell, and you would match and try and find that one person [who will buy it at their price] and that would be a unique peer-to-peer-based experience.”

“The difference for Stock x is that typically those items that are the most sought-after things from a retailer or brand and are never available at that retailer or brand. They’re released online, or they’re released in a store, and they and they vanish immediately. . . So as a buyer, you come into the experience knowing largely that you want a particular product. And we give you the opportunity to either buy that at the lowest price somebody is willing to sell that for, or put a bid out and say, ‘This is what I’m interested in paying for this product.’

“If you’re a seller, you don’t have to create a seller rating. You don’t have to create a profile. You don’t have to create a listing. You simply have something to sell, it’s in our catalog. And you either sell it at the highest price that somebody is willing to bid . .  . or you ask and say, ‘This is what I’m willing to sell this item for.’ So it’s a very much a trading market much like oil and commodities and equities, but in sneakers and collectible items.”

She asked who is driving the marketplace and whether that might be a small number of power users.

“Seventy-five percent of our customers are under the age of 35. And that customer is a now a wide demographic, I would say two years ago, it was defined in sneakers as a “sneakerhead,” meaning somebody that collected sneakers and bought and sell sneakers specifically. But today, that demographic, if you looked at millennials and Gen Z, as an example, 40% of them would define themselves as sneakerheads, and so that’s male and female, and this demographic is around the world. We have customers in over 170 countries and territories.”

Cutler went on to say that StockX is very well-positioned because, unlike with a lot of goods that people might find through Amazon or a Google search and thus compete on some level with them, StockX is itself the “first” shopping destination for most of its customers.

“Even the brands can’t provide access to [what’s for sale at StockX].  So that consumer comes to us as a first destination; they don’t go to those brands to shop to shop . . . That means that we have an incredible opportunity then to deliver exactly what that customer wants at the beginning of the journey, which is very rare in e-commerce, to be that first point of destination.”

Naturally, Griffith asked how the virus has impacted StockX’s bottom line. Cutler said it’s been “great for our business and growth.”

“The recent events over the last couple of months has been a benefit to our business. We’ve had more and more traffic and buyers coming to our site because in some respects, traditional retail in some geographies is not available. We thought we’ve always been a marketplace of scarcity, but now you can’t actually go into a real retail location, so you’re coming to StockX. So on the one hand, it’s been great for our for our business and for our growth.”

Cutler also acknowledged that to accommodate that growth, StockX needs people in the warehouses where sellers send goods so that StockX can authenticate them before shipping out to buyers. He said that StockX has “people in those centers that are coming to work right now, even in places like New Jersey that are certainly impacted.” He called it a “balancing” act of trying to ensure its team members feel “safe” while continuing to operate its business at scale around the world.

As for how, exactly, StockX is ensuring these employees are safe, he said that StockX is “operating under all of the local rules and regulations that we have in all the different places where we operate.” As an added sweetener, he said the company recently gave a “spot bonus” and increased the salaries of employees at its authentication centers by 25%.

And what happens if the warehouses are ordered to shut down or employees begin showing up with the virus? Griffith asked what StockX’s backup plan entailed.

Here, Cutler noted the company’s multiple authentication centers, saying that “in the event that we have to reroute traffic from one authentication center to the other, we will do that. We’ve been operating that way.” (He also said that business continuity planning is currently a “stand-up every single day [wherein] we go through site safety and security and any incidents that come up and we’re making decisions as a team every day on some of that routing logic.”)

Not last, Griffith wondered what kinds of conversations StockX’s venture investors are having with the company given everyone’s focus right now on belt-tightening. ((StockX is backed by DST Global, General Atlantic, GGV Capital Battery Ventures, and GV, among others.)

Cutler acknowledged that the “future, in some respects, is uncertain for many of us, in that you don’t know how long this is going to last.” He said that as the company looks to the future, it’s trying to factor in “different scenarios of macro shifts in demand, macro shifts in the supply chains that we think are going to be actually quite short-lived.” He said that in China, for example, where many supply chain factories went down this winter, many are back up to 80% or 90% of their previous capacity, adding that “depedinng on how this plays out here in the U.S. and in Europe, it could either be a very quick recovery —  or we have to be prepared for scenario where this could be extended for some time.”

Asked if StockX is recession-proof should the downturn last (Griffith noted that some of the pricier sneakers on the platform are “selling for thousands of dollars”), Cutler suggested that he hopes so for the sake of the businesses run off its platform. 

Said Cutler, “For a lot of our sellers, you have to appreciate that our they depend on StockX for their livelihood. They actually may be running a very sophisticated business that is selling sometimes thousands of pairs of sneakers every single day to [maybe] a student who’s using StockX to fund their education. So it’s it is really important that we remain up and operational because we’re providing a livelihood for those for those individuals.”

Cutler then compared StockX to the public equities markets, insisting that they aren’t so different and that, to his mind, StockX might even be the safer bet right now.

“We actually have buyers who see this time as a market opportunity and see the price of a rare Jordan 1 [shoe] that’s maybe coming down, and they say, ‘Hey, this is short lived,’ much like somebody may say, ‘Hey, the market is off a little.’

“They’re putting their money in sneakers,” Cutler continued, adding: “My portfolio right now in sneakers is still up on the year. That’s more than I can say about the S&P.”


TechCrunch

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.

We’re wrapping the week with Lime, scooters and the divergence between Uber and Lyft and their two-wheeled rivals. It’s been a hectic year for ride-hailing, but an even more turbulent time for the scooter unicorns that exploded into the venture capital scene in early 2018.

Scooter-focused startups were, at one point in time, among the hottest companies that money could chase. That’s no longer true. This week it was reported that at least one major player in the scooter world is pursuing a painful valuation cut so that it can raise the cash it needs to survive. Lime, according to The Information, may see its valuation fall to $ 400 million from $ 2.4 billion as it tries to “raise emergency funds.”

The scooter crisis has arrived as Uber and Lyft have come to something akin to a truce with public market investors, a feat that we’ve covered extensively. But perhaps most notable of all is the differing fortunes between Lime and friends, and Uber and Lyft. The two categories of on-demand transportation are diverging, and ironically, it’s the option that’s human-powered that appears set to come out in the best shape.

Let’s talk cash, profits, margins, and survival this morning as Uber and Lyft prepare to drive straight through the economic crisis, while scooters appear headed for a pothole at best.


TechCrunch

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced on Thursday that it is temporarily relaxing enforcement of environmental regulations and fines during the COVID-19 outbreak. The “enforcement discretion policy” applies retroactively to March 13, with no end date set yet.

“EPA is committed to protecting human health and the environment, but recognizes the challenges resulting from efforts to protect workers and the public from COVID-19 may directly impact the ability of regulated facilities to meet all federal regulatory requirements,” said EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler in the agency’s announcement.

While very broad, the EPA said the policy “addresses different categories of noncompliance differently.” For example, the EPA will not seek penalties for noncompliance with monitoring and reporting “that are the result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” but that it still expects public water systems to provide safe drinking water.

The new policy follows lobbying from industries including oil and gas, which told the Trump administration that relaxed regulations will allow them to more efficiently distribute fuel during the outbreak.

But critics say that the policy will not only result in more pollution, but also make it impossible to fully assess the environmental damage.

In a statement to the Hill, Cynthia Giles, who headed the EPA’s Office of Enforcement during the Obama administration, said the new policy “tells companies across the country that they will not face enforcement even if they emit unlawful air and water pollution in violation of environmental laws, so long as they claim that those failures are in some way ‘caused’ by the virus pandemic. And it allows them an out on monitoring too, so we may never know how bad the violating pollution was.”


TechCrunch

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