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December 15, 2018
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Chief Operating Officer

AppOnboard raises $15 million to let Android users try before they buy apps on Google Play

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Pitching app developers with a new way to convert app browsers into actual customers, AppOnboard has raised $15 million in a new round of funding, the company said.

Based in Los Angeles, AppOnboard sees itself as one of a new breed of LA startup that’s steeping itself in the local ecosystem and trying to be one of the cornerstone’s for a new technology hub in the southern California region.

Company co-founder Jonathan Zweig has already had one hit as a Los Angeles-based entrepreneur. Zweig was one of the architects behind the success of AdColony, a startup which sold to Opera Software in 2014 for $350 million. It was an early success for the regional ecosystem and proved to be one of the most valuable exits (from a capital efficiency standpoint) for the year.

Now Zweig is back again… this time pitching app developers a tool that can help convert browsers into buyers for new applications in app stores around the world. As consumers sour on the free-to-use model (since that model depends on selling user information in order for “free” apps to make money), giving users a way to try before they buy makes sense.

Zweig claims that conversion rates have increased significantly for the companies that pay a fee for his company’s service. Play Store shoppers who engage with an app store demo before installing have higher retention and are more likely to become paying customers than those who install directly without playing or using a demo version, the company said.

That certainly aligns with the thinking of Paul Heydon, an investor at Breakaway Growth, which led the new round for AppOnboard. “The entire app store paradigm is about to change dramatically, and AppOnboard is perfectly positioned for this disruption,” said Heydon in a statement. “With its patented app demo technology and tools, users will now be able to experience their apps and games on-demand and without an install across various platforms, starting with Google .”

Zweig says that the service is the first from a third party to be directly integrated into a platform like Google’s Play store.

“Google has been a great partner for us,” Zweig says. And the company is in talks with other platforms, like the Apple Store, he said.

Now, with the additional cash in hand, Zweig says AppOnboard is ready to make some international expansion moves. The company already has offices in London and in cities across the U.S., but Zweig thinks there’s more room to grow.

“Our vision continues to be that every app and game will be instant and available for users to experience without a download. We look forward to continuing to work with global developers, Google, and partners to make this a reality for all mobile app users,” said Bryan Buskas, the chief operating officer of AppOnboard. As part of its new pitch, the company is offering a 30-day free trial for any App Store Demo.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Vishal Makhijani steps down as chief executive of Udacity

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Vishal Makhijani, the long time chief executive of online education company Udacity, is stepping down as its chief executive officer, TechCrunch has learned.

Makhijani first joined the company in 2013 as chief operating officer under Sebastian Thrun, the company’s founder and chief executive at the time.

In 2016, Thrun, the original architect of Alphabet’s self-driving car initiatives and a storied entrepreneur and engineer in Silicon Valley, handed the reins of his online education startup over to Makhijani, who assumed the mantle of CEO while Thrun became chairman and president of the company.

In an interview, Makhijani declined to disclose his next steps, but Thrun praised the executive for taking Udacity to new heights and hailed him as a key contributor to the company’s continuing growth.

As Thrun wrote in a blog post praising Makhijani for his tireless efforts.

Over the last five years, Vish worked with hundreds of tech companies to build curriculum focused on opening up new career opportunities for our students. Under Vish’s leadership, we launched more than thirty Nanodegree programs in areas such as Artificial Intelligence, Data Science, Self-Driving Cars, and Digital Marketing. We expanded our operations into China, India, Brazil, the Middle East, and Europe, and we started a fast-growing new enterprise division.

Udacity now employs a team of 500 across the globe and its enterprise division, offering continuing education to workers through partners like PriceWaterhouseCoopers and other Fortune 1000 customers has become a new engine of revenue and growth for the company.

It also has more than 10 million students across its paid and free classes, with over 50,000 enrolled in its nanodegree programs.

The financials are also looking better for Udacity. The company saw revenue rise 100% in 2017 to $70 million and is on track for continued revenue growth this year.

A spokesperson for the company said that there were no complaints brought against Makhijani that would have pushed him to step down.

With the executive’s departure, the Udacity board is instituting a new search for chief executive led by director and Andreessen Horowitz general partner, Peter Levine .

“In the interim, as Udacity’s founder and now executive chairman, I will work closely with Udacity’s leadership team to run the business and collaborate on a search for our new CEO,” Thrun wrote in a blog post.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Shopify opens its first brick-and-mortar space in Los Angeles

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Shopify, the provider of payment and logistics management software and services for retailers, has opened its first physical storefront in Los Angeles.

The first brick and mortar location for the Toronto-based company, is nestled in a warren of downtown Los Angeles boutique shops in a complex known as the Row DTLA.

For Shopify, Los Angeles is the ideal place to debut a physical storefront showing off the company’s new line of hardware products and the array of services it provides to businesses ranging from newly opened startups to $900 million juggernauts like the Kylie Cosmetics brand.

The city is one of the most dense conglomerations of Shopify customers with over 10,000 merchants using the company’s technologies in the greater Los Angeles area. 400 of those retailers have each earned over $1 million in gross merchandise volume.

In the Los Angeles space, which looks similar to an Apple store, patrons can expect to see demonstrations and tutorials of how Shopify’s tools and features work. Showrooms displaying the work that Shopify does with some of its close partners will also show how business owners can turn their product visions into actual businesses.

Like Apple, Shopify is staffing its store with experts on the platform who can walk new customers or would-be customers through whatever troubleshooting they may need. While also serving as a space to promote large and small vendors using its payment and supply management solution.

“Our new space in downtown LA is a physical manifestation of our dedication and commitment to making commerce better for everyone. We’re thrilled to be able to take our proven educational, support, and community initiatives and put them to work in an always-on capacity,” said Satish Kanwar, VP of Product at Shopify, in a statement. “We know that making more resources available to entrepreneurs, especially early on, makes them far more likely to succeed, and we’re happy to now be offering that through a brick-and-mortar experience in LA.”

Kanwar and Shopify chief operating officer, Harley Finkelstein, envision the new Los Angeles space as another way to support new and emerging retailers looking for tips on how to build their business in the best possible way.

“The path to being your own boss doesn’t need to be lonely or isolating,” said Finkelstein, in a statement. “With Shopify LA we wanted to create a hub where business owners can find support, inspiration, and community. Most importantly, entrepreneurs at all stages and of all sizes can learn together, have first access to our newest products, and propel their entrepreneurial dreams.”

News Source = techcrunch.com

The reality of quantum computing could be just three years away

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Quantum computing has moved out of the realm of theoretical physics and into the real world, but its potential and promise are still years away.

Onstage at TechCrunch Disrupt SF, a powerhouse in the world of quantum research and a young upstart in the field presented visions for the future of the industry that illustrated both how far the industry has come and how far the technology has to go.

For both Dario Gil, the chief operating officer of IBM Research and the company’s vice president of artificial intelligence and quantum computing, and Chad Rigetti, a former IBM researcher who founded Rigetti Computing and serves as its chief executive, the moment that a quantum computer will be able to perform operations better than a classical computer is only three years away.

“[It’s] generating a solution that is better, faster or cheaper than you can do otherwise,” said Rigetti. “Quantum computing has moved out of a field of research into now an engineering discipline and an engineering enterprise.”

Considering the more than 30 years that IBM has been researching the technology and the millions (or billions) that have been poured into developing it, even seeing an end of the road is a victory for researchers and technologists.

Achieving this goal, for all of the brainpower and research hours that have gone into it, is hardly academic.

The Chinese government is building a $10 billion National Laboratory for Quantum Information in Anhui province, which borders Shanghai and is slated to open in 2020. Meanwhile, the U.S. public research into quantum computing is running at around $200 million per year.

Source: Patin Informatics via Bloomberg News.

One of the reasons why governments, especially, are so interested in the technology is its potential to completely remake the cybersecurity landscape. Some technologists argue that quantum computers will have the potential to crack any type of encryption technology, opening up all of the networks in the world to potential hacking.

Of course, quantum computing is so much more than security. It will enable new ways of doing things we can’t even imagine because we have never had this much pure compute power. Think about artificial and machine learning or drug development; any type of operation that is compute-intensive could benefit from the exponential increase in compute power that quantum computing will bring.

Security may be the Holy Grail for governments, but both Rigetti and Gil say that the industrial chemical business will be the first place where the potentially radical transformation of a market will appear first.

What is quantum computing anyway?

To understand quantum computing it helps to understand the principles of the physics behind it.

As Gil explained onstage (and on our site), quantum computing depends on the principles of superposition, entanglement and interference.

Superposition is the notion that physicists can observe multiple potential states of a particle. “If you a flip a coin it is one or two states,” said Gil. Meaning that there’s a single outcome that can be observed. But if someone were to spin a coin, they’d see a number of potential outcomes.

Once you’ve got one particle that’s being observed, you can add another and pair them thanks to a phenomenon called quantum entanglement. “If you have two coins where each one can be in superpositions and then you can have measurements can be taken” of the difference of both.

Finally, there’s interference, where the two particles can be manipulated by an outside force to change them and create different outcomes.

“In classical systems you have these bits of zeros and ones and the logical operations of the ands and the ors and the nots,” said Gil. “The classical computer is able to process the logical operations of bits expressed in zeros and ones.”

“In an algorithm you put the computer in a super positional state,” Gil continued. “You can take the amplitude and states and interfere them and the algorithm is the thing that interferes… I can have many, many states representing different pieces of information and then i can interfere with it to get these data.”

These operations are incredibly hard to sustain. In the early days of research into quantum computing the superconducting devices only had one nanosecond before a qubit transforms into a traditional bit of data. Those ranges have increased between 50 and 100 microseconds, which enabled IBM and Rigetti to open up their platforms to researchers and others to conduct experimentation (more on that later).

The physical quantum computer

As one can imagine, dealing with quantum particles is a delicate business. So the computing operations have to be carefully controlled. At the base of the machine is what basically amounts to a huge freezer that maintains a temperature in the device of 15 millikelvin — near absolute zero degrees and 180 times colder than the temperatures in interstellar space.

“These qubits are very delicate,” said Gil. “Anything from the outside world can couple to it and destroy its state and one way to protect it is to cool it.”

Wiring for the quantum computer is made of superconducting coaxial cables. The inputs to the computers are microwave pulses that manipulates the particles creating a signal that is then interpreted by the computers’ operators.

Those operators used to require a degree in quantum physics. But both IBM and Rigetti have been working on developing tools that can enable a relative newbie to use the tech.

Quantum computing in the “cloud”

Even as companies like IBM and Rigetti bring the cost of quantum computing down from tens of millions of dollars to roughly $1 million to $2 million, these tools likely will never become commodity hardware that a consumer buys to use as a personal computer.

Rather, as with most other computing these days, quantum computing power will be provided as a service to users.

Indeed, Rigetti announced onstage a new hybrid computing platform that can provide computing services to help the industry both reach quantum advantage — that tipping point at which quantum is commercially viable — and to enable industries to explore the technologies to acclimatize to the potential ways in which typical operations could be disrupted by it.

“A user logs on to their own device and use our software development kit to write a quantum application,” said Rigetti. “That program is sent to a compiler and kicks off an optimization kit that runs on a quantum and classical computer… This is the architecture that’s needed to achieve quantum advantage.”

Both IBM and Rigetti — and a slew of other competitors — are preparing users for accessing quantum computing opportunities on the cloud.

IBM has more than a million chips performing millions of quantum operations requested by users in over 100 countries around the world.

“In a cloud-first era I’m not sure the economic forces will be there that will drive us to develop the miniaturized environment in the laptop,” Rigetti said. But the ramifications of the technology’s commercialization will be felt by everyone, everywhere.

“Quantum computing is going to change the world and it’s all going to come in our lifetime, whether that’s two years or five years,” he said. “Quantum computing is going to redefine every industry and touch every market. Every major company will be involved in some capacity in that space.”


News Source = techcrunch.com

The top 10 startups from Y Combinator’s Demo Day S’18 Day 2

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59 startups took the stage at Y Combinator’s Demo Day 2  and among the highlights were a company that helps developers manage in-app subscriptions; a service that lets you create animojis from real photos; and a surplus medical equipment reselling platform. Oh… and there was also a company that’s developed an entirely new kind of life form using e coli bacteria. So yeah, that’s happening.

Based on some investor buzz and what caught TechCrunch’s eye, these are our picks from the second day of Y Combinator’s presentations.

You can find the full list of companies that presented on Day 1 here, and our top picks from Day 1 here. 

64-x

With a founding team including some of the leading luminaries in the field of biologically inspired engineering (including George Church, Pamela Silver, and Jeffrey Way from Harvard’s Wyss Institute) 64-x is engineering organisms to function in otherwise inaccessible environments. Chief executive Alexis Rovner, herself a post-doctoral fellow at the Wyss Institute, and chief operating officer Ryan Gallagher, a former BCG Consultant, are looking to commercialize research from the Institute around accelerating and expanding the ability to produce functionalized proteins and sequence-defined polymers with diverse chemistries. Basically they’ve engineered a new life form that they want to use for novel kinds of bio-manufacturing.

Why we liked it: These geniuses invented a new life form.

CB Therapeutics

Sher Butt, a former lab directory at Steep Hill, saw that cannabinoids were as close to a miracle cure for pain, epilepsy and other chronic conditions as medicine was going to get. But plant-based cannabinoids were costly and produced inconsistent results. Alongside Jacob Vogan, Butt realized that biosynthesizing cannabinoids would reduce production costs by a factor of ten and boost production 24 times current yields. With a deep experience commercializing drugs for Novartis and as the founder of the cannabis testing company, SB Labs, Butt and his technical co-founder are uniquely positioned to bring this new therapy to market.

Why we liked it: Using manufacturing processes to make industrial quantities of what looks like nature’s best painkiller at scale is not a bad idea.

RevenueCat

RevenueCat founders

RevenueCat helps developers manage their in-app subscriptions. It offers an API that developers can use to support in-app subscriptions on iOS and Android, which means they don’t have to worry about all the nuances, bugs and updates on each platform.

The API also allows developers to bring all the data about their subscription business together in one place. It might be on to something, though it isn’t clear how big that something is quite yet. The nine-month-old company says it’s currently seeing $350,000 in transaction volume every month; it’s making some undisclosed percentage of money off that amount.

Read more about RevenueCat here.

Why we liked it: Write code. Release app. Use RevenueCat. Get paid. That sounds like a good formula for a pretty compelling business.

 

Ajaib

Indonesia is a country in a transition, with a growing class of individuals with assets to invest yet who, financially, don’t meet the bar set by many wealth managers. Enter Ajaib, a newly minted startup with the very bold ambition of becoming the “Ant Financial of wealth management for Indonesia.” Why the comparison? Because China was in the same boat not long ago — a  country whose middle class had little access to wealth management advice. With the founding of Ant Financial nearly four years ago, that changed. In fact, Ant now boasts more than 400 million users.

China is home to nearly 1.4 billion, compared with Indonesia, whose population of 261 million is tiny in comparison. Still, if its plans work out to charge 1.4 percent for every dollar managed, with an estimated $370 billion in savings in the country to chase after, it could be facing a meaningful opportunity in its backyard if it gains some momentum.

Why we liked it: If Ajaib’s wealth management plans (to charge 1.4 percent for every dollar it manages) work out — and with a total market of $370 billion in savings in Indonesia — the company could be facing a meaningful opportunity in its backyard.

 

Grin

The scooter craze is hitting Latin America and Grin is greasing the wheels. The Mexico City-based company was launched by co-founder Sergio Romo after he and his partner realized they weren’t going to be able to get a cut of the big “birds” on the scooter block in the U.S. (as Axios reported). Romo and his co-founder have already lined up a slew of investors for what may be the hottest new deal in Latin America. Backers include Sinai Ventures, Liquid2 Ventures, 500 Startups, Monashees and Base10 Partners.

Why we liked it: Scooters are so 2018. But there’s a lot of money to be made in mobility, and as the challenge from Bird and Lime to Uber and Lyft in hyperlocal transit has revealed, there’s no dominant player that’s taken over the market… yet.

Emojer

Creating animated emojis made from real photos, Emojer just might be the most fun you can have with a camera. The company’s software uses deep learning algorithms to detect body parts and guides users in creating their own avatars with just a simple photo take from a mobile phone. It’s replacing deep Photoshop expertise and animation skills with a super simple interface. The avatars look very similar to Elf Yourself, a popular site that let you paste your friends’ faces on dancing Christmas elves that went viral every year at Christmastime. Founders have PhDs in machine learning and computer vision.

Why we liked it: As the company’s chief executive said, Snap was for sexting, and Facebook was hot or not, so who says the next big consumer platform couldn’t be the trojan horse of easily generated selfiemojis (akin to Elf Yourself)?

Osh’s Affordable Pharmaceuticals

Osh’s Affordable Pharmaceuticals is a public benefit corporation connecting doctors and patients with sources of low-cost, compounded pharmaceuticals. The company is looking to decrease barriers to entry for drugs for rare diseases. Three weeks ago the company introduced a drug to treat Wilson’s Disease. There was no access to the drug that treats the disease before in Brazil India or Canada. It slashes the cost of drugs from $30,000 a month to $120 per month. The company estimates it has a total addressable market of $17 billion. “Generic drug pricing is a crisis, people are dying because they can’t get access to the medicine they need,” says chief executive Alex Oshmyansky. Osh’s might have a solution.

Why we liked it: Selling lower-cost medications for rare diseases in countries that previously hadn’t had access to them is a good business that’s good for the world.

Medinas Health

Tackling a $75 billion problem of healthcare waste Medinas Health is giving hospitals an easy way to resell their used and a and supplies. The company has already raised $1 million for its marketplace to help healthcare organizations buy and sell equipment. With a seed round led by Ashton Kutcher and Guy Oseary’s Sound Ventures, and General Catalyst’s Rough Draft Ventures fund, the company is also working to lower costs for cash-strapped rural health care centers.

Why we liked it: tktk

And Comfort

Plus-size women have limited clothing options even at the largest retailers like Nordstrom and Macy’s. While a majority of American women fall into the plus-size clothing category, 100 million women are constrained to shopping for a very small percentage of options. And Comfort wants to solve the supply problem. To do this, the founders, two former Harvard classmates, are building a direct-to-consumer fashion brand with stylish, minimalist offerings for plus-size women, including tunic shirts and an apron dress. It’s very early days for the brand, but since launching in recent weeks, they’ve seen $25,000 in sales.

Why we liked it: This direct-to-consumer fashion brand is bringing higher quality, better-designed clothing options to a market that’s underserved and growing quickly. What’s not to like?

 

ShopWith

Influencers of the world are uniting on mobile app, ShopWith, which allows shoppers to browse virtual storefronts and aisles alongside their favorite fashion and beauty creators and YouTubers. Users can see exactly what products those influencers have featured and can buy them without ever leaving the app. It’s a free download and hours of commercially consumptive fun.

It’s like the QVC model, but for GenZ shoppers whose buying habits are influenced by social video content on YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat. The company revealed that one beauty influencer made $10,000 within five hours, using the ShopWith platform. The founders are former product managers with experience building social commerce products at Facebook and Amazon.

Why we liked it: The QVC for GenZ not only has a nice ring to it, it’s a recipe for making cash registers hum. A mobile-first, influencer-based shopping company is something that we’d definitely not call an impulse purchase.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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