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SoftBank buys into Line’s mobile service in Japan

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SoftBank is partnering up with messaging app Line to help develop its Line Mobile telecom service.

Line announced that it has agreed to allow SoftBank to take a 51 percent in the business via an issuance of new shares. The deal is expected to close by March.

From the documents, its mobile business was originally capitalized at around $15 million (1.7 billion JPY) but a company spokesperson told TechCrunch that discussions remain ongoing around the valuation for SoftBank’s investment — in other words: it could be higher. The firm will, however, take a 51 percent stake, the spokesperson confirmed.

It’s certainly an odd relationship given that SoftBank is first and foremost a telecom company itself. This alliance may be a case of the company hedging its bets with a younger, more trendy brand. The market for MVNOs has boomed in Japan after the government relaxed regulations around handsets in early 2017. Rakuten’s MVNO claims to be Japan’s top MVNO with 1.4 million customers. Line does not reveal figures for its service.

Line Mobile’s premise in Japan is simplicity. The service claims to be easy to use, and it allows unlimited data for Line services and prominent social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Line also launched a mobile service in Thailand, one of its major markets, through a partnership with Telenor’s DTAC operator unit.

It’s been a busy day for Line. In addition to its latest earnings report, the company announced plans to add crypto trading and loans/insurance services to its chat app.

The company, which is listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange and on the New York Stock Exchange, said it made a profit of 8.078 billion JPY (approximately $75 million) on total revenue of 167.147 billion JPY, $1.5 billion, in 2017. Those figures are up 19.4 percent and 18.8 percent, respectively.

Line said the number of monthly active users in Japan, Indonesia, Taiwan and Thailand — its four largest markets — stands at 167.5 million combined. That’s up just one million year-on-year and down slightly on 168 million in the quarter previous. The company doesn’t provide a figure for all users worldwide.

Post updated to explain that Line Mobile was capitalized at around $15 million (1.7 billion JPY) not valued at that amount

Featured Image: Lee Jin-man/AP

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Actress Maisie Williams to launch Daisie, a social app for talent discovery and collaboration

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Actress Maisie Williams, best known for her role as Arya Stark on Game of Thrones, is the latest celeb to venture into tech entrepreneurship, with the launch of a new company aimed at connecting creatives, called Daisie. Available later this summer as a mobile app, Daisie will offer a platform where creators can network, like, share and collaborate on projects within a social networking setting.

The overall goal is to help newcomers gain exposure for their work while connecting them with others who can provide guidance as they continue their careers.

Williams, who advocates for women’s rights, also sees Daisie as something that could give women in the creative community the ability to promote their own work and be discovered in a more appropriate way than is often the case today.

This speaks to the sea change underway in the creative industry, where people are rapidly dismantling the old ways of doing things; and where the abusers who took advantage of the old system are being called out for things like sexual harassment and abuse, and losing their jobs.

In that light, the launch of an alternative network for talent discovery and collaboration seems especially relevant.

“I couldn’t be happier about the change we are currently seeing in creative industries and the movement towards women becoming truly valued,” said Maisie Williams, in a statement about the app’s development.

“I want Daisie to give other creatives the opportunities that I was lucky enough to receive at the beginning of my career. Daisie will break down the archaic gap between youth and creative jobs; offering new opportunities for individuals to collaborate, learn and create – establishing a new way for talented individuals to be discovered and employed,” she said.

The company, which is co-founded by film producer Dom Santry, also aims to address the issues of trying to use existing social media sites, like Facebook, for self-promotion purposes.

“Social media can be a very lonely place, and somewhere that doesn’t necessarily inspire collaboration or foster meaningful connections,” explained Santry. “It’s very easy for creative voices to get lost in platforms riddled with ads and unimportant content; we’re hoping to eradicate these, providing a focused, industry specific platform.”

The app’s development is still in its early stages, the company tells us.

The technology team, led by U.K.-based Tim Novis, is only 4 months into a 10-month build, to give you an idea of its progress. The expectation is that Daisie will be ready to launch in the App Store and online by August, 2018.

The company is also working with WME to put together a talent roster who will be participating in Daisie at launch. Some of those people will be confirmed by March. (Daisie’s team is actually flying to L.A. in February to lock in names, we understand).

In addition to building a social network for talent discovery and collaboration, Daisie aims to generate revenue in almost Tinder-like fashion.

The app will offer a “Plus” program that opens up locked areas of its site and allow the use of additional features, like the ability to toggle on or off a “looking for work” setting, for example.

But neither the website nor app will display advertising.

The app has another advantage for Williams and Santry, too.

It may be a potential source of new talent for their U.K. production company Daisy Chain Productions, which was founded along with Bill Milner. The company has a similar goal to Daisie, in fact: projects with a focus on youth and talent development, as ScreenDaily reported last fall.

Santry will lead Daisie as CEO, managing its day-to-day operations.

However, the company will give the network time to grow before tapping into Daisie’s creator community for its own ends. For the first six months, there will be “no visible synergies” between Daisie and Daisy Chain Productions, the company told TechCrunch.

Afterwards, the two will come together to create content by selecting the most talented individuals on the site.

Given that Daisie is not yet available, the website is currently accepting email sign-ups to be alerted about its launch.

Image credit – Maisie Williams (lead photo): Kerry Hallihan

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Polymail looks to unify business email tools into a single web app

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If you’re more of a Gmail power user (or even semi-power user) and other email services geared toward work, you’ve probably installed plenty of plugins like Rapportive to make your job a little bit easier.

And while it’s all fine to try to pull together a suite of plugins to make that a little bit easier, a startup called Polymail is hoping to rope that all into a single hub that will suit the needs of marketers and other businesses without having to piece together all of the bits from external tools. Polymail, which was previously a Mac app, said it’s launching a web version today as it looks to enter some kind of parity with those services and move beyond just a niche application that might have some use cases.

“The first iteration was as an email client, which we knew had to be a native desktop experience,” co-founder Brandon Foo said. “Our long-term vision for Polymail has always been to extend the inbox into a business and team communication platform, and so to achieve that we had become cross-platform for both Windows and Mac users. By far the biggest driver was the demand we’ve seen from Windows and PC users since we launched Polymail for Mac. There was also the need for users to access Polymail from any device without having to install a desktop app.”

Polymail started off as a Mac app, but by expanding to being a web app, it sets it up for a wider audience accustomed to typical email services like GMail and other email marketing tools. The service brings together the kinds of products you have come to expect as a marketer or salesperson at a company, like tracking engagement with email and calendar functions. While born as a native app, most email users — whether that’s for typical email use cases or actual marketing tools — are probably used to working through a web interface so they can flip between platforms whenever they need, which seemed like it would initially hamper Polymail’s potential growth.

“We’ve seen quite a few email-related tools over the past few years, but we believe the market is still highly fragmented,” Foo said. “Businesses still have to rely on multiple point solutions from several different vendors to solve the problem they need, and in many cases, they don’t integrate well and end up costing a lot. With Polymail, companies can unify their entire email and sales communication workflow with one platform.”

There’s still something to be said about focusing on simplicity, which has led to the success of plenty of Silicon Valley darlings like Slack. Instead of putting together a patchwork service loaded up with multiple tools, some businesses may find it easier to just go to a single service that picks all the best and most useful ones and bundles them into a clean interface. That’s kind of the promise of Slack — which adds new features in a drip-drip-drip way as it at times hesitates to try to move away from the core simple experience.

But at the same time, there is definitely a graveyard of startups that have tried to re-invent the experience of email. While you’ve probably heard more about them on the consumer side, like Sparrow or Mailbox, the point is that it’s hard to rip users away from an experience they are very familiar with. That’s obviously a big challenge for Foo and Polymail, but the startup has focused on a business-first model from day one and that’s what will help it potentially survive that early hump of getting users.

“All of the email apps that were acquired and shut down were consumer-focused and never developed a strong business model,” he said. “Polymail is a software-as-a-service company first — our vision is to make Polymail the platform for external business communication, just as how Slack has become the platform for internal business communication. Email is the most relevant form of external business communication today, so that’s the starting point for us, but our platform will continue to expand to serve the needs of our customers.”

Polymail came out of Y Combinator’s summer 2016 batch. The company says it has 2,800 customers since launching in December 2016, including professionals and teams at Uber.

Featured Image: focusphotoart

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Facebook survives Q4 despite slowest daily user growth ever

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Despite worries about Russia and that passive News Feed scrolling hurts us, Facebook beat expectations again in its Q4 2017 earnings report. Facebook now has 1.4 billion daily users, up 2.18% compared to growing 3.8% to 1.37 billion users in Q3. That’s a sizeable slow down, and the lowest quarter-over-quarter percentage daily user growth ever reported by the company.

That could be because CEO Mark Zuckerberg says Facebook made changes including showing fewer viral videos “that reduced time spent on Facebook by roughly 50 million hours every day.” That equates to 2.14 minutes per daily user per day, or 5% of total time spent on Facebook. The viral video changes triggered Facebook’s first-ever decline in daily active users in the US & Canada region, which saw a 700,000 user decline.

Facebook reached $12.97 billion in revenue with $2.21 adjusted GAAP earnings per share if you don’t count a massive tax it had to pay on overseas cash that translated into a $0.77 reduction in EPS. Without that tax, it beat Wall Street’s estimates of $12.55 billion in revenue and $1.95 EPS, but with it reported $1.44 EPS.

Facebook’s monthly user count is now at 2.13 billion, up 3.39% from 2.06 billion in Q3 compared to 3.19% growth that quarter, so the monthly user growth sped up even as daily user growth slowed. Yet Facebook’s stickiness, or the percentage of monthly users that come back daily, held strong at 66% where it’s been since 2015. That shows people are still avidly returning to the site even if they spend less time there.

Average revenue per user climbed to $6.18, up 27% from a year ago. Average revenue was up 47% year-over-year, even though Facebook has been warning investors that it’s running out of space in the News Feed to put ads. Facebook raked in a record $4.26 billion in profit, down from $4.7 billion the previous quarter due to that big tax. Facebook’s share price was down at first down a steep 4% in after-hours trading, but now is up over 3%.

[Updates from the earnings call: Facebook announced that WhatsApp now has 1.5 billion monthly users, up from 1.3 billion in July. It announced a 700,000 daily user decline in the US & Canada due to reducing viral video visibility. Zuckerberg said he’s directed his company to priortize not the most meaningful content, but the content that drives the most meaningful interaction. Facebook’s research suggests total Story posting across apps will overtake feed posting.]

Overall, the results show how divorced Facebook’s user behavior is from the day-to-day news coverage blasting it for allowing Russian interference in US elections and for making us unhealthy zombie browsers. ComScore and Nielsen claim time spent on Facebook per U.S. user is declining, and that showed up in the daily user count growth. And Facebook purposefully made changes leading to its first ever decline of daily users in the US. But Facebook seems to be making up for that in international monthly user growth and squeezing more dollars out of each ad.

With the Snapchat threat largely neutralized via Instagram, Facebook’s biggest enemy is itself. Now it has to work to preemptively disarm any future privacy crises or other scandals, and co-opt the “Time Well Spent” rallying call before it becomes a “Time to leave Facebook” movement.

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Facebook’s U.S. user count declines as it prioritizes well-being

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Facebook is putting its short-term money where its mouth is, reducing the presence of viral videos in an effort to boost well-being of users of its site. In Facebook’s Q4 2017 earnings report today CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that “Already last quarter, we made changes to show fewer viral videos to make sure people’s time is well spent. In total, we made changes that reduced time spent on Facebook by roughly 50 million hours every day.”

That’s a reduction of roughly 2.14 minutes per day per user, given that Facebook has 1.4 billion users now. Zuckerberg later said that’s a reduction of total time spent on Facebook by 5 percent.

This showed up as a reduction from 185 million to 184 million daily active users in the US & Canada region. That’s the first time Facebook’s ever reported a user count decline in any market, and it’s in the one where it earns the most from ads. Facebook earned an average revenue per user of $26.76 in the region compared to a global average of $6.18.

What happened? The viral video changes and other prioritization of well-being over time spent contributed to a reduction of 700,000 daily active users in the U.S. and Canada region. Facebook’s CFO David Wehner says he believes this is a one-time decline and not a trend. That could depend on how many time-reducing changes Facebook is willing to make, however.

Here’s the key quote from Wehner:

As Mark mentioned, certain product quality changes impacted our DAU growth. In the US & Canada, these changes contributed to a DAU decline of 700,000 compared to Q3. We don’t see this as an ongoing trend, but we do anticipate that DAU in this region may fluctuate given the relatively high penetration level.

Even if Facebook hadn’t lost the 700,000 daily users in the U.S. and Canada, the company would still have had the slowest quarter-over-quarter percentage daily user growth ever, at 2.24 percent. The 2.18 percent growth it did experience is much lower than its previous worst quarters, Q4 2015 and Q4 2016, when it had 3 percent growth.

It’s the slower global DAU growth, not the changes-related decline in the US & Canada that should give investors and social marketers pause.

Still, once Facebook explained that U.S. and Canada DAU decline wasn’t a trend but a result of the viral video and well-being changes, Facebook’s share price rocketed up from being down as much as -4 percent in after-hours trading to around +4 percent. Eventually Facebook shares settled at +1.4 percent. Investors may believe this means Facebook won’t be taking massive user count hits from the changes, and that the overall growth trend persists.

Facebook is making good on the promises Zuckerberg made on last quarter’s earnings call when he said “Protecting our community is more important than maximizing our profits.” It shows Facebook is executing on the big News Feed changes it announced earlier this month that were designed to reduce passive browsing, video consumption and news in favor of active interactions with close friends.

Today Zuckerberg explained that he’s changed the directive to his employees from showing the most meaningful content to people to showing content that drives the most meaningful interactions. That’s a subtle but important change that could decrease the prevalence of content people find informative or entertaining, but not special enough to share and talk about. Zuckerberg says the company will begin to judge itself by “The number of interactions that people have on the platform and off the platform that people report to us as meaningful.”

Facebook’s willingness to promote user well-being over its bottom line is unusual amongst big corporations. Some see it as an act of compassion. Others believe it’s just a long-term strategy designed to prevent a bigger “ditch Facebook” movement from emerging that could cost it a lot more than the time-spent reduction announced today.

But for now, investors trust the company will be able to make a more meaningful, less passive News Feed work. Less time spent could mean fewer ad impressions but deeper engagement which everything people see which might increase auction competition and lead to higher ad prices. Zuckerberg explained this saying that if you’re used to meaningless content, you grow accustomed to skipping stuff in your News Feed, and that can translate over to ads.

So, Facebook might actually earn just as much money or more by ditching its reliance on the blank-eyed scrolling addiction of its users.

For more on Facebook’s struggle with Time Well Spent, check out our feature piece: “The difference between good and bad Facebooking.”

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WhatsApp hits 1.5 billion monthly users. $19B? Not so bad.

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Facebook’s $19 billion acquisition of WhatsApp sounds smarter and smarter. CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced on the Q4 2017 earnings call today that WhatsApp now has 1.5 billion users and sees 60 billion messages sent per day. That’s compared to 1.3 billion monthly users and 1 billion daily active users in July.

The massive growth makes Facebook’s choice to pay more than $19 billion to acquire WhatsApp look prescient. At the time in 2014, WhatsApp had just 450 million monthly active users and 315 million daily active users.

In a slight to Snapchat, Zuckerberg also noted that Instagram and WhatsApp are the No. 1 and No. 2 most popular Story-sharing products, referring to those apps’ clones of Snapchat Stories. Each now each has 300 million daily active users, compared to 178 million on Snapchat as a whole. He also mentions that Facebook’s research suggests that across apps, total social media posting to Stories will soon exceed that of feed posting.

People thought Facebook was crazy to pay such a high price. But messaging is the most critical and time-consuming activity on mobile. And if Facebook didn’t buy WhatsApp, Google probably would have, and messaging would be a two-horse race. Instead, Facebook is massively dominant everywhere but China, between the 1.3 billion-user Messenger and 1.5 billion-user WhatsApp.

Now Facebook is finally getting serious about monetizing WhatsApp with the recent launch of the WhatsApp for Business app. Facebook plans to charge business owners for additional commerce, customer service or broadcasting tools. And with such a massive audience, merchants will be clamoring for them.

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Mobile delivers high exit multiples despite broader market slowdown

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In the world of mobile apps, numbers come in two sizes: big and bigger.

More than one billion people use Facebook’s mobile app every day. Instagram — another Facebook property — has well over 100 million photos and videos uploaded to the platform every 24 hours. And untold millions of emails, instant messages, small financial transactions and other interactions are facilitated by mobile devices every day.

But what about the financial side of the mobile business; specifically, venture investment and returns? All of that activity should bring in some considerable revenue, and a lot of startups are seeking a niche in this expansive ecosystem. By taking a look at the numbers behind two different ends of the startup life cycle — seed and early-stage funding on one side and exits on the other — a reasonable understanding of the mobile market today can be had.

In doing so, we’ll see just how much money has gone to startups in the mobile sector, and the (often good) returns they generate for investors.

Early-stage venture investment in mobile may be a bright spot

In prior coverageCrunchbase News explored the performance of U.S. venture funding, and, at least as far as seed and early-stage investment goes, 2017 was not a great year.

At the early stage, which consists of Series A and Series B rounds, deal and dollar volume is down from highs set around 2015. And while we’ve asserted that this trend is widespread, there are bright spots in the early-stage market. Mobile may be one of them.

In the chart below, we display seed and early-stage funding round data for startups in Crunchbase’s “mobile” category group from 2007 through the end of 2017.

This broad group includes companies in a number of categories, encompassing everything from mobile payments and mobile health apps to iOS, Android and, yes, even Windows Phone and Palm OS. And despite declines in overall deal volume (mostly attributable to reporting delays), the pullback from 2015 highs haven’t been as precipitous as other categories or the market as a whole.

Since 2012, the average seed or early-stage round in Crunchbase’s mobile category group has been on the upswing, according to reported data.

Emerging industries may be driving growth in round size

Part of the increase may be driven by the types of companies that are being funded.

One of the main trends over the past several years is the emergence and growth of mobile-facilitated “sharing economy” services. Sure, most of us are familiar with ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft, but the market has grown to include a much wider array of services.

A vibrant and highly competitive market for dockless bikes emerged seemingly out of thin air, as Crunchbase News has previously covered. Just in the last quarter of 2017, LimeBike raised $50 million in its Series B at a pre-money valuation of $175 million, and China-based Mobike raised an as-yet-unknown amount of private equity funding from LINE, the Japanese mobile messaging company.

Other mobile-focused apps in the sharing economy are gaining traction too. Hyr, a “marketplace that connects traditional businesses with workers to fill hourly paid shifts, on demand,” recently closed a $1.3 million seed round. And at the intersection of “the real world” and mobile, San Francisco-based Omni, which helps its users store and rent out their extra stuff, closed a $25 million Series B in January 2018.

And apart from the sharing economy companies, there’s also been a fair bit of investor interest in enterprise applications designed around mobile. For example, Peerfit, a Tampa-based company that aims to “redefine corporate wellness programs,” raised $10.3 million in a Series B round announced in January. On the cybersecurity front, HYPR Corp closed a $10 million Series A to fuel the growth of its mobile-based biometric authentication business.

Sharing economy and enterprise startups also share a common thread: they’re expensive to get started.

On the sharing economy side, it takes a lot of capital to build the supply and demand sides of a marketplace. Meanwhile, enterprise startups have to contend with long sales cycles and stricter requirements from their prospective customers. With a greater prevalence of capital-intensive sharing economy and enterprise startups in the mobile funding mix, it shouldn’t be surprising that the mobile category continues to fare better than others.

The economics of mobile are conducive to massive exit multiples

Venture investors often talk about investing in companies that will deliver a 10x return on invested capital. It goes without saying that doing so, and doing so consistently, is a challenge.

Recently, Crunchbase News surveyed the landscape of large “exits” and found that the life sciences offer a fairly deep pool of opportunities for large exit multiples. But the ratio of valuation to invested capital (VIC) for many of the deals highlighted in that article pale in comparison to some of the multiples to be found in mobile.

Below, we’ve highlighted just a few of the biggest M&A deals, in terms of exit multiples, to come out of the mobile sector. These companies were founded between 2003 and the present, known as the unicorn era.

Just like Crunchbase News’s earlier survey of exit multiples found that the mix of tech companies was surprisingly diverse, so too are the businesses in the table above.

However, one company connects two of these deals. Through a series of acquisitions, Facebook repositioned itself from a primarily desktop-based social network to being mobile-first. In the process, Facebook has become one side of a duopoly in mobile advertising. According to financial data compiled by Statista, Facebook’s mobile ad revenue went from basically $0 in 2012 to $8.92 billion by the end of 2017. Desktop ad revenue — some $1.2 billion — remained largely flat over the same period.

Although many believed that the $1 billion acquisition price for Instagram was far too high, Facebook raked in $4.1 billion in revenue from Instagram ads in 2017. Now that’s a multiple!

Why the decent funding and exit multiples?

As shown, the mobile sector produced some exits with very good multiples on invested capital, which is good for investors and entrepreneurs alike. The category also outperforms the general market.

So what makes the mobile category special? A few factors may be at play here. Shifts to more capital-intensive startups are being made. As far as exits go, some of the biggest came from companies with a more traditional software business model, one involving a large up-front investment of time and financial resources to build, but close to zero marginal costs to maintain and near-infinite potential to scale up.

But there is another factor to keep in mind. A few years ago, investors and the tech press were abuzz with excitement about mobile. Now that the fervor over the mobile sector has dimmed in terms of press, more exciting sectors like artificial intelligence, blockchain and others seem to be the center of attention lately. And while that may sound like a bad thing, it isn’t.

It’s not that mobile got any less exciting; it’s just become as common as the air.

Featured Image: Li-Anne Dias

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Prodigy raises $5.4M to unify the in-store and online car-buying experience

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If you’ve ever tried to buy a car, there’s a good chance that a lot of your research has shifted online as it’s become easier and easier to figure out exactly the kind of car you want — and less of it is about going to a dealership.

At least, that’s what Michia Rohrssen is baking on. He and his co-founders started Prodigy, a company based on extending that same kind of experience you have researching cars online to the actual dealership itself. Instead of walking into a dealership knowing exactly what you want, Prodigy aims to make that part of the experience as well by creating a service that customers use online and salespeople use on-site to help a buyer discover the right car for them. So, for example, customers might want to come in and try a few things out, and then go home and continue to research. Prodigy today said it has raised $5.4 million in a seed round led by 8VC, Battery Ventures, SV Angel and CrunchFund.

“Car buying habits are changing — you have customers visiting 1.6 dealerships down from 6 dealerships,” Rohrssen said. “Those customers are doing an average of 18 hours to 20 hours of research before going in. When they get there they’ve done so much research chances are they know more than the salesperson does. The consumer has changed significantly over the last 5-10 years, yet the dealership hasn’t changed much. Our mission from day one was, we want to build software that equips dealers with the tech they need to handle these customer changes and deliver.”

Like so many other startups, getting here was more of a discovery process for Prodigy, which started off as just focusing online. Rohrssen said this serviced a niche-within-a-niche part of the sales component for dealerships, but they found that a few were running it on iPads internally and kind of bending the service to work toward the way it does now. So they went back to the drawing board with that information and ended up with the result here.

The other goal was to unify the whole sales process into a single unit, while dealerships are used to jumping from six to eight different services. To test that, dealerships brought in fresh salespeople — who weren’t accustomed to the traditional process — and equipped them with iPads to see if it worked. So far the results have at least piqued the interest of a handful of dealerships, Rohrssen said,

“It’s worse now because [the customer] spent time doing an online purchase but nothing is synchronized,” he said. “The car isn’t ready. What we found is that if you want to help dealers evolve and succeed in retail you have to support in-store and online. Salespeople can do an entire deal from start to finish on those iPads. The customer can also do that online with our online sales platform. The two are totally linked. That’s a big advantage — you can start online and finish in store.”

With such an in-depth and complex experience, Prodigy may eventually hit a scaling issue. The team has to go in and deploy the tools themselves, as well as educate salespeople and dealerships on how to use it, Rohrssen said. And because it seems like low-hanging fruit, there’s always the constant challenge of fending off potential competitors. But as car-buyers looks to shift most of their behavior online, figuring out the best way to reconcile that in-store experience to line up with new car-buying habits is a sweet spot that dealerships have been trying to solve for a while — and like many industries, the dealership industry is a pretty tight one for personnel, he said, which means the firm has an opportunity to tap into that word-of-mouth.

Of course, all this would be moot if the whole in-person dealership experience is going to be dead in a few years. That’s the promise of some companies like Shift, where you can do all your research online and then just buy the car through that platform. But at the same time, a big startup like Beepi shut down, and there seems to be an opportunity to capitalize on keeping that in-person experience with an expert alive and making it more efficient, Rohrssen said.

“It’s probably the same as most software-as-a-service companies in that there’s always gonna be competitors and always people announcing the funding and big names,” Rohrssen said. “There’s gonna be competitors that come out of the woodwork, and I think ultimately with those software-as-a-service businesses, what determines success is customer happiness and emphasizing happy customers and reference customers. That’s one of the unique things about the dealer industry, although it’s rather fragmented everyone knows each other.”

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Medumo tries working out how to best nudge patients to prepare for procedures

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Medumo co-founder Adeel Yang has plenty of first-hand experience dealing with cancellations for procedures and appointments as a physician — but it’s been a problem that’s a deceptively hard to solve.

So Yang and his co-founders decided to start Medumo to address the problem they’ve seen so often themselves. The company’s main goal is to reduce procedure cancellations the day of, which can be costly both for the patient and also for the medical facilities and all parties involved. But those cancellations can be a result of, for examples, patients simply forgetting they aren’t supposed to eat for a while before the procedure. Even something as simple as getting your wisdom teeth taken out requires skipping the food and water in the morning, but habits baked into the way we work can easily make us forget — making that little nudge even more important. Medumo is launching out of Y Combinator’s winter 2018 class.

“When the patients forget to do critical tasks before a procedure or surgery, they have to be canceled last-minute, which costs a hospital lots of money or they have to get rescheduled or delay the process,” Yang said. “The worst situation is when a patient is poorly prepared but still goes through the surgery or procedure and as a result they have poor outcomes. Based on that experience we knew we wanted to do something to improve the way the instructions were delivered to patients. Tech was one way, but another way is to really understand how patients were receiving information based on their different characteristics.”

Part of Medumo’s pitch is figuring out how patients engage with the content that prepares them for a procedure. Medumo will try a variety of different approaches, even going down to text messaging, to figure out which ones the patient is actually paying attention. It then learns over time not only which methods were most effective for that patient, but which ones are best for patients in general.

“The key here is it’s a combination of demographic and medical variables and engagement variables,” Yang said. “Over time because we’re sending lots of different touch points to patients, we’re collecting results on how these patients respond to different messages like what lengths are they clicking on. Those are the engagement variables that only we have and only we can collect. This is not something readily available in the patient’s chart. It’s the data that has to be built up over time.”

That can easily extend to a lot of different procedures and post-procedure care, where some of the rigorous steps a physician provides could sometimes just go forgotten, Yang said. Right now the firm is focusing on common high-volume procedures like endoscopy or colonoscopy, but it’s not hard to see that it could begin expanding to other kinds of preparation. There’s already a lot of content and best practices out there, and the key bit is about the delivery and actually getting patients to follow those practices, Yang said.

To be sure, there are a lot of patient outreach startups like HealthGrid out there looking to reduce hospitalizations — which is the kind of low-hanging fruit that’s attractive for a startup like Medumo. So it could be easy to see that a class of startups in this space could quickly become a graveyard if it’s a race to create the best content or get the first big install base and big insurance or healthcare providers decide to jump in. But Yang’s hope is that by figuring out how to engage with those patients, rather than just figuring out what’s most engaging, is the problem that will make it competitive enough.

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Google’s data-friendly app YouTube Go expands to over 130 countries, now supports higher quality videos

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YouTube Go, a mobile version of YouTube built for emerging markets with features like offline viewing and nearby sharing, is today expanding to over 130 countries worldwide. This wider rollout will make YouTube Go available to a large number of people who want the ability to watch YouTube videos, even if they don’t have a good connection, or find themselves offline.

The list of new countries includes those in Central and South America, the Middle East, Africa, the Caribbean, Asia, and elsewhere.

The app was first introduced in September 2016, before launching into beta last spring.

Like other apps designed for emerging markets, YouTube Go includes a suite of features that take in consideration the high costs of data, poor signal strength, and the prevalent use of SD cards on Android devices.

For starters, the app lets users control their playback experience by selecting lower quality streams when on slower connections, or they can opt to save videos for playback when they’re offline. This offline play feature allows users to download YouTube videos to their phone or an SD card. (You can also view a video preview before deciding to download.)

Another clever feature is YouTube Go’s sharing feature that allows you to show videos to friends nearby – another way YouTube Go works around devices’ that don’t have a reliable connection.

This feature first locates the friend’s phone using Bluetooth and BLE for discovery and establishing a connection, then uses Wi-Fi Hotspot (the feature on your phone) and Wi-Fi Direct for transfer. Explains YouTube, the app establishes a secure wireless channel between two phones using established wireless and encryption protocols. The receiver then downloads a unique decryption key from YouTube’s servers before the video can be played back in the YouTube app.

However, the company tell us it’s always experimenting with protocols and may choose to use different ones in the future to provide “the fastest, most reliable and secure connections to the broadest range of devices.”

In addition, the YouTube Go app’s home screen highlights videos in that are popular locally, and is presented in the users’ language.

YouTube Go’s first market was India, but its reach later expanded to 14 other countries last year, including Indonesia, Nigeria, Thailand, and others.

With today’s launch, the company says it made a few design tweaks based on these early users’ feedback.

Now, YouTube Go allows users to choose the option to download, stream or share videos in High Quality, in addition to basic and standard quality, for those times when a strong signal is available – like when connected to a good Wi-Fi network, for example.

It also made the “share nearby” feature easier to access and added the ability for users to share multiple videos at once.

The app improved its personalized recommendations, too. Now, users can pull down on the home screen for new recommendations, and will be alerted when their favorite channels add new videos.

YouTube Go is available in the Google Play Store here.

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