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Truecaller makes first acquisition to build out payment and financial services in India

Sweden’s Truecaller started out life as a service that screens calls and messages to weed out spammers. In recent times the company has switched its focus to India, its largest market based on users, adding services that include payments to make it more useful. Now Truecaller is putting even more weight behind its India push after it announced its first acquisition, mobile payment service Chillr.

The vision is to go deeper into mobile payments and associated services to turn Truecaller into a utility that goes beyond just handling messages and calls, particularly payments — a space which WhatsApp is preparing to enter in India.

Truecaller doesn’t have WhatsApp -like scale — few companies can match 200 million active users in Indua, but it did recently disclose that it has 100 million daily active users worldwide, while India is its largest country with 150 million registered users.

Truecaller has raised over $90 million from investors to date, according to Crunchbase. TechCrunch reported in 2015 that it was in talks to raise $100 million at a valuation of around $1 billion, but a deal never happened. Truecaller has instead raised capital from Swedish investment firm Zenith. Chillr, meanwhile, had raised $7.5 million from the likes of Blume Ventures and Sequoia Capital.

Truecaller isn’t disclosing how much it has paid for the deal, but it said that Chillr’s entire team of 45 people will move over and the Chillr service will be phased out. In addition, Chillr CEO Sony Joy will become vice president of Truecaller Pay, running that India-based payment business which will inherit Chillr’s core features.

“We’ve acquire a company that is known for innovation and leading this space in terms of building a fantastic product,” Truecaller co-founder and CSO Nami Zarringhalam told TechCrunch in an interview.

Zarringhalam said the Truecaller team met with Chillr as part of an effort to reach out to partners to build out an ecosystem of third-party services, but quickly realized there was potential to come together.

“We realized we shared synergies in thought processes for caring for the customer and user experience,” he added, explaining that Joy and his Chillr team will “take over the vision of execution of Truecaller Pay.”

Truecaller added payments in India last year

Joy told TechCrunch that he envisages developing Truecaller Pay into one of India’s top three payment apps over the next two years.

Already, the service supports peer-to-peer payments following a partnership with ICICI Bank, but there are plans to layer on additional services from third parties. That could include integrations to provide services such as loans, financing, micro-insurance and more.

Joy pointed out that India’s banking push has seen many people in the country sign up for at least one account, so now the challenge is not necessarily getting banked but instead getting access to the right services. Thanks to gathering information through payments and other customer data, Truecaller could, with permission from users, share data with financial services companies to give users access to services that wouldn’t be able to access otherwise.

“Most citizens have a bank account (in each household), now being underserved is more to do with access to other services,” he explained.

Joy added that Truecaller is aiming to layer in value added services over its SMS capabilities, digging into the fact that SMS remains a key communication and information channel in India. For example, helping users pay for items confirmed via SMS, or pay for an order which is tracked via SMS.

The development of the service in India has made it look from the outside that the company is splitting into two, a product localized for India and another for the rest of the world. However, Zarringhalam said that the company plans to replicate its approach — payments and more — in other markets.

“It could be based on acquisitions or partners, time will tell,” he said. “But our plan is to develop this for all markers where our market penetration is high and the market dynamics are right.”

Truecaller has raised over $90 million from investors to date, according to Crunchbase. TechCrunch reported in 2015 that it was in talks to raise $100 million at a valuation of around $1 billion, but a deal never happened. Truecaller has instead raised capital from Swedish investment firm Zenith.

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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