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Targeted ads offer little extra value for online publishers, study suggests

Posted by on May 31, 2019 in Adtech, Advertising Tech, Alphabet, behavioral advertising, digital advertising, digital marketing, display advertising, Europe, Facebook, General Data Protection Regulation, IAB, Marketing, Media, Online Advertising, Privacy, programmatic advertising, Randall Rothenberg, Richard blumenthal, targeted advertising, United States | 0 comments

How much value do online publishers derive from behaviorally targeted advertising that uses privacy-hostile tracking technologies to determine which advert to show a website user?

A new piece of research suggests publishers make just 4% more vs if they were to serve a non-targeted ad.

It’s a finding that sheds suggestive light on why so many newsroom budgets are shrinking and journalists finding themselves out of work — even as adtech giants continue stuffing their coffers with massive profits.

Visit the average news website lousy with third party cookies (yes, we know, it’s true of TC too) and you’d be forgiven for thinking the publisher is also getting fat profits from the data creamed off their users as they plug into programmatic ad systems that trade info on Internet users’ browsing habits to determine the ad which gets displayed.

Yet while the online ad market is massive and growing — $88BN in revenues in the US in 2017, per IAB data, a 21% year-on-year increase — publishers are not the entities getting filthy rich off of their own content.

On the contrary, research in recent years has suggested that a large proportion of publishers are being squeezed by digital display advertising economics, with some 40% reporting either stagnant or shrinking ad revenue, per a 2015 Econsultancy study. (Hence, we can posit, the rise in publishers branching into subscriptions — TC’s own offering can be found here: Extra Crunch).

The lion’s share of value being created by digital advertising ends up in the coffers of adtech giants, Google and Facebook . Aka the adtech duopoly. In the US, the pair account for around 60% of digital ad market spending, per eMarketer — or circa $76.57BN.

Their annual revenues have mirrored overall growth in digital ad spend — rising from $74.9BN to $136.8BN, between 2015 and 2018, in the case of Google’s parent Alphabet; and $17.9BN to $55.8BN for Facebook. (While US online ad spend stepped up from $59.6BN to $107.5BN+ between 2015 and 2018.)

eMarketer projects 2019 will mark the first decline in the duopoly’s collective share. But not because publishers’ fortunes are suddenly set for a bonanza turnaround. Rather another tech giant — Amazon — has been growing its share of the digital ad market, and is expected to make what eMarketer dubs the start of “a small dent in the duopoly”.

Behavioral advertising — aka targeted ads — has come to dominate the online ad market, fuelled by platform dynamics encouraging a proliferation of tracking technologies and techniques in the unregulated background. And by, it seems, greater effectiveness from the perspective of online advertisers, as the paper notes. (“Despite measurement and attribution challenges… many studies seem to concur that targeted advertising is beneficial and effective for advertising firms.”

This has had the effect of squeezing out non-targeted display ads, such as those that rely on contextual factors to select the ad — e.g. the content being viewed, device type or location.

The latter are now the exception; a fall-back such as for when cookies have been blocked. (Albeit, one that veteran pro-privacy search engine, DuckDuckGo, has nonetheless turned into a profitable contextual ad business).

One 2017 study by IHS Markit, suggested that 86% of programmatic advertising in Europe was using behavioural data. While even a quarter (24%) of non-programmatic advertising was found to be using behavioural data, per its model. 

“In 2016, 90% of the digital display advertising market growth came from formats and processes that use behavioural data,” it observed, projecting growth of 106% for behaviourally targeted advertising between 2016 and 2020, and a decline of 63.6% for forms of digital advertising that don’t use such data.

The economic incentives to push behavioral advertising vs non-targeted ads look clear for dominant platforms that rely on amassing scale — across advertisers, other people’s eyeballs, content and behavioral data — to extract value from the Internet’s dispersed and diverse audience.

But the incentives for content producers to subject themselves — and their engaged communities of users — to these privacy-hostile economies of scale look a whole lot more fuzzy.

Concern about potential imbalances in the online ad market is also leading policymakers and regulators on both sides of the Atlantic to question the opacity of the market — and call for greater transparency.

A price on people tracking’s head

The new research, which will be presented at the Workshop on the Economics of Information Security conference in Boston next week, aims to contribute a new piece to this digital ad revenue puzzle by trying to quantify the value to a single publisher of choosing ads that are behaviorally targeted vs those that aren’t.

We’ve flagged the research before — when the findings were cited by one of the academics involved in the study at an FTC hearing — but the full paper has now been published.

It’s called Online Tracking and Publishers’ Revenues: An Empirical Analysis, and is co-authored by three academics: Veronica Marotta, an assistant professor in information and decision sciences at the Carlson School of Management, University of Minnesota; Vibhanshu Abhishek, associate professor of information systems at the Paul Merage School of Business, University California Irvine; and Alessandro Acquisti, professor of IT and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University.

“While the impact of targeted advertising on advertisers’ campaign effectiveness has been vastly documented, much less is known about the value generated by online tracking and targeting technologies for publishers – the websites that sell ad spaces,” the researchers write. “In fact, the conventional wisdom that publishers benefit too from behaviorally targeted advertising has rarely been scrutinized in academic studies.”

“As we briefly mention in the paper, notwithstanding claims about the shared benefits of online tracking and behaviorally targeting for multiple stakeholders (merchants, publishers, consumers, intermediaries…), there is a surprising paucity of empirical estimates of economic outcomes from independent researchers,”  Acquisti also tells us.

In fact, most of the estimates focus on the advertisers’ side of the market (for instance, there have been quite a few studies estimating the increase in click-through or conversion rates associated with targeted ads); much less is known about the publishers’ side of the market. So, going into the study, we were genuinely curious about what we may find, as there was little in terms of data that could anchor our predictions.

“We did have theoretical bases to make possible predictions, but those predictions could be quite antithetical. Under one story, targeting increases the value of the audience, which increases advertisers’ bids, which increases publishers’ revenues; under a different story, targeting decreases the ‘pool’ of audience interested in an ad, which decreases competition to display ads, which reduces advertisers’ bids, eventually reducing publishers’ revenues.”

For the study the researchers were provided with a data-set comprising “millions” of display ad transactions completed in a week across multiple online outlets owned by a single (unidentified) large publisher which operates websites in a range of verticals such as news, entertainment and fashion.

The data-set also included whether or not the site visitor’s cookie ID is available — enabling analysis of the price difference between behaviorally targeted and non-targeted ads. (The researchers used a statistical mechanism to control for systematic differences between users who impede cookies.)

As noted above, the top-line finding is only a very small gain for the publisher whose data they were analyzing — of around 4%. Or an average increase of $0.00008 per advertisement. 

It’s a finding that contrasts wildly with some of the loud yet unsubstantiated opinions which can be found being promulgated online — claiming the ‘vital necessity’ of behavorial ads to support publishers/journalism.

For example, this article, published earlier this month by a freelance journalist writing for The American Prospect, includes the claim that: “An online advertisement without a third-party cookie sells for just 2 percent of the cost of the same ad with the cookie.” Yet does not specify a source for the statistic it cites.

(The author told us the reference is to a 2018 speech made by Index Exchange’s Andrew Casale, when he suggested ad requests without a buyer ID receive 99% lower bids vs the same ad request with the identifier. She added that her conversations with people in the adtech industry had suggested a spread between a 99% and 97% decline in the value of an ad without a cookie, hence choosing a middle point.)

At the same time policymakers in the US now appear painfully aware how far behind Europe they are lagging where privacy regulation is concerned — and are fast dialling up their scrutiny of and verbal horror over how Internet users are tracked and profiled by adtech giants.

At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing earlier this month — convened with the aim of “understanding the digital ad ecosystem and the impact of data privacy and competition policy” — the talk was not if to regulate big tech but how hard they must crack down on monopolistic ad giants.

“That’s what brings us here today. The lack of choice [for consumers to preserve their privacy online],” said senator Richard Blumenthal. “The excessive and extraordinary power of Google and Facebook and others who dominate the market is a fact of life. And so privacy protection is absolutely vital in the short run.”

The kind of “invasive surveillance” that the adtech industry systematically deploys is “something we would never tolerate from a government but Facebook and Google have the power of government never envisaged by our founders,” Blumenthal went on, before a few of the types of personal data that are sucked up and exploited by the adtech industrial surveillance complex: “Health, dating, location, finance, extremely personal details — offered to anyone with almost no restraint.”

Bearing that “invasive surveillance” in mind, a 4% publisher ‘premium’ for privacy-hostile ads vs adverts that are merely contextually served (and so don’t require pervasive tracking of web users) starts to look like a massive rip off — of both publisher brand and audience value, as well as Internet users’ rights and privacy.

Yes, targeted ads do appear to generate a small revenue increase, per the study. But as the researchers also point out that needs to be offset against the cost to publishers of complying with privacy regulations.

“If setting tracking cookies on visitors was cost free, the website would definitely be losing money. However, the widespread use of tracking cookies – and, more broadly, the practice of tracking users online – has been raising privacy concerns that have led to the adoption of stringent regulations, in particular in the European Union,” they write — going on to cite an estimate by the International Association of Privacy Professionals that Fortune’s Global 500 companies will spend around $7.8BN on compliant costs to meet the requirements of Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). 

Wider costs to systematically eroding online privacy are harder to put a value on for publishers. But should also be considered — whether it’s the costs to a brand reputation and user loyalty as a result of a publisher larding their sites with unwanted trackers; to wider societal costs — linked to the risks of data-fuelled manipulation and exploitation of vulnerable groups. Simply put, it’s not a good look.

Publishers may appear complicit in the asset stripping of their own content and audiences for what — per this study — seems only marginal gain, but the opacity of the adtech industry implies that most likely don’t realize exactly what kind of ‘deal’ they’re getting at the hands of the ad giants who grip them.

Which makes this research paper a very compelling read for the online publishing industry… and, well, a pretty awkward newsflash for anyone working in adtech.

 

While the study only provides a snapshot of ad market economics, as experienced by a single publisher, the glimpse it presents is distinctly different from the picture the adtech lobby has sought to paint, as it has ploughed money into arguing against privacy legislation — on the claimed grounds that ‘killing behavioural advertising would kill free online content’. 

Saying no more creepy ads might only marginally reduce publishers’ revenue doesn’t have quite the same doom-laden ring, clearly.

“In a nutshell, this study provides an initial data point on a portion of the advertising ecosystem over which claims had been made but little empirical verification was completed. The results highlight the need for more transparency over how the value generated by flows of data gets allocated to different stakeholders,” says Acquisti, summing up how the study should be read against the ad market as a whole.

Contacted for a response to the research, Randall Rothenberg, CEO of advertising business organization, the IAB, agreed that the digital supply chain is “too complex and too opaque” — and also expressed concern about how relatively little value generated by targeted ads is trickling down to publishers.

“One week’s worth of data from one unidentified publisher does not make for a projectible (sic) piece of research. Still, the study shows that targeted advertising creates immense value for brands — more than 90% of the unnamed publisher’s auctioned ads were sold with targeting attached, and advertisers were willing to pay a 60% premium for those ads. Yet very little of that value flowed to the publisher,” he told TechCrunch. “As IAB has been saying for a decade, the digital supply chain is too complex and too opaque, and this diversion of value is more proof that transparency is required so that publishers can benefit from the value they create.”

The research paper includes discussion of the limitations to the approach, as well as ideas for additional research work — such as looking at how the value of cookies changes depending on how much information they contain (on that they write of their initial findings: “Information seem to be very valuable (from the publisher’s perspective) when we compare cookies with very little information to cookies with some information; after a certain point, adding more information to a cookie does not seem to create additional value for the publisher”); and investigating how “the (un)availability of a cookie changes the competition in the auction” — to try to understand ad auction competition dynamics and the potential mechanisms at play.

“This is one new and hopefully useful data point, to which others must be added,” Acquisti also told us in concluding remarks. “The key to research work is incremental progress, with more studies progressively adding a clearer understanding of an issue, and we look forward to more research in this area.”

This report was updated with additional comment


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Daye, a startup developing a ‘cramp-fighting’ tampon, raises $5.5M from Khosla, Index and Kindred

Posted by on May 10, 2019 in Daye, Europe, femtech, Fundings & Exits, Index Ventures, Khosla Ventures, Kindred Capital, Startups, TC | 0 comments

Daye, a “femcare” startup developing a new type of tampon that uses CBD to help tackle dysmenorrhea, has quietly raised $5.5 million in funding from high-profile investors in the U.S. and Europe, TechCrunch has learned.

Backing the seed round is Silicon Valley’s Khosla Ventures, along with London’s Index Ventures and Kindred Capital. The investment sees Khosla’s chief of staff Kristina Simmons, Khosla venture partner Tim Westergren (who also founded Pandora), and Hannah Seal, principle at Index, join Daye’s board.

Other investors in the London-based company include Sophia Bendz (former global director of Marketing at Spotify and now a partner at VC firm Atomico), Irina Havas (a principle of Atomico), David Schiff (founding partner at United Talent Agency) and Kristin Cardwell (VP of International Business Development at Refinery29).

Founded by 24-year-old Valentina Milanova and launching later this year, Daye has set out to build a new brand for female health products “designed with women in mind.” The startup’s first product is a newly developed tampon that uses CBD to help tackle period cramps (or dysmenorrhea) as an alternative to traditional painkillers (CBD is the extract derived from the flower of the industrial hemp plant, a legal relative to marijuana). Daye also claims its product will be more hygienic and sustainable than legacy tampons, and if successful could be a wake-up call to the incumbent and stagnant tampon industry, which has seen little innovation in decades.

“Our goal is to raise the standards of women’s hygiene products by tackling three primary issues: dysmenorrhea, manufacturing standards and sustainability,” Milanova tells TechCrunch. “Women have largely been left out of medical innovation. In fact, until 1993, researchers banned women from participating in [early] clinical trials, as it was believed female hormone fluctuations polluted medical data. To this day, most medications, including those for pain relief, depression and sleeping aids, have not been tested on women. We’re redefining localised cramp-relief, relying on an ingredient that we’ve tested on women first.”

Milanova says she first had the idea for a cramp-fighting tampon in November 2017 and initially used her salary from a day job and credit cards to fund product development. In September 2018, she quit her job to work on the business full-time and build a team, and to finalise clinical trials for the product.

Describing CBD as “having its 15 minutes of fame,” Milanova says the company doesn’t believe cannabidiol should be added to everything, from dry shampoo to cocktails. However, she says CBD is much safer than over-the-counter painkillers, and that the vaginal canal has the highest concentration of cannabinoid receptors and is also the fastest route of absorption into the bloodstream when it comes to pain relief.

“Unlike most CBD products on the market today, our product does not contain any tetrahydrocannabinol (THC),” she explains. “This is why we believe we’re going to be attractive to every consumer who experiences menstrual discomfort.”

Beyond the novel idea of a cramp-fighting CBD tampon, Milanova says Daye wants to raise the bar for tampon production standards and sustainability.

“In Europe, tampons are not classified as medical devices, which means there are no manufacturing guidelines — for context, plasters are more regulated and better sanitised than tampons,” she tells me, to my astonishment. To address this, Daye is introducing pharmaceutical-grade standards and will keep manufacturing in-house.

Period care is also “wreaking havoc” on the environment. “Over the course of her lifetime, the average woman uses enough tampons to fill two double-decker buses. That waste either ends up in our oceans or landfills. We want to relieve the burden period care has on the environment, and offer a product that is equal parts body-safe, effective and as sustainable as possible.”

To begin to answer the question of why something like this hasn’t been done before, Milanova says that menstrual discomfort in general is a massively overlooked problem and that “even the mention of the word tampon makes most people feel uncomfortable.”

The existing market is also monopolised “to the point where innovation suffers.” All tampons on the market today perform and look the same, using the same materials and the same manufacturing processes. Yet, because there’s barely any product differentiation, the Daye founder says most women remain loyal to the first tampon brand they ever tried.

“What we’re bringing to market is a completely novel product, and we’re operating in a very sensitive, intimate area of consumer goods. As a newcomer, we have to gain consumer trust by ensuring we’re in constant contact with our users, taking note of their feedback and iterating on our proposition fast.”


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Scalable, low cost technologies needed to repair climate, Cambridge professor suggests

Posted by on May 10, 2019 in cambridge university, carbon capture, carbon neutral, climate change, Europe, Global Warming, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, GreenTech, UK government, United Kingdom | 0 comments

Cambridge University has proposed setting up a research center tasked with coming up with scalable technological fixes for climate change.

The proposed Center for Climate Repair is being co-ordinated by David King, an emeritus professor in physical chemistry at the university and also the UK government’s former chief scientific adviser.

Speaking to the BBC this morning King suggested the scale of the challenge now facing humanity to end  greenhouse gas emissions is so pressing that radical options need to be considered and developed alongside efforts to shift societies carbon neutral and shrink day to day emissions.

“What we do over the next 10 years will determine the future of humanity for the next 10,000 years. There is no major centre in the world that would be focused on this one big issue,” he told BBC News.

In an interview on the BBC Radio 4’s Today program, King said the center would need focus on scalable, low cost technologies that could be deployed to move the needle on the climate challenge.

Suggested ideas it could work to develop include geoengineering initiatives such as spraying sea water into the air at the north and south poles to reflect sunlight away and refreeze them; using fertilizer to regreen portions of the deep ocean to promote plankton growth; and carbon capture and storage methods to suck up and sequester greenhouse gases so they can’t contribute to accelerating global warming.

On the issue of nuclear power King said interesting work is being done to try to develop viable nuclear fusion technology — but also pointed to untapped capacity in renewable energy technologies, arguing there is an “ability to develop renewables far more than we thought before”.

If established, the Center for Climate Repair, would be attached to the university’s new Cambridge Carbon Neutral Futures Initiative, which is a research hub recently set up to link climate-related research work across the university — and “catalyse holistic, collaborative progress towards a sustainable future”, as it puts it.

“If [the Center for Climate Repair] goes forward, it will be part of the Carbon Neutral Futures Initiative, which is led by Dr Emily Shuckburgh,” a spokeswoman for the university confirmed.

“When considering how to tackle a problem as large, complex and urgent as climate change, we need to look at the widest possible range of ideas and to investigate radical innovations such as those proposed by Sir David,” said Shuckburgh, commenting on the proposal in a statement.

“In assessing such ideas we need to explore all aspects, including the technological advances required, the potential unintended consequences and side effects, the costs, the rules and regulations that would be needed, as well as the public acceptability.”


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Wonderloop’s networking app lets you swipe left on video profiles instead of pictures

Posted by on Apr 17, 2019 in Apps, Europe, Social, TC | 0 comments

There isn’t much left to be done in online networking apps. We are all familiar with professional (LinkedIn), social (Facebook), realtime (Twitter), and dating (Tinder, Bummble etc). But profile photos of the people you’re interacting with only get you so far. And we’ve all known that person who looked smart in the photo and turned out to be not so amazing in real life. Photos don’t communicate a person’s energy, body language or their voice.

An app called Wonderloop hopes to solve this problem, with video profiles, like this one.

It’s now added swiping people, Tinder-style. Left for “later and right for “favorite”. In addition, you can see who’s “Nearby” with a location feature, making it more likely you may even bump into this person. How’s that for making your day more… interesting?

Founder Hanna Aase says Wonderloop is not so much “LinkedIn with video” as much as it is “About.me with video”. Why? Well, because it also has a web-platform, allowing you to share your video profile outside the app, as well as message inside it.

I must admit, it’s fair to say that the impression you get from a person from watching them for 10 seconds on a video is pretty persuasive.

Aase says Wonderloop could end up being your personal “video ID” providing each user with their unique video profile. She says Wonderloop’s aim is to create a search engine out of people on video.

“To see people on video creates trust. Wonderloop’s goal is that every person in the world should have a video identity. We want to help users get seen in this world. You use Wonderloop for the first step of turning a stranger into a potentially cool person in your life,” she added.

She thinks the app will be used by people to make new friends, connect influencers with fans, connect entrepreneurs, connect freelancers and travelers and of course a bit of dating here and there.

She’s also hoping the app will appeal to Millennials and Generation-Z who, as frequent travelers, are often into meeting people “nearby.” “We did research and were surprised to the extent the age group 16-20 wish to find new friends,” she says. For instance, apps like Jodel are used by young people to reach out to chat to complete strangers nearby (although with no names attached).

Right now the app is invite-only, but users can apply inside the app. Aase says: “We hope to do it in stages as the company grows and in a way where users feel the community is a place they feel safe and can share who they are on video. But being invite-only also makes us differentiated to all other services.”


Source: The Tech Crunch

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NuvoAir raises $3M to help patients monitor respiratory diseases with AI

Posted by on Apr 17, 2019 in Europe, Health, Industrifonden, NuvoAir, Recent Funding, Startups, TC | 0 comments

With air quality not improving any time soon (hello pollution!), respiratory conditions are on the rise. This has created an opportunity for startups to employ smartphones to monitor respiratory diseases with apps and smart devices.

ResApp’s smartphone app, called ResAppDx, diagnoses a wide range of respiratory illnesses accurately by using cough sounds. Healthymize listens for signals of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) when you make calls.

NuvoAir is a new digital therapeutics startup that is also tackling this problem. It has now closed a financing round of $3 million led by venture capital firm Industrifonden, one of the largest life science and tech investors in the Nordics. The round also saw participation from existing investor Investment AB Spiltan.

Aria, NuvoAir’s digital therapeutics software, sends a patient personalized care suggestions based their condition.

NuvoAir aims to make respiratory diseases measurable and more treatable. Established in 2015, NuvoAir launched a smartphone-connected “spirometer,” making real-time lung function assessment possible at home. It has now collected more than 500,000 spirometry tests in the last three years. These tests power its machine learning algorithms to provide insights to patients, their physicians and pharma companies.

Lorenzo Consoli, CEO of NuvoAir, said, “This investment and partnership can significantly advance our focus on digital therapeutics and bring to market new smart devices to help patients manage their condition while improving physicians’ clinical decisions.”


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Enterprise events management platform Bizzabo scores $27M Series D

Posted by on Apr 17, 2019 in Bizzabo, Enterprise, Europe, Fundings & Exits, Startups, TC | 0 comments

Bizzabo, the New York and Tel Aviv-based events management platform, has raised $27 million in Series D funding. Leading the round is Viola Growth, along with new investor Next47.

We’re also told that previous backers, including Pilot Growth, followed on. The new funding brings the total raised by the company to $56 million.

Originally launched in 2012 as a networking app for event attendees, Bizzabo now claims to be the leading end-to-end “Event Success Platform”. As it exists today, one way to describe the cloud-based software is akin to ‘Salesforce for events’: helping enterprises create, manage and execute every aspect of a live event.

As TechCrunch’s Catherine Shu previously wrote, the SaaS automates time-consuming event tasks related to email, social media and web marketing, and contact management.

There’s an increasing data play, too, with the ability to crunch and analyse event data to help event organisers garner more registrations, increase revenue, and improve the overall attendee experience.

“Our vision is to provide a data-driven and personalized journey for attendees,” Bizzabo CEO and co-founder Eran Ben-Shushan tells me. “An 800-person conference should feel like 800 unique in-person event experiences. By leveraging hundreds of data points throughout the attendee journey, our customers can deliver extremely personalised promotion campaigns, custom-tailor the event agenda and proactively cater to each attendee action”.

As an example, Ben-Shushan says an attendee at a user conference can receive recommended sessions, business introductions, and even sponsored offers based on interest and intent expressed before, during, and after the event.

To that end, Bizzabo says its Series D will be used to expand the platform’s capabilities and continue to help enterprise and mid-market organizations “build data-driven, personalized and engaging professional event experiences”. The will include growing its R&D and own marketing teams, adding to the more than 120 current employees in its New York and Tel-Aviv offices.

Ben-Shushan reckons that on average 25 percent of a B2B company’s marketing budget is spent on live events. This has resulted in the number of professional events increasingly exponentially each year, such as conferences and seminars, trade shows or other experiences.

However, it remains a challenge to create, manage, market and measure the success of events while maximizing ROI — which is where Ben-Shushan says Bizzabo comes in.

Bizzabo’s better known customers include Inbound, SaaStr, Forbes, Dow Jones, Gainsight, and Drift. Meanwhile, the event management space as a whole is said to be worth $500 billion.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Cytora secures £25M Series B for its AI-powered commercial insurance underwriting solution

Posted by on Apr 16, 2019 in commercial insurance, Cytora, eqt ventures, Europe, Fundings & Exits, insurance, Startups, TC | 0 comments

Cytora, a U.K. startup that developed an AI-powered solution for commercial insurance underwriting, has raised £25 million in a Series B round. Leading the investment is EQT Ventures, with participation from existing investors Cambridge Innovation Capital, Parkwalk and a number of unnamed angel investors.

A spin-out of the University of Cambridge, Cytora was founded in 2014 by Richard Hartley, Aeneas Wiener, Joshua Wallace and Andrzej Czapiewski — although both Wallace and Czapiewski have since departed.

Its first product launched in late 2016 to a number of large insurance customers, with the aim of applying AI to commercial insurance supported by various public and proprietary data. This includes property construction features, company financials and local weather, combined with an insurance company’s own internal risk data.

“Commercial insurance underwriting is inaccurate and inefficient,” says Cytora co-founder and CEO Richard Hartley. “It’s inaccurate because underwriting decisions are made using sparse and outdated information. It’s inefficient because the underwriting process is so manual. Unlike buying car or travel insurance, which can be purchased in minutes, buying business insurance can take up to seven days. This means operating costs for insurers are extremely high and customer experience isn’t good leading to a lack of trust.”

To illustrate how inefficient commercial insurance can be, Hartley says that for every £1 of premium that businesses pay to insurers, only 60 pence is set aside to pay total claims. The other 40 pence evaporates as the “frictional cost of delivering insurance.”

Powered by AI, Hartley claims that Cytora is able to distill the seven-day underwriting process down to 30 seconds via its API. This enables insurers to underwrite programmatically and build workflows that provide faster and more accurate decisions.

“Our APIs are powered by a risk engine which learns the subtle patterns of good and bad risks over time,” he explains. “This gives insurers a better understanding of the underlying risk of each business and helps them set a more accurate price. Both customers and insurers benefit.”

Typical Cytora customers are commercial insurers that are digitally transforming their underwriting process. Users of the software are either underwriters within insurance companies who are underwriting large commercial risks (i.e. an average insurance premium ~£500k and above) or business customers of insurance companies who are buying insurance direct online with an average premium of £1,000-£5,000.

“For the latter, our customers have built quotation workflows on top of Cytora’s APIs, enabling business owners to buy policies online in less than a minute without having to fill in a form,” says Hartley. “We require only a business name and postcode to issue a quote, which revolutionises the customer experience.”

To that end, Cytora generates revenue by charging a yearly ARR license fee, which increases based on usage and per line of business. The company says today’s Series B funding will be used to accelerate the expansion of its product suite and for scaling into new geographies.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Flipkart ranked highly for ‘fairness’ of working conditions in India gig platform study

Posted by on Mar 26, 2019 in Apps, Asia, business models, Deliveroo, eCommerce, Europe, Flipkart, Germany, gig economy, India, Ola, online platforms, Oxford Internet Institute, South Africa, TC, Uber, United Kingdom, university of Manchester, workers rights | 0 comments

The Oxford Internet Institute has published what it bills as the world’s first rating system for working conditions on gig economy platforms.

The Fairwork academic research project is a collaboration with the International Institute of Information Technology Bangalore, the University of Cape Town, the University of Manchester, and the University of the Western Cape.

As the name suggests, the project focuses on conditions for workers who are being remotely managed by online platforms and their algorithms — creating a framework to score tech firms on factors like whether they pay gig economy workers the minimum wage and ensure their health and safety at work.

The two initial markets selected for piloting the rating system are India and South Africa, and the first batch of gig economy firms ranked includes a mix of delivery, ride-hailing and freelance work platforms, among others.

The plan is to update the rating yearly, and to also add gig economy platforms operating in the UK and Germany next year.

Fairness, rated

Fairwork’s gig platform scoring system measures performance per market across five standards — which are neatly condensed as: Fair pay, fair conditions, fair contracts, fair management, and fair representation.

Platforms are scored on each performance measure with a basic point and an advanced point, culminating in an overall score. (There’s more on the scoring methodology here.)

Most of the measures are self explanatory but the emphasis on fair contracts is for T&Cs to be “transparent, concise, and provided to workers in an accessible form”, with the contacting party subject to local law and identified in the contract.

While, in instances of what those behind the project dub “genuine” self-employment, terms of service must be free of clauses that “unreasonably exclude liability” on the part of the platform.

For fair management, a good rating demands a documented process and clear channel of communication through which workers can be heard; decisions can be appealed; and workers be informed of the reasons behind the decisions.

The use of any decision-making algorithms must also be transparent and result in “equitable outcomes for workers”. And there must also be identified and document policy to ensure equity in areas such as hiring and firing, while any data collection must be documented with a clear purpose and explicit informed consent.

Fair representation calls for platforms to allow workers to organize in collective bodies regardless of their employment status and be prepared to negotiate and co-operate with them.

Critical attention

Criticism of the so called ‘gig economy’ has dialled up in recent years, in Western markets especially, as the ‘flexible’ working claims platforms trumpet have attracted closer and more critical scrutiny.

Policymakers are acting on concerns that demand for casual labor is being exploited by increasingly powerful tech firms which are applying algorithms at scale while using self-serving employment classifications designed to workaround traditional labor rights so they can micromanage large-scale workforces remotely while sidestepping the costs of actually employing so many people.

Trenchant critics liken the result to a kind of modern day slavery — arguing that rights-denuded platform workers are part of a wider beaten down ‘precariat’.

A report last year by a UK MP was more nuanced but still likened the casual labor practices on UK startup Deliveroo’s food delivery platform to the kind of dual market seen in 20th century dockyards, suggesting that while the platform could work well for some gigging riders this was at the exploitative expense of others who were not preferred for jobs in the same way — with a risk of unpredictable and unstable earnings. 

In recent years a number of unions have stepped up activity to support contract and casual workers used by the sector, as the number of platform workers has grown. Even as gig platforms have generally continued to deny granting collective bargaining to their ‘self-employed’ workers.

Against this backdrop there have also been a number of wildcat style ‘strikes’ by gig economy workers in the UK triggered by sudden changes to pricing policies and/or conditions, or focused more broadly on trying to move the needle on pay and working conditions.

A UK union-backed attempt to use European human rights law to challenge Deliveroo’s refusal to grant collective bargaining rights for couriers was dismissed by the High Court at the end of last year. Though the union vowed to appeal.

Regardless of that particular set-back, pressure from policymakers and the publicity from legal challenges attached to workers rights have yielded a number of improvements for gig workers in Europe, with — for example — Uber announcing it would expand free insurance products for drivers across much of the region last year. And it’s clear that scrutiny of platforms is an important lever for improving conditions for workers.

It’s with that in mind that the researchers behind Fairwork have launched their rating system.

“The Fairwork rating system shines a light on best and worst practice in the platform economy,” said Mark Graham, professor of Internet geography at the University of Oxford, commenting in a statement. “This is an area in which for too long, very few regulations have been in place to protect workers. These ratings will enable consumers to make informed choices about the platforms and services they need when ordering a cab, a takeaway or outsourcing a simple task.”

“Our hope is that our five areas of fairness will take a life of their own, and that workers, platforms and other advocates will start using them to improve the working conditions across the platform economy,” he added.

And now to those first year scores in India and South Africa…

Best and worst performers

In India, ecommerce giant Flipkart came out on top of the companies ranked, with its delivery and logistics arm eKart scoring 7/10.

Though — if it wants to get a perfect 10 — it’s still got work to do on contracts, to improve clarity and ensure they reflect the true nature of the relationship, according to the researchers’ assessment.

Flipkart also does not recognize a body that could support collective bargaining for its workers.

Three tech platforms shared the wooden spoon for the worst conditions for Indian gig workers, according to the researchers’ assessment — namely: Food delivery platform Foodpanda and ride-hailing giants Ola and Uber which scored just 2/10 apiece, fulfilling only the minimum wage criteria and failing on every other measure.

UberEats, Uber’s food delivery operation, did slightly better — scoring 3/10 in India, thanks to also offering a due process for decisions affecting workers.

While in South Africa the top scorer was white collar work platform NoSweat, which got 8/10. On the improvements front, it also could do a little more work to make its contracts fairer, and also doesn’t recognize collective bargaining.

Bottom of the list in the country is ride-hailing firm Bolt (Taxify) — which scored 4/10, hitting targets on pay and some conditions (mitigating task-specific risks), while also offering a due process for decisions affecting workers, but failing on other performance measures.

Uber didn’t do much better in South Africa either — coming in second to last, with 5/10. Though it’s notable the company does offer more protections for workers there vs those grafting on its platform in India, including mitigating task-specific risks and actively seeking to improve conditions (such as by offering insurance).

Reached for comment on its Fairwork ratings, an Uber spokesperson sent this statement:

Uber wouldn’t be what it is without drivers — they are at the heart of the Uber experience. Over the past years we have made a number of changes to offer a better experience with more support and more protection, including our Partner Injury Protection programme, new safety features and access to quality and affordable private healthcare coverage for driver-partners and their families. We will continue to work hard to earn our partners trust and ensure that their voices are heard as we take Uber forward together.

There’s clearly no one universal standard for Uber’s business where working conditions are concerned. Instead the company tunes its standard to the local regulatory climate — offering workers less where it believes it can get away with it.

That too suggests a stronger spotlight on conditions offered by gig economy platforms can help improve workers’ lot and raise standards globally.

On the improvements front the Fairwork researchers claim the project has already led to positive impacts in the two pilot markets — claiming discussions are “ongoing” with platforms in India about implementing changes in line with the principles, including with a platform that has some 450,000 workers.

Though they also point out the first-year ranking show the overwhelming majority of India’s platform workers are engaged on platforms that score below their Fairwork basic standards (with scores <5/10) — which covers more than a million gig economy workers.

In South Africa another positive development they point to is alcohol delivery platform Bottles committing to supporting the emergence of fair workers’ representation on its platform, after collaborating with the project.

The local NoSweat freelance work platform has also introduced what the researchers couch as “significant changes” in all five areas of fairness — now having a formal policy to pay over the minimum wage after workers’ costs are taken into account; a clear process to ensure clients on the platform agree to protect workers’ health and safety; and a channel and process for workers to lodge grievance about conditions.

Commenting in a statement, Wilfred Greyling, co-founder of NoSweat said the project had helped the company “formalise” the principles and incorporate them into its systems. “NoSweat Work believes firmly in a fair deal for all parties involved in any work we put out,” he said, adding that the platform is “built on people and relationships; we never hide behind faceless technology”.

This report was updated with comment from Uber


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Meet eFounders’ next batch of startups that want to redefine the future of work

Posted by on Mar 18, 2019 in bonjour, Chili, Chilli, Europe, France Newsletter, Startups, swan | 0 comments

European startup studio eFounders has been relentlessly building new startups over the past few years. In 2019, the company plans to launch Bonjour, a demo tool for sales teams, Chilli, a recommandation service to help small and medium companies leverage modern software-as-a-service products, and Swan, a banking API to generate banking services on demand.

If you’re not familiar with eFounders, the team regularly comes up with ideas for new software-as-a-service companies and hires founding teams. In exchange for financial and human resources, eFounders keeps a significant stake in its startups. After a year or so, startups take off on their own, raise their own rounds of funding and leave the eFounders nest.

Many SaaS companies you’ve heard about first started as an eFounders projects, such as Front, Aircall, Forest and a dozen more. eFounders says that it wants to “build the future of work”, which means building the tools and services that companies use every day.

According to eFounders, the value of the portfolio is growing quite rapidly. Companies have raised $187 million in total and have a post-money valuation of $541 million. They generate $67 million in annual recurring revenue combined.

But let’s go back to this new batch of startups. I’m sure some of them will pivot and I’m not yet familiar with their visions, but here’s what I understand they plan on doing based on public information.

Bonjour

Bonjour is all about empowering sales teams with an all-in-one service to close a deal. Instead of scheduling a video call in Google Calendar, sharing your screen for a demo in Skype, get information from your CRM and losing a lead while juggling with all those services, you can do all your work in Bonjour.

It starts with a video call service that works in your browser. Your future client can just click to join a call. Sales reps can see CRM information right from their Bonjour interface. They can also start a screensharing session to show some slides or demo an app.

But Bonjour wants to go further and take care of everything that happens before and after the demo. For instance, I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of websites with a button that says “request a demo”. At best, you can fill out a form with your contact information so that the company can contact you later. At worst, you just get a phone number or an email address. Many of your potential leads may give up.

Some companies use services like Calendly so that you can pick the right day and time in a calendar view. Bonjour lets you do the same thing and customize your forms. After the demo, you can track conversion rates and improve your sales pitch.

Chilli

Many SaaS companies sell their products to startups, big enterprise clients and everything in between. But the vast majority of companies are still small and medium businesses operating in countless of industries. Some of them have been in business for a while and are still using outdated tools.

If you’re reading TechCrunch every day and working for a startup, you might not realize what it’s like to work for an independent movie production company, a small law firm or a traditional knife making company.

Many companies still rely on an old PC tower hiding in a corner of the office with a shared hard drive. They send Excel documents back and forth, store their todo lists on a post-it note and write expense reports on paper forms.

Chilli wants to help small companies change the tools and services they’re using to run their businesses. You can’t give those companies the same sales pitch. And many SaaS companies don’t even try to sell to SMBs because it’s too costly.

That’s why Chilli isn’t just selling one product, but many different SaaS products. They can spend some time with you to understand your needs and recommend some products to increase the productivity of your company. It’s still unclear how Chilli plans to generate revenue, but it’s an interesting idea.

Swan

Details are still thin with Swan. It’s a fintech company that will let you add a banking layer to your service. The company says that you’ll be able to generate accounts, cards and IBANs on the fly.

I’m not sure how they plan to sell the product, but I think it could be particularly useful for marketplace companies and the gig economy in general. If you’re generating revenue because you’re renting your car on Drivy, delivering goods on Glovo or freelancing on Fiverr, you might want to cash out as quickly as possible. You could generate a card and spend your earnings straight from those platforms.

The ability to generate IBANs and accounts is also a great way to collect money and provide an alternative payment method in addition to card payments. But let’s see how the Swan team plans to position the product.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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KashFlow founder Duane Jackson has launched Staffology, a payroll SaaS and API

Posted by on Mar 18, 2019 in Europe, Startups, TC | 0 comments

We already knew that serial entrepreneur Duane Jackson, who is best known for founding and exiting cloud accounting software KlashFlow, was working on his third venture after recently selling Supdate to Crowdcube. And today Staffology, which Jackson tells me he began developing just over a year ago, is launching publicly.

Dubbed Staffology Payroll, the U.K. company’s first product is cloud payroll software built on top of a “comprehensive” and open API. The idea is that anything the web-based application does can also be achievable programmatically via the API.

“A few companies I advise were in need of a web-based payroll app with an API and it just didn’t exist,” explains Jackson. “Xero had been talking about an API for their U.K. payroll for years but it just didn’t look like it was happening [it is now, although it’s still in beta]. I had the opportunity to move on from Supdate which meant I would have some time on my hands, so I thought I’d give it a go myself”.

Jackson says that development of Staffology Payroll started in March 2018 and after a period of private and public beta testing it has passed the important milestone of gaining recognition for RTI and CIS filing from HMRC, the U.K.’s tax authority. The next stage is to encourage other software vendors and platforms to provide payroll functionality via the startup’s API.

“Automation of business processes is on the increase,” notes Jackson, but with regards to payroll this hasn’t yet happened for a lot of companies. “A real bottleneck is payroll because there simply aren’t the APIs out there to do it well,” he says. “It’s no longer just large employers trying to take advantage of technology and the efficiencies it can bring. Whether you’re a construction company managing payments to thousands of subcontractors or an accountancy firm managing payroll for hundreds of small businesses, integration and automation can save you a small fortune”.

To that end, the Staffology founder says the product has been used by a range of customers while in beta. Typical customers include accountants, payroll bureaus and employers of various sizes. “The white-label option is proving attractive to challenger banks looking at how our product can help them compete in the SME market and to HR SaaS vendors who hope it’ll make their own offerings more attractive,” says Jackson.

Another current customer is a large construction company that is integrating Staffology Payroll into their in-house systems to save them “days of work every month”.

Meanwhile, Staffology has been funded by Jackson’s own cash to date and he sees no reason to raise venture capital. “I made enough from my other exits to not have to worry about taking a salary from the business,” he says. “And as a full-stack developer I’m able to do the majority of the development work myself. So the costs have been minimal and what costs there have been I can comfortably cover. I’ve already had interest from a couple of VCs, but I struggle to see why I need to go down that route”.

With that said, Jackson is under no illusion that a payroll SaaS will only make significant profits with scale. Payroll processing is priced as a commodity and therefore Staffology will be a business that requires high volumes.

“Making money is the bit I still have to prove,” he adds. “The maximum you can get away with charging per payslip is £1, therefore the only way to make good money is to do very high volume. High volume payroll is exactly what APIs are best placed to handle and our product and pricing is designed to work for that market”.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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