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Opendoor raises $325M to make buying and selling homes a near-instant process

Investors are placing another huge bet on a startup looking to reinvent a decades-old process into something that’s near instant, this time pouring $325 million into Opendoor — a company that wants to bring the complex operation of buying or selling a home down to something similarly as simple as hailing a Lyft.

The idea of Opendoor is one not so dissimilar from a consumer theory that’s blossomed into companies worth tens of billions of dollars — consumers hate complex processes and are willing to hand off those processes to technology companies if they can make it even a little simpler. Home-buying and selling can be one of the more intense ones, requiring a lot of moving pieces and coordinating multiple time tables and schedules. Opendoor’s theory is that it can create a sizable business by dropping that time and energy cost to zero and effectively create a new technology-powered business model in the process, just like Uber or Airbnb.

Opendoor says it hopes to expand to 50 markets by the end of 2020 with this additional financing. It is in ten markets right now, and also says it now purchases more than $2.5 billion in homes on an annual run rate. The company says it has raised a $325 million financing round co-led by General Atlantic, Access Technology Ventures, and Lennar Corporation. Andreessen Horowitz, Coatue Management, 10100 Fund, and Invitation Homes also participated, as well as existing investors Norwest Venture Partners, Lakestar, GGV Capital, NEA, and Khosla Ventures. Opendoor has in total raised $645 million in equity and $1.5 billion in debt.

“What I realized was that one there’s a lot of tailwinds with people wanting to transact with their mobile device,” CEO Eric Wu said. “We see this with Uber and Lyft and Amazon. I think the future of real estate will be on demand, that’s the centerpiece of Opendoor’s thesis. How do we make the transaction real-time and instant. I realized there were going to be tailwinds, and that real estate was in dire need of being able to be transformed.”

Opendoor has also sought to expand its efforts to make viewing those homes just as seamless. The company enables potential customers to check out a home by opening it with the app seven days a week. Wu said that most potential buyers go to the house each of the seven days up to the transaction, and then seven days after the transaction happens. Given that it’s such a significant step for any home owner, it makes sense that a lot of planning and consideration would go into the process. The next step is to create a sort of trade-up system, where Opendoor works to create a streamlined way to turn around an existing home for a new home.

Still, buying (or selling) a home is one of the single-largest transactions a consumer can do — especially if they are in a major metropolitan area where houses can quickly hit the $1 million-plus range. So it’s still a hurdle to convince consumers that they should press a few buttons to make a transaction in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Wu said that the challenge there was to build enough trust with customers that they realize the process should be as seamless and powered by transparent data.

“It’s something we faced early on when we launched the service,” Wu said. “We were asking sellers to sell their home online to a tech company. A lot of the things we’ve done — like lowering the fees and being transparent about pricing — has helped us build trust. It’s one of the largest financial transactions anyone makes. We have to build a world-class pricing model, be transparent about how we got to the quote, make it a low-fee service, and this helps provide a certainty around the process.

To try to do all this, Opendoor says it’s built a robust data set that will help best model potential prices for homes and be more transparent about that information. Wu said Opendoor currently employs around 650 people and hopes to double that by the end of next year, and the company is investing a significant amount of capital in growing out its data science team. The challenge is to understand the dynamics of the housing market — and any potential chaos — in order to best assess how to buy and sell those homes. Opendoor acquires some risk by purchasing some homes and holding them for a period fo time, so ensuring that the company knows how the market performs will be one of its biggest challenges.

Opendoor is certainly not the only player in this area, as some competitors like Knock and OfferPad are starting to raise additional capital. Knock picked up $32 million in January last year with a similar bet: simplify the home-buying process and handle all of the details behind the scenes. If anything, it’s shown that there’s an appetite among the venture community (especially one where the numbers just keep getting bigger) for models that look to tap the same consumer demand of simplifying overly complex processes to just a few inputs on a smart app powered by data science.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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Chirp brings Twitter to Apple Watch

Twitter’s history of being a bit unfriendly to developers building third-party clients hasn’t frightened off Will Bishop. The young Australian developer recently released a version of Twitter for Apple Watch called Chirp, in order to fill the void created by Twitter pulling its official app last fall. (Let’s see how long it will last, shall we?)

Bishop says he was already interested in building for Apple Watch before Chirp, having previously developed a micro version of Reddit called Nano. Afterwards, he heard from a lot of people asking for a Twitter watch app, he says.

“Seeing as so many people were disappointed when Twitter pulled their official app, it only made sense to at least try,” Bishop says of building Chirp. “A lot of people think using your watch for more than 30 seconds is ridiculous, but I figure if people want to use it, let them.”

The Apple Watch hasn’t served to become a sizable new app platform for developers, and actually saw a number of bigger names pull their dedicated Watch apps last year besides just Twitter, like Amazon, Google Maps, Instagram, Slack, TripAdvisor, eBay, and others. Instead, users tend to interact with their Watch through notifications – not by launching apps directly and tapping the tiny screen. It just doesn’t make that much sense for anything more than a quick reply, as your iPhone is likely nearby and does a better job.

But Chirp could fill the role of needing to quickly reply to Twitter notifications, like @mentions or DMs.

The app lets you interact with Twitter from the Apple Watch’s interface, including browsing your timeline, catching up on trends, viewing people’s individual profiles, and favoriting and replying to tweets, and more.

In an updated released over the weekend, the app now also adds support for reading and replying to Direct Messages and using Twitter Lists.

These features are available via Chirp’s paid tier, Chirp Pro, which is a pay-what-you-want upgrade starting at $1.99 and going up to $4.99 USD.

In addition to DMs and Lists, Chirp Pro lets you post and reply to tweets, search for users and tweets, and view more than five trends.

In other words, if you want to actually use Twitter not just view it from your wrist, you’ll want Chirp Pro.

Despite having a niche user base, attention detail has been paid here – Chirp even lets you customize the Watch app’s user interface by toggling on or off various elements like Images, the Retweet Counter, Like Counter, Retweet & Like Buttons, and Timestamps. This helps to reduce screen clutter, which is useful given the area Chirp has to work with.

Because of how Chirp is designed, Bishop said the app isn’t as impacted by the forthcoming API changes as other clients.

“The new API restrictions are mainly for the activity APIs, streaming in particular. However, the watch does not support streaming anyway, so fortunately I am not [impacted],” he said. “The only API I was affected by were the changes to the direct messaging API,” Bishop added, noting this is why Chirp didn’t have messaging right away.

Bishop says he plans to keep Chirp free, as “downloads mean more to me than money,” he says. But he hopes people who like using it will pay to unlock the expanded features. The app competes with Tweetbot, Twitterrific, and Bluebird on Apple Watch.

To use Chirp, download the iOS app and add it to your Apple Watch.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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Winnie raises $4 million to make parents’ lives easier

An app that has the needs of modern-day parents in mind, Winnie, has now raised $4 million in additional seed funding in a round led by Reach Capital. Other investors in the new round include Rethink Impact, Homebrew, Ludlow Ventures, Afore Capital, and BBG Ventures, among others. With the new funds, Winnie has raised $6.5 million to date.

The San Francisco-based startup, which begun its life as a directory of kid-friendly places largely serving the needs of newer parents, has since expanded to become a larger platform for parents.

Winnie was founded by Bay Area technologists, Sara Mauskopf, who spent time at Postmates, Twitter, YouTube and Google, and Anne Halsall, also from Postmates and Google, as well as Quora and Inkling.

As new parents themselves, they built Winnie out a personal need to find the sort of information parents crave – details you can’t easily dig up in Google Maps or Yelp.

For example, you can use Winnie to find nearby kid-friendly destinations like museums or parks, as well as those that welcome children with features like changing tables in restrooms, wide aisles in stores for stroller access, areas for nursing, and other things.

Winnie serves as a good example of what investing in women can achieve. Somehow, the young, 20-something men that receive the lion’s share of VC funding had never thought up the idea of app that helps new parents navigate the world. (I know, shocking, right?) And yet, the kind of questions that Winnie tries to answer are those that all parents, at some point, are curious about.

The data on Winnie is crowd-sourced, with details, ratings and reviews coming from other real parents. Listings in San Francisco may be more fleshed out than elsewhere, as that’s where Winnie got its start. However, the app is now available in 10,000 cities across the U.S., and has just surpassed over a million users.

In more recent months, Winnie has been working to expand beyond being a sort of “Yelp for parents,” and now features an online community where parents can ask questions and participate in discussions.

“The crowdsourced directory of family-friendly businesses is still a huge component of what we do…and this has grown to over 2 million places across the United States,” notes Winnie co-founder and CEO Sara Mauskopf. “But we also have these real-time answers to any parenting question from this authentic, supportive community,” she says, referring to Winnie’s online discussions.

The idea is that parents will be searching the web for answers to questions about toddler sleep issues or good local preschools or breastfeeding help, and Winnie’s answers will come up in search results, similar to other Q&A sites like Quora or Yahoo Answers.

“A lot of younger millennial parents are turning to Google to find answers to these questions,” adds Winnie co-founder and CPO Anne Halsall. “So we want to have the answer to these questions at the ready, and we want to have the best page. That’s an example of something that’s yield a lot of traffic for us, just because no one else had that data before Winnie,” she says.

Related to this expansion, Winnie is also serving this data across platforms, including – obviously – the web, in addition to its native app on iOS and Android. The hope is that, with the growth, business owners will come in to claim their pages on Winnie.com, too, and update their information.

 

In the near-term, the founders say they’ll put the funding to use building out more personalization features.

“As a technology company, we have a unique opportunity to give you this really tailored experience that grows with your family over time – so as your children are getting older, and you’re entering new phases of development, our product’s adapting and putting relevant information in front of you,” Halsall says. 

Data on businesses serving the needs of parents with older kids – like summer camps or driver’s ed classes, for example – are the kind of things Winnie will focus on as it grows to include information for more parents, instead of just those with younger children and babies.

Winnie will also use the funds to hire additional engineers to help it scale its platform.

Esteban Sosnik from Reach Capital joined Hunter Walk from Homebrew on Winnie’s board as a result of the funding.

The app is a free download for iOS and Android, and is available on the web at Winnie.com.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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Get your trusted midterm elections news from us, says Apple

Apple News has a new old mission: Curating political news and analysis by paying a team of experienced human editors to quality-assess journalism, rather than letting unchecked algorithms run wild and exaggerate anything — no matter how awful, obnoxious or untrue.

‘Fakebook’ eat your heart out.

Apple says human curation is not a new direction for Apple News — describing it as a “guiding principle” across the product since it launched three years ago.

Although it certainly wasn’t shouting so loudly about it back then when algorithmic feeds were still riding high. But the company says Apple News has always had a team of editors — which it says are focused on “discovering and spotlighting well-sourced fact-based stories to provide readers with relevant, reliable news and information from a wide range of publishers”.

Those “experienced” editors are also now being put to work assessing political reportage and commentary around the US midterms. With only publishers they deem to be “reliable” getting to be political sources for Apple News.

The launch is focused on the US 2018 midterm elections, at least initially, which will get a dedicated section in the product — providing what Cupertino bills as “timely, trustworthy midterm election information” along with “the most important reporting and analysis from a diverse set of publishers”.

We’ve asked the company whether it plans to expand the Apple News election section approach to other markets.

“Today more than ever people want information from reliable sources, especially when it comes to making voting decisions,” said Lauren Kern, editor-in-chief of Apple News, in a statement. “An election is not just a contest; it should raise conversations and spark national discourse. By presenting quality news from trustworthy sources and curating a diverse range of opinions, Apple News aims to be a responsible steward of those conversations and help readers understand the candidates and the issues.”

Apple is clearly keen to avoid accusations of political bias — hence stressing the section will include a “diverse range of opinions”, with content being sourced from the likes of Fox News, Vox, the Washington Post, Politico and Axios, plus other unnamed publishers.

Though there will equally clearly be portions of the political spectrum who decry Apple News’ political output as biased against them — and thus akin to political censorship.

Safe to say, don’t expect Breitbart to be a fan. But as any journalist worth their salt will tell you, you can’t please all the people all of the time. And not trying to do so is essentially a founding tenet of the profession. It’s also why algorithms suck at being editors.

The launch of a dedicated section for an election event within Apple’s news product is clearly a response to major failures where tech platforms have intersected with political events — at least where business models rely on fencing content at vast scale and thus favor algorithmic curation (with all the resulting clickbaity, democracy-eroding pitfalls that flow from that).

Concern about algorithmic impacts on democratic processes continues to preoccupy politicians and regulators in the US and beyond. And while it’s fair to say that multiple tech platforms have a fake news and political polarization problem, Facebook has been carrying the biggest can here, given how extensively Kremlin agents owned its platform during the 2016 US presidential elections.

Since then the company has announced a raft of changes intended to combat this type of content — including systems to verify political advertisers; working with third party fact checkers; closing scores of suspect accounts around elections; and de-emphasizing news generally in its News Feed in favor of friends’ based updates which are harder for malicious agents to game at scale.

But its core algorithmic approach to programming the hierarchies of content on its platform has not changed.

And while it’s ramping up the number of content moderation and safety staff on its books — saying it will have 20,000 people working on that by the end of this year — that’s still reactive content assessment; which is the polar opposite of editorial selection and curation.

So Apple evidently sees an opportunity for its News product to step in and fill the trust gap with reliable political information.

As well as general news and commentary from the selected trusted publishers, Apple says it will also include “special features with stories curated by Apple News editors from trusted publishers”, including opinion columns “about hot-button issues that are intended to offer readers a full range of ideas and debate about important subjects, from news sources they may not already follow” (so it’s also taking aim at algorithmically generated filter bubbles); and an election dashboard from the Washington Post — which contextualizes “key data like current polling, what pundits are saying and survey data on voter enthusiasm”.

Local news is another focus for the section, with a feature that aims to highlight “quality reporting about issues that matter to local constituents on the most important races”.

The 2018 Midterm Elections section is available to Apple News users in the US from now until November.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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