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Google dumps FloC plan, proposes new Topics API for ad targeting – TechCrunch

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Hello and welcome to Daily Crunch for January 25, 2022! Today our cup overflows with news. There’s simply too much going on to cover in a single newsletter, so I’ve tried to fit as much as possible below. Some sections are condensed, but you’ll see why. No more delay, the news! – Alex

The TechCrunch Top 4

  • Google proposes Topics to replace cookies: The American search giant’s idea of building Federated Learning of Cohorts, or FLoCs is over. The company is instead proposing Topics. What are they? Per our own Frederic Lardinois, the idea behind Topics is that “your browser will learn about your interests as you move around the web,” storing around three weeks of data, focused on 300 different thematic groupings. This is a big deal, if it comes to be.
  • Nvidia could walk away from ARM deal: With regulatory progress slow, the huge chip deal between Nvidia and ARM could be off. Will ARM instead go public? What does SoftBank think of the changing regulatory winds? We’ll find out.
  • VCs fell in love with Europe last year: While the global venture capital market was hectic last year, few regions can boast similar gains as Europe managed during 2021. TechCrunch dug into the data, looking at individual countries that stood out from the bloc, and asked what’s coming next.
  • YouTube considers NFTs: According to YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, the online video giant could be looking at blockchain technologies as a way for its creators to make money. Precisely how NFTs will work for the platform is not clear, but what is plain at this juncture is that nearly every major digital brand is going to at least try NFTs out in case they work for their users.

Startups/VC

TechCrunch Disrupt Startup Battlefield startup Cellino Bio raises $80M: This is the leading story from startup-land today, I reckon. Just a few months after winning our own startup pitch competition, Cellino has raised a massive Series A that should provide the startup with plenty of runway. For more on what the startup does, head here.

And now, highlights from the day’s startup news:

  • Substack hits play: No, the popular publishing platform is not pivoting to video, but it is working to allow its creators use video as part of their subscription offerings. Users will be able to put videos behind the paywall, of course, perhaps helping them drive more revenue – and thus more income for Substack itself.
  • $32M for carbon honesty: Startup Sylvera is back in the news, raising a huge Series A after closing a $5.8 million Seed round last year. What does the company do? It “uses machine learning technology to analyze a variety of visual data like satellite imagery and lidar with the goal of boosting accountability and credibility around carbon offsetting projects,” TechCrunch reports.
  • The future of autonomy is grass: With the iRobot self-driving lawn mower not yet in the market, there is perhaps space for another company to build such a device. Electric Sheep Robotics wants to be that company, and it just raised $21.5 million for its work. Given the hours I spent mowing the lawn growing up, I resent the fact that future kids won’t have to endure similar punishment.
  • Billion-dollar green drink: Athletic Greens has raised $115 million in a round that values its business at $1.2 billion, TechCrunch writes. The company sells AG1, a “powdered beverage designed to provide daily nutrition,” per our reporting. The company has scaled to a nine-figure run rate, but we’re always curious when non-software companies are valued along similar lines. Perhaps the margins are high and the revenue recurring?
  • There’s still room for more salestech: Devtools, designer support, and marketing automation are all big niches, and the salespeople of the world desire their own tooling, too. And VCs are stepping up to finance it. Enter Scratchpad, which just raised a $33 million Series B. The company’s product helps sales folks get data into their CRM, and to their larger org as well.
  • Cybersecurity co raises rapid-fires Series C: After raising last August, Hunters has taken down another funding round. My knowledge of cybersecurity is minute, so I simply have to trust Frederic when he writes that the startup wants to help “enterprises replace traditional Security and Information Event Management (SIEM) solutions with its own tools.” If that makes sense to you, excellent. All I know is that Crowdstrike sponsored the F1 safety car last season.
  • Bokksu raises at $100M valuation for Asian grocery delivery: There are a few companies working on providing Asian foodstuffs to various markets. HungryPanda, for one. Bokksu is another, focusing its efforts on grocery in particular. The company started life as a Japanese snack subscription service way back in 2016, and has since expanded greatly. Now with $22 million in new capital, it can grow even faster.
  • Tunisian startup raises $100M: We don’t hear about startups from Tunis, so the InstaDeep round caught our eye. The company “creates decision-making systems for solving real-world problems,” TechCrunch writes, and just raised from Google, among others.
  • A great host of other things happened, so give the front page a scroll if you want to learn even more about what’s happening in startup-land.

To close out our early-stage coverage, Greg Kumparak takes a look at the 29th batch of startups from the Alchemist Accelerator, which has an enterprise focus.

Crypto pioneer David Chaum says web3 is ‘computing with a conscience’

Founder and CEO of the privacy protecting transaction platform Elixxir David Chaum holds a conference on the impact of tech on our privacy, during the Web Summit in Lisbon on November 6, 2019. - Europe's largest tech event Web Summit is held at Parque das Nacoes in Lisbon from November 4 to November 7. (Photo by PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA / AFP) (Photo by PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA/AFP /AFP via Getty Images)

Image Credits: PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

In 1982, computer scientist David Chaum wrote a dissertation that described a blockchain protocol, along with the code for implementing it.

Since then, his cryptologic research has led to developments like digital cash and anonymous communication networks. Today, he launched xxmessenger, which the company describes as the first “quantum-resistant” messaging app.

When we asked him what has changed in the past few years, Chaum said, “Seems to me that Bitcoin and the like have created something that could no longer be ignored. Now the question is: How can it be brought to the general public in a way that they can readily adopt this next generation of information technology?”

Big Tech Inc.

  • The pride of Rhode Island says chip shortage end not in sight: The United States Department of Commerce’s boss Gina Raimondo – former governor of the Ocean State before being tapped for her new role – says that “we aren’t even close to being out of the woods as it relates to the supply problems with semiconductors.” So that’s bad news, but at least we know where we stand.
  • IBM’s growth wins investor plaudits: Yesterday IBM reported its best growth results in some time. Its stock went up. Then the company said that it wasn’t going to provide per-share profit guidelines. And its stock went down. Today, however, investors weighed the balance and pushed the company’s value up by more than 5%.
  • From BigTech -> Blockchain: There is something of a talent shuffle going on in tech as folks leave major concerns for younger, smaller, crypto-related efforts. The head of YouTube Gaming appears to be the latest defector.
  • Old man shouts at Joe: There’s more drama in the Spotify world, with musician Neil Young trying to use his influence to get the music streaming service to stem vaccine misinformation via its podcast host Joe Rogan. I don’t know how this shakes out, but it’s an interesting place for the European company to find itself.
  • And finally today, GM has big plans for its electric vehicle production.

TechCrunch Experts

dc experts

Image Credits: SEAN GLADWELL / Getty Images

TechCrunch wants to know which software consultants you’ve worked with for anything from UI/UX to cloud architecture. Let us know here.

ICYMI, check out this interview Miranda Halpern did with Georgina Lupu-Florian last week: “How should nontechnical founders collaborate with software developers?”



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A Business Owner’s Operating Guide

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Running a remote business comes with a different set of challenges to having a team who all work from the same office. Things that once made sense now don’t. Lines that were definite are now blurred. There’s a new set of expectations and myriad ways to operate.

The events of 2020 forced many companies to adopt remote work with zero training or guidance. It’s no surprise that feelings of burnout and a lack of work-life balance were at an all-time high. Not only that, but the definitions aren’t widely understood. Working remotely does not mean working from home. Truly location independent companies understand the nuances and are creating a structure that means business success and an enjoyable life for everyone involved.

Mitko Karshovski is the host of That Remote Life, a top 2% podcast covering the remote work revolution and the digital nomad lifestyle. Since 2018, his work has helped remote companies establish operations and culture from a remote-first perspective. After guiding hundreds of entrepreneurs looking to better run remote teams, Karshovski created a set of rules for effective remote work.

Karshovski believes following these 12 simple rules will mean you and your team are, “more productive, less anxious, and positioned to grow and thrive.”

1. Look for answers before you ask questions

Karshovski believes that all companies working remotely not only need to make good use of Google, but they also need to have “a handbook that keeps track of how things are done in the company.” Your manual, playbook or collection of SOPs. Whatever it’s called, it needs to exist.

He advised that, “before asking anyone in your team how to do something, check if the answer is in the company’s handbook.” If it takes more than five minutes to find the answer, that document needs to be improved.

2. Only solve problems you are qualified to solve

“The person that is closest to the problem is usually the one that is best suited to make decisions about that problem,” said Karshovski. They have the most information and are most likely to come up with the best solution. “Trust t hem to make the right call.”

You wouldn’t “ask managers how to solve a coding issue” or a developer how to solve a marketing issue and Karshovski agrees this “will likely end in disaster.” But, similarly, avoid weighing in on decisions you aren’t best placed to make, because this overcomplicates and creates unnecessary lines of enquiry.

3. Create physical and mental boundaries

Avoid burnout by creating “a sacred work space both digitally and physically.” Karshovski advised you don’t work where you relax. Instead, “Go to a coworking space, find a coffee shop you love, or even try working from a local museum. You’d be surprised how good the internet speed is at museums.”

If you use the same computer for work and fun, use different profiles and accounts so you keep work and home separate. Karshovski uses Notion to create dedicated spaces for work and life.

4. Identify and share your weaknesses

Karshovski encourages his clients to, “share their weakness with the team.” This doesn’t “make you a bad worker,” he said. Instead, it will make it easier for them to know where you might need support and how they can help. “No one is perfect, we all struggle with something.”

Your team exists to cover your weaknesses, and you theirs. Accepting that you each have downfalls focuses your mind on the solution; on solving the puzzle of how everyone’s strengths are best utilized.

5. Maximize your non work time

If you work largely asynchronously or have the ability to get your work done without a time overlap with the rest of your team, make the most of it. “This allows you to work around your life, rather than the opposite,” which means you can rethink your time. Use this to “do epic stuff,” said Karshovski. There’s no excuse.

Get your work done to a high standard and use every other second to “travel the world, take on side projects or experiment with a new hobby.” Karshovski said having fun remote working is the whole point.

6. Create and stick to a routine

As a wise man once said, discipline equals freedom. Routine doesn’t stifle creativity; it allows for it. Karshovski guides his clients to, “create boundaries for your work so it doesn’t blur into the rest of your life, and vice versa.” He knows that in the long run, “your family, coworkers and mental health will thank you for it.”

Your default day could be exactly the same, as long as the structure works for you. Perhaps you do deep work in the morning, exercise and eat in the middle of the day, then do manager work and smaller tasks in the afternoon before exploring a new city in the evening. Whatever works for you, just make sure it’s intentional.

7. Only your results count

The golden rule of remote work, according to Karshovski. “How you get work done doesn’t matter as long as you deliver.” Duration, effort and input doesn’t matter, it’s the results that count. But while you can only be judged on your results, if they’re not up to scratch, your methods will be questioned.

“If you’ve found a way to get something done in less time while meeting expectations, more power to you,” he said. “But if you’ve found a way to do get things done faster, cheaper, or more efficiently, it’s your responsibility to show the rest of your team so they all benefit.”

8. Invest in your hardware

If you aren’t seeing people face to face, how you appear on a screen matters, so Karshovski wants you to “invest in a good microphone and webcam.” For less than $100 your video can, “look and sound as good as your local TV anchor,” an investment that you should absolutely make.

Karshovski compares this to office work, where you wouldn’t, “turn up wearing a stained shirt and dirty sweatpants.” For working remotely, don’t show up for a video call sounding like you’re in a hurricane.

9. Plan for no response

Being left hanging isn’t ideal in a work situation, and with a remote team it’s inevitable as you all clock off at different times. Karshovski advised you “always add a ‘dead man’s switch’ for decisions.” This means you let people know what action you will take if they don’t respond.

For example, “let them know which option you will go with if they don’t answer in a certain number of hours,” but give them plenty of time. No one wants to work in a place that forces urgency and hurried decisions, so aim to overcome blockers to action without enforcing them on others.

10. Improve your written communication

Without face-to-face interactions happening (unless they are planned), written communication becomes even more important. Karshovski said you should take extra care to improve your emails and messages.

Ask, “Is your question clear? Did you make any silly spelling mistakes? Did you include answers to any obvious follow up questions?” Finally, did you signal the best solution or the next steps, or is the way forward ambiguous? Karshovski believes “your team will appreciate the extra effort.”

11. Assume positive intent

“Communicating through text can sometimes make things sound sharper than they were intended,” said Karshovski. “So always assume that messages are positive.” As the writer of messages, remember text will be inferred in the worst way possible, so read it as such when you proofread and adjust.

Karshovski knows that emojis are your friend. “They may be silly, but they are a great way of making sure that a message that may come across as sassy is received in the positive way that it was meant to.”

12. Overcommunicate your availability

Working remotely puts you on a different schedule to your team and your availability is likely not to overlap very much. Karshovski says overcommunicate your availability to avoid issues. “Make it clear when you won’t be at your computer,” which he said avoids the team, “assuming you’re available and waiting on your response.”

Similarly, respect the stated availability and working patterns of your team members.” Overcommunicate to find a cadence that works well. If you absolutely need crossover time with certain members, agree on this together.

Follow the 12 commandments of remote work to communicate effectively, do your work to a high standard and enjoy your life when you’re not working. Edit these rules to suit your workplace and share them somewhere everyone can see.

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HUL, other FMCGs in acquisition talks with Oziva: Report

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Hindustan Unilever (HUL) is in talks with Oziva for a strategic acquisition of the plant-based nutrition brand.

The development, first reported by The Economic Times, comes at a time when niche brands—which saw accelerated growth amid the COVID pandemic-led online shopping boom—are now struggling to grow during a funding winter.

According to the report, the nutrition brand is also in talks with Dabur and Tata Consumer for a possible acquisition.

A query shared with Oziva did not elicit any response at the time of publishing this story.

Oziva was founded by Aarti Gill, an MBA graduate from INSEAD, along with Mihir Gadani in 2016. The direct-to-consumer (D2C) brand operates in nutrition categories, including immunity boosters and organic plant protein.

Last year, as the pandemic shopping boom started to subside, the brand introduced products in the clean beauty category. Oziva also started making inroads in physical retail stores by launching sachets of its products, priced between Rs 15 and Rs 20 to appeal to a wider consumer base.

“Our current price points are slightly premium due to the quality. But we want everyone to be able to afford our products,” Aarti told YourStory in July 2021. However, growing digital marketing costs and investors backing firms with caution has been hard for many direct-to-consumer brands.

According to Abneesh Roy, Executive Director at Nuvama Institutional Equities, Oziva could be valued at Rs 400-Rs 500 crore.

“We like HUL’s strategy of acquiring small companies in spaces where it doesn’t have a presence. HUL ramped up Indulekha, V Wash, sharply post-acquisition,” says Abneesh.

Earlier in November, clothing firm Bewakoof Brands Pvt. Ltd. got acquired by Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail Ltd. (ABFRL) in a distress sale. Moreover, Marico has been actively acquiring more than 50% stake in D2C brands, including Beardo, Just Herbs, and True Elements.

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BharatPe claims over Rs 88 Cr in damages from Ashneer Grover and family

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The Delhi High court on Thursday issued a notice and summons to Ashneer Grover, former Managing Director of BharatPe, and his family members, in a suit filed by the company seeking orders to restrain them from making defamatory statements against the company. 

Meanwhile, the fintech unicorn has also slapped a lawsuit against former head of controls and wife of Ashneer Grover, Madhuri Jain, under Section 420 (cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property), said various media reports. Besides the couple, the other defendants in the suit are Grover’s brother-in-law, father-in-law, and mother-in-law.

The couple has been granted two weeks time to file their response to BharatPe’s application seeking interim relief. BharatPe has sought:

  • Disclosure of assets of Grover and his family members
  • Interim injunction against the defendants restraining them from making defamatory/derogatory statements concerning BharatPe, its directors, employees and/or publicising the same
  • Direction to defendants to delete/remove within a period of five days all statements, tweets, social media posts, books, re-tweets, hashtags, videos, press conferences, interviews, comments, etc., made against the company
  • Orders granting liberty to BharatPe to approach all social media platforms, media organisations, publications, websites, blogs, etc., to seek deletion/removal of all such material. 

The matter will next be heard in January 2023.

During the hearing, which took place on Thursday, Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi, representing BharatPe, pointed out various tweets made by Grover after his resignation earlier this year.

As per the reports by LiveLaw, Rohatgi said that Grover should be restrained from running a “vicious campaign” against the fintech company. He cited various tweets posted by Grover and his family members following his ouster. 

“These are all his family. They were sacked from the company. We have suit for damages as well.”

Counsel for Grover claimed that the suit was not served on his client, said Bar and Bench report, to which Rohatgi responded, “We didn’t serve them because the moment he knows about it, he will again go on a rampage.”

Further, Rohatgi said that while being the former Managing Director, Grover brought in his entire family.

“To fleece the company, they (defendants) created fictitious vendors from Panipat who were paid 50-60 crores and nothing was purchased. The vendors don’t exist,” Rohatgi submitted, adding that there was a massive hiring of employees, said LiveLaw. 

BharatPe has also claimed damages of over Rs 88 crore from Grover, his wife, and his brother. This includes a claim for payment made against the invoices of non-existent vendors, amounting to Rs 71.7 crore; a claim for penalty paid to GST authorities amounting to Rs 1.66 crore; payments made to vendors purportedly providing recruitment services totalling Rs 7.6 crore; payments of Rs 1.85 crore made to a furnishings company; payments for personal expenditures of Ashneer and Madhuri Jain Grover amounting to Rs 59.7 lakh and Rs 5 crore damages for loss of reputation to the company caused by tweets and other statements made by Grover and his family members.

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