Tencent’s WeChat suspends new user registration in China to comply with ‘relevant laws and regulations’

Tencent’s WeChat said on Tuesday it is temporarily suspending registration of new users in China as it works to comply with “relevant laws and regulations,” the latest Chinese firm to face regulatory scrutiny in the world’s largest internet market.

In a social media post, Tencent said it is “upgrading” its security technology to align with all relevant laws and regulations and while this process in underway “registration of new Weixin (WeChat’s Chinese app) personal and official accounts has been temporarily suspended.”

“Registration services will be restored after the upgrade is complete, which is expected in early August,” said WeChat, which has amassed over 1.2 billion monthly active users in China as of earlier this year.

It’s not immediately clear which law WeChat is citing in its announcement but the move comes amid a broad crackdown on tech firms by Chinese regulators. The crackdown has wiped billions of dollars in market cap for Chinese firms in recent weeks and many high-profile global investors including SoftBank are impacted by it.

This is the first time WeChat, which operates as a super-app in China, has had to take a step of this kind in more than a decade. In addition to offering a messaging service, Weixin also allows users to make online payments and access a range of financial services.

(In other markets, it’s a different story. Donald Trump had signed an order to ban transactions with TikTok and WeChat in the U.S. last year. President Joe Biden revoked and replaced those actions last month.)

Some analysts believe that the Chinese government is concerned about the growing influence of tech firms in the country and also the privacy of its citizens’ data.

Earlier this month, China’s cybersecurity regulator ordered ride-hailing giant app Didi to stop signing up new users. That move had come days after Didi’s $4.4 billion initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange. Didi’s app, which has been pulled from the app stores in China, illegally collected personal data of its customers, the regulator accused.

source https://techcrunch.com/2021/07/27/tencents-wechat-suspends-new-user-registration-in-china-to-comply-with-relevant-laws-and-regulations/

The iPhone 14 Pro could get a big toughness upgrade next year – report

While the upcoming iPhone 13 appears to be an incremental update, the 2022 model could be dramatically different, according to a new investors report from JP Morgan Chase.

As first spotted by MacRumors, the report claims that Apple will eschew its usual aluminium and stainless steel shells for a new titanium alloy chassis on the iPhone 14 Pro models. This would offer considerably more toughness, albeit at the cost of being a bit heavier in the hand. The move to titanium could point to a thinner design for the handset, as it would be a useful barrier against bending.

Switching to titanium wouldn’t be completely unprecedented for Apple from a design point of view either, as the company already uses the material in some of its Apple Watch 6 models. The Apple Card is also made of titanium – something that led to the company warning that leather wallets could cause discolouration.    

While titanium has clear drawbacks, Apple appears to have made significant progress on mitigating them if its recent patents are anything to go by. The hardness of the material – the very quality that makes it hard to scratch – makes it hard to work with, but the company has a patent describing how a new blasting, etching and chemical process can improve that. 

Equally, past titanium products show up the oil from fingerprints in a manner that’s distinctly unattractive, but Apple believes a thin oxide coating could put paid to that issue.     

Away from the materials involved, the report also corroborates Ming-Chi Kuo’s prediction that this year’s iPhone 13 will be the last outing for the underperforming ‘mini’ handset. The analyst previously stated that next year’s iPhone 14 will come in two sizes whether you get a Pro or regular model: 6.1- or 6.7-inches.

The post The iPhone 14 Pro could get a big toughness upgrade next year – report appeared first on Trusted Reviews.

from https://ift.tt/3eWLTsA

Rocketium raises $3.2M to help creative teams create massive marketing campaigns

In between A/B testing, customizing targeted ads and formatting for different digital platforms, some design teams are tasked with campaigns that include thousands of images, videos and other visual content. Based in Bangalore, Rocketium automates much of the process, allowing teams to scale-up campaigns while reducing their workload. The company announced it has raised $3.2 million led by Emergent Ventures to launch in the United States and expand in other markets.

Rocketium’s clients include Urban Company, CasaOne, BigBasket, cure.fit and Meesho. It says visuals made on its platform are seen by 100 million end users. Its latest funding brings Rocketium’s total raised so far to $4.2 million, including a $1 million seed round from Blume Ventures and 1Crowd.

Rocketium’s platform is currently invite-only and it plans to open self-service usage and purchases in 2022, along with more integrations with e-commerce and advertising platforms (its current integrations include Salesforce, Mailchimp, YouTube, Vimeo, Wistia and Hubspot).

To use Rocketium, design teams create a core set of templates in Photoshop or After Effects and import them to the platform. Then Rocketium customizes ads for different scenarios. For example, if a retailer is running a targeted campaign with free shipping in certain areas, they enter that information into a spreadsheet and Rocketium automatically updates the text in the templates. Then ads and videos are formatted for different platforms, like banners for web advertising or square format for Instagram.

Rocketium's size adaptation tool

Rocketium’s size adaptation tool

One of Rocketium’s clients, fitness app cure.fit, uses it to run about five to six campaigns each month for different membership plans. The platform enables cure.fit to reduce the production time for visual content and personalize campaigns based on users’ interests, demographics and locations.

Rocketium's AI-based copywriter

Rocketium’s AI-based copywriter

Rocketium also includes tools for A/B testing, ad targeting and data analytics.

Other companies that help marketing teams create visual advertising campaigns include Canva, InVideo and Lumen5. Co-founder and chief executive officer Satej Sirur told TechCrunch that Rocketium was designed specifically for clients that need to create hundreds or thousands of ads, video and other creative content a month, and can be used to create up to 10,000 visuals at a time.

While Canva, InVideo and Lumen5 provide templates, Rocketium is more focused on users who want to import their own designs from PhotoShop and After Effects.

In a statement, Emergent Ventures founder and partner Ankur Jain said, “From high-volume content production to data-driven campaign optimization, Rocketium is challenging traditional organizational silos to deliver a product that is truly loved and relied on by performance marketers and designers alike.”

source https://techcrunch.com/2021/07/27/rocketium-raises-3-2m-to-help-creative-teams-create-massive-marketing-campaigns/

Indonesia-based grocery app HappyFresh reaps $65M led by Naver Financial and Gafina

HappyFresh, the on-demand grocery app based in Indonesia, announced today it has raised a $65 million Series D. The round was led by Naver Financial Corporation and Gafina B.V., with participation from STIC, LB and Mirae Asset Indonesia and Singapore. It also included returning investors Mirae-Asset Naver Asia Growth Fund and Z Venture Capital.

The company’s previous round of funding was a $20 million Series C announced in April 2019.

Founded in 2014, HappyFresh was the first Instacart-style grocery delivery service to launch in Southeast Asia. It expanded into five markets before shutting down its operations in Taiwan and the Philippines in 2016. It continues to operate in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.

In a press release, HappyFresh said it “has been experiencing an unprecedented growth” over the past 18 months as customers turned to grocery deliveries during the pandemic, with traffic growing by 10x to 20x in its three countries.

In a statement, HappyFresh chief executive officer Guillem Segarra said, “We see a big shift in customers’ behavior; retention and frequency rates have significantly increased while the overall basket size has been consistently growing. We attribute this to a major shift in share of wallet from offline to online, which is here to stay.”

The new funding will be used to scale HappyFresh’s operations, including growing its fleet of drivers. The company also plans to add more payment methods, improve user experience and increase its assortment of items.

source https://techcrunch.com/2021/07/27/indonesia-based-grocery-app-happyfresh-reaps-65m-led-by-naver-financial-and-gafina/

The iPad mini 6’s screen will grow less than expected – report

iPad Mini 5

Last May, Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo stated that the iPad mini 6 would arrive in the first half of 2021 with a screen size of between 8.5- and 9-inches. 

He was clearly wrong on the first point, given we’re now in the second half of the year with no new iPad mini, and a new report suggests the second point could be slightly wide of the mark too.

Display analyst Ross Young tweeted that the iPad mini 6’s screen will actually be 8.3-inches. As he added in a follow-up tweet, that’s a modest 0.4-inch increase from the 2019 model, and likely achieved due to narrower bezels and the removal of the Home button rather than a larger frame. 

That’s quite achievable, given the current iPad mini hasn’t changed dramatically in terms of design since the first generation launched in 2012 when thin bezels were unheard of.

It also seems to be consistent with rumour that the iPad mini 6 will follow the design cues of the 2020 iPad Air, which in turn ended up looking closer to the more expensive iPad Pro tablets. With the Home button gone, the iPad Air relocated Touch ID to the power button.

iPad Mini 6 renders showing front and back
A render of the iPad Mini 6

Last week a report claimed three big changes were incoming for the upcoming iPad mini 6, which seem to back up this planned design unity between iPads. Not only would the new mini be packing the same upcoming Apple A15 chip set to power the iPhone 12, but the new device will apparently ditch the Lighting port for the more common USB-C, and introduce the magnetic Smart Connector, The latter opens the door for extras like the Apple Smart Keyboard – albeit in a new size to accommodate the mini’s unusual dimensions.

After the iPad mini 6 missed its anticipated launch window of the first half of the year, it’s not clear exactly when it will emerge, but it remains very likely to be a 2021 product.

The post The iPad mini 6’s screen will grow less than expected – report appeared first on Trusted Reviews.

from https://ift.tt/3BUw3J5

South African payments startup Yoco raises $83M Series C led by Dragoneer

Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) contribute heavily to the economic success of many countries, particularly those in the developing world. They are the backbone of most economies: Globally, SMEs represent about 90% of existing businesses and create more than 50% of employment.

In South Africa, these businesses contribute around one-third of the country’s GDP. Last year, the coronavirus pandemic threatened the existence of some of these SMEs, and its effects linger as owners worry about revenue, sales and cash flow.

Since launching in 2013, South African fintech Yoco has positioned itself as the go-to platform to access offline payments among merchants in the country. Today, the company is announcing $83 million in Series C funding to scale offline and online offerings and expand to new markets.

Despite South Africa’s high card and mobile penetration rates of over 70%, the country’s SMEs still struggle to accept cards. Yoco’s portable card machines have proved masterful in solving this problem; when TechCrunch covered the company three years ago after its $16 million Series B raise, it had little over 30,000 merchants using its platform. Now, that number has quintupled.

As Yoco grew exponentially in providing offline payments, it built an online offering. After being in beta for a while, the rollout came right on time some days into South Africa’s lockdown in March last year. This way, South African merchants could continue accepting payments on the platform.

“We want to offer whatever payment methods our merchants need. And we did start in the in-person payment space, focusing on terminals, which was where the biggest demand was,” chief business officer Carl Wazen said. “But the pandemic, which had a devastating effect on so many businesses that relied on in-person trade, accelerated the need for businesses to accept payments online.”

During the height of the lockdowns in South Africa, sentiment across SMEs owners on a scale of -100 to 100 dropped to an all-time low of -12 in Q2 2020, according to Yoco’s small business pulse monitor. It has since improved following the easing of the lockdowns, allowing businesses to move more freely and continue in-person payments. As a result, Yoco’s online payments account for a minute part of the transactions made on the platform.

But that’s not to say people are transacting with cash. In fact, it’s the opposite, according to Wazen. Wazen says one post-pandemic behavior he noticed was that once the lockdown was lifted, people came back to make in-person payments in an accelerated way because they stopped using cash. “Recent consumer behavior shows a shift away from cash, and businesses have to rapidly adapt to this change. This presents a huge opportunity, and it is our mission to support that transition,” he added.

Earlier this year, chief executive Katlego Maphai said Yoco was looking to expand its services into other aspects of digital payments. He listed mobile money, QR payments and electronic funds transfer (ETF) as offerings in its pipeline. Wazen corroborated this, but didn’t provide an update about where the company is with these offerings. He did mention, however, that the company is still very much a card-focused payment provider.

Yoco’s strategy as the foremost card payments provider in South Africa lies in creating access and removing barriers to adopting digital financial services. The company does that by focusing on product capabilities that Wazen claims are the most comprehensive for small and medium businesses. He adds that in terms of market presence, Yoco is also the easiest for merchants to access services through different channels seamlessly.

“We’ve got a brand that is recognized now. That’s how we win and it’s about staying as focused as possible on that part of the market that, in our opinion, people like other competitors are not focused on enough.”

South Africa has over 6 million small businesses that still transact only in cash; this provides a huge opportunity for Yoco. According to the company, the number of small businesses that were fully cashless jumped 300% from March to July 2020. Yoco currently serves 150,000 of these businesses and adds over 500 merchants per day. The company claims to be processing more than $1 billion in card payments per year, and in its six years of existence, it has processed over $2 billion in card payments.


Image Credits: Yoco

Yoco has raised a total of $107 million. The company’s Series C investment is the largest of its kind in South Africa and one of the largest for any African fintech (third only to Flutterwave and Chipper Cash). Wazen also claims it is the largest by any small business-focused payments platform in the Middle East and Africa.

Yoco is currently one of the most valuable startups on the continent, and as a fintech startup, it comes as no surprise. The sector continues to dominate startup venture capital funding in Africa while its heavy hitters bring first-time investors to the continent.

In Yoco’s case, it’s the lead investor in this round, Dragoneer Investment Group. The fund has famously backed fintech giants like Chime, Klarna, Nubank, Mercado Libre and Square.

Other investors that participated include new investors Breyer Capital, HOF Capital, The Raba Partnership, 4DX Ventures and TO Ventures; and existing investors Partech, Velocity Capital Fintech Ventures, Orange Ventures and Quona Capital. Current and former executives from global tech companies such as Coinbase, Revolut, Spotify and Gojek took part as well.

“We couldn’t be more excited to partner with the Yoco team,” Christian Jensen, co-head of private investments at Dragoneer, said in a statement. “At Dragoneer, we look for great teams that are building durable businesses with wonderful economic models, and that is exactly what we’ve found at Yoco. Yoco is already beloved by customers, and the product roadmap that the company is investing behind will drive even more value for merchants. While there is tremendous room for continued growth domestically, the opportunity for Yoco goes well beyond South Africa.”

There are three core enablers to Yoco’s thriving business, Wazen pointed out. First is its product capabilities, second is its platform and third is its market presence. This investment will be there to accelerate all three. Yoco is transitioning from a pure payment acceptance play into a full financial ecosystem on the product side. The platform play will see Yoco continue to integrate and take advantage of regulatory easing vertically, and Yoco is deepening its market presence in South Africa.

While Wazen believes Yoco has barely scratched the surface in South Africa, he’s looking forward to replicating its growth in other parts of Africa and the Middle East. With over 100 million SMEs transacting in cash across both regions, Yoco plans to reach at least a million within the next four years.

To accomplish this, Yoco is increasing its team by 200 people remotely and across its offices in Cape Town and Amsterdam within the next year. The company is also tapping into a current trend that has seen African soonicorns and unicorns hire former top employees from global companies to scale theirs to new heights. While it doesn’t mention names, some of Yoco’s new hires include a former VP of product at Monzo, a former product marketing director at Paypal and a former head of communications at Uber. The company has also brought on board a new chairman, Juan Fuentes, the former managing director of fintech unicorn Pagseguro.

source https://techcrunch.com/2021/07/27/south-african-payments-startup-yoco-raises-83m-series-c-led-by-dragoneer/

Onto raises $175 million in Series B to expand EV subscription service in the UK

Onto has raised $175 million in a combined equity and debt Series B round, capital the U.K.-based electric vehicle subscription startup plans to use to expand within the country as well as move into new markets. 

This latest round brings Onto’s total funding to $245 million. Swedish VC Alfvén & Didrikson is leading the round on the equity raise, and British investment company Pollen Street Capital is providing a senior-secured asset-backed debt facility, which likely means Onto’s fleet of over 3,000 electric vehicles will be used as collateral. Onto did not disclose how much of the round came from equity versus debt. 

The car-as-a-service company is finding that sweet spot between society’s growing adoration for subscription services and EV adoption driven by legislation. The U.K., like many other countries, is banning internal combustion engine new car sales by 2030, so more people are looking for ways to make the switch to electric.

That shift from gas to electric is accelerating. New registrations of all-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles had a market share of 10.7% in the UK in 2020, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. That’s up from 6.6% in 2019. The organization noted that battery and plug-in hybrid electric cars together accounted for more than one in 10 registrations, up from around one in 30 in 2019.

Buying a car is often considered one of the worst investments you can make; it’s an asset that both depreciates and costs money the moment a customer buys it through financing. Yet there are millions of new car sales each year in the U.K. With a market size that large, Onto founder and CEO Rob Jolly thinks there’s plenty of room to make the subscriptions business a sustainable and profitable one.  

“Our total cost of ownership is very comparable with having your own car but you don’t have to worry about charging fees or servicing,” Jolly told TechCrunch. “The ballpark cost is £330 (~$450) per month. There’s no upfront deposit, which is huge. What we’re trying to do is remove all the barriers and actually make it easier for people to recognize that having a car on subscription is actually easier and more affordable than having a petrol or diesel car.” 

A brief glance at Onto’s website shows that the £330 ballpark is only accurate for certain cars at the lower range of the company’s fleet. The middle range could be a Peugeot at £450 (~$622) or a Hyundai at £560 (~$775), and high range could be a Jaguar or Tesla at £1299 (~$1,800).

If we crunch the numbers for leasing a Hyundai Kona, for example, it’s not clear that Onto’s service is cheaper. A lease for this vehicle in the U.K. could cost a customer annually £9,888 over a four year period with a down payment of £2,152. The average cost of insurance for EVs in the U.K. is £2,264. The average person travels 35 miles by personal car per day, and the Hyundai Kona has a range of about 245 miles, so you really only need to fully charge it once a week. The average cost of charging the battery is about £10, so you’re looking at about £520 per year on charging. Maintenance for electric vehicles is minimal and usually included in a lease agreement. Tally it up and you get a number in the ballpark of £15,000 (~$20,700) over four years. At £560 per month, Onto’s service would cost a customer £26,880 (~$37,145) over the same four year period. When factoring in U.K.’s plug-in car grant, you could buy the car for £27,950 (~$38,620). 

It’s certainly more of a high-end service, and the premium is on the convenience and flexibility. Onto’s pricing is certainly comparable to other EV subscription businesses, like Steer in North America. Flux, in San Francisco, is markedly cheaper, offering Teslas for $600 per month, but it doesn’t include the “all-inclusive” services like road tax and insurance that Onto does. Granted, in the U.K., EV owners don’t actually have to pay for road tax.

Among other things Onto says are included in a subscription are home delivery on its vehicles and access to free charging via network partners like BP Pulse, Tesla Supercharger, InstaVolt and as of earlier this year Shell Recharge. The company has partnerships with 10 car brands and rents out 12 different EV models, and is in the process of firming up more automaker partnerships. Jolly wouldn’t share specifics on future partnerships. However, updates to the company’s website, which shows most recent additions of car models to book, suggest Volkswagen and its 2021 e-Up! will be the latest.

Jolly said it might take a while for the masses to catch on to both EVs and subscriptions, but he’s confident that offering customers a white-glove service that can be canceled anytime makes the choice as easy as possible. In fact, Jolly said Onto is very nearly profitable, and that’s evident in the company’s plans to double its team size, which is currently at 70 staff members, every three to six months. 

Onto’s lead investor, Alfvén & Didrikson (A&D), which usually invests in more SaaS businesses, has a long term investing structure. This has allowed the VC to take bigger bets on businesses like Onto’s that requires large upfront costs, according to Tiyam Afshari, partner at A&D.

“We’re happy to take those bets that we see are transforming an industry,” Afshari told TechCrunch. “Subscription as a form of ownership when it comes to cars is just a no-brainer if you look at all the hassle that comes from owning a car. So we feel quite strongly that the subscription model should and will grow to quite a significant part of the financing industry, and Onto is in a prime position to capitalize on that.”

Given its lead investor’s long term bet on Onto, it’s perceivable that the company might look towards Sweden as it seeks to expand outside the U.K. After all, the Scandinavians have taken to EVs faster than other countries, and another EV subscription service in Norway, imove, recently raised $19 million in a Series A.

For many users, the EV subscription service isn’t just about not having to worry about things like road tax, auto insurance and servicing. It’s about the flexibility of keeping up with the latest EV models. 

“The iPhone has updates every year because the tech is improving and the battery life gets slightly better,” said Jolly. “The same thing is going to happen and already is happening with EVs. We’re seeing that this is car ownership now for millennials. They can swap in for the latest and greatest car when it comes out, even if it’s just a car with 30 miles extra range. And that’s hugely prevalent within our customers.”

For Simon Smith of East Devon, 32, it’s never been about trying out the newest car. He joined Onto’s service in 2019 for ethical and financial reasons, and has found the different iterations of the Renault Zoe ZE40 to suit his needs entirely. 

“It’s still the most affordable way for me to drive electric,” Smith told TechCrunch. “I really wanted to go electric, but there wasn’t any obvious way of doing that or making that happen in 2019, and I would say it’s still fairly limited in the U.K. If you wanted to go electric, you’d probably have to save up a good deal of money even to buy second hand, and then you just wouldn’t have the flexibility.”

Smith says using Onto is a good approach for people who want to try before they buy, as well, which is no doubt at least partly why automakers like Tesla, Hyundai, Jaguar, Audi and Peugeot are interested in partnering up.

“Again, it’s an enormous market, of which we can kind of sit hand-in-hand with the car manufacturers and dealerships and the other aspects where we are one of a number of methods people have of acquiring the car now,” said Jolly.

Existing investors Legal and General, Campden Hill Capital and JamJar also participated in the equity round, alongside new investments from TotalEnergies Ventures, Vlerick Group, Dutch insurer Achmea Innovation Fund and the family office of Jim O’Neill. Lazard acted as financial advisor to Onto.  

source https://techcrunch.com/2021/07/27/onto-raises-175-million-in-series-b-to-expand-ev-subscription-service-in-the-uk/

Sedna banks $34M for a platform that parses large volumes of email and chat to automatically action items within them

Many have tried, but email refuses to die… although in the process it might be (figuratively speaking) killing some of us with the workload it brings on to triage and use it. A startup called Sedna has built a system to help with that — specifically for enterprise and other business customers — by “reading” the text of emails, and chats, and automatically actioning items within them so that you don’t have to. And today, it’s announcing funding of $34 million to expand its work.

The funding, a Series B, is being led by Insight Partners, with Stride.VC, Chalfen Ventures and the SAP.iO fund (part of SAP) also participating. The funding will be used to continue building out more data science around Sedna’s core functionality, with the aim of moving into a wider set of verticals over time. Currently its main business is in the area of supply chain players, with Glencore, Norden, and Bunge among its customers. Other customers in areas like finance include the neobank Starling. London-based Sedna is not disclosing valuation.

Bill Dobie, Sedna’s CEO and founder, said the idea for the company was hatched out of his own experience. “I spent years building software to help users be more productive, but no matter what we built we never really reduced people’s workload.” The reason: the millstone that is called email, with its endless, unsolicited, inbound messages, some of which (just enough not to ignore) might be important. “What really struck me was how long it spent to move items out of and into email,” he said of the “to-do’s” that arose out of there.

Out of that, Sedna was built to “read” emails and give them more context and direction. Its system removes duplicates of action items and essentially increases the strike rate when it comes people’s inboxes: what’s in there is more likely to be what you really need to see. And it does so at a very quick speed.

“Our main value is the sheer scale at which we operate,” Dobie said. “We read millions or even billions of messages in sub second response times.” Indeed, while many of us are not getting “millions” of emails, there is a world of messaging out there that needs reading beyond that. Think, for example, of the volume of data that will be coming down the pike from IoT-based diagnostics.

“Smart” inboxes have definitely become a thing for consumers — although arguably none work as well as you wish they did. What’s notable about Sedna has been how it’s tuned its particular algorithms to specific verticals, letting them get smarter around the kind of content and work practices in particular organizations.

Right now the work is driven by an API framework, with elements of “low code” formatting to let people shape their own Sedna experiences. The aim will be to make that even easier over time. AN API driven frame work right now, some low code we’re heading into, but mostly its SAP or shipping or trading system that understands the transaction under way, then Sedna uses a decision tree to categories. 

Another area where Sedna might grow is in how it handles the information that it ingests. Currently, the company’s tech can be interconnected by a customer to then hand off certain work to RPA systems, as well as to specific humans. There is an obvious route to developing some of the second stage of software there — or alternatively, it’s a sign of how something like Sedna might get snapped up, or copied by one of the big RPA players.

“Bill started reimagining email where it was most broken and therefore hardest to fix—large teams managing huge volumes and complicated processes,” said Rebecca Liu-Doyle, principal at Insight Partners, in a statement. “Today, Sedna’s power is in its ability to introduce immense speed, simplicity, and delight to any inbox experience, regardless of scale or complexity. We are excited to partner with the Sedna team as they continue to make digital communication more intelligent for teams in global supply chain and beyond.” Liu-Doyle is joining the board with this round.

SAP is a strategic investor in this round, as Sedna potentially helps its customers be more productive while using SAP systems. “SAP continues to partner with SEDNA to deliver value to SAP customers. The ability to turn complex information into simpler intelligent collaboration has been a growing priority for many SAP customers,” said Stefan Sauer, global transport solutions Lead at SAP, in a statement.

source https://techcrunch.com/2021/07/27/sedna-banks-34m-for-a-platform-that-parses-large-volumes-of-email-and-chat-to-automatically-action-items-within-them/

Element, a messaging app built on the decentralized Matrix protocol, raises $30M

After Element acquired Gitter last year to bring in more users and features into its own decentralized, Matrix-based messaging app, the startup is announcing some funding to invest in its growth.

Element has picked up $30 million in a Series B round of funding. Some of the funding will be used to expand its technology to continue catering to use cases among the large organizations already using it. They include the French government covering some 5.5 million civil servants; Dataport (which is incorporating it into Germany’s education and public administration systems); and BWI, which supplies the communications system used by the German armed forces — in all, some 10 government engagements, the company said.

Matthew Hodgson, Element’s CEO and the technical co-founder of the open source, non-profile Matrix protocol, also said that some will be used to continue investing in the company’s peer-to-peer architecture to eliminate any need for servers. And a third area of investment will be building out the company’s decentralized voice and videoconferencing services.

“It will be transformational in terms of security,” he said in an interview.

Element today is available as an on-premise systems or a cloud-based platform. Most public sector customers choose the former, and private sector ones opt for the latter, the startup said. Cloud revenues grew 300% in the last 12 months, and although the company didn’t disclose how much that is in actual money, it’s a sign that Element is growing (another reason for taking funding now, even though as co-founder Amandine Le Pape noted, it didn’t need it).

This round includes investments from Protocol Labs (the open-source R&D lab behind libp2p, IPFS and Filecoin) and Metaplanet (a fund set up by Jaan Tallinn, co-founder of Skype). Automattic and Notionpast investors — are also participating. No valuation is being disclosed. Element has raised $48 million to date.

Matrix, the not-for-profit protocol on which Element is based, was built to shake up how the internet worked by creating a place where multiple, siloed communications environments could be integrated and engaged with in a cohesive, single platform, and those communications in turn can be “owned” by the entity organizing it. The idea here is that by bringing it all together, it’s easier to manage those conversations from the perspectives of security and practical use.

Matrix has been growing in its own right, with usage up 190% in the last 12 months, now up to 75,000 deployments with over 35 million “addressable” users. Those deployments can be on something as small as a Raspberry Pi or a giant server run by a government. But to be clear, “active” is a significantly smaller number than addressable users. While Matrix, much less Element, cannot “see” how others are using Matrix (that is one of the security advantages that governments like), Hodgson notes that on its own servers there are 1.2 million active users.

Element — which originally had been called Riot — was set out as a kind of Slack/Discord rival that was a native messaging platform on top of Matrix, there to capture audience already doing something else with the protocol to give them a clean and secure alternative at a time when only a handful of platforms control the majority of the world’s messaging data.

“We’ve been building messaging technology for more than 15 years,” Le Pape said. “It just felt crazy that you have a few players [dominating] and keeping everyone’s data hostage. This is to open anyone’s communication. That is what we are trying to fix, data sovereignty.”

In the regard, Element (and Matrix) sit at the heart of a much bigger trend in technology, where some of the brightest minds in the field are reckoning with the defaults of how it all works, have decided that an alternative, a less centralized approach, must be a part of the bigger equation as data becomes more valuable and communications channels only become increasingly essential.

“Internet communication protocols have become fundamental for humanity. Today, most messaging happens over fickle proprietary centralized walled gardens who hold us hostage to their short-term business outlook,” said Juan Benet, CEO of Protocol Labs, in a statement. “Matrix is a beacon of hope: an open network for secure, decentralised communication, built with sound internet infrastructure principles. Element — both product and company — empowers organizations with control, ownership, and a great user experience for all their conversations.”

While there are a number of other encrypted messaging platforms on the market that are seeing mass adoption — they include Telegram, Signal and even to some extent Facebook’s WhatsApp — Element (and Matrix’s) early adopters have been large organizations. However, with Matrix, the engine underpinning Element, also doing early work with the likes of Twitter on its Blue Sky decentralized platform efforts, that could potentially give Element another boost of users, beyond those early adopters.

But just as clouds have silver linings, so too do sunny outlooks cast shadows… As with other decentralized communications platforms like Telegram and Rocket.chat, end-to-end encryption can cut both ways: it can help keep communications from being hacked, but it might also be used to evade detection when planning something malicious. Matrix (and by default Element) has been exploring alternatives to backdoors into encrypted systems, which is one route that governments are considering to fix this, the argument being that mandating one will simply move the bad actors to another.

Ultimately, the investment here, and the usage of Element, is a vote in the direction of sticking with decentralization despite those misgivings and existing issues.

“When communication is centralised it becomes a very appealing target for abuse; whether that’s through propaganda, surveillance, censorship or worse,” said Metaplanet’s Tallinn. “Consumers need rescuing from surveillance capitalism, and organisations need a secure neutral way to communicate.  Matrix is the most advanced platform to provide that missing communication layer.”

source https://techcrunch.com/2021/07/27/element-a-messaging-app-built-on-the-decentralized-matrix-protocol-raises-30m/