Google abused dominant position of Android in India, antitrust probe finds

Google has abused the dominant position of Android in India to illegally hurt competitors in the world’s second largest internet market, a two-year antitrust probe by the nation’s watchdog has found.

The Android-maker reduced device manufacturing firms’ ability and incentive to develop — and sell — devices running alternative versions of Android (more popularly known as forks), the probe found, according to two people have have been briefed on the findings.

Additionally, the report found Google’s requirement to make it mandatory for device manufacturers to pre-install its apps to be in violation of India’s competition law.

More than five dozen firms including Amazon and Apple responded to queries from the Indian watchdog — the Competition Commission of India — during the course of the investigation, the report said.

The Indian watchdog also found issues with the way Google has enforced policies on Play Store, saying those are “one-sided, ambiguous, vague, biased and arbitrary.”

Google said it looks forward to engage with the CCI to demonstrate how “Android has led to more competition and innovation, not less.”

The report’s findings — which are yet to be formally published by the CCI — is the latest setback for Google in India, where it is facing several other antitrust probes and daggers from a growing number of domestic startups, founders, and investors.

The Alliance of Digital India Foundation, a group of 350 startups, founders and investors, lauded the CCI report’s findings and said the watchdog’s step “is in line with the Indian digital ecosystem’s needs.”



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Marketers should plan for more DIY metrics as iOS 15 nears

Apple is planning to remove developer access to important user data as part of its iOS 15 release on Monday, leaving email marketers in a dilemma about how they will figure out metrics. To find out how the industry is approaching this problem, we spoke with Vivek Sharma, CEO of Movable Ink, a software consultancy that helps marketers act on the data they’re collecting.

This conversation builds on our Extra Crunch post from August exploring how email marketers can prepare for Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection changes.

The game-changer for email marketers with this update is that as an Apple Mail user, you’ll have the option to hide your IP address.

How can marketers pivot their tactics to remain in control of their metrics? Sharma feels we’ll see more focus on downstream metrics rather than the open rate — on clicks, conversions and revenue. “That sounds great and everything, but you have less of that data. But by definition, that funnel kind of narrows; there are fewer people to get to at that point, so it might take you longer to know if something is working or not working for you.”

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Sharma says zero and first-party data is something that businesses have been focused on. “There are two components: There’s ‘open’ as a metric, and there’s some of the information you’re getting at open time, like the IP address, the time of day, and the inferred weather — that is perceived as data leakage. These are just a couple of the data points. [This data] tend to be things that [marketers] have already been investing in, and they’ve been earning the right to learn more about the customer,” he says.

The challenge, according to Sharma, is: How can marketers collect zero-party data in an interesting, visually appealing way, and then personalize its contents for every customer at scale?

One way that Movable Ink has collected zero-party data is displayed below:

Sharma says, “Everything in here is a polling question: ‘What do you typically shop for?’ ‘What’s your shoe size?’ And they’re giving you loyalty points in return, so there’s an exchange of value happening here. They’re learning about you in a clear way and giving you an easy way to engage with the brand you’re interested in.”

Once you have the data, the question is: How do you use it? Below we see an example from JetBlue.

Sharma outlines three takeaways from iOS 15 for email marketers:

  1. Focus on down-funnel metrics like clicks and conversions — that’s what it really comes down to and it’s the truest indicator of engagement.
  2. Invest in your zero and first-party data assets. True personalization is what people experience and what they see. You can do that from your zero and first-party assets.
  3. Email is a great channel to engage your customers, because it’s a mature one that’s been invested in. Email is an awesome channel for building a one-to-one relationship with your customer, and far more. It has gone through lots of changes over the last 10 or 15 years. The industry will evolve and we’ll find that balance of privacy and personalization.



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Ryder to build logistics network with autonomous trucking company Embark

Supply chain and fleet management solutions company Ryder is partnering with yet another autonomous trucking company. On Thursday, Ryder announced its plans to help Embark launch a nationwide network of up to 100 transfer points that will be owned and operated by the autonomous trucking developer. 

This is Ryder’s third public partnership with autonomous trucking companies. It recently announced plans that are currently underway to help Waymo Via scale its autonomous trucking business by helping with standardized fleet maintenance and management. Ryder is also working with TuSimple to leverage its own facilities as terminals for the startup

“We’re on the cutting edge and really beginning to understand that AV could have a pretty significant role in the future of transportation logistics, so we want to get in as early as possible and start working with these companies that seem to be dominating the market with their technologies,” Karen Jones, Ryder’s EVP for new product innovation, told TechCrunch.

While Ryder has been in talks with other AV companies like Kodiak, Aurora and Plus, Jones said no other deals are in the pipeline. Jones says Ryder is hoping to learn and grow through the different use cases its existing partnerships provide, as well as come up with a replicable transfer hub model that will help the company go to market faster.

“I think as we move this technology forward there’s still a lot of unknowns about how to maintain, how to service and how to operate,” said Jones. “Ryder is a natural fit to partner with because we have huge facilities for maintenance, and then we also have our supply chain and logistics business. We are a real operator that knows how these facilities and the complexities of getting vehicles in and out for delivery to larger facilities work.”

As part of its partnership with Embark, Ryder will provide yard operations, maintenance and fleet management. It will also play an advisory role on Embark’s network of strategically located transfer points where freight is moved from driverless long-haul trucks to driver-controlled trucks for first- and last-mile delivery. 

Ryder is helping Embark to understand what’s required at the facilities and cooperating with Embark’s third-party partners who will either be constructing or locating sites for these facilities, says Jones. At the start, the companies will select sites in key freight markets in California, Arizona, Texas, Georgia, Tennessee and Florida through which Embark will be able to begin operations early next year in preparation for a larger commercial launch in 2024. 

Ryder to build logistics network with autonomous trucking company Embark

Image Credits: Embark

Autonomous companies often choose Sun Belt regions to begin operations because it’s rare to have to account for inclement weather patterns like snow and sleet, making the environment optimal for testing. But over the next five years, Embark and Ryder aim to work with a network of real estate operators to open 100 Embark transfer points across the country. 

Currently, Embark, which recently announced plans to go public via a SPAC deal, moves freight for companies like HP and Budweiser makers AB inBev, as well as Knight Swift Transportation, Werner Enterprises and other “top 25 U.S. truckload carriers,” according to CEO Alex Rodrigues. 

Rodrigues says Embark’s current freight partnerships are either pilots or smaller scale versions of what the company plans to launch in the future. The company has a fleet of 16 trucks today that operate exclusively on highways with a human safety operator in the front seat just in case, but usually, the driver does not have to take over, even if the AV encounters a new scenario. 

Operating only on highways means building out a network of off-highway transfer hubs, which is actually pretty essential, even though it will require a lot of capital and time to scale. TuSimple, by comparison, operates on both highways and surface streets, or streets that are not part of a freeway and have at-grade intersections with other surface streets. The startup’s AVs don’t go into residential areas, and thus don’t perform last-mile delivery, but they are able to access distribution centers and warehouse facilities more easily, according to TuSimple. This capability allows the startup to use existing Ryder locations and retrofit them to serve as TuSimple terminals, rather than building out new terminals, like what Embark is doing. 

Waymo Via is also building its own hubs, and Ryder’s fleet maintenance, inspections and roadside assistance will help the autonomous trucking arm of Waymo scale those sites as well as maximize vehicle uptime and reliability. 

As Ryder lends its varied capabilities to all of these different use cases, it is able to consider its own potential in the AV space, and not just in the logistics of it all. Jones said the company is open to operating an autonomous fleet one day if it makes sense to do so on behalf of a customer, and is also very entrenched in its first- and last-mile delivery services. 

“There’s a number of spaces for Ryder to play as the whole AV initiative evolves, but our first foray into this is really servicing and beginning to understand the technology, as well as the requirements for operating hubs,” said Jones. 



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The Org nabs $20M led by Tiger Global to expand its platform based on public organizational charts

LinkedIn normalized the idea of making people’s resume’s visible to anyone who wanted to look at them, and today a startup that’s hoping to do the same for companies and how they are organized and run is announcing some funding. The Org, which wants to build a global, publicly-viewable database of company organizational charts — and then utilize that database as a platform to power a host of other services — has raised $20 million, money that it will be using to hire more people, add on more org charts, and launch new features, with a recruitment toolkit being first on the list.

The Series B is led by Tiger Global, with previous backers Sequoia, Founders Fund, and Balderton Capital also participating alongside new investors Thursday Ventures, Lars Fjeldsoe-Nielsen (a former Balderton partner), Neeraj Arora (formative early WhatsApp exec), investor Gavin Baker, and more. From what we understand, the investment values The Org at $100 million.

Founders Fund led the company’s last round, a Series A in February 2020, and the whole world of work has really changed a lot in the interim because of Covid-19: companies have become more distributed (a result of offices shutting down); the make-up of businesses has changed because of new demands; many of us have had our sense of connection to our jobs tested in ways that we never thought it would.

All of that has had a massive impact on The Org, and has definitely played into its theory of why org charts are useful, and most useful as a tool for transparency.

“In many ways the pandemic has forced us to reevaluate the norms of how work happens. One of the misconceptions was the idea that you are only working when you are at the office, 9-5. But the future of work is a hybrid set up but you get a lot of issues that arise out of that, communication being one of them. Now it’s much more important to create alignment, a sense of connection, and really feeling a sense of belonging in your company,” Christian Wylonis, the CEO who co-founded the company with Andreas Jarbøl, said in an interview. “We think that a lot of these issues are rooted around transparency and that is what The Org is about. Who is doing what, and why?”

He said that when the coronavirus suddenly ramped up a global issue — and it really was sudden; our conversation in February 2020 had nothing whatsoever to do with it, yet it was only weeks later that everything shut down — it wasn’t obvious that The Org would have a place in the so-called “new normal.”

“We were as nervous as anyone else, but the idea of what work would look like and how we enable people around that has gotten a lot higher on the agenda,” he said. “The appetite for new tools has improved dramatically, and we can see that in our traffic.”

The Org has indeed seen some very impressive growth. The company now hosts some 130,000 public org charts, sees 30,000 daily visitors, and has more than 120,000 registered users. And more casual usage has boomed, too. Wylonis notes that The Org now has close to 1 million visitors each month versus just 100,000 in February 2020, when it only had 16,000 org charts on its platform.

Monetization is coming slowly for the startup. Building, editing and officially “claiming” a profile on the platform are all still free, but in the meantime The Org is working on its platform play and using the database that it is building to power other services. Job hunting is the first area that it will tackle. Posting jobs will be free, and it’s integrating with Greenhouse to feed information into its system, but recruiters and HR pro’s are given an option to manage the sourcing and screening process through The Org, a kind of executive recruitment tool, which will come at a charge. Down the line there are plans for more communications and HR tools, Wylonis said. Some of this will be built by way of integrations and APIs with other services, and some tools — such as communications features — will be built in-house, from the ground up.

When I covered the company’s last round, I’d noted that there were some obvious hurdles for The Org, as well as others building business models on providing more transparency and information around hiring and how companies are run. Sometimes the companies in question don’t actually want to have more transparency. And any database that is based around self-reporting runs the risk of being only as good as the data that is put into it — meaning it may be incomplete, or simply wrong, or just presented to the contributors’ best advantage, not that of the company itself. (This is one of the issues with LinkedIn, too: even with people’s resumes being public, it’s still very easy to lie about what you actually do, or have done.)

So far, the theory is that some of this will be resolved by way of who The Org is targeting and how it is growing. Today the company’s “sweet spot” is early-stage startups with about 50-200 employees, and generally org charts are created for these businesses in part by The Org itself, and then largely by way of wiki-style user-edited content (anyone with a company email can get involved).

The plan is both to continue working with those smaller startups as they scale up, but also target bigger and bigger businesses. These however can be trickier to snag — not least because they will stretch into the realm of public companies, but also because their charts will be more complicated to map and manage consistently. For that reason, The Org is also adding in more features around how companies can “claim” their profiles, including managing permissions for who can edit profiles.

This might mean more managed public profiles, but the idea is that it will be a start, and once more companies post more information, we will see more transparency overall, not unlike how LinkedIn evolved, Wylonis said.

The LinkedIn analogy is interesting for another reason. It seems a no-brainer that LinkedIn, which is at its heart a massive database of information about the world of professional work, and the people and companies involved in it, would have wanted to build its own version of org charts at some point. And yet it hasn’t.

Some of this might be down to how LinkedIn has fundamentally built and organised its own database and knowledge graph, but Wylonis believes it might also be a conceptual difference.

“We think that this might be the fundamental difference between us and them,” Wylonis said of LinkedIn. “They are a database of resumes. ‘I can say whatever I want.’ But for us, the atomic unit is the organization itself. That is an important distinction because it’s a one to many relationship. It can’t be only me editing my profile. And allows us to build structures.”

He added that this was one of the reasons that Rabois — who was an early exec at LinkedIn — became an early investor in The Org: “LinkedIn has been looking at this forever, but they haven’t been able to build it, and so that is how we caught his attention.”



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Stamp your Passport to Disrupt for a chance to win these prizes

As you prepare to dive in to three days of TechCrunch Disrupt 2021, be sure to take your passport. No, not the government-issued variety. Our Disrupt Passport lets you collect experiences during the virtual conference and gives you a chance to win some pretty fabulous prizes.

Seriously, who wouldn’t want a chance to win these?

Here’s the deal. The Disrupt Passport (which you can download in the Disrupt virtual venue — and watch a video detailing how to play), contains a series of experiences. Complete all the experiences in just one row and then send your entry to the TechCrunch team by 11:59 pm (PT) on September 23, 2021.

We’ll select three people who successfully submit their completed passport to win one of the three prizes.

What experiences do you need to do? Nothing more strenuous than what you already plan to do at Disrupt. Take a look at the activities in just one of the Passport’s rows.

  • Meet with a Startup During Startup Alley Crawl: Tuesday
  • Attend a Breakout Session: Thursday
  • Schedule and Attend a Meeting with CrunchMatch: Thursday
  • Take a Photo in the Disrupt Photobooth
  • Meet with a Sponsor in the Expo

All the experiences listed in the Disrupt Passport offer the kind of opportunities that can help you build your startup or expand your portfolio without reinventing the wheel. TechCrunch Disrupt 2021 is the place to create, collaborate, learn and inspire — and snag cool prizes, too. But you have to have a pass to Disrupt to play. Get yours today for under $100 before prices increase next week.

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Casper cuts its CMO, CTO and COO amid further layoffs

Casper has laid off dozens of employees, including three C-Level executives: its chief marketing officer, chief technology officer and chief operating officer, sources say. The mattress company declined to comment.

The round of layoffs, communicated to employees on Friday, largely impacted retail and operations teams, signaling that the business may be undergoing a broader restructuring. Laid-off employees were offered severance packages.

Notably, the impacted executives were all fairly recent additions to the team. CTO Ben Clark has been with the company since July 2019, while former CMO Lisa Pillette joined Casper in March 2020. Casper COO Charles Liu had only been at the company for eight months before this round of layoffs.

Casper’s CFO remains at the startup, but that role has had some significant turnover as well. In an April 2020 business update, Casper announced that Gregory Macfarlane, its CFO and COO at the time, was leaving the company. Interim CFO Stuart Brown eventually took the role, and three months later resigned. The latest CFO, Michael Monahan, took the position effective August 31, 2021.

Over a year ago, Casper announced it was shutting down its European operations, cutting 21% of its global workforce. The move was then attributed to Casper’s new goal of  “achieving profitability,” which included a focus on North American operations.

The business hinted then that the temporary closure of its retail stores impacted its overall direct-to-consumer channel, forcing it to take steps to minimize operating costs. Now, the startup is going one step further by eliminating roles within its retail and operations teams.

One founder in the direct-to-consumer space, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to her lack of direct knowledge with the company, said that Casper’s layoffs could also be a response to iOS 14.5, Apple’s latest software that will crack down on apps that track users’ data without permission. The setting restricts the advertising data that companies can access, making it harder to justify budget and understand the efficacy of their sales strategy.

“Performance marketing through paid channels, specifically Facebook and Instagram, is wonky right now,” the person said. “So, if they were really reliant on that channel that could be something that is affecting their sales.”

Casper priced its IPO shares at $12 and debuted at $14.50 a share just as the COVID-19 pandemic was gaining momentum in February 2020. The company dove nearly 72% from its opening price before recovering, reaching a more recent peak of nearly $11 in February 2021. Today, the company trades at just above $5, a decline of more than half from its opening.



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Watch Apple unveil the new iPhone live right here

Apple is set to announce new iPhone models today. The company is holding a (virtual) keynote at 10 AM PT (1 PM in New York, 6 PM in London, 7 PM in Paris). And you’ll be able to watch the event right here as the company is streaming it live.

Rumor has it that there will be a new generation of iPhone models. Reports suggest that the company is going to call it the iPhone 13 and that there will be four different models just like last year. Today, you can expect to learn more about the iPhone 13, iPhone 13 Mini, iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max.

When it comes to new features, it’s safe to say that there will be big camera upgrades. This year, the company seems to be focused on video improvements in particular. The iPhone 13 should also come with a better display and a faster chip.

But that’s not all. Apple is likely to use this opportunity to announce a new Apple Watch model. There will be bigger design changes with the Apple Watch Series 7 with sharp edges.

There could be more product announcements as Apple has been working on the AirPods 3. They will replace or complement the entry-level AirPods 2 in the audio lineup. The AirPods Pro and AirPods Max will remain unchanged for now.

Finally, there’s a small chance that we get to hear more about new Macs with custom designed Apple chips as well as new iPad models…

You can watch the live stream directly on this page, as Apple is streaming its conference on YouTube.

If you have an Apple TV, you can open the TV app and look for the ‘Apple Special Event’ section. It lets you stream today’s event and rewatch old ones.

And if you don’t have an Apple TV and don’t want to use YouTube, the company also lets you live stream the event from the Apple Events section on its website. This video feed now works in all major browsers — Safari, Mozilla Firefox, Microsoft Edge and Google Chrome.

We’ll be covering the event and you can follow our liveblog for live commentary.

Read more about Apple's Fall 2021 Event on TechCrunch



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Spotify’s Clubhouse clone adds six new weekly shows, some that tie to Spotify playlists

This summer, Spotify launched its live audio app and Clubhouse rival, Spotify Greenroom, with the promises of more programming to come in the months ahead to augment its then primarily user-generated live content. Today, the company is making good on that earlier commitment, with the launch of six new shows on Spotify Greenroom focused on pop culture and music, in addition to what Spotify calls “playlist-inspired shows” — meaning those that are inspired by Spotify’s own playlists.

This includes a new show based on the popular playlist Lorem, which launched in 2019, showcasing an eclectic mix of music that has included indie pop, R&B, garage rock, hip-hop, and more, focused on a younger, Gen Z audience. That playlist today has over 884,000 “likes” on Spotify and has risen to become one of the places new artists are able to break through on the platform. Now, Lorem listeners will be connected to “Lorem Life,” a Spotify Greenroom show that will feature a mix of culture and discussions about music, the environment, sustainability, fashion, and space, Spotify says. The show is hosted by Gen Z influencers and TikTok stars, Dev Lemons and Max Motley, who will engage with other artists and influencers. It begins airing on Wednesday, September 15, at 9 PM ET.

Another new “playlist-inspired” show is “The Get Up LIVE.” If the name sounds familiar, it’s because “The Get Up” was introduced last fall as Spotify’s own take on a daily morning show by mixing music with talk radio-style content led by hosts who discuss the news, pop culture, entertainment, and other topics. To date, that content has not been provided as a live program, however. Instead, the show has been pre-recorded then made available as a playlist that gives listeners the feel of a daily FM radio show. Now, “The Get Up’s” co-hosts Kat Lazo and Xavier “X” Jernigan will record their show live on Greenroom, starting on Wednesday, Sept. 15 at 11 AM ET.

This odd time seems to contradict Spotify’s original intention of providing a show for those who commute to the office. But with the rise of remote work in the face of the unending pandemic, addressing the commuter audience may be of less interest, with the new program. However, Spotify tells us “The Get up LIVE” will be complementary to the daily show, which will still run as normal — that’s why it has a later airing.

Other new Greenroom shows include “A Gay in the Life,” hosted by the married couple, actor Garrett Clayton and writer and educator Blake Knight, who will discuss LGBTQIA+ news and issues (weekly, 8 PM ET, starting today); “Take a Seat,” hosted by Ben Mandelker and Ronnie Karam of the “Watch What Crappens” podcast, who will recap reality shows and dive into other pop culture fascinations (weekly, 10 PM ET, starting today); “The Movie Buff,” hosted by film buff and comedian Jon Gabrus, who will review and break down the latest hot movies (weekly, 11 PM ET, starting today); and “The Most Necessary: Live,” a complement to Spotify’s “Most Necessary” playlist, where host B.Dot will discuss up-and-comers in hip-hop (weekly, 9 PM ET, starting Tuesday).

In addition to the new programs, Deuxmoi’s show “Deux Me After Dark” will also air this evening (Sept. 13) at 9 PM ET to recap the red carpet looks and gossip from this year’s Met Gala alongside guest Hillary Kerr, co-founder of Who What Wear.

Image Credits: Spotify

Greenrom is now available to listeners in over 135 global markets and has been quietly expanding with live audio from sports site and podcast network “The Ringer” as well as from artists like Pop Smoke, the company says. Other programs added include Men In BlazersDeaux Me After DarkTrue Crime Rewind and Ask The Tarot. Many of the shows are also being published on-demand after the live show ends.

The app had gotten off to a slower start this year, given its roots had been in sports talk live programming, which didn’t necessarily connect with Spotify’s music fans. Plus, it has faced growing competition from not only Clubhouse, which inspired its creation, but also other top social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Discord, and more. Without dedicated programs to garner user interest in yet another live audio app, the company had only seen 141,000 new downloads for Greenroom on iOS a little over a month after its launch, and fewer on Google Play. But Spotify’s long-term vision for the service was to more closely tie Greenroom to the music, artists, programs, and podcasts that were already available on its flagship music streaming app — and these new shows are an example of that plan in action.



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With sales momentum, Bookshop.org looks to future in its fight with Amazon

If Gutenberg were alive today, he’d be a very busy angel investor.

With book sales booming during the COVID-19 lockdowns last year, the humble written word has suddenly drawn the limelight from VCs and founders. We’ve seen a whole cavalcade of new products and fundings, including algorithmic recommendation engine BingeBooks, book club startups like Literati and the aptly named BookClub, as well as streaming service Litnerd. There have also been exits and potential exits for Glose, LitCharts and Epic.

But the one company that has captured the imagination of a lot of readers has been Bookshop.org, which has become the go-to platform for independent local bookstores to build an online storefront and compete with Amazon’s juggernaut. The company, which debuted just as the COVID-19 pandemic was spreading in January 2020, rapidly garnered headlines and profiles of its founder Andy Hunter, an industrious publisher with a deep love for the reading ecosystem.

After a year and a half, how is it all holding up? The good news for the company is that even as customers are returning to retail including bookstores, Bookshop hasn’t seen a downturn. Hunter said that August sales this year were 10% higher than July’s, and that the company is on track to do about as many sales in 2021 as in 2020. He contextualized those figures by pointing out that in May, bookstore sales increased 130% year over year. “That means our sales are additive,” he said.

Bookshop now hosts 1,100 stores on its platform, and it has more than 30,000 affiliates who curate book recommendations. Those lists have become central to Bookshop’s offering. “You get all these recommendation lists from not just bookstores, but also literary magazines, literary organizations, book lovers, and librarians,” Hunter said.

Bookshop, which is a public-benefit corporation, earns money as all ecommerce businesses do, by moving inventory. But what differentiates it is that it’s fairly liberal in paying money to affiliates and to bookstores who join its Platform Seller program. Affiliates are paid 10% for a sale, while bookstores themselves take 30% of the cover price of sales they generate through the platform. In addition, 10% of affiliate and direct sales on Bookshop are placed in a profit-sharing pool which is then shared with member bookstores. According to its website, Bookshop has disbursed $15.8 million to bookstores since launch.

The company has had a lot of developments in its first year and a half of business, but what happens next? For Hunter, the key is to build a product that continues to engage both customers and bookstores in as simple a manner as possible. “Keep the Occam’s razor,” he says of his product philosophy. For every feature, “it’s going to add to the experience and not confuse a customer.”

That’s easier said than done, of course. “For me, the challenge now is to create a platform that is extremely compelling to customers, that does everything that booksellers want us to do, and to create the best online book buying and book selling experience,” Hunter said. What that often means in practice is keeping the product feeling “human” (like shopping in a bookstore) while also helping booksellers maximize their advantages online.

Bookshop.org CEO and founder Andy Hunter. Image Credits: Idris Solomon.

For instance, Hunter said the company has been working hard with bookstores to optimize their recommendation lists for search engine discovery. SEO isn’t exactly a skill you learn in the traditional retail industry, but it’s crucial online to stay competitive. “We now have stores that rank number one in Google for book recommendations from their book lists,” he said. “Whereas two years ago, all those links would have been Amazon links.” He noted that the company is also layering in best practices around email marketing, customer communications, and optimizing conversion rates onto its platform.

Bookshop.org offers tens of thousands of lists, which provide a more “human” approach to finding books than algorithmic recommendations.

For customers, a huge emphasis for Bookshop going forward is eschewing the algorithmic recommendation model popular among top Silicon Valley companies in lieu of a far more human-curated experience. With tens of thousands of affiliates, “it does feel like a buzzing hive of … institutions and retailers who make up the diverse ecosystem around books,” Hunter said. “They all have their own personalities [and we want to] let those personalities show through.”

There’s a lot to do, but that doesn’t mean dark clouds aren’t menacing on the horizon.

Amazon, of course, is the biggest challenge for the company. Hunter noted that the company’s Kindle devices are extremely popular, and that gives the ecommerce giant an even stronger lock-in that it can’t attain with physical sales. “Because of DRM and publisher agreements, it’s really hard to sell an ebook and allow someone to read it on Kindle,” he said, likening the nexus to Microsoft bundling Internet Explorer on Windows. “There is going to have to be a court case.” It’s true that people love their Kindles, but even “if you love Amazon… then you have to acknowledge that it is not healthy.”

I asked about whether he was worried about the number of startups getting funded in the books space, and whether that funding could potentially crowd out Bookshop. “The book club startups — they are going to succeed by putting books — and conversations about books — in front of the largest audience,” Hunter believes. “So that is going to make everyone succeed.” He is concerned though with the focus on “disruption” and says that “I do hope they succeed in a way that partners with independent bookstores and members of the community that exist.”

Ultimately, Hunter’s strategic concern isn’t directed to competitors or even the question of whether the book is dead (it’s not), but a more specific challenge: that today’s publishing ecosystem ensures that only the top handful of books succeed. Often dubbed “the midlist

problem,” Hunter is worried about the increasingly blockbuster nature of books these days. “One book will suck up most of the oxygen and most of the conversation or the top 20 books [while] great innovative works from young authors or diverse voices don’t get the attention they deserve,” he said. Bookshop is hoping that human curation through its lists can help to sustain a more vibrant book ecosystem than recommendation algorithms, which constantly push readers to the biggest winners.

As Bookshop heads into its third year of operations, Hunter just wants to keep the focus on humans and bringing the rich experience of browsing in a store to the online world. Ultimately, it’s about intentionality. “I really want people to understand that we are creating the future we live in with all of these small decisions about where we shop and how we shop and we should remain very conscious about how we deliberate about those,” he said. “I want Bookshop to be fun to shop at and not just a place to do your civil duty.”



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The next big startup may just help venture back more startups

Welcome to Startups Weekly, a fresh human-first take on this week’s startup news and trends. To get this in your inbox, subscribe here. 

Oper8r, built by Winter Mead and Welly Sculley, wants to help new entrants in the VC world scale. The accelerator launched last year as a “Y Combinator for emerging fund managers,” built to help solo capitalists and people launching rolling funds grow up.

The idea was that a well-networked, smart individual may be able to raise their first $10 million in a debut fund off of connections, but when it comes time to scale to a $50 million or $200 million fund, managers need to have a sophisticated understanding of how the LP world works.

Now, Mead claims that all 18 graduates within his first cohort, which include Stellation capital, Maple VC, Interlace Ventures and Supply Change Capital, have successfully closed funds. Its second cohort is still in the fundraising process, but across both cohorts, over $500 million has been closed. Oper8r is launching its third cohort next week and soon will announce the launch of Cr8r, an early-stage program to help talented angel investors grow their investment cadence.

Oper8r’s expansion comes as the rate of first-time venture fundraising grows as well. The Wall Street Journal’s Yuliya Chernova wrote a story this week about how, after years of being on the decline, the rate of first-time venture fundraising in the United States is “on track to reverse course.” The story, pulling analysis from advisory firm Different Funds, states that “in the second quarter of this year, some 40% of venture-fund announcements, which includes funds just setting out to raise capital, were made by debut funds, whereas they represented between roughly 20% and 30% of fund announcements in each quarter over the past two years.”

This data screams that the rise of a solo GP, or an ambitious rolling-fund-turned-venture firm, isn’t a one-off, it’s an actual trend. This means there’s more pressure for venture firms to go beyond a scout program when it comes to supporting the next big investors — and there’s more of a market for formal efforts to scale operations.

Mead, meanwhile, is cooking up ways to add validation and signal to Oper8r. Many accelerators write checks to further validate their choices, but also to tap into the access they’re getting by helping budding entrepreneurs before top-tier LPs and VCs notice them. He hinted that Oper8r may pursue a similar strategy as it seeks to be the go-to for emerging managers.

“I think capital speaks louder than educational programs,” he said. “If you’re putting money into the opportunities you’re engaged with, I think it serves as a greater signal than someone just coming through the program.”

In the rest of this newsletter, we’ll discuss the creator economy’s latest dance, international BNPL week, and why I’m putting Reid Hoffman in the hot seat. As always, you can find me on Twitter @nmasc_ and listen to my podcast, Equity.

Edtech wants to have its creator economy moment, and it’s complicated

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch

Edtech and the creator economy certainly differ in the problems they try to solve: Finding a VR solution to make online STEM classes more realistic is a different nut to crack than streamlining all of a creator’s different monetization strategies into one platform. Still, the two sectors have found common ground in the past year — as encapsulated by the rise of cohort-based class platforms.

Here’s what to know: I wrote about how the overlap of both sectors is leading to some complications during the rise of cohort-based classes. Some fear that turning creators into educators could bring in a rush of unqualified teachers with no understanding of true pedagogy, while others think that the true democratization of education requires a disruption of who is considered a teacher.

Edtech extras: 

TTYL, BNPL

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch

This week on Equity, Mary Ann and I made sense of what felt like international BNPL week: PayPal acquired Japan’s Paidy for $2.7 billion, Zip bought Africa’s Payflex and Addi raised $75 million to prove BNPL’s power in LatAm.

Here’s what to know: The global boom is partly in response to e-commerce trends, partly in response to consumer demand for more flexibility when it comes to financing. The market isn’t a winner-takes-all, so expect more well-capitalized startups buying their way into consumer markets outside of their geography.

Other news of note:

Reid Hoffman on the hot seat

Reid Hoffman

Image Credits: Kelly Sullivan/Getty Images for LinkedIn

I read Reid Hoffman’s podcast-turned-new-book “Masters of Scale” over the past few days. The entire time, I felt like a well-networked mentor was giving me a pep talk, with name-drops that turned into generalist advice and a behind-the-scenes look at humanity’s decisions.

Here’s what to know: While the book gave me a needed boost of optimism, I still had some critiques. I felt like the book’s choice to not talk much about the ugly within startupland creates an imbalance of sorts. It would have benefitted from talking directly about divisive dynamics, ranging from how WeWork’s Adam Neumann impacted the way we talk about visionary founders, Brian Armstrong’s Coinbase memo and what it means for startup culture, or even the role of the tech press today.

So, I have an idea. Let’s balance out the cheerfulness with the cynical, and let’s do it live. I’m interviewing Hoffman at TechCrunch Disrupt this year, where I’ll put him on the hot seat and push him to explain some of the choices he made in the book. Other people I’m excited to see at the show include Peloton’s CEO and chief content officer and Ryan Reynolds.

Buy your tickets to TechCrunch Disrupt using this link, or use promo code “MASCARENHAS20” for a little discount from me.

Around TC

I’ll be honest, all we’re talking about internally these days is one thing: Disrupt, Disrupt, Disrupt. Here’s the agenda for the Disrupt Stage, which includes three virtual days of nonstop chatter on disruptive innovation.

Across the week

Seen on TechCrunch

Seen on Extra Crunch

And that’s it! Didn’t feel like a short week at all, huh?

Talk soon,

N





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