InReach Ventures, the so-called “AI-powered” venture capital firm based in London, is announcing the first closing of a new €53 million fund targeting early-stage European technology companies — surpassing the original fund target of €50 million, apparently.
Founded by former Balderton Capital General Partner Roberto Bonanzinga, along with Ben Smith (former U.K. Engineering Director at Yammer) and John Mesrie (former General Counsel at Balderton Capital), InReach set out in 2015 to use technology to help scale VC, especially across Europe’s idiosyncratic and highly fragmented market.
The firm’s proprietary software-based approach, which is underpinned by machine learning, claims to be able to generate and evaluate deal-flow more efficiently than traditional venture firms that mostly employ human VCs alone — although, admittedly, practically every VC firm is underpinned by some eliminate of data science and/or technology these days. Berlin’s Fly VC is another machine learning-enabled early-stage VC that comes to mind.
However, InReach certainly appears to be putting its money where its mouth is, disclosing that it has invested over €3 million in the development of its software, codenamed “DIG”. To back this up, Bonanzinga tells me the firm employs “more software engineers than investors”. (I saw an early demo of the software a couple of years ago and even then it seemed legit.)
Regards the new fund, Bonanzinga says InReach is targeting the most promising and innovative startups across Europe, primarily in the areas of consumer internet, software as a service and marketplaces. “We are geographically agnostic and will invest in companies anywhere in Europe, from Helsinki to Barcelona, from Warsaw to Rome,” he says. “In most cases we will be the first institutional investors and our first cheques will be between €500,000 and €2 million”.
To date, InReach Ventures has invested in eight startups from across Europe. They include Oberlo (Lithuania), which was subsequently acquired by Shopify, Soldo (Italy/UK), Tutorful (U.K.), Shapr3D (Hungary), Traitly (Sweden) and Loot (Germany).
Below follows a lightly edited Q&A with Bonanzinga on the new fund, how AI can be used to scale venture capital, and why machines won’t put VCs out of a job entirely any time soon.
TC: You have often said that venture capital doesn’t scale, especially across a fragmented market like Europe, but what do you mean by this?
RB: People get very excited about ecosystems but the data shows that startups can come from anywhere; the big technology hubs or more remote locations. This is carried through to Europe’s largest exists: from Betfair in London to Zalando in Berlin, from Supercell and Spotify in the Nordics, to Critio in France and Yoox in Italy, and so on. So not only is deal sourcing fragmented across Europe, but so are the returns.
Traditional ventures firms have looked to manage this fragmentation by throwing people at the problem, but if you want true coverage you need to have a presence in every city in Europe. This is how you need to think of our technology platform, as like having a highly trained associate in every city and town across the whole of Europe, providing structured diligent deal-flow. With this data/technology driven approach we can be truly pan-European at the early-stage, even as the first institutional investor on the cap-table.
TC: A lot of VCs say they use technology to help find or manage deal-flow, how is InReach any different?
RB: Many venture firms talk about data and software. Lately, it has become a hot topic in pitches to limited partners. I predict a new hype: the rush of needing to check the box of “we have a data strategy”. We will have many firms with 30+ investment professionals and a data engineer in a corner. The real question is how many firms are willing to transform their professional service DNA into a product DNA? As always, this is more of a people/organisational question, rather than a question simply of the use of technology.
Take a look at InReach, we are a very atypical founding team for a venture firm. In particular, Ben Smith comes from a software engineering background and has built many data platforms and product development teams (most recently at Yammer/Microsoft). The majority of the people at InReach are software engineers. This is the only Venture Firm we know in which there are more software engineers than investors! So far we have invested over €3m in developing our proprietary technology platform.
TC: Without giving away your secret sauce, how does the InReach platform work, both in terms of the machine learning/feedback loop or the signals/data you plug into it?
RB: From a technology perspective, our logical architecture is primarily based on 3 distinct layers: data, intelligence, and workflow. The data layer is a mix of massive data aggregation, with deep data enhancement, including the generation of a large set of original data. The intelligence layer makes sense of these millions of data points through an ensemble of machine learning algorithms, ranging in complexity from simple rules to advanced networks. Given this data-driven approach and the significant deal-flow this generates, we invest heavily in building a workflow product which allows us to efficiently process thousands of companies each month.
TC: You say the final investment decision is still made by humans: why is that and do you think this will always be the case?
RB: As with any AI company, it’s all about data. We have spent the past 3 years aggregating data from across the internet and building algorithms to provide us with significant dealflow. Much more crucially, we have been collecting and generating our own proprietary data-set of investment decisions and how these startups grow and adapt over time. Clearly this will only get more powerful.
However, especially at this early-stage, so much of the investment decision is based on the founders and what we call the DNA fit of the founders and the problem they are trying to solve. Some of this can be encoded in algorithms and learnt by AI, but there are still intangibles that ultimately require that we ask the question: do we enjoy spending time together?
RB: What has been the reaction by under the radar founders when they are discovered really early via InReach’s software?
RB: The first question is always ‘How did you find out about us?’. Once we explain what we do and how the platform works we create an immediate connection with the entrepreneur. This is exactly what happened when we reached out to 5 entrepreneurs in Vilnius who had started a company called Oberlo. Over the following year, we helped them grow and expand to 30 people across both Vilnius and Berlin, prior to their acquisition by Shopify.
We are taking a very entrepreneurial approach to investing; we run InReach more as a product development organisation, rather than a professional services firm, so we look and feel native to the entrepreneurs we talk to. We try to share our experiences and current-best-practices through the company building process, whether it be OKRs, different agile development methodologies, product roadmaps, etc.
Reaching out to promising entrepreneurs early is not the only advantage that DIG gives us. We are also very efficient and responsive when analysing inbound opportunities. In fact, if you look at our website, we optimize our website to convert visitors to share their startup with us. We are not concerned with being bombarded by opportunities because we have developed a scalable workflow that allows us to efficiently manage significant dealflow.
Respawn will premiere its ‘Star Wars’ game on April 13th
After years of work, Respawn is nearly ready to show what its Star Wars game is all about. Lucasfilm has announced that EA and Respawn will formally reveal Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order at a Celebration Chicago panel on April 13th. The two are unsurprisingly shy about details, but you’ll meet a Padawan who survived Order 66 (the command to exterminate the Jedi) and experience what it’s like to live in an era where there are seemingly no Jedi left. You can expect “never-before-released” details of the game, Lucasfilm said, which isn’t hard when the game is largely a secret.
Spotify launches in India – TechCrunch
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Just for India, Spotify users who do not pay for a subscription can play any song on demand on mobile. There are also playlists for India and a “Starring…” feature that includes music from Bollywood movies.
“Not only will Spotify bring Indian artists to the world, we’ll also bring the world’s music to fans across India,” said Spotify CEO Daniel Ek.
This isn’t necessarily a precursor to some big action like breaking up a big company or imposing rules or anything like that. It seems more like a recognition that the FTC needs to be ready to move quickly and decisively in tech matters.
Against a backdrop of public backlash and looming federal regulations, the world’s biggest e-cigarette manufacturer has released video of the original thesis presentation that launched the company.
After years of prototypes, the age of foldables has finally arrived.
With the latest improvements, developers can use the machine to solve larger problems with fewer physical qubits — or larger problems in general.
Some thoughts from the former SVP of Walmart’s global e-commerce supply chain.
Cracks are starting to appear in Steam’s armor, threatening to make it the digital equivalent of GameStop — a once unassailable retail giant whose future became questionable when it didn’t successfully change with the times. (Extra Crunch subscription required.)
FTC ruling sees Musical.ly (TikTok) fined $5.7M for violating children’s privacy law, app updated with age gate – TechCrunch
A significant FTC ruling issued today will see video app TikTok fined $5.7 million for violating U.S. children’s privacy laws, and will impact how the app works for kids under the age of 13. In an app update being released today, all users will need to verify their age, and the under 13-year-olds will then be directed to a separate, more restricted in-app experience that protects their personal information and prevents them from publishing videos to TikTok .
In a bit of bad timing for the popular video app, the ruling comes on the same day that TikTok began promoting its new safety series designed to help keep its community informed of its privacy and safety tools.
The Federal Trade Commission had begun looking into TikTok back when it was known as Musical.ly, and the ruling itself is a settlement with Musical.ly.
The industry self-regulatory group Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU) had last spring referred Musical.ly to the FTC for violating U.S. children’s privacy law by collecting personal information for users under the age of 13 without parental consent. (The complaint, filed by the Department of Justice on behalf of the Commission, is here.)
But its regulatory issues followed it to its new home.
According to the U.S. children’s privacy law COPPA, operators of apps and websites aimed at young users under the age of 13 can’t collect personal data like email addresses, IP addresses, geolocation information or other identifiers without parental consent.
But the Musical.ly app required users to provide an email address, phone number, username, first and last name, a short biography and a profile picture, the FTC claims. The also app allowed users to interact with others by commenting on their videos and sending direct messages. In addition, user accounts were public by default, which meant that a child’s profile bio, username, picture and videos could be seen by other users, the FTC explained today in its press release.
It also noted that there were reports of adults trying to contact children in Musical.ly, and until October 2016 there was a feature that let others view nearby users within a 50-mile radius.
“The operators of Musical.ly—now known as TikTok—knew many children were using the app but they still failed to seek parental consent before collecting names, email addresses, and other personal information from users under the age of 13,” said FTC Chairman Joe Simons, in a statement. “This record penalty should be a reminder to all online services and websites that target children: We take enforcement of COPPA very seriously, and we will not tolerate companies that flagrantly ignore the law.”
COPPA law, of course, becomes a bit complex to implement for apps like TikTok that sit in a gray area between being oriented toward adults and being aimed at kids. Specifically, apps preferred by tweens and teens — like Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube and TikTok — are often clamored for by younger, under-13 kids, and parents often comply.
But some parents are caught off guard by these apps. The FTC says Musical.ly had fielded “thousands of complaints” from parents because their children under the age of 13 had created Musical.ly accounts.
In addition to the $5.7 million fine, the FTC settlement with Musical.ly includes an agreement that will impact how the TikTok app operates.
It says TikTok is now considered a “mixed audience” app, which means there needs to be an age gate implemented on the app. Instead of locking out under-13 users from the TikTok service, younger users will be directed to a different in-app experience that restricts TikTok from collecting the personal information prohibited by COPPA.
TikTok is also complying with the ruling by making significant changes to its app. It will now restrict under-13 kids from being able to film and publish their videos to the TikTok app. It will also take down all videos from kids under 13.
Instead, the under-13 crowd will only be able to like content and follow users. They will be able to create and save videos to their device — but not to the public TikTok network. Nor can they share videos on the app with their friends if they use TikTok via a private account.
As TikTok already has a large number of younger kids on its app, it will push an app update today that displays the new age gate to both new and existing users alike. Kids will then need to verify their birthday in order to be directed to the appropriate experience.
This is not likely going to have an impact on how many kids use TikTok, however. Kids today already know to lie to age pop-ups so they can enter a restricted app. That’s how they set up accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and elsewhere.
However, the move at least puts TikTok on a level playing field with other “mixed audience” apps instead of allowing it to pretend U.S. children’s privacy laws do not exist.
TikTok reportedly has been installed a billion times worldwide, according to recent data from Sensor Tower. The company doesn’t publicly disclose its figures, but the FTC says since 2014, more than 200 million users had downloaded the Musical.ly app worldwide, with 65 million accounts registered in the United States.
The Commission vote to authorize the staff to refer the complaint to the Department of Justice and to approve the proposed consent decree was 5-0. Commissioner Rohit Chopra and Commissioner Rebecca Kelly Slaughter issued a separate statement, shared below:
The Federal Trade Commission’s action to crack down on the privacy practices of Musical.ly, now known as TikTok, is a major milestone for our Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) enforcement program. Agency staff uncovered disturbing practices, including collecting and exposing the location and other sensitive data of young children. In our view, these practices reflected the company’s willingness to pursue growth even at the expense of endangering children. The agency secured a record-setting civil penalty and deletion of ill-gotten data, as well as other remedies to stop this egregious conduct. This is a big win in the fight to protect children’s privacy.
This investigation began before the current Commission was in place. FTC investigations typically focus on individual accountability only in certain circumstances—and the effect has been that individuals at large companies have often avoided scrutiny. We should move away from this approach. Executives of big companies who call the shots as companies break the law should be held accountable.
When any company appears to have a made a business decision to violate or disregard the law, the Commission should identify and investigate those individuals who made or ratified that decision and evaluate whether to charge them. As we continue to pursue violations of law, we should prioritize uncovering the role of corporate officers and directors and hold accountable everyone who broke the law.
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- Recap: ‘Game of Thrones,’ Season 8, Episode 2 – Winterfell prepares for an epic battle
- Washington state could become first state to allow human composting
- Ben Carson explains benefits of investing in ‘Opportunity Zones’ for areas facing economic challenges
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