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.

India’s push to digital payments in the last three years has seen tens of millions of people get comfortable with exchanging money online for the first time. But most businesses in the country are still offline and relying on traditional ways to engage with their customers. A Bangalore-based startup that is attempting to bring a similar digitization to them just got a nod from high profile investors.

Setu, a two-year-old startup, said on Wednesday that it has raised $ 15 million in its Series A financing round from Falcon Edge and Lightspeed Venture Partners U.S. Existing investors Lightspeed India Partners and Bharat Inclusion Seed Fund also participated in the round.

Setu is an API infrastructure provider that allows financial institutions such as banks to connect with companies and small businesses that want to provide financial services to their customers.

The idea is to connect small businesses such as a local cable TV operator or a neighborhood store that is already engaging with thousands of people to serve their customers better by offering formal financial services such as credit. Local kirana stores already have a great understanding of their customers and offer them informal credit. Could they work with financial institutions to formalize their services?

Setu, which means bridge in Sanskrit, today estimates that over a billion people in India need access to formal sachet-ized financial products and services. “Poor product design, high distribution costs, and legacy technology have been barriers to make this happen,” said Nikhil Kumar, co-founder of the startup.

Kumar previously worked as a fellow at iSPIRT Foundation that built an ecosystem for UPI, an infrastructure developed by a coalition of banks and backed by the Indian government that has amassed over 100 million users and clocks over a billion transactions a month. Setu’s other co-founder, Sahil Kini, worked at Aspada Investments.

The startup today offers open APIs across four categories — bills, savings, credit, and payments. Any developer can access its sandbox to build an application and go through a rigorous developer certification program to go live, the startup said. This makes it easy for any company to acquire plug-and-play financial services and become a fintech player.

“We are big believers in Setu’s vision to build infrastructure that enables the large-scale distribution of, and access to, financial products. Sahil, Nikhil, and the Setu team have an exciting roadmap for the future of financial services in India and we’re proud to support their journey,” said Bejul Somaia, Managing Partner at Lightspeed India, in a statement.

Setu recently launched Collect, an API bundle designed for developers to build their own custom collections product. For instance, lending collection companies are using Setu to build an omni-channel collections stack for banks and NBFCs. “This API platform is built on top of public infrastructure such as UPI and BBPS by partnering with some of India’s leading banks — Kotak, ICICI, & Axis Bank,” said Kumar.

The startup is now working on building blocks for digital financial services across FASTag, savings, credit, and data, he said.

More to follow…


TechCrunch

The boom in popularity for podcasting has given a new voice to the world of spoken word content that had been largely left for dead with the decline of broadcast radio. Now riding the wave of that growth, a startup called Descript that’s building tools to make the art of creating podcasts — or any other content that involves working with audio — a little easier with audio transcription and editing tools, has a trio of news announcements: funding, an acquisition, and the launch of a new tool that brings some of the magic of natural language processing and AI to the medium by letting people create audio of their own voices based on text that they type.

Descript, the latest startup from Groupon founder Andrew Mason, created as a spinoff of his audio-guide business Detour (which got acquired by Bose last year), is today announcing $ 15 million in funding, a Series A for expanding the business (including hiring more  people) that’s coming from Andreessen Horowitz (it also funded the startup’s seed round in 2017) and Redpoint.

Along with that, the company has acquired a small Canadian startup, Lyrebird — which had, like Descript, also built audio editing tools. Together, the two are rolling out a new feature for Descript called Overdub: people will now be able to create “templates” of their voices that they can in turn use to create audio based on words that they type, part of a bigger production suite that will also let users edit multiple voices on multiple tracks. The audio can be standalone, or the audio track for a video.

(The video transcription works a little differently: when you add in words, or take them out, the video makes jumps to account for the changes in timing.)

Overdub is the latest addition to a product that lets users create instant transcriptions of audio text that can then be cut and potentially augmented with music other audio using drag-and-drop tools that take away the need for podcasters to learn sound engineering and editing software. The non-technical emphasis of the product has given Descript a following among podcasters and others that use transcription software as part of their audio production suites. The product is priced in a freemium format: no charge for up to four hours of voice content, and $ 10 per month after that.

In the age of market-defining, election-winning fake news aided and abetted by technology, you’d be forgiven for wondering if Overdub might not be a highway to Deep Fake City, where you could use the technology to create any manner of “statements” by famous voices.

Mason tells me that the company has built a way to keep that from being able to happen.

The demo on the company’s home page is created with a special proprietary voice just for illustrative purposes, but to actually activate the editing and augmenting feature for a piece of their own audio, users have to first record a number of statements that repeated-back, based on text created on the fly and in real time. These audio clips are then used to shape your digital voice profile.

This means that you can’t, for example, feed audio of Donald Trump into the system to create a version of the President saying that he is awfully sorry for suggesting that building walls between the US and Mexico was a good idea, and that this would not, in fact, make America Great Again. (Too bad.)

But if you subscribe to the idea that tech advances in NLP and AI overall are something of a Pandora’s Box, the cat’s already out of the bag, and even if Descript doesn’t allow for it, someone else will likely hack this kind of technology for more nefarious ends. The answer, Mason says, is to keep talking about this and making sure people understand the potentials and pitfalls.

“People have already have created the ability to make deep fakes,” Mason said. “We should expect that not everybody is going to follow the same constrants that we have followed. But part of our role is to create awareness of the possibilities. Your voice is your identity, and you need to own that voice. It’s an issue of privacy, basically.”

The developments underscore the new opportunity that has opened up in tapping some of the developments in artificial intelligence to address what is a growing market. On one hand, it’s a big market: based just on ad revenues alone, podcasting is expected to bring in some $ 679 million this year, and $ 1 billion by 2021, according to the IAB — one reason why companies like Spotify and Apple are betting big on it as a complement to their music streaming businesses.

On the other, the area of production tools for podcasters is a very crowded market, with a number of startups and others putting out a lot of tools that all work quite well in identifying what people are saying and transcribing it accurately.

On the front of transcription and the area where Descript is working, rivals include the likes of Trint, Wreally and Otter, among many others. Decript itself doesn’t even create its basic NLP software; it uses Google’s, since basic NLP is now an area that has essentially become “commoditized,” said Mason in an interview.

That makes creating new features, tapping into AI and other advances, all the more essential, as we look to see if one tool emerges as a clear leader in this particular area of SaaS.

“In live multiuser collaboration, there is still no other tool out there that has done what we have done with large uncompressed audio files. That is no small feat, and it has taken time to get it right,” said Mason. “I have seen this transition manifest from documents to spreadsheets to product design. No one would have thought of something like product design to be huge space but just by taking these tools for collaboration and successfully porting them to the cloud, companies like Figma have emerged. And that’s how we got involved here.”


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