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WorkFusion adds $50 million from strategic investors as it bulks up for acquisitions

WorkFusion, a business process automation software developer, has raised $50 million in a new, strategic round of funding as it prepares to start adding new verticals to its product suite.

The company’s new cash came from the large insurance company, Guardian; health care services provider New York-Presbyterian, and the commercial bank, PNC Bank. Venture investor Alpha Intelligence Capital, which specializes in backing artificial intelligence-enabled companies also participated in the new financing.

Certainly WorkFusion seems to have come a long way since its days hiring crowdsourced workers to train algorithms how to automate the workflows that used to be done manually. The company has raised a lot of money — roughly $121 million, according to Crunchbase — which is some kind of validation, and in its core markets of financial services and insurance it’s attracted some real fans.

“Guardian uses data to better understand and serve customers, and WorkFusion will bring new data-driven intelligence capabilities into the company,” said Dean Del Vecchio, Executive Vice President, Chief Information Officer & Head of Enterprise Shared Services at Guardian, in a statement. “We look to invest in and deploy RPA and AI technology that can help us leap forward in operations and improve outcomes– WorkFusion has that potential.”

According to chief executive, Alex Lyashok, the company now intends to begin looking at acquisition opportunities that can “compliment our technology,” he said. “WorkFusion today is focused on banking, financial services and insurance. This problem [of automation] is not endemic to those industries.”

Particularly of interest to the New York-based company are those industries that missed out on the first wave of automation and digitization. “Industries that have already invested in digitization are being very aggressive, but companies that have bene very manual and then have not developed a technology program internally,” also represent a big opportunity, Lyashok said.

 

WorkFusion adds $50 million from strategic investors as it bulks up for acquisitions

WorkFusion, a business process automation software developer, has raised $50 million in a new, strategic round of funding as it prepares to start adding new verticals to its product suite.

The company’s new cash came from the large insurance company, Guardian; health care services provider New York-Presbyterian, and the commercial bank, PNC Bank. Venture investor Alpha Intelligence Capital, which specializes in backing artificial intelligence-enabled companies also participated in the new financing.

Certainly WorkFusion seems to have come a long way since its days hiring crowdsourced workers to train algorithms how to automate the workflows that used to be done manually. The company has raised a lot of money — roughly $121 million, according to Crunchbase — which is some kind of validation, and in its core markets of financial services and insurance it’s attracted some real fans.

“Guardian uses data to better understand and serve customers, and WorkFusion will bring new data-driven intelligence capabilities into the company,” said Dean Del Vecchio, Executive Vice President, Chief Information Officer & Head of Enterprise Shared Services at Guardian, in a statement. “We look to invest in and deploy RPA and AI technology that can help us leap forward in operations and improve outcomes– WorkFusion has that potential.”

According to chief executive, Alex Lyashok, the company now intends to begin looking at acquisition opportunities that can “compliment our technology,” he said. “WorkFusion today is focused on banking, financial services and insurance. This problem [of automation] is not endemic to those industries.”

Particularly of interest to the New York-based company are those industries that missed out on the first wave of automation and digitization. “Industries that have already invested in digitization are being very aggressive, but companies that have bene very manual and then have not developed a technology program internally,” also represent a big opportunity, Lyashok said.

 

ClassPass plans to add nine international cities by the end of 2018

ClassPass, the studio fitness platform that gives users access to thousands of boutique fitness classes, has said it plans to expand internationally into nine new countries by the end of 2018. The company’s top priorities are consolidating its position in the UK and launching in three countries in Asia, according to chief executive Fritz Lanman. Lanman declined to disclose which countries the fitness subscription service was targeting.

ClassPass’s further international expansion isn’t exactly a surprise. The company already serves parts of Canada, the UK and Australia alongside its 50 cities within the US. ClassPass also raised a whopping $70 million Series C last year which Lanman tells me was purposefully large to fuel this type of expansion without being dependent on another round of financing.

As part of the expansion initiative, ClassPass has hired Chloe Ross as VP of International. Ross has worked on international strategy at Microsoft and has helped in developing policy in the UK Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit.

In 2014, ClassPass found its footing with a brand new model for the fitness world. The company aggregated fitness classes and studio partners while offering a subscription model for users, letting them pick and play as they choose across a wide variety of classes. In essence, the company brought a media model, not unlike Netflix, to the real world industry of fitness.

Lanman says that this kind of business model innovation has spurred a large number of clones, both domestically and internationally, and that international expansion is integral to cementing ClassPass’s spot at the top of the heap.

As it stands now, ClassPass currently has 9,000 studio partners, but Lanman and founder Payal Kadakia see the opportunity to grow that to 90,000 as the company ventures outside of the U.S.

Moreover, ClassPass has played with the idea of expanding into new verticals for quite some time, with wellness being first in line. But before ClassPass can dive deep into a wellness vertical, it must first solidify its place as a global aggregator of studio fitness.

The company recently unveiled a new at-home workout program called ClassPass Live, letting users stream classes from the comfort of their own home. No word yet on when ClassPass Live will debut in new international markets, Lanman said.

ClassPass has raised a total of $154 million since launch.

Crowd Cow, offering ranch to table meats, picks up $8 million from Madrona, Ashton Kutcher

Most high-end restaurants don’t get their beef from the local grocery store. Well-regarded chefs and restauranteurs build relationships with small farms and family ranchers to procure what’s known in the industry as craft beef.

Just like coffee or chocolate or wine, the smallest differences (type of grass, breed of cow, lifestyle, etc.) can make a big difference in overall taste. But you and I have never had easy access to this beef outside of hitting up a Michelin-star restaurant.

And then Crowd Cow came along.

Crowd Cow, based in Seattle, works with small family farms to let users choose their cow and their cut. Crowd Cow then ships this craft beef directly to a user’s home.

Before Crowd Cow, five or six families would have to go in together on more than 500 LBs of beef in order to be a compelling customer to these small farms. That means they need a large meat freezer, upfront cash, and all the time and resources necessary to get the product from the farm to the home.

Crowd Cow founders Joe Heitzeberg and Ethan Lowry realized the whole process would be much better for everyone if they could crowdsource 50 families, instead of four or five, to buy a cow. The company handles logistics and offers users a way to learn about the ranch, the cow, and more via the app.

Today, the company is announcing that it has closed an $8 million Series A funding led by Madrona Venture Group, with participation from Ashton Kutcher of Sound Ventures and existing investor Joe Montana of Liquid 2 Ventures.

Since launch, Seattle-based Crowd Cow has expanded to offer chicken, olive wagyu, and pork and now serves the entire contiguous United States. The company generates more than $1 million in revenue a month and revenue has grown 10x over the last year.

The greater vision is to de-commoditize beef.

The Seattle-based company isn’t the only startup to raise money in an attempt to get people to eat better beef. Earlier this month, Porter Road closed on $3.7 million to go after the market with a similar mission.

Backed by a slew of New York venture firms including Slow Ventures, Max Ventures, BoxGroup, Tribeca Venture Partners and the Collaborative Fund, Porter Road was founded by trained chefs and butchers Chris Carter and James Peisker. Originally working out of a butcher shop in Nashville, Tenn. since 2011, the two partners work with sustainable local farmers to source the best meat.

Both companies are putting a new spin on a model made famous by Omaha Steaks, the meat packer and mail order distributor founded over 100 years ago, which is now pulls in $450 million in revenue a year.

“Before Starbucks and microbrew, coffee was 50 cents and there were a handful of beers and no one really cared,” said Crow Cow’s Heitzeberg. “The reality is that beef is varied. There are 300 breeds, and there are different types of grass in these pastures, and these factors will lead to a very different taste. Beef doesn’t have to be a commodity.”

Crowd Cow plans to use the funding to continue expansion into different proteins and new markets, as well as opening new distribution centers to speed up delivery to customers.

 

Crowd Cow, offering ranch to table meats, picks up $8 million from Madrona, Ashton Kutcher

Most high-end restaurants don’t get their beef from the local grocery store. Well-regarded chefs and restauranteurs build relationships with small farms and family ranchers to procure what’s known in the industry as craft beef.

Just like coffee or chocolate or wine, the smallest differences (type of grass, breed of cow, lifestyle, etc.) can make a big difference in overall taste. But you and I have never had easy access to this beef outside of hitting up a Michelin-star restaurant.

And then Crowd Cow came along.

Crowd Cow, based in Seattle, works with small family farms to let users choose their cow and their cut. Crowd Cow then ships this craft beef directly to a user’s home.

Before Crowd Cow, five or six families would have to go in together on more than 500 LBs of beef in order to be a compelling customer to these small farms. That means they need a large meat freezer, upfront cash, and all the time and resources necessary to get the product from the farm to the home.

Crowd Cow founders Joe Heitzeberg and Ethan Lowry realized the whole process would be much better for everyone if they could crowdsource 50 families, instead of four or five, to buy a cow. The company handles logistics and offers users a way to learn about the ranch, the cow, and more via the app.

Today, the company is announcing that it has closed an $8 million Series A funding led by Madrona Venture Group, with participation from Ashton Kutcher of Sound Ventures and existing investor Joe Montana of Liquid 2 Ventures.

Since launch, Seattle-based Crowd Cow has expanded to offer chicken, olive wagyu, and pork and now serves the entire contiguous United States. The company generates more than $1 million in revenue a month and revenue has grown 10x over the last year.

The greater vision is to de-commoditize beef.

The Seattle-based company isn’t the only startup to raise money in an attempt to get people to eat better beef. Earlier this month, Porter Road closed on $3.7 million to go after the market with a similar mission.

Backed by a slew of New York venture firms including Slow Ventures, Max Ventures, BoxGroup, Tribeca Venture Partners and the Collaborative Fund, Porter Road was founded by trained chefs and butchers Chris Carter and James Peisker. Originally working out of a butcher shop in Nashville, Tenn. since 2011, the two partners work with sustainable local farmers to source the best meat.

Both companies are putting a new spin on a model made famous by Omaha Steaks, the meat packer and mail order distributor founded over 100 years ago, which is now pulls in $450 million in revenue a year.

“Before Starbucks and microbrew, coffee was 50 cents and there were a handful of beers and no one really cared,” said Crow Cow’s Heitzeberg. “The reality is that beef is varied. There are 300 breeds, and there are different types of grass in these pastures, and these factors will lead to a very different taste. Beef doesn’t have to be a commodity.”

Crowd Cow plans to use the funding to continue expansion into different proteins and new markets, as well as opening new distribution centers to speed up delivery to customers.

 

Facebook is asking users worldwide to review their privacy settings

Starting this week, Facebook will begin asking users worldwide to review their privacy settings with a prompt that appears within the Facebook app. The experience will ask you to review how Facebook uses your personal data across a range of products, from ad targeting to facial recognition. This request to review Facebook’s updated terms and your settings follows a similar experience rolled out to users in the European Union as a result of the new user data privacy regulation, GDPR.

However, EU users have to agree to the new terms of service in order to continue using Facebook, Recode point out, after asking Facebook how the worldwide experience differs from the one being shown in Europe.

Elsewhere in the world, users who dismiss the prompt twice will be automatically opted in.

But before you close that window too quickly, you may want to take a look at what Facebook is asking.

Review Your Privacy Settings

Posted by Facebook on Wednesday, May 23, 2018

In the new prompt, which appears when you visit News Feed, Facebook will allow you to review details about advertising, facial recognition, and the information you’ve chosen to share on your profile.

For example, you may no longer feel comfortable having your religion, political views or relationship information exposed, and the new experience will allow you to change those settings.

As you continue reviewing your information, each screen will walk you through what data is collected and how it’s used, allowing you to make better decisions about Facebook’s use of your data.

Specially, Facebook says the feature will include the following information:

  • How it uses data from partners to show more relevant advertising
  • Political, religious, and relationship information you’ve chosen to include on your profile
  • How it uses face recognition, including for features that help protect your privacy
  • Updates to its terms of service and data policy (that were announced in April)

If you’ve already disabled some of these settings, you won’t be shown that information or encouraged to turn the features back on.

After you adjust your settings, the changes go into effect immediately and you can adjust them again at any time from Settings or Privacy Shortcuts, the company says.

Though the GDPR is aimed at protecting user data in the EU, Facebook has come under fire for its breach of trust with its user base due to the Cambridge Analytica scandal – where data was hijacked from 87 million users without their consent. The company is now revisiting a lot of its user data privacy practices and making changes as result of both that and GDPR’s requirements.

The experience will start popping up on Facebook this week.

Facebook is asking users worldwide to review their privacy settings

Starting this week, Facebook will begin asking users worldwide to review their privacy settings with a prompt that appears within the Facebook app. The experience will ask you to review how Facebook uses your personal data across a range of products, from ad targeting to facial recognition. This request to review Facebook’s updated terms and your settings follows a similar experience rolled out to users in the European Union as a result of the new user data privacy regulation, GDPR.

However, EU users have to agree to the new terms of service in order to continue using Facebook, Recode point out, after asking Facebook how the worldwide experience differs from the one being shown in Europe.

Elsewhere in the world, users who dismiss the prompt twice will be automatically opted in.

But before you close that window too quickly, you may want to take a look at what Facebook is asking.

Review Your Privacy Settings

Posted by Facebook on Wednesday, May 23, 2018

In the new prompt, which appears when you visit News Feed, Facebook will allow you to review details about advertising, facial recognition, and the information you’ve chosen to share on your profile.

For example, you may no longer feel comfortable having your religion, political views or relationship information exposed, and the new experience will allow you to change those settings.

As you continue reviewing your information, each screen will walk you through what data is collected and how it’s used, allowing you to make better decisions about Facebook’s use of your data.

Specially, Facebook says the feature will include the following information:

  • How it uses data from partners to show more relevant advertising
  • Political, religious, and relationship information you’ve chosen to include on your profile
  • How it uses face recognition, including for features that help protect your privacy
  • Updates to its terms of service and data policy (that were announced in April)

If you’ve already disabled some of these settings, you won’t be shown that information or encouraged to turn the features back on.

After you adjust your settings, the changes go into effect immediately and you can adjust them again at any time from Settings or Privacy Shortcuts, the company says.

Though the GDPR is aimed at protecting user data in the EU, Facebook has come under fire for its breach of trust with its user base due to the Cambridge Analytica scandal – where data was hijacked from 87 million users without their consent. The company is now revisiting a lot of its user data privacy practices and making changes as result of both that and GDPR’s requirements.

The experience will start popping up on Facebook this week.

InVision design tool Studio gets an app store, asset store

InVision, the startup that wants to be the operating system for designers, today introduced its app store and asset store within InVision Studio. In short, InVision Studio users now have access to some of their most-used apps and services from right within the Studio design tool. Plus, those same users will be able to shop for icons, UX/UI components, typefaces and more from within Studio.

While Studio is still in its early days, InVision has compiled a solid list of initial app store partners, including Google, Salesforce, Slack, Getty, Atlassian, and more.

InVision first launched as a collaboration tool for designers, letting designers upload prototypes into the cloud so that other members of the organization could leave feedback before engineers set the design in stone. Since that launch in 2011, InVision has grown to 4 million users, capturing 80 percent of the Fortune 100, raising a total of $235 million in funding.

While collaboration is the bread and butter of InVision’s business, and the only revenue stream for the company, CEO and founder Clark Valberg feels that it isn’t enough to be complementary to the current design tool ecosystem. Which is why InVision launched Studio in late 2017, hoping to take on Adobe and Sketch head-on with its own design tool.

Studio differentiates itself by focusing on the designer’s real-life workflow, which often involves mocking up designs in one app, pulling assets from another, working on animations and transitions in another, and then stitching the whole thing together to share for collaboration across InVision Cloud. Studio aims to bring all those various services into a single product, and a critical piece of that mission is building out an app store and asset store with the services too sticky for InVision to rebuild from Scratch, such as Slack or Atlassian.

With the InVision app store, Studio users can search Getty from within their design and preview various Getty images without ever leaving the app. They can then share that design via Slack or send it off to engineers within Atlassian, or push it straight to UserTesting.com to get real-time feedback from real people.

InVision Studio launched with the ability to upload an organization’s design system (type faces, icons, logos, and hex codes) directly into Studio, ensuring that designers have easy access to all the assets they need. Now InVision is taking that a step further with the launch of the asset store, letting designers sell their own assets to the greater designer ecosystem.

“Our next big move is to truly become the operating system for product design,” said Valberg. “We want to be to designers what Atlassian is for engineers, what Salesforce is to sales. We’ve worked to become a full-stack company, and now that we’re managing that entire stack it has liberated us from being complementary products to our competitors. We are now a standalone product in that respect.”

Since launching Studio, the service has grown to more than 250,000 users. The company says that Studio is still in Early Access, though it’s available to everyone here.

Meet the five finalists at Startup Battlefield Europe

Fifteen companies just got off the stage at TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield Europe at VivaTech in Paris.

The TechCrunch team has taken feedback from our expert judges and narrowed the group down to five companies that will be competing in the finals on the VivaTech Main Stage at 6:15pm CET. (If you’re not at VivatTech, you can watch the finals live here on TechCrunch.)

One of the startups will receive the the TechCrunch Startup Battlefield Top European Startup award, as well as €25,000 in equity-free money. Here are the finalists:

Glowee

Glowee is developing biological light systems using the natural properties bioluminescent marine organisms. These systems are built by encoding genes in symbiotic bacteria and will require neither electricity nor installation infrastructure.

IOV

IOV is building a decentralized DNS for blockchains. By implementing the Blockchain Communication Protocol, the IOV Wallet will be the first wallet that can receive and exchange any kind of cryptocurrency from a single address of value.

Mapify

Mapify aims to help travelers discover where to head next, what to pack and who to go with. It also allows them to share information about places, people and experiences.

Wakeo

Wakeo helps shippers and forwarders improve customer experience and optimize operations. It does this by consolidating multiple transport partners into a central SaaS platform to bring real-time visibility on all transport flows.

Wingly

Wingly is a flight-sharing platform that connects pilots and passengers. Private pilots can add flights they have planned, then potential passengers can book them.

Airbnb quietly launches its own Stories for users to build video montages of their travels

The stories format has been one of the most sticky features of social apps like Snapchat and Instagram, letting users stitch together video, photo and text overlays to convey moods and experiences to friends and followers; even Google has incorporated stories into its services. Now Airbnb is becoming the latest adopter of the format: the travel and accommodations startup has quietly launched a new feature called Travel Stories, a way for guests to create video sequences of their Airbnb experiences to post on the site.

The company has sent out invitations for a beta of the service to a pool of users (pictured below, sent to us by reader Matteo Gamba, who runs an Airbnb blog). A FAQ page about the new format says that for now Story making is only available on the latest version of its iPhone app, under the Travel Stories tab of your profile. Video clips are limited to 10 seconds each and are taken from your camera roll and can be edited in the Airbnb app.

You can then look at the Stories either directly on Airbnb’s site, or through the Travel Stories tab in the app. In both cases, these are similar to extended travelog slideshows, and they appear to automatically link up to places featured in the Stories, along with related accommodations. Here’s one about a trip to Cuba.

I’ve reached out to Airbnb to see if I can get more information about this. One big question I have is how and if Airbnb will vet what people post as stories. If the content is NSFW, or if it’s extremely insulting about a home a person has stayed in, for example, will that still get posted? Also, will users be able to import and export stories to other platforms?

Stories can serve a couple of purposes for Airbnb when they are rolled out more widely. They could become another way of creating more engaged feedback from visitors of a particular destination or experience or property, and this in turn could be another way of getting subsequent users to also book the same experiences, and even refer to the site while on those trips for tips. “Airbnb stories are for inspiring other travelers like yourself!” as the company notes. 

And it’s another way of drawing in the story makers themselves to use the Airbnb app more.

Airbnb has been on a long-term mission to increase the stickiness of its platform. The aim is to make it more than a place that you visit once in a while, when you are planning at trip. That has led to the company launching experiences — events that you might get involved in without even living the city you live in — as well concierge-style services to help guide you around while you are on your trip; and other travel services to get you to and from your destination.

The company is expected also to launch in the coming weeks and months a loyalty program, also for the same end. There haven’t been many details released about how it will work, but one potential route it could take is to create a platform where you can make leisure activity and travel purchases through the Airbnb platform to accrue points for discounts on future Airbnb purchases, much like current air miles/points programs.

Stories is arguably part of the same strategy. By creating a trove of travel content that links users back through to the Airbnb platform, Airbnb is creating something that is aimed at entertaining its users, while at the same time providing some practical functionality in the form of links to places. It will be interesting to see if Airbnb manages to get people to shift their behavior to think of Airbnb as a place where people might come to browse, and not just purchase.
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