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March 23, 2019
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Music’s next big startup Splice raises $57.5M to sell samples

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Tech has a bad reputation for pulling money out of musicians’ pockets, but Splice is changing that. The audio sample marketplace and music production collaboration tool has now paid out $15 million to artists since 2013, doubling in the last year. Splice lets musicians sell their sounds for royalty-free use, and songs by Eminem, Ariana Grande and Marshmello that were powered by those samples have topped the charts. Splice charges $7.99 per month for unlimited access to its array of 3 million synthesizers, drum hits, vocal flares and other sounds. Despite being designed for serious musicians, Splice’s suite of tools now has 2.5 million users, up from 1.5 million a year ago.

Steve Martocci

“Music is going through a beautiful moment,” says Steve Martocci, Splice’s co-founder and CEO who formerly built and sold GroupMe. “The tailwinds from the success of streaming are great. As more people realize how big the market it, how much people want to create music, there’s a huge opportunity here.”

Now Union Square Ventures and True Ventures are seizing on that opportunity, co-leading a $57.5 million Series C for Splice. “It’s all about scale,” Martocci tells me. “We’re investing in ourselves. Continuing to build new products. Continuing to work with bigger artists. We think there’s so much about the creative process and ecosystem of musicians that needs to be fixed. We want to diversify the content available so all artists in all genres feel like we have what they need.”

The round, which includes DFJ Growth, Flybridge, Lerer Hippeau, Liontree, Founders Circle Capital and Matt Pincus, brings Splice to $104.5 million in total funding. Splice wouldn’t disclose the valuation, but using the industry standard of selling 20 percent equity for a Series C, Splice could be valued in the ballpark of $285 million. That would make it one of the top music startups that isn’t selling streaming, tickets or hardware. Its success has also begun to draw competition from companies like Native Instruments, which launched its Sounds.com marketplace last year.

Splice’s subscription revenue is pooled and then doled out to artists based on whose samples got the most downloads. Creators range from bedroom tinkerers to Drake’s Grammy-winning producer Boi-1da. Martocci confirms that artists receive the majority of Splice’s sample marketplace revenue, saying, “they’re very favorable deals.” That’s especially great for the music production industry, because a lot of Splice’s sample creators aren’t celebrity DJs; Martocci says they’re audio engineers and other “people behind the scenes getting an opportunity to step into the light with an amazing revenue opportunity, but also an opportunity to be seen for their creative contributions.”

Splice began with a eureka moment at a concert. A friend asked Martocci why there weren’t great tools for producing music like there are for building software like GroupMe. After eventually leaving his chat app that Skype acquired, Martocci connected with Splice co-founder Matt Aimonetti and discovered he’d been an audio engineer for half of his life. They saw a chance to build a GitHub for music, with version control and admin permissions for making saving and collaborating on productions simple. By 2015 Splice had launched its Sounds subscription library, and the next year began selling rent-to-own software synthesizers to make avoiding piracy affordable for creators.

Fast-forward and Martocci tells me prioritization across Splice’s different product lines will be one of its big challenges. Luckily, he has a new crew of lieutenants to help. Former product lead for Apple Music and Beats by Dre VP Ryan Walsh has joined as chief product officer because, Martocci says, “he felt like his mission in music was unfinished.” Former chief financial officer of Marvel Entertainment Chris Acquaviva is now Splice’s CFO, who offers deep licensing expertise. And bringing the creator community vibe, MakerBot’s former CHRO, Kavita Vora, has become Splice’s chief people officer.

In an era when tech public image has been tested by non-stop scandals from the industry giants, Splice is pulling in ace talent that want to work on something unequivocally positive. Martocci tells me parents tell him that their kids spend all their time playing Fortnite and making music on Splice, but the latter is screen time they’re happy to encourage.

News Source = techcrunch.com

The Oculus Rift S is real and arrives in spring for $399

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After years of high-profile onstage announcements, Oculus has decided to quietly deliver the successor to its flagship Rift virtual reality headset, confirming most bits of our October report with the release of the new Oculus Rift S.

As we first reported, the biggest improvements to the Oculus Rift S are a move to the company’s inside-out “Insight” camera tracking system and modest updates to the display resolution. The biggest surprise is that this headset is being built in partnership with Lenovo and the Rift S seems to have strongly inherited Lenovo’s design ethos for its VR products, for better or worse…

When asked at a low-key private press event how they were framing the new device, Oculus co-founder Nate Mitchell called the Rift S an “evolution not a revolution” over the original Rift. That being said, the design is entirely new, but not all of the changes are ones VR fans will be happy about.

The Rift S will be replacing the Rift in the Oculus product lineup.

Here’s what’s different:

  • Small resolution increase per eye from (1080 x 1200) to (1280 x 1440), improved lenses
  • Frame rate is dropping from 90hz to 80hz
  • Switched from OLED to the LCD panels used on Oculus Go
  • 5 onboard cameras for inside-out camera tracking
  • Ships with updated Oculus Touch controllers, same as what ships with Quest
  • Loses the on-ear headphones for cheaper-sounding near-ear speakers similar to Oculus Go
  • Ditches the flexible strap for a rigid “halo” design like the PlayStation VR headset
  • FoV is “slightly larger” on the Rift S compared to the Rift, Oculus tells us
  • No manual adjustment of distance between your eyes (IPD)
  • PC spec requirements are largely the same, though you may need a faster CPU we are told
  • More expensive than the last generation at $399 versus $349
  • Launching in spring 2019

As we reported last year, the Rift S is a product of trade-offs. It was green-lit only after a more ambitious redesign was cancelled by the company.

This was a decision former-CEO and co-founder Brendan Iribe strongly repudiated. A source told TechCrunch his departure was partially due to his lack of interest in “offering compromised experiences that provided short-term user growth but sacrificed on comfort and performance.”

The Rift S is certainly full of compromises.

The original Rift and Touch were shipped as a $798 combo that eventually had the price reduced to $349 as the result of round after round of price cuts. The Rift S is more expensive, but it feels cheaper, with Lenovo’s hard plastic design and the loss of key features designed for comfort, like on-ear headphones and IPD adjustment. That being said, most first-time users will be thrilled by the easier setup process for the onboard cameras and not having to worry about things like USB bandwidth management for wired sensors. 

The tracking system is powerful, but it seems like Oculus had to make some controversial choices to end up with this product, so we’ll see what the broader reaction is. The headset and controllers are coming sometime this spring and will retail for $399.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Skedulo raises $28M for its mobile workforce management service

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Skedulo, a service that helps businesses manage their mobile employees, today announced that it has raised a $28 million Series B funding round led by M12, Microsoft’s venture fund. Existing investors Blackbird and Castanoa Ventures also participated in this round.

The company’s service offers businesses all the necessary tools to manage their mobile employees, including their schedules. A lot of small businesses still use basic spreadsheets and email to do this, but that’s obviously not the most efficient way to match the right employee to the right job, for example.

“Workforce management has traditionally been focused on employees that are sitting at a desk for the majority of their day,” Skedulo CEO and co-founder Matt Fairhurst told me. “The overwhelming majority — 80 percent — of workers will be deskless by 2020 and so far, there has been no one that has addressed the needs of this growing population at scale. We’re excited to help enterprises confront these challenges head-on so they can compete and lean into rapidly changing customer and employee expectations.”

At the core of Skedulo, which offers both a mobile app and web-based interface, is the company’s so-called “Mastermind” engine that helps businesses automatically match the right employee to a job based on the priorities the company has specified. The company plans to use the new funding to enhance this tool through new machine learning capabilities. Skedulo will also soon offer new analytics tools and integrations with third-party services like HR and financial management tools, as well as payroll systems.

The company also plans to use the new funding to double its headcount, which includes hiring at least 60 new employees in its Australian offices in Brisbane and Sydney.

As part of this round, Priya Saiprasad, principal of M12, will join Skedulo’s board of directors. “We found a strong sense of aligned purpose with Priya Saiprasad and the team at M12 — and their desire to invest in companies that help reduce cycles in a person’s working day,” Fairhurst said. “Fundamentally, Skedulo is a productivity company. We help companies, the back-office and mobile workforce, reduce the number of cycles it takes to get work done. This gives them time back to focus on the work that matters most.”

News Source = techcrunch.com

Aluminum manufacturing giant Norsk Hydro shut down by ransomware

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Norsk Hydro, one of the largest global aluminum manufacturers, has confirmed its operations have been disrupted by a ransomware attack.

The Oslo, Norway-based company said in a brief statement that the attack, which began early Tuesday, has impacted “most business areas,” forcing the aluminum maker to switch to manual operations.

“Hydro is working to contain and neutralize the attack, but does not yet know the full extent of the situation,” the company said in a statement posted to Facebook. It’s understood that the ransomware disabled a key part of the company’s smelting operations.

Employees were told to “not connect any devices” to the company’s network. Norsk Hydro’s website was also down at the time of writing.

A sheet of paper with informations concerning a cyber attack (L) and one reading ‘ Hydro is under a cyber attack, don’ t plug your computer on the network unless we say so’ are pictured on a window of the headquarters of the Norwegian aluminium group ‘Norsk Hydro’ in Oslo, Norway on March 19, 2019. (Photo by Terje PEDERSEN / NTB Scanpix / AFP) / Norway OUT (Photo credit should read TERJE PEDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images)

The company manufacturers aluminum products, manufacturing close to half a million tons each year, and is also a significant provider hydroelectric power in the Nordic state.

Reuters said operations in Qatar and Brazil were also under manual operation, but the company said in a public disclosure with the Norwegian stock exchange there was “no indication” of impact on primary plants outside Norway.

“It is too early to assess the full impact of the situation. It is too early to assess the impact on customers,” said the aluminum maker.

Norway’s National Security Authority did not immediately respond to an email with questions, but told Reuters that the infection is likely LockerGoga, a new kind of digitally signed ransomware that went undetected until recently. The ransomware locks files and demands a ransom payment for a decryption key.

Security expert Kevin Beaumont said earlier this month the malware was also used to target Altran, a Paris, France-based consulting firm, last month. Beaumont said the malware doesn’t require a network connection or a command and control server like other ransomware strains. A sample of the ransomware shared to malware analysis site VirusTotal shows only a handful of anti-malware products can detect and neutralize the LockerGoga malware.

Norsk Hydro spokesperson Stian Hasle did not immediately comment.

News Source = techcrunch.com

WorkClout brings SaaS to factory floor to increase operational efficiency

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Factory software tools are often out of reach of small manufacturers, forcing them to operate with inefficient manual systems. WorkClout, a member of the Y Combinator Winter 2019 class, wants to change that by offering a more affordable SaaS alternative to traditional manufacturing software solutions.

Company co-founder and CEO Arjun Patel grew up helping out in his Dad’s factory and he saw first-hand how difficult it is for small factory owners to automate. He says that traditional floor management tools are expensive and challenging to implement.

“What motivated me is that when my Dad was trying to implement a similar system,” Patel said. He said that his father’s system had cost over $240K, taken over a year to get going and wasn’t really doing what he wanted it to do. That’s when he decided to help.

He teamed up with Bryan Trang, who became the CPO and Richard Girges, who became the CTO to build the system that his Dad (and others in a similar situation) needed. Specifically, the company developed a cloud software solution that helps manufacturers increase their operational efficiency. “Two things that we do really well is track every action on the factory floor and use that data to make suggestions on how to increase efficiency. We also determine how much work can be done in a given time period, taking finite resources into consideration,” Patel explained.

He said that one of the main problems that small-to-medium sized manufacturers face is a lack of visibility into their businesses. WorkClout looks at orders, activities, labor and resources to determine the best course of action to a complete an order in the most cost-effective way.

“WorkClout gives our customers a better way to allocate resources and greater visibility of what’s actually happening on the factory floor. The more data that they have, the more accurate picture they have of what’s going on,” Patel said.

Production Schedule view. Screenshot: WorkClout

The company is still working on the pricing model, but today it charges administrative users like plant management, accounting and sales. Machine operators get access to the data for free. The current rate for paid users starts at $99 per user per month. There is an additional one-time charge for implementation and training.

As for the Y Combinator experience, Patel says that it has helped him focus on what’s important. “It really makes you hone in on building the product and getting customers, then making sure those two things are leading to customer happiness,” he said.

While the company does have to help customers get going today, the goal is to make the product more self-serve over time as they begin to understand the different verticals they are developing solutions for. The startup launched in December and already has 13 customers, generating $100,000 in annual recurring revenue (ARR), according to Patel.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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