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.

Crowdfunding platform for startups Republic has acquired crowdfunding platform for games Fig, joining forces to help creators get their ideas off the ground. Users of each service will be happy to know they’ll continue as-is for the foreseeable future.

The model of publicly accessible micro-equity has proven an effective one, and both platforms have recent successes under their belts. Startups of a wide variety have raised hundreds of thousands on Republic, while Fig has had a great year with games like the critically acclaimed (and popular) Outer Wilds and What the Golf.

The scale of the sites is small compared with Kickstarter and Indiegogo, but the projects are more carefully curated and, although they are all crowdfunding platforms, the Republic/Fig model is different, awarding equity rather than product. Or in addition to product — who can resist wanting to have their own weird new Intellivision console?

The terms of the acquisition were not disclosed, but the general idea is to merge the two sites without compromising either. Ideally both will see an increased audience, and users will see an increased variety of projects to potentially back. Gaming is a growing area of investment, especially niche indie games that might be the next big unexpected hit, so Republic saw Fig as a natural extension of its existing platform.

“One of the best things going for Fig is how successful they’ve been in making positive returns for investors. Capital raised is used to develop the game, games are sold, and sales revenue is shared with investors,” said Republic Funding Portal CEO Chuck Pettid in a statement sent to TechCrunch. “Most private investments take 7-10 years for investors to get meaningful returns. Fig has accelerated that outcome and even boasts 3 straight years (2017, 2018 and 2019) of positive returns for investors. There isn’t another crowdfunding platform in the world that can say that.”

Fig’s CEO, Justin Bailey, will stay on as a board member at Republic and help guide the intelligent integration of the two sites.

“Fig will continue on and over time will slowly become a part of Republic,” he said. “Republic will keep the core parts of Fig’s community publishing platform and then add in its ingredients such as its commitment to diversity which will create an even stronger platform for indie game developers. In the end, Fig’s mission is to help support independent developers and making games possible that wouldn’t be.”

Both CEOs went out of their way to mention that the sites especially value underserved and underrepresented groups, which may find crowdfunding the only way to collect enough capital to pursue an idea. “More than half of the campaigns featured on Republic have come from underrepresented founders,” said Pettid. “In the past few years, the tech and video game industry has pushed the diversity message, but not enough is being done.”

Bailey noted that the pandemic has led to a major disruption of traditional investment methods. Crowdfunding is already successful, but in the modified post-coronavirus world it may be even more valid.

“Developers should always be rethinking how to raise funding,” he said. “Innovation and creative thinking leads to the best campaigns, and we will be there to assist them.”


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.”


TechCrunch

Alibaba Group has acquired NetEase Kaola for $ 2 billion, the two companies said today, and will integrate it into Tmall, creating the largest cross-border e-commerce platform in China. The announcement follows weeks of media reports about a potential deal, which was said to have stalled in the middle of August after the companies reportedly disagreed on transaction details.

Tmall Import and Export general manager Alvin Liu has been named as Kaola’s new CEO, replacing Zhang Lei, but Kaola will continue to operate independently under its own brand.

Tmall Global and Kaola are China’s largest and second-largest cross-border e-commerce platforms, respectively, holding 31.7% and 24.5% of the market, and their union means they will create a business that will far outstrip in size rivals like JD Worldwide, VIP International and Amazon China. (Earlier this year, NetEase was reportedly in talks to merge Kaola with Amazon China).

Alibaba and Yunfeng, the investment firm launched by Alibaba founder Jack Ma, also agreed to invest $ 700 million into NetEase Cloud Music’s latest funding round. This will give Alibaba a minority stake in the streaming music service, with NetEase remaining its controlling shareholder.

In a press release, NetEase CEO William Ding said “We are pleased to have found a strategic fit for Kaola within Alibaba’s extensive ecosystem, where Kaola will continue to provide Chinese consumers with high-quality import products and services. At the same time, the completion of this strategic transaction will allow NetEase to focus on its growth strategy, investing in markets that allow us to best leverage our competitive advantages.”

Daniel Zhang, Alibaba Group’s CEO, said “Alibaba is confidence about the future of China’s import e-commerce market, which we believe remains in its infancy with great growth potential.”


TechCrunch

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

1. Twitter bags deep learning talent behind London startup, Fabula AI

Fabula AI has been developing technology to identify online disinformation by looking at patterns in how fake stuff versus genuine news spreads online — making it an obvious fit for the rumor-riled social network.

Twitter says the acquisition of Fabula AI will help it build out its internal machine learning capabilities, writing that the startup’s “world-class team of machine learning researchers” will become part of an internal research group led by Sandeep Pandey.

2. Review: Ring’s new outdoor lighting products are brilliant

Twenty minutes after opening the box and throwing the instructions aside, Matt Burns says he had five new lights installed around his house and configured to his home’s network.

3. Live from WWDC 2019

The keynote starts at 10am Pacific today.

4. Amazon sellers to hit UK high streets in year-long pop-up pilot

The Amazon pop-up pilot program — which is couched as an exploration of “a new model to help up-and-coming online brands grow their high street presence” — will see more than 100 small online businesses selling on the UK high street for the first time.

5. A look at the many ways China suppresses online discourse about the Tiananmen Square protests

The effects of the crackdown appears to have spread beyond China, with the suspension of many Chinese-language Twitter accounts critical of China, even if they originated outside the country. (For what it’s worth, Twitter said this was part of a “routine action.”)

6. ‘Weirdo’ fintech VC Anthemis marches to its own drummer

Apparently, visiting the Anthemis office is like stepping into a Wes Anderson film. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

7. This week’s TechCrunch podcasts

The latest episode of Equity features a discussion of whether the tech press is too positive in its coverage of startups, while the Original Content team reviews the (excellent) animated Netflix series “Tuca & Bertie.”


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