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26 May 2022

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  • Indigov helps connect besieged lawmakers and their oft-frustrated constituents
    26 May 2022

    Republican lawmakers are facing growing anger over the deadliest mass shooting at an American school in nearly a decade yesterday, with many of their constituents expressing frustration over their repeated votes against even modest gun control reforms.

    Social media can’t solve the problem. Indigov, a three-year-old, 70-person New York-based startup, can’t solve it either, but the outfit, a service platform for public officials, can likely help. Its entire raison d’être is giving lawmakers and others a way to communicate with those who voted them into office, as well as provide more assurance to these constituents that their voices are heard — and that their emails and tweets and letters are being read by an actual human.

    How does it work? We talked with Indigov’s founder, Alex Kouts, last week, ahead of yesterday’s tragedy, and he explained Indigov’s software-as-a-service offering as a kind of multichannel communication platform with three components, all of which work together to better empower public officials to “ingest, triage, and resolve any type of request or opinion or message that comes into their office.”

    First, Indigov build websites that Kouts says are far more responsive to voters than many you might find when looking up a pubic servant. The company declines to name its customers publicly, though we were pointed to a New York congressman’s website that immediately pushes a menu to visitors, asking if they’d like to request a meeting or sign up for a newsletter or help their community, among other options.

    A second, behind-the scenes piece of Indigov’s offering is a workflow management system that receives inbound messages from email, websites, social media, and phone calls to which the company applies exact text-string matching in scouring their content, Kouts says.

    Kouts — who worked briefly at Brigade, a since shuttered civic tech startup cofounded by famed founder Sean Parker  — claims the tech is more accurate than natural language processing or machine learning, where error rates can range from 2% to 5%, which is just enough to be hugely problematic. “It could mean a constituent could receive a response that’s not appropriate and gets screenshotted and posted on Twitter and becomes a scandal,” says Kouts, adding of text-string matching that it has an error rate of “basically zero.” (He also maintains that by dramatically improving the ability for staffers to process inbound content that they can respond to constituents in “a matter of hours” and not months.)

    The third piece, according to Indigov, is simply better management of a public servant’s list of constituents so that she or he can more proactively communicate with them.

    As with any young startup, how much traction Indigov can gain remains a question mark. The young company, by our estimate, currently has hundreds of customers based on its claim that “190 million Americans are supported” through its technology.

    In the meantime, larger CRM vendors, including Salesforce, see the same opportunity that Indigov does to replace the janky legacy systems that are saddling the efforts of many public servants.

    Naturally, Kouts believes Indigov is a better fit given its growing expertise with government officials and voters. “A decent amount of large vendors are out there trying to get into space, but our customers need an enormous number of hyper-specific features, and whereas CRM systems are designed to push a customer toward buying something, the government fundamentally doesn’t do that.”

    Kouts further argues that the market Indiegov is chasing is enormous — and still wide open. He points specifically to FedRAMP, the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program created in 2011 as a way to ensure the security of cloud services used by the U.S. government, saying: “I don’t think venture capitalists or most people understand that the government, [through initiatives like FedRamp], is just now beginning to embrace cloud-based SaaS for the first time . . . there’s a window that’s just open for companies like us that are completely rewriting the script of what govtech is.”

    It’s a persuasive pitch. It seems to have worked, too. Today, Indigov is today announcing that it has garnered $25 million in Series B funding from Tusk Venture Partners, Wicklow Capital, Valor Equity Partners and earlier backer 8VC. The round brings the company’s total funding to more than $38.3 million to date.

    Asked why drew him to the deal, Bradley Tusk of Tusk Ventures notes that he previously spent over a decade working in local, state and federal government before becoming a political advisor and investor and seen a lot of companies promise to fix government. Indigov, he insists, is the “only platform I have seen that is actually providing a solution to a massive problem facing elected officials” and that “allows them to spend more time addressing individual needs of constituents.”

    They may need it more than ever after yesterday’s school shooting in Texas. Today, on social media and elsewhere, many Republican lawmakers are being taken to task, including for accepting contributions from the National Rifle Association. Among them is Senator Mitt Romney, who yesterday tweeted his “prayer and condolence” in the aftermath of the school rampage.

    Critics, including Jemele Hill, a contributor to The Atlantic, noted in response to the tweet that Romney has previously accepted more than $13 million in contributions from the NRA, according to data compiled by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

    A spokesperson for the senator said in a statement afterward that, “No one owns Senator Romney’s vote, as evidenced by his record of independence in the Senate.”

    But the statement and many others were soon overwhelmed by angry Americans who joined millions of others online to ask when the shootings will stop. Among them: NBA Coach Steve Kerr, whose own father died after being shot decades ago and whose open aggravation with pro-gun senators, during a pre-game interview, quickly went viral.

  • Unacademy tells employees to focus on profitability at all costs to ‘survive the winter’
    26 May 2022

    Unacademy, one of the high-profile Indian startups, has urged its employees to learn how to work under constraint and focus on reaching profitability as the SoftBank and Tiger Global-backed online learning platform predicts a dry funding spell across the industry for as long as 18 months.

    The online learning platform, which has raised over $800 million and was last valued at $3.44 billion in its most recent financing round in August, “always raised more money than what was needed” to “continuously experiment and grow our platform without worrying about when we will run out of money,” wrote co-founder and chief executive Gaurav Munjal in an email to the staff on Wednesday.

    “[…] But now we must change our ways,” he wrote in the email, contents of which were obtained and reviewed by TechCrunch.

    “Winter is here.”

    Munjal said he anticipates scarcity in funding for 12 to 18 months. “Some people are predicting that this might last 24 months. We must adapt. This is a test for all of us. We must learn to work under constraint. We must focus on Profitability at all Costs,” he wrote in the email, titled “A different Iconic Goal this time.”

    “We must survive the winter,” he added.

    Investors across the globe have sounded alarms in recent weeks, urging portfolio founders to plan for the “worst” amid a sharp reversal in tech stocks after a 13-year bull run. Y Combinator last week advised its startups to raise additional capital if they can to ensure they have a runway of about two years, TechCrunch first reported. Sequoia and Lightspeed have offered similar suggestions.

    Scores of startups, many of which raised capital at peak 2021 valuations, are currently struggling to raise new rounds as investors increasingly become cautious and the good old extensive due diligence makes a comeback. Several VCs who were in advanced stages of talks to back startups — across different stages — a few weeks ago are renegotiating prices.

    Edtech startups across India — and many other markets — are grappling with additional challenges as schools and other institutions open again and reverse some of the fast and wide adoption online platforms witnessed during the pandemic.

    Unacademy, Vedantu and Lido, three startups operating in the space in India, have each shrank their workforces in recent months to eliminate redundancies and improve their financial performances. Byju’s, India’s largest edtech, was attempting to go public via the SPAC route as early as last month and seeking a valuation of over $40 billion but has since postponed the plans following the market teardown, according to a source familiar with the matter.

    Munjal emphasized in the email that Unacademy’s new goal is to reach profitability and generate free cash flow. Unacademy in recent months has taken steps — such as shutting the K-12 offering and winding down some inorganic areas it had expanded to following acquisitions — to cut costs and risk exposure.

    He outlined several other steps the firm is undertaking:

    We have significantly reduced our Brand Marketing Budget

    We will focus on Organic Growth Channels instead

    Every Test Prep Category that we run must become Profitable in the next 3 months

    Unacademy Centres should be Profitable in FY’23

    Businesses like Relevel and Graphy which are Blitzscaling mode must become extremely mindful about Burn and reduce it significantly

    All incentives for Educators that are not linked to Revenue have been completely removed or are in the process of getting completely removed

    Travel only if it is absolutely needed. Meetings that save Travel cost and that can happen on Zoom should happen on Zoom

    “We can only achieve this Iconic Goal is every single one of us is working towards it,” he added.

    Gaurav Munjal, founder and chief executive of Unacademy, a high profile Indian startup, has urged employees that they "must learn to work under constraint" and "focus on profitability at all costs" in a candid email. pic.twitter.com/V0USqx3PZE

    — Manish Singh (@refsrc) May 26, 2022

  • Adinolfi returns to MarketWatch.com
    25 May 2022

    Joseph Adinolfi has returned to MarketWatch.com as a markets reporter. He spent the last five years at Zero Hedge, a well-known financial blog. Adinolfi previously worked at MarketWatch from December 2013 to June 2017...

    The post Adinolfi returns to MarketWatch.com appeared first on Talking Biz News.

  • Gardner to join Bloomberg’s White House team
    25 May 2022

    Bloomberg News reporter Akayla Gardner is joining its White House team next month. She has been a “Balance of Power” producer, a crypto reporter, and a financial regulation and investing reporter at Bloomberg. Gardner also...

    The post Gardner to join Bloomberg’s White House team appeared first on Talking Biz News.

  • Washington Post hires O’Donovan to cover Amazon, Microsoft
    25 May 2022

    Washington Post business editor Lori Montgomery, deputy business editor Damian Paletta, technology editor Christina Passariello, and deputy technology editor Laura Stevens sent out the following on Wednesday: We’re delighted to announce that Caroline O’Donovan...

    The post Washington Post hires O’Donovan to cover Amazon, Microsoft appeared first on Talking Biz News.

  • Starliner returns to Earth after a successful first trip to ISS
    25 May 2022

    Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft has successfully touched down at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico after ferrying a load of supplies to the International Space Station — its first successful orbital mission. Though not everything went exactly to plan, this success may establish Boeing as a much-needed second provider of commercial ISS launch capabilities.

    The Starliner launched last Thursday and docked with the ISS Friday, staying for a long weekend while the crew unloaded the food and other necessaries from the capsule’s interior and performed in-person checks of its systems.

    It detached earlier today and descended to an orbit where it could initiate its descent with a reentry burn. After jettisoning the service module, which provides power and propulsion during flight, it oriented its heat shield to take the brunt of the atmosphere, hitting some 3,000 degrees during descent.

    Here’s a view of Starliner’s fiery reentry from a plane tracking it at 50,000 feet:

    Starting to see views of #Starliner from @NASA's WB-57 aircraft.

    WB-57 is one of only two kinds of aircraft in which crews can fly over 50,000 feet. pic.twitter.com/TZCIGwWMYM

    — Boeing Space (@BoeingSpace) May 25, 2022

    The craft soon popped its chutes and landed on schedule and on target (a third of a mile away from the expected site, which is “basically a bullseye”) in the desert of New Mexico, where it was recovered by Boeing and NASA ground teams.

    Image Credits: Boeing / NASA / YouTube

    The spacecraft had a bit of a glitch during is ascent last week, with two maneuvering thrusters shutting down due to pressure problems, but other than that things went quite well. If Boeing can convince NASA that it’s got this issue buffed out, it could be looking at a serious opportunity going forward.

    The U.S. started the process of weaning itself off Russian Soyuz capsules years ago when it began to appear financially and politically unfeasible, and the Commercial Resupply and Commercial Crew projects were meant to produce American-made spacecraft capable of taking supplies and people to the ISS with as close to 100% safety as possible.

    SpaceX rose to the task more quickly and effectively than Boeing, which suffered the ignominy of an upstart company outperforming it handily. But while SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft has proven reliable and now makes regular trips to the ISS, we all know the risks of putting all our eggs in one basket — especially if that basket is owned by someone like Elon Musk. So although the last few years have been far from Boeing’s finest in many ways, it has been hoped that the Starliner would eventually show up as a real alternative.

    The market for taking things to space is of course enormous, and although the ISS is on its way out in the long term, there will no doubt be a successor of some kind, to say nothing of the numerous projects in the Artemis program. This has been an incredibly important step for Boeing in proving it can provide these services.

  • Data.ai: Mobile has huge lead on PC and console in consumer spend
    25 May 2022
    A new report from Data.ai shows that mobile gaming's momentum has not slowed, and it's got an even bigger lead on PC and console.Read More
  • 8th Wall is offering AR/VR developers new features and tools
    25 May 2022
    8th Wall is offering a host of new features to AR and VR developers in what feels like a huge push towards making the Metaverse workable.Read More
  • Twitter agrees to pay $150M for breaking privacy promises
    25 May 2022

    Twitter has agreed to pay $150 million as part of a settlement with regulators over allegations that the social media company misrepresented the “security and privacy” of user data over several years.

    The FTC and Department of Justice said that between May 2013 and September 2019, Twitter asked users for personal information to secure their accounts, but then used that information to target users with ads.

    This is not the first alleged violation of the FTC Act, under which, among other things, the agency is “empowered to prevent unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce.” In 2011, Twitter settled with the FTC, which had accused Twitter of serious lapses in its data security that allowed hackers to obtain unauthorized administrative control of the platform. The order prohibited misrepresentations around how Twitter maintains information like email addresses and phone numbers collected from users.

    The penalty announced today has been a couple years in the making. Twitter first warned investors in August 2020 that it was facing an FTC probe and potentially a fine of more than a hundred million dollars for both violating the FTC Act again and its 2011 settlement.

    “Specifically, while Twitter represented to users that it collected their telephone numbers and email addresses to secure their accounts, Twitter failed to disclose that it also used user contact information to aid advertisers in reaching their preferred audiences,” the complaint, which was filed by the DOJ on behalf of the FTC, said.

    The complaint said users provided email addresses or telephone numbers based on Twitter’s “deceptive statements” that such information would be used for account security, like two-step authorizations.

    “This practice affected more than 140 million Twitter users, while boosting Twitter’s primary source of revenue,” said FTC Chair Lina Khan in a statement.

    The agreement also requires Twitter to improve its compliance practices.

    Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

  • Twitter stock jumps on news that Elon Musk still wants to buy it … maybe
    25 May 2022

    Shares of Twitter are sharply higher in after-hours trading in the wake of a new U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filing detailing changes to how Elon Musk is approaching buying the company.

    In short, Musk initially indicated that he would execute a margin loan of $12.5 billion against other holdings to help finance his purchase of the social media platform. However, those have lapsed, and, per Twitter, “[c]oncurrently with the foregoing, [Elon Musk has] committed to … increase the aggregate principle amount of the equity commitment thereunder to $33.5 billion.”

    In other words, Musk now plans to front $33.5 billion in his bid to take over Twitter. The Tesla and SpaceX head is in talks with former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and others to help finance the deal or roll their shares over, according to CNBC.

    In the wake of Musk’s frenetic dealing with Twitter, what appeared to be a push to buy the company became less certain over time. After purchasing a stake in Twitter and nearly joining the company’s board, Musk pivoted to outright acquiring the platform. The transaction was complex, but it set a per-share price on Twitter stock of $54.20, valuing the company at around $44 billion.

    Musk then made a number of social media posts either disparaging the company, calling the deal off and generally causing the market to increasingly value Twitter as if the deal was kaput. It is possible to vet market confidence in a transaction by how close the company in question trades to its sale price; shares of Twitter rose to the $50 range after the deal was agreed upon but fell to the $37 mark as the transaction appeared less than certain.

    Now with more news that Musk is still working toward the transaction’s financing — though there is nuance to the filing — investors are betting with their wallets that the deal is going to go through. So, up goes Twitter’s share price in the wake of the filing — more than 5% after hours.

    That the stock is now merely back to the roughly $39 per-share threshold does indicate, however, some doubt amongst the public market that the SpaceX and Tesla CEO will actually buy the social media company. Beyond general economic headwinds, a dramatic shakeup today saw Dorsey step down from Twitter’s board and Twitter shareholders vote not to reelect Silver Lake co-CEO Egon Durban to the board. Elsewhere, Twitter agreed to pay $150 million to settle with the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission in a user-privacy case in which law enforcement officials accused the company of mishandling user data over several years.

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