Jason Goldberg raises $400K more to turn Pepo into “the best place to host live conversation”

Serial entrepreneur Jason Goldberg has famously had his ups and downs, most notably with the e-commerce company Fab.com. He hasn’t stopped moving forward, however.

In October, he launched a new messaging app called Pepo that enables anyone to create and join live messaging communities. In December, Pepo announced $2.3 million in seed funding led by the Chinese conglomerate Tencent. And today, Pepo is announcing $400,000 in additional seed funding from its backers, along with two new features — “questions and stories,” and live Q&As — that Goldberg expects will continue to fuel what he describes as steady growth so far.

He shared the latest in a call earlier today from Pune, India. Our chat has been edited for length.

TC: You’re calling from India. Is that where Pepo is based?

JG: We have three people in Berlin, where I live, and 20 people in Pune. It’s the same team that helped me build Fab and [a later iteration of the company] Hem. Officially, though, Pepo is based in Palo Alto.

TC: For those who’ve missed it, what’s the big idea behind Pepo?

JG: What we think is a very interesting and compelling is a two-sided marketplace concept. It’s people, plus expertise, and the overall plan for that will emerge over the next couple of years.

We decided to go out early and iterate with our users, rather than trying to guess in getting in right. We feel like because we’ve taken that approach, our users have given us a lot of leeway.

TC: So it’s early days, but right now users are right now creating messaging “channels” around any number of topics that interest them, then you match people to the channels they find interesting, and these feature influencers or experts sort of lead the conversation. Is that correct?  What’s in it for the influencers or experts if so?

JG:  We’ve told them they can create their own channel, have a live conversation with their followers and new followers, and build an audience.

For a lot of folks who have a following on Twitter or Instagram, what Pepo gives them is a higher level of engagement. Think of it this way: What if you could have a Slack channel with everyone who follows you on Twitter or Instagram? Twitter is good for a thought here and there, and Instagram is a great place to post your best two or three pictures of the day or post a story that will disappear. With Pepo, we’re connecting one to many.

TC: And these influencers are finding followers?

JB: We’ve concentrated a large part of our efforts on the supply — the influencers and experts who have the content. If they host it on Pepo [the thinking goes], it will bring the demand. So we’ve invested early on in the ability for these [experts] to host conversations with people who can read and reply but not post their own messages. It’s been like a form of microblogging.

Now, [with the new features we’re rolling out] if the channel host allows it, every member in that channel can post into the channel; they can submit a question or a story that the host can address. The channel host can also do a live Q&A and host it like a Reddit AMA.

TC: You’ve said from the start that Pepo is going to focus more on engagement than size. What can you tell us about how many people are using the app, and what percentage of them return regularly?

JG: I can tell you that our return usage is very strong on a week-to-week and month-to-month basis. About half of our users are using the app each month, and we’ve seen 100 percent month-over-month growth since launching.

TC: What’s the business model?

JG: We have several concepts that are in the works already, so we’ll be adding monetization elements sooner rather than later. But basically, if our channel hosts do well, we’ll do well, so we’re really focused on how does someone — say a top influencer when it comes to solo female travel — make money through the platform.

The general Silicon Valley philosophy is to get several million users, then monetize, but we’re more akin to Airbnb’s philosophy that monetization can help drive the platform. Many people would be interested in bringing their expertise to the platform if they felt confident that they could monetize that expertise.

 TC: So, through native ads? Can you be more specific?

JG: No advertising is in our plans right now. We’re thinking more of paid channels where people pay to ask questions or for services or to contact people directly. For example, a top Berlin foodie has said that several people have contacted him for either an itinerary or a walking guide of food stops in Berlin [which are services for which he could charge].

TC: How do you protect these hosts from abuse, from being trolled?

JG: We want everyone to be a real person, so we’ve had a verified user process from day one. We use the information they give us, and their Facebook connections, to determine whether a person is who they say they are. If you want to sign up under a fake name, you can, but the features you can access are limited.

We also give a lot of controls to channel hosts. It’s easy for them to decide whether a channel is public or private or secret, and they can block or report or ban someone.

We’re also coming up with a ranking system because the internet definitely brings out all types.

TC: You mentioned Slack. And are these channel conversations searchable as with Slack, and are there threaded comments?

JG: Everything is being indexed, so right now, you can search for people, locations, and channels, and we’re adding search across the entire platform in coming weeks.

What a lot of our users have told us is that information they’re getting on Pepo is happening elsewhere in secret conversations on WhatsApp, and Snapchat, and Facebook Messenger, but they’re not indexable or searchable or findable again, and others can’t leverage that information. Hosting these more open forums is a way to leverage that knowledge base.

And yes, there are threaded replies and also the Q&As have threaded video replies.

TC: What if the host sets the channel to private?

JG: Any number of members have access to that information forever. There are 18,000 people in a global gay travelers group, and the information that users are provided there is proving super helpful for people who are members.

TC: You’ve just raised $400,000 after announcing $2.35 million in December. Is there a particular logic to raising funding in a piecemeal fashion?

JG: A number of number of existing investors, including Greycroft, said: “If there’s an opportunity to invest, we’d like to do that before you raise a Series A round.”

Rental platform Goodlord raises £7.2M from Rocket Internet’s GFC, LocalGlobe, and Ribbit Capital

Goodlord, a U.K. startup that has built a platform to handle transactions and the ‘paperwork’ normally associated with renting a home, has raised £7.2 million in Series A funding. Rocket Internet’s GFC led the round, with participation from existing backer LocalGlobe and new investor Ribbit Capital.

That the Silicon Valley-based VC has joined the round is noteworthy. Ribbit is known for its fintech focus, but in some ways Goodlord can be seen as more financial tech than property tech in the sense the company wants to be the ‘transactional architecture’ behind rental transactions. This includes handling (and taking a cut of) payments, as well as offering add-on financial services such as landlord insurance.

“We see huge potential for disruption in the way that rental property in the U.K. is transacted,” says Meyer Malka, partner at Ribbit Capital, in a statement. “Goodlord is using technology to build transparency and ease of use for one of the most important moments in a consumer life: choosing a home to live in”.

Or, put another way, co-founder and CEO Richard White tells me that Goodlord wants to make it “as easy to rent a home as it is to make online payments with Paypal”.

“We want to take away the stigma of renting and professionalise the service tenants and landlords receive through lettings agents,” he says. “At the same time, we can significantly cut costs and administration for agents by automating and digitising the entire letting process”.

In other words, unlike other startups in the rental market space that want to essentially destroy traditional brick ‘n’ mortar letting agents with an online equivalent, Goodlord’s Software-as-a-Service is designed to support all stakeholders, including traditional high street letting agents, as well as landlords and, of course, tenants.

 The Goodlords SaaS enables letting agents to “digitise” the moving in process, including utilising e-signatures and collecting rental payments online. In addition to landlord insurance, new services are being introduced, such as rental guarantees, and “tenant passports”.

The latter means that, as Goodlord reaches scale, it should be possible for a tenant to easily take their rental transaction history and landlord references with them when moving from one rental property to another as proof that they are a trustworthy tenant.

As it stands, Goodlord provides a white-label platform for 355 estate agencies nationwide, both online and traditional letting agents. These include Sothebys, Strutt & Parker, Life Residential, and Remax, as well as much smaller independents.

Finally, eagle-eyed readers may have noted an anomaly (or perhaps not) in regards to GFC’s further backing of Goodlord. The Rocket Internet venture arm also recently invested in U.K. online letting agent OpenRent, which, let’s just say, has lots of potential overlap with the space that Goodlord is occupying and vice versa.

Zenrez raises another $6 million to take on ClassPass

The growing fitness boutique industry sees inefficiencies when there are empty spots in a workout class. Studios often have to pay the yoga teacher the same whether there are five people or 15 who attend a session.

Several startups have tried to solve this problem, by offering discounted passes to meet demand. ClassPass gained early traction with consumers, but San Francisco-based Zenrez says that they have a better business model because it focuses on the needs of studios.

And they’re announcing $6 million in Series A funding from ARTIS Ventures, Precursor Ventures, Transmedia Capital and more. We reported on their seed round last summer.

CEO Matt Capizzi told TechCrunch that what sets them apart is their “studio-centric approach.” Instead of just focusing on the best deals for consumers, Zenrez keeps the studio needs in mind, by offering the discounted classes just the night before, so that they aren’t withholding spaces for the people who paid full-price. “We’re helping studios fill their excess spots.”

Stuart Peterson, co-founder at ARTIS Ventures, said he invested because “the fitness market is huge and in desperate need for a proven yield management solution.” He believes that Zenrez has the right model and that the team “understands the nuances that have tripped up many from the outside like ClassPass and Groupon.”

But from a consumer perspective, it’s more expensive for the classes, which is why Capizzi feels this is best for “those folks who are not yet in a routine.” Zenrez lets users purchase individual classes, whereas ClassPass has class packs.

 There are no membership fees, but Zenrez takes a 25% commission on every booking.

The company expects to move beyond classes and may offer discounted workshops, teacher training and private sessions. But it will all “stay under the roof of fitness,” said Capizzi.

When I look at the San Francisco offerings, it appears that there is a bit of overlap with the studios available on Zenrez and ClassPass. Competitor MoveWith also has comparable solutions, with the booking is centered around instructors.

ClassPass has experimented with its business model and raised its price points so many times that it has upset consumers. The company used to offer “unlimited” classes, but canceled this last year.

Some of these displaced users may be looking at alternative options and the investors are hoping they’ll wind up at Zenrez.

Booksy, the mobile-first booking app for appointment-based businesses, raises $4.2M

Booksy, an app that enables appointment-based businesses such as hairdressers and beauty salons to take online bookings and operate other aspects of their business, has closed $4.2 million in Series A funding.

The round was led by OpenOcean, with participation from Australian company builder and early-stage investor Investible, Poland’s Nomad Fund, Kai Hansen (ex-Lieferando), Apostolos Apostolakis, and Rafal Plutecki (Head of Google Campus, Poland).

The new capital will be used by Booksy to invest in further functionality, such as “allowing in-app payments, enabling larger merchants to handle personnel through the software, and the development of better reporting systems”.

Booksy can be thought of as a Software-as-a-Service for appointment-based businesses to enable them to handle their customer-facing schedules, including being able to take and accept bookings via the Booksy mobile app.

The idea, for example, is that a barber will wean its customers off making bookings over the phone or in-person and instead point them to the Booksy app or website.

booksy

The upside isn’t just a more convenient booking process for both customers and the business owner, but also increased engagement. Booksy co-founder and CEO Stefan Batory tells me adoption of the app has been shown to improve customer loyalty and frequency of bookings. Part of the reason for this is simple: by using Booksy, businesses are able to accept bookings outside of working hours for the first time.

 “Most of them work with their hands, so they can’t answer phone calls when they have clients in and don’t want to answer them when out of work,” says Batory. “On the other hand, clients want to book appointments 24×7 (up to 60 per cent of appointments are made outside of working hours of our businesses). We help both sides to take the hassle out of that process and book when it’s convenient for clients and at the same time, make life easier for businesses”.

In addition to scheduling, Booksy provides businesses with a number of other features designed to support and enhance their processes, such as a CRM, marketing automation, inventory management, point-of-sales, reports, the management of commission for employees, and (soon) in-app payments.

Unlike competitors, however, Booksy isn’t a marketplace and, therefore, doesn’t get paid per booking. Instead, its SaaS model sees it charge a simple monthly subscription, with a number of tiers dependent on the size of the business.

“We have local competitors on every market,” explains Batory. These include StyleSeat in the U.S., Treatwell in the U.K., Vaniday in Brazil, and LadyTime in Poland. “They are all marketplaces and charge for appointments. That discourages businesses to push their clients to these platforms. They are happy to do it with Booksy though, because they know we will not send their clients elsewhere, to monetise that”.

Along with Batory, Booksy’s other co-founder is Konrad Howard. I’m told the two previously founded and built iTaxi into the number one Taxi-hailing app in Poland. Prior to this, Batory listed his first software company Eo Networks on the Polish stock exchange.

Alphabet’s Project Loon internet balloon effort just made a major breakthrough

Quite a few major tech companies are looking at ways to beam internet down from the sky, and even space. One of those is Alphabet, Google’s parent company, and today an intriguing and important breakthrough in an ongoing attempt to deliver internet to hard-to-reach places was revealed.

Project Loon, started by Google before it became Alphabet, intends to provide internet access with giant floating balloons. The initial idea was to have groups of balloons sail around the world, largely at the whimsy of the wind but, when they could, linger over a particular region.

Now, according to Astro Teller, the head of Alphabet’s moonshot programs, the team behind Project Loon has developed a machine learning-powered navigation algorithm that allows them to send “small teams of balloons” to cluster above a certain area – and stay there.

 

Instead of blankets of balloons being ushered away by the breeze, these groups can “dance on the winds in small loops to remain where needed.”

The development is far from perfect, Teller writes in a blog post, but he notes it’s a “positive sign for Loon’s economic and operational viability.”

With the improvement, a balloon network can get up and running in remote or rural places in a matter of weeks, and the effort to oversee the network would be much less challenging. Not as many balloons would be needed either, reducing costs across the board.

All this means more reliable internet could be delivered on a much faster timescale to the farthest reaches of the Earth, a huge step towards making global connections a reality.

The best free alternative to WinZip 2017

Free WinZip alternatives

First released in 1991, WinZip is the best-known software for creating and opening compressed file archives. It’s a great tool, but at £31.14 (US$35.94, AU$47.94) it’s rather expensive – especially when there are so many excellent free alternatives.

Windows (from XP onwards) has a built-in compression tool, accessed by right-clicking one or more folders/files, and selecting ‘Send to > Compressed (zipped) folder’. This is fine for very occasional use, but is very limited. It can only read and create ZIP files (there are dozens of other formats), it doesn’t let you create multiple volumes of a particular size, can’t repair damaged archives, and doesn’t support encryption. In fact, if you use it to compress an encrypted file, it will be decrypted when extracted.

It’s therefore a good idea to have a different WinZip alternative on hand for compressing and opening file archives, and we’ve picked out the best. Have we missed your preferred tool? Let us know in the comments below.

1. 7-Zip

The best free WinZip alternative, with no frills and no strings attached

7-Zip is open source, meaning it’s completely free, even for commercial use. It’s only 1MB in size, and can pack and unpack just about any compressed file archive you can throw at it.

7-Zip isn’t the most attractive WinZip alternative around, but it’s so well designed that you won’t miss the slick interfaces of its paid-for equivalents. You can locate files to be archived using a simple Windows Explorer-style file tree, or drag and drop them into the main window.

Its own 7z format is designed for high compression, and is supported by almost all file achiving tools – both paid-for and free – making it an ideal choice for sharing.

You can apply password protection to packaged archives and split them into volumes, which is handy for sharing particularly large archives. The only key feature it’s missing is the ability to repair damaged archives – other than that, it’s a truly exceptional program.

2. PeaZip

Another excellent free alternative to WinZip. Larger than 7-Zip, but with more features

PeaZip is another open source WinZip alternative, but with a few more features in a considerably larger package (around 10MB compared to 7-Zip’s 1MB).

PeaZip’s standard installation will make file associations and add context menu options automatically, which you might not want if you’re trying it for the first time. Select ‘Custom’ if you want to make your own choices.

PeaZip is compatible with pretty much every compressed file format there is. PEA, its own format, prioritises security over compression, with optional integrity check and authenticated encryption. Unlike 7-Zip, it can repair damaged archives.

Its handy extra features include the ability to convert archive formats and test archives for errors. It can’t batch compress or watermark images as some of the other tools here can, but can rotate and crop them for you.

3. Zipware

Incredibly user-friendly. An excellent free alternative to WinZip if you’re new to file compression

WinZip alternative Zipware is wonderfully simple to use – simply choose ‘New’ or ‘Open’, choose your source file or archive, tweak a few optional settings and you’re done.

This free WinZip alternative free to use, but if you decide to stick with it, the website invites you to make a donation to support its development. The software itself doesn’t nag you for money though.

Zipware’s standout feature is integrated virus-scanning: if an archive is under 32GB, you can check it for threats with VirusTotal. This is unlikely to be of interest to power users, but is a helpful addition for anyone who’s unsure about extracting downloaded archives (or who knows someone with a tendency to accidentally open such things).

 

Download Ashampoo Zip Free

4. Ashampoo Zip Free

A free WinZip alternative that’s optimized for touch, but promotion of paid-for features can be overbearing

Ashampoo Zip Free ‘s main features are presented as Windows-style tiles, but here the free program’s limitations start to show, with paid-for features like encryption and archive format conversion (which are included with open source tools) locked out until you open your wallet.

This free WinZip alternative redeems itself with a very clear interface, which has an optional touch mode with larger, tap-friendly icons. All of the key features are immediately obvious rather than hidden behind ribbons and menus. Interestingly, it also gives previews of files before you extract an archive. This happens automatically, so don’t be alarmed if a music file begins playing on mouseover.

You aren’t given many choices when creating archives; most of the interesting features come into play when you’re unpacking and sharing.

Microsoft expands FastTrack migration service

Microsoft is expanding the free services it offers to help enterprise customers adopt its products.microsoft stock campus building

The company announced Monday that its FastTrack services now encompass Dynamics 365, Windows 10 and Microsoft Teams. Those come in addition to Office 365 and the Enterprise Mobility Suite, which were already covered under FastTrack.

Each service is designed to help companies get the most out of products they’ve already subscribed to and adopt products that the company has recently released. FastTrack includes adoption guides, tools to find a Microsoft partner company to help with migration, and consulting help from Microsoft employees on particular issues.

FastTrack began life a year and a half ago as a one-time service to help companies migrate to Office 365. Since then, the service has evolved to support continued use of Microsoft products and adoption of new features.

Organizations evaluating a Windows 10 deployment will be able to use FastTrack in planning a rollout and upgrading users. For Dynamics 365, FastTrack will offer expert guidance on how to get the most out of Microsoft’s suite of business apps, which include CRM and operations management tools.

Getting customers to use the subscription services they pay for is important to the long-term success of products like Office 365 and Dynamics 365. If companies aren’t using the subscriptions, they won’t renew them.

It’s a common issue for most enterprise software companies, including Oracle, IBM, Salesforce, SAP, and smaller players like identity and access management vendor Okta.

“In our world, if the product doesn’t get deployed, [customers] don’t renew. They’re not successful, we’re not successful,” Okta CEO Todd McKinnon said at a press event last week.

Including Windows 10 in the FastTrack service should help Microsoft get customers to upgrade to the new OS. It will provide a centralized set of resources for IT administrators dealing with difficult aspects of migrating their users, like ensuring apps are compatible with the new OS.

On the Dynamics 365 side of things , Microsoft is offering technical talks, workshops and ongoing calls from its engineers to help with adoption of its products, which launched last year. It’s a suite of different products that compete with the likes of Salesforce, Zendesk and ServiceNow.

The Microsoft Teams support for FastTrack includes guides that help walk users through scenarios that might be helped by the live collaboration service.

Cyril Belikoff, a senior director of Office marketing at Microsoft, said in a blog post that the company is making those resources available ahead of the launch of Teams so it’s easier for administrators to get people to use it.

Samsung sees 2016 profit jump despite Note 7 debacle

Samsung Electronics said its profit rose almost 20 percent in 2016 despite nearly flat sales and the costly recall of the Note 7 smartphone.mam 239835 391149 de 100612905 orig

The company reported an annual net profit of 22.7 trillion won (US$19.5 billion), up 19.2 percent, on sales of 201.9 trillion won (US$173.5 billion), up just 0.6 percent.

Samsung saw some of its biggest sales gains in memory chips on the back of strong demand from smartphone makers. The company is one of the world’s biggest memory chip manufacturers.

The mobile division saw sales fall 3 percent in 2016 to 97.8 trillion won. It’s Samsung’s biggest division by sales and was hit by the recall of the Note 7 smartphone and slowing demand for high-end phones.

A day earlier, Samsung divulged that battery problems were to blame for the fires and explosions that led to the massive recall. It said batteries from two manufacturers suffered from internal problems that caused a short circuit and fire.

Looking ahead, Samsung said it expects the smartphone market to slow down while artificial intelligence services present a new business opportunity. To date, Samsung handsets have featured Google’s AI personal assistant, but the company reportedly is developing its own assistant.

Samsung also signaled that it plans to boost the competitiveness of its mid-to-low-end smartphones by adding features that were previously only available in more expensive models.

In the consumer electronics business, sales barely rose but profit more than doubled to 2.6 trillion won. Samsung said it sees high-end QLED televisions and large-screen 4K televisions as key to growth in 2017. It will also attempt to expand the business-to-business side of its home appliance division.

Trump names net neutrality foe Ajit Pai to lead the FCC

President Donald Trump has named Commissioner Ajit Pai, an outspoken opponent of the FCC’s net neutrality rules, as the next head of the agency.13959900047 bede3e5ba4 o

The choice was widely expected after Trump’s election last November. Pai is the senior Republican on the commission, having served since 2012. He doesn’t need to be confirmed by the Senate because he is already on the Commission.

Pai attacked the reclassification of broadband as a utility in 2015, saying it would place excessive burdens on service providers, other internet players and consumers. The expansion of broadband service through a competitive marketplace has been one of Pai’s themes as a commissioner.

“I look forward to working with the new Administration, my colleagues at the Commission, members of Congress, and the American public to bring the benefits of the digital age to all Americans,” Pai said in a statement Monday.

Former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler proposed the net neutrality plan and former President Barack Obama strongly supported it. Trump and Republicans in Congress have criticized the rules and are expected to target them as part of an overall push for deregulation.

Although Pai can take over as chairman without a confirmation vote, he will need to be renominated and reconfirmed at the end of this year when his current term on the Commission expires.

The FCC customarily includes three members from the president’s party and two from the opposition. If Trump follows suit, he will name one more Republican and one more Democrat. In addition to Pai, Democrat Mignon Clyburn and Republican Michael O’Rielly are on the Commission now.

Pai grew up in Parsons, Kansas, the son of immigrants from India, according to his biography on the FCC’s site. In addition to several positions as an attorney in the federal government, he was an associate general counsel at Verizon from 2001 to 2003

Pompeo sworn in as CIA chief amid opposition from surveillance critics

Mike Pompeo was sworn in late Monday by U.S. Vice President Michael Pence as the new director of the Central Intelligence Agency, amid protests from surveillance critics who worry about his conflicting views on a number of key issues.161118 pompeo 1

The oath of office was administered to him after the Senate voted in favor of his confirmation in a 66-32 vote.

Critics of Pompeo, a Republican representative from Kansas, are concerned that he may weigh in with the government on a rollback of many privacy reforms, including restrictions on the collection of bulk telephone metadata from Americans by the National Security Agency under the USA Freedom Act. There are also concerns that the new director may try to introduce curbs on the use of encryption and bring in measures to monitor the social media accounts of people.

The new CIA chief wrote in January last year in an op-ed that Washington is “blunting its surveillance powers” with measures like the USA Freedom Act. Pompeo had previously voted in favor of the legislation.

“Congress should pass a law re-establishing collection of all metadata, and combining it with publicly available financial and lifestyle information into a comprehensive, searchable database,” Pompeo wrote in the op-ed he coauthored with constitutional lawyer David B. Rivkin.

During a recent confirmation hearing, Pompeo did not provide details of limits he would accept, if any, to the new surveillance powers he has suggested.

His proposals have not unexpectedly irked critics of the government’s surveillance, who are concerned that Pompeo has not clarified when asked for details about the kind of data he would like the government to collect.

“After two rounds of submitted questions and a hearing, we still don’t know what Congressman Pompeo meant when he referred to ‘all metadata’ or how he defines ‘publicly available financial and lifestyle information,'” said Ron Wyden, Democrat senator from Oregon, in a speech in the Senate.

Wyden said that on issue after issue, whether on surveillance, torture or Russia, Pompeo had “taken two, three or four positions, depending on when he says it and who he’s talking to.”

The CIA last week updated rules governing the collection, retention and dissemination of information on U.S. persons with an eye to addressing concerns about the collection and handling of information on U.S. persons in the course of overseas surveillance. One of the measures was to put a five-year limit on the holding of sensitive data. The rules introduced under the administration of former President Barack Obama come into effect on March 18.