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.

Meet Vivid, a new challenger bank launching in Germany that promises low fees and an integrated cashback program. The two co-founders Alexander Emeshev and Artem Yamanov previously worked as executives for Russian bank Tinkoff Bank.

Vivid doesn’t try to reinvent the wheels and is building its product on top of well-established players. It relies on solarisBank for the banking infrastructure, a German company with a banking license that provides banking services as APIs to other fintech companies. As for debit cards, Vivid is working with Visa.

If you live in Germany and want to sign up to Vivid, you can expect a lot of features that you can find in other challenger banks, such as N26, but with a few additional features. Vivid users get a current account and a debit card. They can then manage their money from the mobile app.

The physical Vivid card doesn’t feature any identifiable details — there’s no card number, expiry date and CVV. Just like Apple’s credit card in the U.S., you have to check the mobile app to see those details. Every time you make a purchase, you receive a notification. You can lock and unlock your card from the app. The card works in Google Pay but not yet in Apple Pay.

In order to make money management easier, Vivid lets you create pockets. Those are sub-accounts presented in a grid view, like on Lydia or N26 Spaces. You can move money between pockets by swiping your finger from one pocket to another. Each pocket has its own IBAN.

You can associate your card with any pocket. Soon, you’ll also be able to share a pocket with another Vivid user. Like on Revolut, you can exchange money to another currency. The company adds a small markup fee but doesn’t share more details.

As for the cashback feature, the startup focuses on a handful of partnerships. You can earn 5% on purchases at REWE, Lieferando, BoFrost, Eismann, HelloFresh and Too Good To Go, and 10% on online subscriptions, such as Netflix, Prime Video, Disney+ and Nintendo Switch Online. While it’s generous, you’re limited to €20 maximum in cashback per month.

Interestingly, Vivid also wants to bring back Foursquare-style mayorship. If you often go to the same bar or café and you spend more than any other Vivid user over a two-week window, you become the mayor and receive 10% cashback.

Vivid has two plans — a free plan and a Vivid Prime subscription for €9.90 per month. Prime users receive a metal card, more cashback on every day purchases and higher withdrawal limits.

The company plans to launch stock and ETF trading in the coming months. Vivid also plans to expand into other European countries this year.

Vivid is entering a crowded market but already offers a solid product if everything works as expected. It’s going to be interesting to see how the product evolves and if they can attract a large user base.


TechCrunch

You may not have heard of Kobalt before, but you probably engage with the music it oversees every day, if not almost every hour. Combining a technology platform to better track ownership rights and royalties of songs with a new approach to representing musicians in their careers, Kobalt has risen from the ashes of the 2000 dot-com bubble to become a major player in the streaming music era. It is the leading alternative to incumbent music publishers (who represent songwriters) and is building a new model record label for the growing “middle class’ of musicians around the world who are stars within niche audiences.

Having predicted music’s digital upheaval early, Kobalt has taken off as streaming music has gone mainstream across the US, Europe, and East Asia. In the final quarter of last year, it represented the artists behind 38 of the top 100 songs on U.S. radio.

Along the way, it has secured more than $ 200 million in venture funding from investors like GV, Balderton, and Michael Dell, and its valuation was last pegged at $ 800 million. It confirmed in April that it is raising another $ 100 million to boot. Kobalt Music Group now employs over 700 people in 14 offices, and GV partner Avid Larizadeh Duggan even left her firm to become Kobalt’s COO.

How did a Swedish saxophonist from the 1980s transform into a leading entrepreneur in music’s digital transformation? Why are top technology VCs pouring money into a company that represents a roster of musicians? And how has the rise of music streaming created an opening for Kobalt to architect a new approach to the way the industry works?

Gaining an understanding of Kobalt and its future prospects is a vehicle for understanding the massive change underway across the global music industry right now and the opportunities that is and isn’t creating for entrepreneurs.

This article is Part 1 of the Kobalt EC-1, focused on the company’s origin story and growth. Part 2 will look at the company’s journey to create a new model for representing songwriters and tracking their ownership interests through the complex world of music royalties. Part 3 will look at Kobalt’s thesis about the rise of a massive new middle class of popular musicians and the record label alternative it is scaling to serve them.

Table of Contents

Early lessons on the tough road of entrepreneurship

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Image via Kobalt Music

It’s tough to imagine a worse year to launch a music company than 2000. Willard Ahdritz, a Swede living in London, left his corporate consulting job and sold his home for £200,000 to fully commit to his idea of a startup collecting royalties for musicians. In hindsight, his timing was less than impeccable: he launched Kobalt just as Napster and music piracy exploded onto the mainstream and mere months before the dot-com crash would wipe out much of the technology industry.

The situation was dire, and even his main seed investor told him he was doomed once the market crashed. “Eating an egg and ham sandwich…have you heard this saying? The chicken is contributing but the pig is committed,” Ahdritz said when we first spoke this past April (he has an endless supply of sayings). “I believe in that — to lose is not an option.”

Entrepreneurial hardship though is something that Ahdritz had early experience with. Born in Örebro, a city of 100,000 people in the middle of Sweden, Ahdritz spent a lot of time as a kid playing in the woods, which also holding dual interests in music and engineering. The intersection of those two converged in the synthesizer revolution of early electronic music, and he was fascinated by bands like Kraftwerk.


TechCrunch

More than three years ago, self-driving trucks startup Starsky Robotics was founded to solve a fundamental issue with freight — a solution that CEO Stefan Seltz-Axmacher believes hinges on getting the human driver out from behind the wheel.

But a funny thing happened along the way. Starsky Robotics started a regular ol’ trucking company. Now, nearly half of the employees at this self-driving truck startup help run a business that uses the traditional model of employing human drivers to haul loads for customers, TechCrunch has learned.

Starsky’s trucking business, which has been operating in secret for nearly two years alongside the company’s more public pursuit of developing autonomous vehicle technology, has hauled 2,200 loads for customers. The company has 36 regular trucks that only use human drivers to haul freight. It has three autonomous trucks that are driven and supported by a handful of test drivers. Starsky also employs a number of office people who, as Seltz-Axmacher notes, “know how to run trucks.”

The CEO and co-founder contends that without the human-driven trucking piece, Starsky won’t ever have an operational, or profitable, self-driving truck business. The trucking business has generated revenue, led to key partnerships such as Schneider Logistics, Penske and Transport Enterprise Leasing, and importantly, helped build a company that works in the real world. It has also been a critical tool for recruiting and vetting safety drivers and teleoperators (or remote drivers), according to Seltz-Axmacher.

“The decision to have a trucking business interact with the real trucking world in parallel with developing the robotics piece is a necessary part of building a longstanding business in the space,” said Reilly Brennan, general partner at Trucks VC and the first institutional investor in Starsky.

Starksy, which was co-founded by Seltz-Axmacher and Kartik Tiwari, has raised $ 21.7 million in equity from investors including Shasta Ventures and Trucks VC.

The evolution over at Starsky illustrates the challenge that awaits the autonomous vehicle industry and the giant companies and startups operating within it. Even after engineers solve the complexity of building an AI-powered driver that’s better than a human, these companies must figure out the equally intricate task of operations. Robotaxis, autonomous delivery robots and self-driving trucks won’t matter if humans don’t use, like or trust the tech.

Figuring out the basics of operations — including the rather pedestrian and obvious ones — will mean the difference between making or losing money. Or, having a business at all.

And the stakes are high. Trucks are the backbone of the U.S. economy and moved more than 70% of all U.S. freight and generated more than $ 700 billion in 2017, according to the most up-to-date statistics available from the American Trucking Associations (ATA).

Companies pursuing robotaxis and other autonomous vehicle programs are going to eventually wake up — if they haven’t already — to the same realities that Starsky has accepted, Brennan contends.

“The interaction with the market, particularly in logistics, is vital,” Brennan said, adding that companies pursuing robotaxis that haven’t built out and tested a consumer-facing app risk the same problems. “They need to have a business on day one, not on day 720.”

For Starsky, it started with something as basic as having a working vehicle and access to mechanics that could fix it.

Trucks, the hard way

Seltz-Axmacher admits now he underestimated how difficult trucks could be.

“Hey, it’s a truck, how hard can buying one be?,” said Seltz-Axmacher, as he described the company’s first major purchase of a truck for about $ 50,000. “We quickly realized that having a truck and driving a truck are not easy things to do.”

Starsky engineers retrofitted the truck, named Rosebud, with its autonomous driving system and made plans to test it at the Thunderhill Raceway about 150 miles north of San Francisco. It didn’t make it. The truck’s engine was smoking by the time it crossed the Bay Bridge. And then the truck, along with all those engineers, sat for two weeks while Seltz-Axmacher hunted for a diesel mechanic.

Self-driving truck startup Starsky Robotics began with this first, and problematic truck

The truck, pictured above, continued to break down. The company ran into more snafus, including a problem with insurance and the title of the vehicle. Starsky was going to miss a key milestone and Seltz-Axmacher was going to have to tell investors that it wasn’t because of bottlenecks in engineering, but because they didn’t know how to manage the truck part of this self-driving truck company.

The founders learned that even “average” trucks needed to go to the shop every 60 days, which is operationally complex when vehicles are traveling throughout the United States.

Starsky ended up making a key hire, Paul Schlegel, who is a veteran of trucking operations, to organize the enterprise. Schlegel, who has 32 years in the transportation industry with companies such as Schneider National and Stevens Transport, developed the trucking business that enabled autonomous trucks, but still worked in their absence. The trucking operations team is in Dallas. 

The driver pinchpoint

Seltz-Axmacher has said repeatedly that “unless you’re getting the driver out of the truck, you’re not solving anything.”

The problem in trucking is the supply of drivers. The chronic shortage has, in turn, driven up costs. For instance, the median salary for a truckload driver working a national, irregular route was more than $ 53,000 — a $ 7,000 increase from ATA’s last survey, which covered annual pay for 2013, or an increase of 15%. It’s even higher for private fleet drivers, who saw their pay rise to more than $ 86,000 from $ 73,000, or a gain of nearly 18%.

Starksy soon found that finding the right drivers was just as hard as finding the right trucks. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration shows the company has reported three crashes of its manually driven trucks.

Seltz-Axmacher said they’ve had a driver make a wrong turn and have a low-hanging branch rip a hole in the side of a trailer. The most serious incident involved a new driver who took an offramp in Florida too fast and rolled the truck onto its side. No one was injured and the driver was terminated.

These drivers are critical to the autonomous program and the best of them end up becoming teleop controllers, a job that involves sitting in an office, not logging days and weeks in a truck.

Starsky is taking a dual approach to its autonomous trucks. It outfits regular trucks with a combination of sensors like radar and cameras along with software that allows long-haul trucks to drive autonomously on the highway. When the truck is about to exit, a trained remote operator, who is sitting in an office, takes over and navigates the truck to its final destination.

The promise of being able to be promoted to teleoperator is a big part of how Starsky is able to hire drivers effectively. The company contends it wouldn’t be possible to find 25 highly skilled safety and remote drivers without having a broader fleet of regular truck drivers to choose from.

Robotrucks or bust

The ultimate goal of Starsky Robotics hasn’t changed, Seltz-Axmacher said. To get there, the company recently hired Ain McKendrick as vice president of engineering, and former Tesla executive Keith Flynn to head up its hardware manufacturing to support Starsky’s fleet build. McKendrick, who co-founded Podtek and Lyve, also has experience at autonomous vehicle company Cyngn, Highfive, Netflix and Dell .

By early 2020, the company aims to have 25 autonomous trucks — a goal that is only possible if it has 100 regular trucks, he added.

The only way Starsky can scale its operations on the autonomous side is to continue to scale its regular trucking operations six months in advance. In other words, the regular trucking business is inextricably linked to the success of deploying autonomous trucks.

The company has already found that the 15-plus brokers that are regularly giving it freight to haul are ready for driverless trucks.

“Many times the brokers who have given us loads have been fairly ambivalent to whether or not we’re hauling that freight with a self-driving truck, Seltz-Axmacher said. “A lot of the concern that people might have is that this is a technology-averse industry and might not be willing to accept self-driving trucks has proven not to be true.”


TechCrunch

At last year’s Worldwide Developer Conference, Apple announced the new app Siri Shortcuts which allows iOS users to create custom voice commands for their apps. Today, the company unveiled a series of updates to its Siri Shortcuts app to improve the experience for users and app developers alike. It also noted the app would now come pre-installed on iOS devices as of iOS 13 instead of being offered only as a download from the App Store.

In today’s version of Siri Shortcuts, users are prompted to record their own voice command to launch a favorite app or take a specific action. For example, “order my coffee” could trigger a mobile order placed in a coffee shop’s ordering app. Developers have been able to place a button in their app to direct users to create a Shortcut as well as suggest a phrase as part of this process. However, users would have to actually go through the steps of pressing record and saying the command before they could use it.

That may have impeded some users from adopting Siri shortcuts. Maybe they were confused about the process, or didn’t want to perform the extra steps. Or maybe they tapped the “Add to Siri” button to see what it did, but weren’t in a place where they wanted to record their voice command — like in a public place, perhaps.

With the updated Siri Shortcuts, developers can suggest a voice command as before, but instead of recording it, users can opt to use it with just a tap of a button.

Apple is also responding to one of developers’ biggest requests with the introduction of parameters in Shortcuts. This will make Shortcuts more conversational, Apple explains. For example, if a user wanted to find something to cook from their preferred recipes app they could launch it via a Shortcut to see a list of their favorite recipes. When they picked a recipe from the list, it would then take the user to that recipe and start playing the cooking instructions.

This is made possible through Siri’s new ability to ask follow-up questions. If you told Siri to order takeout, for example, the assistant may ask which order you wanted.

Another new feature, also by popular request, is support for automation. This is available from a new Automations tab in the app and allows users to set when to run any Shortcut when creating a custom command in the Siri Shortcuts apps. For instance, you could configure a Shortcut to run based on time of day, when you start a workout on your Apple Watch, when you connect to CarPlay, and more.

The editor in the updated Shortcuts app now enables full configuration of an app’s actions, including the ability to pass information in or out of the action through parameters. This allows an app’s actions to be combined with others for more robust, multi-step shortcuts. In practice, this would allow users to do something like run a Shortcut for a restaurant delivery app, choose their meals, place the order, then text the whole family what’s for dinner and when it will arrive.

Siri is also getting smarter about when to suggest a shortcut to the end user which could increase user adoption, says Apple. In iOS 13, Siri can detect events in your apps and create suggestions to add them to Calendar, reminders to check in with your app, or directions when needed. This learning takes place on the device, not in the cloud, in order to protect user privacy.

The Shortcuts app itself will also have an improved gallery view in iOS 13 where you can see preconfigured shortcuts from your apps.

All the Shortcuts work across Apple’s platforms, including iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch and HomePod.

The changes to Shortcuts were announced this afternoon to developers attending Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference.

Earlier in the day, Apple also announced a new more natural voice for Siri and the ability to respond to messages via Siri using AirPods.

Google and Amazon today get a lot of attention for their voice platforms because of HomePod’s niche share of the consumer smart speaker market. But Apple today reminded the audience of Siri’s massive reach. Its intelligent assistant today has over 500 million monthly active devices making over 15 million requests, the company noted.

 


TechCrunch

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