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Chaka opens up global investing to Africa’s most populous nation

Fintech startup Chaka aims to open up online investingd to Africa’s most populous nation, Nigeria.

The seed-stage company recently went live with its mobile-based platform that offers Nigerians stock trading in over 40 countries.

Chaka positions itself as a passport to local and global investing. The startup has created an API and interface that allows Nigerians with a bank account (and who meet KYC requirements) to create trading accounts to purchase global blue chip and local Nigerian stocks.

Investors can get started with as little as 1000 Naira or $10 to create a local and global wallet to trade, according to Chaka founder and CEO Tosin Osibodu.

The platform has partnerships with two brokers to facilitate stock purchases: Citi Investment Capital and U.S. based DriveWealth.

“Embedded in our offer is the ability to buy on the local stock market…we make it more seamless than usual, and assets…from this whole universe outside the continent,” said Osibodu.

The Nigerian Stock Exchange has been upgrading its platform to digitize and accommodate more listings. It has a five-year partnership with NASDAQ and Airtel Africa listed on the NSE in July. 

On the Chaka’s addressable market, “Our outlook is that within Nigeria…between one and two million people are strongly in the market for this product,” Osibodu said.

Tosin Osibodu

Chaka looks to offer more than stocks. “Our product road-map includes not just equities, but other investment products people are interested in — mutual funds, fixed income products, and eventually even cryptocurrencies — so that really expands our bounds,” said Osibodu.

Chaka’s fee structure is 100 Naira (or 3%) for local trades and $4.00 for global trades.

To mitigate the FX risk of the often volatile Nigerian Naira, the startup converts locally to dollars and funds client trades in USD. Chaka agrees to intra-day forward rates at 9am each day and locks them in until 2pm for transactional activity on its platform, according to Osibodu

Chaka hasn’t disclosed amounts, but confirms its has received pre-seed funding from Nigerian founder and investor Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, aka E.

The startup is in a unique position in African fintech. The sector receives the bulk of the continent’s VC (according WeeTracker), but most of it is directed toward P2P payments startups — vs. personal investment platforms.

An alum of U-Penn and Dartmouth, Chaka’s founder got the idea to form the venture, in part, due to challenges attempting to access well-known trading platforms, such as E-Trade.

“I tried to open these accounts and whenever I…disclosed I was Nigerian very shortly after those accounts were closed or denied,” said Osibodu. 

For decades, Nigeria has been known as an originating country for online fraud, commonly referred to as 419 scams. This is something for which the country’s legitimate business operators pay an undue reputational cost, according to Osibodu. 

In recent years, Nigeria has also become a magnet for legitimate business in Africa. The country has the continent’s leading movie and entertainment industry and has emerged as a hotspot for startup formation and VC activity.

Chaka backer Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, who confirmed his investment in the company to TechCrunch, believes progressive trends in Nigeria will open up a new investor class.

In addition to Aboyeji, Chaka has also received seed-funds from Microtraction, a Lagos located early-stage investment shop founded by Yele Bademosi and supported by Y-Combinator CEO Michael Seibel.

Chaka allows for API integrations and has a developer team. The company has created an automated customer verification process. “It sounds trivial compared to the American market, but it’s a bit of a first in Nigeria,” said CEO Tosin Osibodu.

On Chaka’s long-game, “The grand mission of the company is to reduce capital market access barriers,” cording to Osibodu.

“With a two to five million customer base — and a $40 to $200 ARPU — on the really conservative end that’s a $100 million revenue opportunity,” he said.

Source: TechCrunch
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Google Is Slurping Up Health Data—and It Looks Totally Legal

Last week, when Google gobbled up Fitbit in a $2.1 billion acquisition, the talk was mostly about what the company would do with all that wrist-jingling and power-walking data. It’s no secret that Google’s parent Alphabet—along with fellow giants Apple and Facebook—is on an aggressive hunt for health data. But it turns out there’s a cheaper way to get access to it: Teaming up with healthcare providers.

On Monday, the Wall Street Journal reported details on Project Nightingale, Google’s under-the-radar partnership with Ascension, the nation’s second-largest health system. The project, which reportedly began last year, includes sharing the personal health data of tens of millions of unsuspecting patients. The bulk of the work is being done under Google’s Cloud division, which has been developing AI-based services for medical providers.

Google says it is operating as a business associate of Ascension, an arrangement that can grant it identifiable health information, but with legal limitations. Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, better known as HIPAA, patient records and other medical details can be used “only to help the covered entity carry out its healthcare functions.” A major aspect of the work involves designing a health platform for Ascension that can suggest individualized treatment plans, tests, and procedures.

The Journal says Google is doing the work for free with the idea of testing a platform that can be sold to other healthcare providers, and ostensibly trained on their respective datasets. In addition to the Cloud team, Google employees with access include members of Google Brain, which focuses on AI applications.

Dianne Bourque, an attorney at the legal firm Mintz who specializes in health law, says HIPAA, while generally strict, is also written to encourage improvements to healthcare quality. “If you’re shocked that your entire medical record just went to a giant company like Google, it doesn’t make you feel better that it’s reasonable under HIPAA,” she says. “But it is.”

The federal healthcare privacy law allows hospitals and other healthcare providers to share information with its business associates without asking patients first. That’s why your clinic doesn’t get permission from you to share your information with its cloud-based electronic medical record vendor.

HIPAA defines the functions of a business associate quite broadly, says Mark Rothstein, a bioethicist and public health law scholar at the University of Louisville. That allows healthcare systems to divulge all sorts of sensitive information to companies patients might not expect, without ever having to tell them. In this case, Rothstein says, Google’s services could be seen as “quality improvement,” one of HIPAA’s permitted uses for business associates. But he says it’s unclear why the company would need to know the names and birthdates of patients to pull that off. Each patient could instead have been assigned a unique number by Ascension so that they remained anonymous to Google.

“The fact that this data is individually identifiable suggests there’s an ultimate use where a person’s identity is going to be important,” says Rothstein. “If the goal was just to develop a model that would be valuable for making better-informed decisions, then you can do that with deidentified data. This suggests that’s not exactly what they’re after.”

In fact, according to Bourque, Google would have to anonymize the information before it could be used to develop machine learning models it can sell in other contexts. Given the potential breadth of the data, one of the biggest remaining questions is whether Ascension has given the tech giant permission to do so.

Tariq Shaukat, president of industry products for Google Cloud, wrote in a blog post that health data would not be combined with consumer data or used outside of the scope of its contract with Ascension. However, that scope remains somewhat unclear. Shaukat wrote that the project includes moving Ascension’s computing infrastructure to the cloud, as well as unspecified “tools” for “doctors and nurses to improve care.”

Source: Business Latest
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Can AI Built to ‘Benefit Humanity’ Also Serve the Military?

Microsoft’s recent victory in landing a $10 billion Pentagon cloud-computing contract called JEDI could make life more complicated for one of the software giant’s partners: the independent artificial-intelligence research lab OpenAI.

OpenAI was created in 2015 by Silicon Valley luminaries including Elon Musk to look to the far horizon, and save the world. The newborn nonprofit said it had commitments totaling $1 billion and would work on AI “to benefit humanity as a whole, unconstrained by a need to generate financial return.” But OpenAI restructured into a for-profit this year, saying it needed more money to fulfill its goals, and took $1 billion from Microsoft in a deal that involves helping the company’s cloud division develop new AI technology.

Now Microsoft’s JEDI win raises the possibility that OpenAI’s work for the benefit of humanity may also serve the US military.

Asked if anything would prevent OpenAI technology reaching the Pentagon, the lab’s CEO, Sam Altman, said its contract with Microsoft requires “mutual agreement” before any particular technology from the lab can be commercialized by the software giant. He declined to discuss what OpenAI might agree to or what the company’s stance is on helping the US military. Microsoft declined to comment on its deal with OpenAI.

There’s reason to think fruits of the collaboration may interest the military. The Pentagon’s cloud strategy lists four tenets for the JEDI contract, among them the improvement of its AI capabilities. This comes amidst its broader push to tap tech-industry AI development, seen as far ahead of the government’s.

Secretary of defense Mark Esper said at a conference last week that building up military AI was crucial to stay ahead of the Pentagon’s primary competitors, China and Russia. “There are a few key technologies out there,” he said. “I put AI number one.”

OpenAI is known for flashy projects that push the limits of the technology by marshaling huge amounts of computing power behind machine-learning algorithms. The lab has developed bots that play the complex videogame Dota 2, software that generates surprisingly fluid text, and a robot control system capable of manipulating a Rubik’s Cube. None of those seem likely to be immediately useful to Microsoft or its customers, but the infrastructure that OpenAI has built to power its flashy demos could be adapted to more pragmatic applications.

Closer ties with the Pentagon—and the JEDI contract in particular—make some people in the tech industry uncomfortable.

Last year, employee protests, including from AI researchers, forced Google to say it would not renew a contract applying AI to drone surveillance imagery. Google also released a set of ethical principles for its AI projects, which allow for military work but forbid weapons development. The company later withdrew its JEDI bid, saying the contract conflicted with those new AI ethics rules.

Microsoft faced its own internal complaints after it won a $480 million Army contract in 2018 aiming to give US soldiers “increased lethality” by equipping them with the company’s HoloLens augmented-reality headset. Opposition also arose over its JEDI bid. Some employees released a protest letter urging the company to make like Google and withdraw it’s pitch for the contract on ethical grounds.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has dismissed concerns about working with the military. “As an American company, we’re not going to withhold technology from the institutions that we have elected in our democracy to protect the freedoms we enjoy,” he said in an interview published by Quartz last week.

Source: Business Latest
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How to Sell a House in Southern Calfornia: Make a Movie

Raj Qsar is eyeing the sky nervously. It’s early afternoon in Corona Del Mar, Calif., and his six-man camera crew is on the clock only until sunset. But clouds are rolling in fast over this wealthy Southern California neighborhood, and the next scene on today’s docket — a glamorous drive down the Pacific Coast Highway followed by a beachfront double date — is now feeling tricky.

On other film sets, the producer and director might huddle and order a break, or call it a wrap until tomorrow. But Mr. Qsar isn’t a director — he’s a real estate agent. And the star of his film is not a good-looking young actor (although there are four of those on set), but rather, a $1.7 million Orange County home. This short and sudsy film, he hopes, in which two young couples drink wine, play board games and wander through sleek, neat rooms, will do the trick to attract a buyer.

“Telling stories and creating connections with people takes more than just photos,” said Mr. Qsar, who heads a luxury brokerage called the Boutique Real Estate Group. “For us now, it’s all about the power of video.”

Video marketing is not new territory for home sales — wide-angle walk-throughs of staged living rooms and sweeping drone footage of leafy neighborhoods have become common tools in real estate agents’ kits. But cinematic mini-films, complete with paid actors, lighting crews and full-fledged story boards, are something new.

Mr. Qsar began dabbling in cinematic videos in 2008, just two years after leaving his job as a pharmaceutical sales representative to jump into the Orange County housing boom. He came across a wedding videographer who was producing emotionally charged, story-driven films for brides and grooms, and, he says, a light bulb went on.

“I had an idea about telling the story the same way, but as the story of a house,” he said. “One of the things I always tell my clients when they walk through is, ‘Can you see yourself having Christmas dinner here or birthdays and bar mitzvahs here?’ I wanted to really pull out the emotional aspect.”

After putting the wedding videographer on his payroll and investing $20,000 of his own money in video equipment, he made a handful of short film promotions for homes in the $1 million to $2 million range in Orange County, including a four-bedroom Mediterranean-style estate in Villa Park.

In that video, images of a young blond wife sitting at a piano and singing Frank Sinatra’s “Summer Wind” are spliced with images of a Porsche-driving husband arriving home from work. As he showers upstairs, the wife ushers in a flock of eager friends and children with balloons and sets up a surprise party by the pool. The song reaches its crescendo, the husband descends the stairs, and there’s his family, there’s a cake, and there’s a sweet, picture-perfect backyard celebration.

When that home sold, for $1.7 million, it set a record as the most expensive home sale ever in Villa Park.

“Once real estate agents started doing high-end video productions, putting in models and actors was a no-brainer,” said Jimm Fox, president of OMM Video Marketing, a Canadian agency that tracks trends in cinematic storytelling. “You’re not just selling an address, you’re selling a lifestyle. And to do that, you need humans.”

Production budgets for these films can range from $3,500 to $70,000. Often the real estate agent is picking up the tab, but in some cases, agents discuss their plans with sellers and agree to split the bill or have the costs added to their fees.

Mr. Fox said the trend for Hollywood-style videos kicked off around 2007 and was a natural progression from the lush but empty footage of staged homes that preceded it.

“Real estate at the high end is always an aspirational sell,” he said. “You want to showcase a lifestyle. So you start shooting homes, and then you add models to make it more vibrant, and very soon you want to turn it into a story.”

The Australian production studio PlatinumHD claims to have been the first to produce these Hollywood-style real estate films. In 2011, the studio helped the trend spread internationally by producing a video for the Queensland-based property management firm Neo Property.

In it, a young woman clad only in a lacy bra and panties and bound to a chair inside a hyper-modern luxury home, makes an emergency call for help and is asked to describe where she is. As she describes the home’s chef’s kitchen and waterfront views, its in-house movie theater and its private elevator, a SWAT team descends to rescue her, led by none other than Neo Property’s real estate agents themselves.

The film, of course, is as much about the appeal of the model as the home. But by using sex, helicopters and shots of a gleaming red Corvette to sell the property, Neo made it quite clear: In this sort of marketing, peddling a fantasy can help close a deal.

Ben Bacal began adding actors to his listing videos in 2014. The Los Angeles-based agent, a former film student who also dabbles in internet companies and has more than $2 billion in sales to his name, is a fixture on the high-priced home circuit in Hollywood. He offers his clients a professionally produced video for every home he agrees to represent, and he estimates that in 40 percent of those cases, he includes actors and a story line.

Some are sweet: A home in Bel Air, which he listed in March 2016 for $48.5 million, shows a brother and sister channeling their best Ferris Bueller impressions, faking sickness in their custom bedrooms before dashing out to their backyard infinity pool with skyline views after their parents head off to work. (The home sold for $39 million in December 2016.)

Others are more slapstick, like the film for a home on Rising Glen Road in Los Angeles (the house where the actress Brittany Murphy died), in which an adorable corgi named Sherlock Bones inherits the mansion listed for $18.5 million and heads there to live his best canine life. (That home sold in 2017 for $14.5 million.)

In all of Mr. Bacal’s videos, plots are thin but visuals, and humor, are laid on thick. That’s intentional, he says.

“Instead of telling a long dramatic story, I like to pull characters through the house and do something that makes it voyeuristic, where you can see the property. Focusing too much on story takes away from the home,” he said in a phone call from Mykonos, Greece, where he was on vacation. “I’m not Quentin Tarantino.”

His greatest triumph to date is a home on Hillcrest Road in Beverly Hills. Markus Persson, the Swedish video game programmer behind Minecraft, saw the short film that Mr. Bacal produced for the eight-bedroom, 15-bath home, showing two young women arriving in a Rolls-Royce and enjoying the home’s features, which include a candy room and a 24-seat theater. Beyoncé and Jay-Z were also reportedly interested in the property, which was priced at $85 million. Just seven days after seeing the film, Mr. Persson purchased it for $70 million.

Mr. Bacal credits his success to his ability to not just create compelling footage, but also to distribute it effectively.

He pours cash into boosting the films on YouTube, advertising them across Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and promoting them in the right markets. In Mr. Persson’s case, Mr. Bacal had made the decision to promote the mansion not just in the United States but also in Sweden, a decision that paid off.

“It’s not just about creating a 90-second video. It’s also about knowing how to use video to effectively market that property. And that’s going to mean breaking it up into smaller components and using social media platforms to promote it,” said Mr. Fox, the Canadian marketing executive.

It makes sense that Hollywood-style promotional real estate is hitting a peak in Southern California, said Jonathan Miller, a New York City-based real estate appraiser and consultant. That’s because the high-end market from Los Angeles to San Diego is flush with inventory, creating longer marketing time, reduced foot traffic at open houses and greater competition between agents.

“In a market where there’s escalating supply but still anchored to another time, the sellers are trying to market much more creatively,” Mr. Miller said. In his mind, the sleeker and more expert-looking the video, the more likely it is that the seller is trying to justify a high price tag.

“When I see these videos, or something like a camel at an open house, that’s a clear sign of something that’s overpriced,” he said.

Mr. Qsar, the Orange County real estate agent, produces a video for every home that he represents, spending from $2,500 to the low six figures to produce them. He pays out of his own pocket. While he has had eight-figure listings, most of his sales are in the $1 million to $2 million range.

“Fifteen years ago, I never thought I’d be shooting films,” said Mr. Qsar. “I had a day job and just wanted to sell a couple houses and see what happened. But then I sold 10 and then 15 and 20, and then social media hit, and I thought, ‘O.K., how can I be different?’”

In the hypercompetitive world of Southern California real estate, he said, it’s worth it because his videos give him a definitive edge.

“Our listings are recognizable before they even hit the market, because people see them on social media,” he said. “So now, every time I get together with my team on a house, the first question we ask is, ‘What is the story going to be on this house?’”


NYT > Business > Entrepreneurship

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How This Retired Navy SEAL’s Second-Act Turned into a Multi-Million Dollar Fitness Empire

While on deployment in 1997, Navy SEAL Squadron Commander Randy Hetrick was looking for a way to keep his body in peak physical condition, which is essential for effectively operating as a member of the most elite fighting force on the planet. Alas, there weren’t many Equinoxes or L.A. Fitnesses in the part of the world he was deployed in (okay, there weren’t any.) 

The ability to adapt and improvise are trademarks of special operators, and so Hetrick put those powers to work. Using only parachute webbing, a jiu-jitsu belt he accidentally packed in his bag and his body weight, Hetrick devised a workout system that helped keep his mind and body strong. It was primitive, and it worked. After leaving the Navy, Hetrick continued to develop and refine his MacGyver-ed system. Cut to 2019, and that system is now the global fitness phenomenon known as TRX. Hetrick’s suspension-training product and workout system are utilized in more than 60,000 clubs and training facilities worldwide, the company expects to sell more than $60 million in goods and services this coming year and has a roster of ambassadors including Super Bowl-winning quarterback Drew Brees. Not too shabby, right?

A few weeks ago, I took a class in New York City as part of the “TRX for AnyBODY” campaign, which launched to encourage non-elite athletes (like me) to give it a shot. It was tiring but fun, and I’ve been back for more since that sweaty introduction. I had the great pleasure of speaking with Hetrick about how his success in the military powered his success as an entrepreneur. Here are some of the inspiring highlights:

What the military teaches you about risk

“The SEAL Teams taught me several useful lessons about risk: 1. Every real opportunity entails risk and most risks contain opportunity. 2. Risk is a thing that can be managed through preparation and adherence to a set of standard operating procedures (SOPs) that distill generations of institutional knowledge into modern-day best practices. Bottom line: Blind risk is bad, managed risk is the name of the game.”

Related: 3 Tips Navy SEALs Offer That Every Entrepreneur Can Use

Success starts and ends with teamwork

“The central tenet of special operations is that small groups of talented, motivated individuals with complementary skillsets — aligned around a common mission — can form teams that make even the impossible possible. The key ingredients are talent, motivation, dedication, complementary skillsets and team alignment.” 

What veterans bring to the table in business

“In the SEAL Teams, the two most important character traits are integrity and accountability. In my 15 years as an entrepreneur, I have found that to be true in the business world as well. Virtually all other skills can be taught, but integrity and accountability are difficult to teach to an employee who doesn’t understand or appreciate those traits by the time he’s reached adulthood. Military veterans are steeped in these concepts from the day they enter service. And during the course of a service member’s career, he or she also develops resourcefulness, tenacity and selfless dedication to the mission — above all else. If you want a well-trained, high-integrity individual who craves accountability and is steeped in a tradition of selflessness, service, and resourcefulness … you can’t do better than to hire a veteran.”

Related: What Is Leadership? The Navy SEAL Who Killed Osama Bin Laden Answers.

His proudest moment as a Navy SEAL

“Being entrusted to command a squadron of the most elite special operators that ever walked the face of the Earth. For that brief moment in time, I had reached the absolute pinnacle of my profession. And it was, at that time, the greatest achievement of my life.”

His proudest moment in business

“I’ve had many, many proud moments working with my teams to build TRX into the amazing, global brand that it has become.  But maybe the proudest of all was the day that a young blind man —  a former SEAL who had been blinded in combat — told me that TRX had saved his life. When I asked what he meant, he explained that we had given him a tool and the knowledge to train himself, without any assistance from anyone, which had given him back one of the most important things in life … his independence.”

Related: Former Navy SEALs Jocko Willink and Leif Babin Say Leaders Routinely Make These 2 Mistakes

TRX for Anybody

“Even as TRX brings new products and services to serve its professional clientele of trainers, clubs and athletes, it is also expanding its scope in the consumer landscape as well. Our customer base is 50/50 male to female and spans ages from 15 to 95. TRX is, indeed, for everybody. But that reality has been, until recently, our best-kept secret. So we recently decided to broaden our marketing message and spread the word that whoever you are, whatever your goals, and whatever your level of fitness, TRX is for you. We launched our ‘TRX for AnyBODY’ campaign to help share the amazing stories of inspiration, courage and success that are a daily part of our lives and our brand at TRX. And we hope to encourage everyone, everywhere who has a body to let TRX help them achieve their best, whatever that best might be.”

Source: Entrepreneur: Startup
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Angular Ventures outs $41M seed fund for European and Israeli enterprise and ‘deep tech’ startups

Angular Ventures, the early-stage enterprise and “deep tech”-focused VC firm founded by former DFJ Esprit partner Gil Dibner, is announcing the closing of its debut fund at $41 million.

Targeting startups in Europe and Israel, Angular Ventures has been operating in so-called “stealth mode” for almost two years, seeing its portfolio grow to 12 companies. The VC typically invests between $250,000 and $1.5 million, from writing a startup’s first cheque to Series A. It says it aims to do five-seven new investments per year.

Companies backed by Angular include “service intelligence” startup, HR workplace misconduct platform Vault, nano-tech security technology provider Dust Identity (also backed by Kleiner Perkins) and food supply chain optimization company Trellis.

Notably, Dibner is Angular Ventures’ sole general partner. Prior to founding Angular Ventures, he was most recently running an angel syndicate on AngelList, although his venture career goes back much further.

Prior to leading the syndicate, Dibner was a partner at London-based venture capital firm DFJ Esprit, which he departed in March 2015. Before that he was a principal at Index Ventures, also in London, and had earlier spells at Israeli VCs Gemini Israel Ventures and Genesis Partners, both in Tel Aviv.

Dibner says he wanted to “re-imagine” early-seed venture capital in Europe and Israel by building what he describes as a sector-focused firm, and removing geographical boundaries by investing in both Europe and Israel, and establishing a U.S. presence to support portfolio startups with global expansion.

Whether or not you think that is particularly unique, you’re mileage may vary, but there is no doubt Dibner has a decent investment track record in the enterprise space and beyond, either way.

Throughout his career to date, Dibner says he has backed 40 companies. Breaking this down further: 28 have raised capital from U.S.-based VC firms or exited to U.S.-based acquirers. In fact, he’s seen eight exits overall, and two of Dibner’s investments — JFrog and SiSense — have reached “unicorn” status, i.e. a valuation of $1 billion or more.

Despite his track record, Dibner says it took four years to finally close this fund, which has given him even more empathy for founders during fundraising.

“It took nearly four years to get from concept to a first close, and although we were ultimately significantly oversubscribed, I had to hear a lot of ‘nos’ to get this done,” he tells TechCrunch. “There are a lot of differences between raising a fund and raising money for a company, but experience has given me even more empathy with founders who are often enduring very difficult fundraising pathways. The most ambitious ideas usually have the most difficult fundraising.”

It is also probably worth noting that all of Angular’s LPs are private/commercial — in other words, no taxpayer money is at stake here, unlike a plethora of European VC funds. And whilst Dibner is the sole GP, he says he’s working with a team of advisors helping to source deals, provide due diligence and support portfolio companies.

They include: Fred Simon, founder of JFrog; Eldad Farkash, founder of SiSense and Firebolt, an Angular portfolio company; Guy Poreh, former EVP New Media at BBDO, who led Wix’s U.S. market launch and founded Playground; Jerry Dischler, who leads product for Google search and YouTube search; and Phil Wickham, who founded Sozo Ventures and is the chairman of the Kauffman Fellows Program.

Source: TechCrunch
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Disney officially launches its streaming ‘crown jewel,’ Disney+

The centerpiece of Disney’s streaming strategy is here.

After an initial test in the Netherlands, Disney+ is officially launching in the United States and Canada today, with a lineup of original content that includes the first episode of the very first live action Star Wars series, “The Mandalorian,” along with a deep library of Disney, Pixar and Marvel movies and shows — not to mention the first 30 seasons of “The Simpsons.”

Disney+ is available on the web, iOS, Android, Roku, various smart TVs — and, as just announced last week, Amazon Fire TV, all for a monthly price of $6.99.

This isn’t Disney’s first streaming service. It took a big step in this direction with the launch of ESPN+ last year, and it’s also taken operational control of Hulu following its acquisition of Fox. (The company is even offering Disney+, ESPN+ and Hulu all together in a package that it calls the Disney Bundle, at a monthly price of $12.99 — the same as a basic Netflix subscription.) Plus, it owns the streaming service Hotstar in India, which it plans to bring to other developing Asian countries.

Still, at a press event last week in New York City, Direct to Consumer and International Chairman Kevin Mayer described Disney+ as “the crown jewel of our streaming collection.” He explained that the service will be “the ultimate and exclusive home” for all the content from the company’s Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars and National Geographic brands.

The Mandalorian

Of course, that doesn’t mean everything will be premiering on Disney+ — those giant Marvel movies are still coming to theaters. But they’ll eventually make their way over to the service, where they will stream exclusively.

Mayer noted that this has required a big shift in Disney’s strategy, since it’s had to pass up revenue from licensing content to streamers like Netflix. The company also expects to spend $1 billion on original content during the service’s first year, with that number increasing to $2.5 billion by its 2024 fiscal year.

In addition to “The Mandalorian,” original shows announced for Disney+ include an Obi-Wan Kenobi series, as well as the Marvel titles “WandaVision,” “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” and “Loki.”

Disney+ President of Content and Marketing Ricky Strauss explained that the Marvel shows will allow filmmakers to explore characters and post-“Avengers: Endgame” storylines more deeply, which can then feed back into what you see on the big screen.

“The Marvel Cinematic Universe is not just a theatrical play” anymore, Strauss said.


There will also be movies like “Lady and the Tramp,” and unscripted series like “The World According to Jeff Goldblum.” Disney+ Senior Vice President of Content Agnes Chu added that the unscripted programs can supplement the big movies — for example, someone could watch the animated “Beauty and the Beast,” then learn more about lyricist Howard Ashman in the original documentary “Howard.”

Everything is meant to be family-friendly, with no R-content on the platform. So despite acquiring “Deadpool” as part of the Fox deal, Disney will be streaming that movie elsewhere.

Still, Mayer suggested that initial usage in the Netherlands confirms Disney’s hopes that the service will appeal to a variety of audiences; even though subscribers usually start by watching a Marvel movie, the most-watched titles overall are “Agents of SHIELD,” “The Sweet life of Zack and Cody” and “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.”

It could also take a little while before the full libraries of the various Disney brands make it onto the Disney+, because they need to be freed up from the company’s deals with Netflix and others. But at launch, it will offer a number of classic Disney films, as well as the first seven Star Wars movies (available in 4K Dolby Vision for the first time) and many Marvel movies including “Endgame.”

In fact, Disney specifically moved up the streaming release of “Endgame” to coincide with the Disney+ launch — something that Mayer described as a one-time decision that “does not indicate an ongoing compression of the home video window.”

The Mandalorian

He also emphasized that Disney will continue to make movies for theatrical release — not just Marvel blockbusters, but also Fox Searchlight’s artier films, which will continue to “find their way into theaters.” At the same time, the company is also making movies specifically for Disney+ and Hulu — Mayer said those are cases where executives have decided that the movies will “live better on our SVOD services.”

Strauss projected that in its first year, Disney+ will premiere 30 original series and 15 movies and specials, while also hosting a library of 7,500 TV episodes and more than 500 films. And Mayer said that by 2024, Disney is expecting the service to break even, with 60 to 90 million paying subscribers.

The event closed with a half-hour screening of clips from the first few episodes of “The Mandalorian,” which tells the story a mysterious bounty hunter and takes place in the aftermath of the Empire’s overthrow in “Return of the Jedi.”

I suspect the clips were carefully selected to avoid revealing any major plot details, but I’m happy to report that the show explores a seedier side of the Star Wars universe — think the Mos Eisley cantina scene, but starring Boba Fett and expanded across eight episodes, with plenty of big-budget action and effects.

And yes, legendary director Werner Herzog makes for a delightful Star Wars baddie.

Source: TechCrunch
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Nigeria’s Interswitch confirms $1B valuation after Visa investment

Nigerian digital payments firm Interswitch confirmed today it has reached unicorn status after Visa acquired a minority equity stake in the firm.

“The investment makes Interswitch one of the most valuable African fintech businesses with a valuation of $1 billion,” Interswitch said in a release to TechCrunch.

The Visa investment could create the first of two market distinctions for Interswitch — as it shouldn’t change the Lagos based company’s plans to go public.

“An IPO is still very much in the cards; likely sometime in the first half of 2020,” a source with knowledge of the situation told TechCrunch on background.

Interswitch did not reveal the amount of Visa’s investment and would not confirm Sky News reporting Monday that pegged it at $200 million for 20%.

Whatever the exact number, Interswitch’s confirmation of a $1 billion valuation marks another milestone in African tech.

Only one VC backed startup, turned later-stage company on the continent — e-commerce venture Jumia — has generated enough revenue and capital to achieve a ten-figure valuation.

For the near to medium-term, Interswitch could stand as Africa’s sole tech-unicorn, since Jumia’s volatile share-price and declining market-cap since an April IPO have dropped the company’s worth below $1 billion (for now).

Founded in 2002 by Mitchell Elegbe, Interswitch pioneered the infrastructure to digitize Nigeria’s then predominantly paper-ledger and cash-based economy.

The company now provides much of rails for Nigeria’s online banking system that serves Africa’s largest economy and population. Interswitch offers a number of personal and business finance products, including its Verve payment cards and Quickteller payment app.

Interswitch Quickteller

From its home-base of Nigeria Interswitch has expanded its physical presence to Uganda, Gambia and Kenya .

Interswitch also sells its products in 23 African countries and launched a partnership in August for its Verve cardholders to make payments on Discover’s global network.

Visa and Interswitch are touting the equity investment as a strategic collaboration between the two companies, without a lot of detail on what that will mean.

“The partnership will create an instant acceptance network across Africa to benefit consumers and merchants,” was the characterization offered in a press release.

Verve Times Square Interswitch

Interswitch’s imminent IPO has been delayed for several years. CEO and founder Mitchell Elegbe told TechCrunch, “a dual-listing on the London and Lagos stock exchange is an option on the table,” in a January 2016 call.

In subsequent years, Elegbe and other Interswitch executives named Nigeria’s recession as a reason for the delay.

A number stories have surfaced, including Bloomberg News reporting in July, that the company was poised to go public on the LSE.

TechCrunch’s source close to the matter offered the latest indication that Interswitch will list on a major exchange by mid-2020.

With possible exits for backers Helios Investment Partners, TA Investments and IFC, Interswitch’s unicorn status and pending IPO could create more momentum for startup investment in Africa. VC to the continent has grown significantly over the last 5 years, but stands at just over $1 billion annually, per Partech numbers.

Interswitch could also be in a stronger position to offer more capital directly to the continent’s fintech startups by reviving its ePayment Growth Fund. The venture arm made two investments in 2015, but then went largely quiet.

Source: TechCrunch
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Here’s How to Watch the WIRED25 Summit

Make way for the future. Friday, WIRED25 returns to San Francisco for two days packed with forward-thinking talks and activities by some of the world’s most innovative and influential people.

We’ll have climate activists and CEOs, actors and authors, scientists and engineers—plus a guy who can teach you to make the world’s best paper airplane. (Check out the full list of speakers here.) If you can’t make it to San Francisco, or if you’re just not into crowds, don’t worry. We’ve got all sorts of ways to participate from afar.

The festivities begin at 10 am PT on Friday, November 8, with the WIRED25 Summit. This will feature conversations with WIRED’s editor-in-chief, Nicholas Thompson; the heads of LinkedIn, Cloudflare, and Instagram; and some of the young activists behind the historic climate action lawsuit Juliana v. United States, among many others. (Read on for the full event schedule.) We’ll be livestreaming the entirety of this event above and on You can follow along on social platforms as well. We’ll be streaming via Facebook Live, plus we’ll be live-tweeting on @WIRED and giving you behind the scenes looks and exclusive interviews on WIRED Instagram (look out for those IG Stories as well!).

Saturday, November 9, is fam and culture day, with talks and immersive events with people like actor Chris Evans, sci-fi author N. K. Jemisin, and former Mythbusters host Adam Savage. Stay tuned to those aforementioned social accounts.

In the meantime, you can catch up on everything that happened at last year’s inaugural event here.

Below is the full schedule of Friday’s summit.

(Note: These events are subject to change. Check the event schedule page for updates.)

10:00 am

  1. Nicholas Thompson, Editor-in-Chief, WIRED

  2. Jeff Weiner, CEO, LinkedIn, with Nicholas Thompson, WIRED

  1. Anne Neuberger, Director of Cybersecurity, National Security Agency, with Garrett Graff, WIRED
  1. Brian Acton, Executive Chairman, Signal Technology Foundation, with Steven Levy, WIRED
  1. Matthew Prince, CEO & Cofounder, Cloudflare, with Megan Greenwell, WIRED
  1. Mihir Shukla, Cofounder/CEO, Automation Anywhere with Jahna Berry, WIRED, (presented by Automation Anywhere)
  1. Dawn Song, CEO & Founder, Oasis Labs, with Tom Simonite, WIRED
  1. Patrick Collison, CEO & Cofounder, Stripe, with Nicholas Thompson, WIRED

12:30 pm Break

Source: Business Latest
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Ben Horowitz on a Murder, Genghis Khan, and Corporate Culture

Ben Horowitz, cofounder of the venture firm Andreessen Horowitz, thinks that the best way to convey to executives the importance of new employee orientation is through a story about a brutal prison murder.

At the WIRED25 Festival in San Francisco on Friday, Horowitz said that when it comes to explaining these concepts to CEOs, the straightforward approach doesn’t work. If he simply told them that new employee orientation programs were valuable and worth emphasizing, they would blow him off, he said.

“Shaka Senghor, first day in prison,” Horowitz continued, referring to the now best-selling author who served 19 years for a 1991 murder. “He comes out of quarantine, goes into the rec area. A prisoner walks up to another prisoner, stabs them in the neck. Guy bleeds out, dies. Guy throws the shank in the trash, goes to the chow hall and has a sandwich.”

Horowitz recalled Senghor telling him that watching this gory scene unfold made Senghor wonder whether he would be able to kill one of his fellow inmates in the same way. “But I knew that I had to ask myself: Could I do that to survive? Because that’s what it took to survive here,” Horowitz recalled Senghor saying.

“So you see how his culture gets changed on new employee orientation,” said Horowitz. “People walk into your company and they go [how do] you succeed in here? This happens every single day.”

If a new employee sees “a guy [who’s] got a big job” take credit for another employee’s work and get rewarded for it, that will influence their understanding of what success looks like at their new workplace, he explained. Horowitz told WIRED editor at large Steven Levy that he uses “the violence” to make points like these clear.

Shaka Senghor, who Horowtiz describes as a formidable prison gang boss, is but one of four people that he considers to be exemplary models of leadership and culture building. Horowitz said three other figures were “very influential” on his thinking: Genghis Khan, the Mongol conquerer infamous for slaughtering tens of millions of people; Toussaint L’Ouverture, leader of Haiti’s successful slave revolt; and “the Samurai” of Japan generally, who he said he admires for their culture and how they treat death.

Horowitz said that what he found so instructive about Senghor’s story was that, “in Silicon Valley, you can take culture for granted because people come with a lot of cultural elements, starting with they know how to show up on time for an interview,” he explained. “In prison, like, you don’t have a big basis, so you really have to start from the first principles when you’re talking about building an organization that can be effective and keep each other safe.”

When asked by Levy how the Haitian slave revolt and Genghis Khan have helped him in his business endeavors, Horowitz cited Uber as an example.

“[Uber] ran into some issues with the culture, but people wrote it up as ‘Uber has got this out-of-control, toxic [culture], but it was a very in-control, highly designed culture that they trained on really effectively,” he said. “It was really well designed, really well executed, but it was missing this one little piece, which is, with ethics, if you don’t make them explicit and have a strong reason behind them and make them really specific, then the business incentive will just run over the kind of ethical rail.”

Source: Business Latest
Continue reading Ben Horowitz on a Murder, Genghis Khan, and Corporate Culture