Meet Jennifer Tejada, the secret weapon of one of Silicon Valley’s fastest-growing enterprise software startups


https://www.s28capital.com/

PagerDuty, an eight-year-old, San Francisco-based company that sends companies information about their technology, doesn’t receive a fraction of the press that other fast-growing enterprise software companies receive. In fact, though it counts as customers heavyweight companies like CapitalOne, Spotify, and Netflix; it employs 500 employees; and it has five offices around the world, it has largely operated out of the spotlight.

That’s changing. For one thing, the company is now a so-called unicorn, after raising $90 million in a round led by Wellington and T. Rowe Price that brought its total funding to $173 million and its valuation to $1.3 billion. Crowded as the unicorn club may be these days, that number, and those backers, makes PagerDuty a startup of interest to a broader circle of industry watchers.

Another reason you’re likely to start hearing more about PagerDuty is its CEO of three years, Jennifer Tejada, who is rare in the world of enterprise startups because of her gender but whose marketing background makes her even more of an anomaly — and an asset.

In a world that’s going digital fast, Tejada knows PagerDuty can appeal to a far wider array of customers by selling them a product they can understand.

It’s a trick she first learned at Proctor & Gamble, where she spent seven years after graduating from the University of Michigan with both a liberal arts and a business management degree. In fact, in her first tech job out of P&G, working for the bubble-era supply chain management startup I2 Technologies (it went public and was later acquired), Tejada says she became “director of dumb it down.”

Sitting in PagerDuty’s expansive second floor office space in San Francisco — space that the company will soon double by taking over the first floor — Tejada recalls acting “like a filter for very technical people who were very proud of the IP they’d created” but who couldn’t explain it to anyone without relying on jargon. “I was like, ‘How are you going to get someone to pay you $2 million for that?’”

Tejada found herself increasingly distilling the tech into plain English, so the businesspeople who have to sign big checks and “bet their careers on these investments” could understand what they were being pitched. She’s instilling that same ethos at PagerDuty, which was founded in 2009 to help businesses monitor their tech stacks, manage disruptions and alert engineers before things catch on fire but, under Tejada’s watch, is evolving into a service that flags opportunities for its customers, too.

As she tells it, the company’s technology doesn’t just give customers insights into their service ecosystem and their teams’ health, and it doesn’t just find other useful kernels, like about which operations teams are the most productive and why. PagerDuty is also helping its clients become proactive. The idea, she says, is that “if you see traffic spiking on a website, you can orchestrate a team of content marketers or growth hackers and get them in that traffic stream right then, instead of reading about it in a demand-gen report a week later, where you’re, like, ‘Great, we totally missed that opportunity.’”

The example is a bit analogous to what Tejada herself brings to the table, which includes strong people skills (she’s very funny) and a knack for understanding what consumers want to hear, but also a deep understanding of financing and enterprise software.

As corny as it sounds, Tejada seems to have been working toward her current career her whole life.

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Prolific swatter and bomb hoaxer who broke up FCC’s net neutrality vote pleads guilty


It was a dramatic moment during the FCC’s net neutrality proceedings last December when the Commission’s public meeting was abruptly evacuated and bomb squads moved in — all while thousands watched on the live stream. The person who called in that threat has just entered a guilty plea to that and numerous other crimes, including a SWAT hoax that killed a man last December.

Tyler Barriss is a Kansas resident who has racked up dozens of charges of swatting, calling in bomb threats, and other “pranks” that have proven to be anything but.

Swatting is the practice of calling the police and convincing them a dangerous armed person is at a given address in order to provoke an aggressive response by police or SWAT officers — a response that can be disastrous or fatal.

The latter was the result of one particular call Barriss made in December of 2017. He had done it like he’d done many others, for a favor or for money — this time sending the police to the former home of an acquaintance’s Call of Duty rival. The officers shot and killed the current resident of that home, and Barriss — who made no secret of his involvement — was arrested shortly afterwards. It had only been about a year since he was released from prison for similar crimes.

Today Barriss, who was 25 when he was arrested in January, pleaded guilty to a number of charges that had been filed under a variety of jurisdictions. Among them was the bomb threat called in to the FCC, but the sheer variety of schools, malls, and homes he threatened, as documented in an indictment, is disturbing.

In simultaneously depressing and haunting Twitter conversations disclosed during the trial, Barriss and his target are seen exchanging direct messages, sparring over each other’s cred and making light of the swatting attempt.

Barriss had in fact called the cops, and convinced them to show up to the address Gaskill had given.

And Gaskill soon found out that his attempt to troll Barriss had resulted in a man’s death:

All three were charged with various crimes, but Barriss with his long, well documented history of swatting and bomb threats, was the clear priority. The terms of his guilty plea aren’t documented yet but it would be hard to get away from significant time in prison even if he managed to dodge half of the charges he faced.

It’s a sad story from start to finish, but at least the bad guy didn’t get away.



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Meet the Magecart hackers, a persistent credit card skimmer group of groups you’ve never heard of


There have been few hacker groups that have been responsible for as many headlines this year as Magecart.

You might not know the name, but you probably haven’t missed their work — highly targeted credit card skimming attacks, hitting Ticketmaster and British Airways, as well as consumer electronics giant Newegg and likely many more sites that have been silently hacked to scrape consumer credit card data at the checkout.

Nobody knows those attacks better than Yonathan Klijnsma, a threat researcher at security firm RiskIQ, who’s been tracking Magecart for more than a year.

In a new report published with risk intelligence firm Flashpoint, Klijnsma has exposed the inner workings of the hackers — a group of groups, rather than a single entity — all with different modus operandi and targets, which he described as a “thriving criminal underworld that has operated in the shadows for years.”

“Magecart is only now becoming a household name,” the researcher said.

Chief among Klijnsma’s findings is that there are at least six distinct groups operating Magecart skimming scams, each taking their own approach. Group 1 began as early as 2014 by targeting thousands of sites with attacks and single-use servers for hosting the malware and storing the collected data, while Group 2 and Group 3 expanded their reach and honed their attacks to hook their card skimming malware on a greater range of payment providers. Group 4 took the bulk of the victims — more than 3,000 sites hacked — with its scattergun approach, grabbing as many cards as it could from as many sites as it could.

The groups have been going where the money is — breaking into websites using known server vulnerabilities, injecting card payment skimming code and siphoning off credit card numbers, names and security codes on an attacker-controlled server, often for months at a time.

If they get caught, they just move on to their next victim.

Magecart’s most high-profile victims were the work of Group 5, which carried out supply chain attacks by hitting third-party code providers — like customer service chat boxes — that are installed on thousands of sites and carrying the group’s malware with it, expanding the group’s reach on a massive scale. It was Group 5 that RiskIQ blames on targeting many of Ticketmaster’s global sites. Group 6, meanwhile, also began highly selective attacks that only targeted major players — including British Airways and Newegg.

Between the half-dozen groups that RiskIQ has identified so far, at least 6,400 sites have been affected.

And that’s just the start.

Once a steady stream of credit card numbers come in, the hackers will sell the data — often on the dark web, making it easier to hide their activities from the law.

Magecart’s credit card skimming cycle. (Image: RiskIQ/Flashpoint)

Klijnsma warned that there will be many more card skimming groups and many more websites affected — larger and lesser-known sites alike that have yet to be discovered.

Case in point: Earlier this year, little-known New Jersey-based electronics retailer TechRabbit disclosed a data breach. Like so many other sites, it went largely unnoticed — except, upon closer inspection, the breach had all the hallmarks of Magecart. Willem de Groot, a security researcher cited in the Magecart report, confirmed on Twitter — and independently verified by TechCrunch — that the site had been hit again months later.

We reached out to the company’s chief executive, Joel Lerner, to inform him of the card skimming malware. “Who is TechCruch [sic] and what do you know about TechRabbit?” he said.

After several emails back and forth, including a screenshot sample of the malware on the site’s checkout pages, he expressed concern but stopped responding.

Klijnsma conceded that although his research has given an unprecedented insight into how the Magecart groups work, “that doesn’t mean we will be able to spot every instance and every attack,” he said. There are likely many more sites affected by card skimming malware — as of yet undetected. “We’d like to call on the industry and everyone who encounters these attacks to help take it down,” he said.

To combat the threat from Magecart, RiskIQ and other cybersecurity firms can sinkhole domains associated with Magecart infrastructure, pulling them offline and out of operation.

Klijnsma said it requires a layered approach — like website owners improving their security with security patches and segregating servers. “You don’t catch this with just one security control but rather you stack them and try to catch it at at least one of these steps,” he said.

“Basically any vector is game among these groups with some groups utilizing all of them to reach their goal of breaching a target,” he said.





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Facebook Lasso app lead Brady Voss leaves for Netflix right after launch


Facebook Lasso has a steep uphill climb ahead as it hopes to chase the musical video app it cloned, China’s TikTok (which merged with Musically). Lasso lets you overlay popular songs on 15-second clips of you lip syncing, dancing, or just being silly — kind of like Vine with a soundtrack. It’s off to a slow start since launching Friday, having failed to reach the overall app download charts as it falls from #169 to #217 on the US iOS Photo and Video App chart, according to App Annie.

Forme Facebook Lead Product Designer Brady Voss

And now one of the Lasso team’s bosses Brady Voss is leaving Facebook for a job at Netflix. He’d spent five years as a lead product designer at Facebook working on standalone apps like Hello and major feature launches like Watch, Live, 360 video, and the social network’s smart TV app. He previously designed products for TiVo and Microsoft’s XBox.

“After five life-changing years at Facebook, my last day will be this Friday, 11/16” Voss wrote on Facebook. “Following our launch of our new app, Lasso, a project I’ve been working on for a while now, the timing works well to explore what’s coming next . . . As for what’s next? I have accepted a position at Netflix in Los Gatos, California.” A Facebook spokesperson responded that “Yes, I can confirm that Brady is leaving Facebook.”

Voss added some color about joining Facebook, noting  “There was actually a discussion about whether or not I’d be a great culture fit because I wore a tie to my interviews–which is funny because we don’t believe dressing like that is what enables people to bring their best everyday. Thankfully, they saw past the common clichés–because suits and ties are not me.” As for Facebook’s troubles, he wrote that “I was even there for the big freak out moments along the way–we’ll keep them unnamed 🙃”, which could refer to his work on Facebook Live that spawned big problems with real-time broadcasts of violence and self-harm.

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While it’s reasonable for anyone to want a change of pace after five years, especially after the brutal year Facebook’s had in the press, his departure just a week after Lasso’s launch doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence in the app’s trajectory. It might have been a sensible stopping point haven gotten the app out the door, but you’d also think that if Lasso had a real shot at popularity, he’d have wanted to stick around to oversee that growth.

Lasso’s First Rodeo

TechCrunch first broke the news that Lasso was in development last month, citing Voss as one of the team’s heads. But in the meantime, the world’s highest valued private startup Bytedance managed to push its TikTok app past Instagram, Snapchat, and YouTube on the download charts. It’s now at #5 on the US iOS overall charts and #1 in Photo and Video. Facebook seems to have shooed Lasso out a little prematurely before losing more ground, given it lacks many of the augmented reality features and filters found in Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok .

Facebook Lasso

TechCrunch asked the company for some more details about the Lasso roadmap. A spokesperson told me that Facebook will be evolving Lasso and adding new features with time, and may test a feature for uploading videos instead of being restricted to shooting them in-app right now. In fact, Voss’ departure post includes a “Made With Lasso” video featuring an augmented reality effect with him conjuring Facebook Like thumbs-ups out of his hand.

As for monetization, Facebook tells me there are no plans to show ads right now. Typically, Facebook tries to build products to have hundreds of millions of users before it potentially endangers growth by layering in revenue generators. I asked if users might be able to pay their favorite video creators with tips, and the company says that while that’s not currently available, it hopes to explore ways to allow creators to earn money in the future. Instagram said the same thing about IGTV when it launched in June, and we still haven’t heard anything on that front. Facebook likely won’t be able to lure creators to new platforms with smaller audiences than their main channels unless it’s going to let them earn money there.

If Facebook is truly serious about challenging TikTok, it may need to build closer ties between Lasso and Instagram. Facebook left its previous standalone video apps like Slingshot and Poke out to dry, eventually shuttering them after providing little cross promotion. Given the teen audience Lasso craves is already on Instagram, it will be fascinating to see if former VP of News Feed Adam Mosseri who’s now running Instagram will insert some links to Lasso. A Facebook spokesperson says that Facebook may investigate promoting Lasso on its other apps down the line.

And one final concern regarding Lasso is that Facebook isn’t doing much to prevent underage kids below 13 from getting on the app. Tweens flocked to Musically, leading to some worrisome content. 10-year-old girls in revealing clothing singing along to the scandalous lyrics of pop songs frequently populated the Musically leaderboard. That prompted me to question Musically CEO Alex Zhu on stage at TechCrunch Disrupt London 2015 about whether his app violated the Child Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) that prohibits online services from collecting photos or videos of kids under 13. He denied wrongdoing with flimsy excuses, claiming parents were always aware of what kids were doing, and stormed out of the backstage area after our talk.

So I asked Facebook how it would prevent such issues on Lasso, where all content is public and adults can follow children. A spokesperson told me that you need a Facebook or Instagram account to sign up for Lasso, and those services require people to be 13 older. But “require” isn’t exactly the right word. It asks people to state they’re of age, but doesn’t do anything to confirm that. Lasso does have a report button for flagging inappropriate content, and the company claims to be taking privacy and safety seriously.

But if the tech giants are going to build apps purposefully designed for young audiences, asking for kids to merely promise they’re old enough to join may not be sufficient.



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Metacert’ Cryptonite can catch phishing links in your email


Metacert, founded by Paul Walsh, originally began as a way to watch chat rooms for fake Ethereum scams. Walsh, who was an early experimenter in cryptocurrencies, grew frustrated when he saw hackers dumping fake links into chat rooms, resulting in users regularly losing cash to scammers.

Now Walsh has expanded his software to email. A new product built for email will show little green or red shields next to links, confirming that a link is what it appears to be. A fake link would appear red while a real PayPal link, say, would appear green. The plugin works with Apple’s Mail app on the iPhone and is called Cryptonite.

“The system utilizes the MetaCert Protocol infrastructure/registry,” said Walsh. “It contains 10 billion classified URLs. This is at the core of all of MetaCert’s products and services. It’s a single API that’s used to protect over 1 million crypto people on Telegram via a security bot and it’s the same API that powers the integration that turned off phishing for the crypto world in 2017. Even when links are shortened? MetaCert unfurls them until it finds the real destination site, and then checks the Protocol to see if it’s verified, unknown or classified as phishing. It does all this in less that 300ms.”

Walsh is also working on a system to scan for Fake News in the wild using a similar technology to his anti-phishing solution. The company is raising currently and is working on a utility token.

Walsh sees his first customers as enterprise and expects IT shops to implement the software to show employees which links are allowed, i.e. company or partner links, and which ones are bad.

“It’s likely we will approach this top down and bottom up, which is unusual for enterprise security solutions. But ours is an enterprise service that anyone can install on their phone in less than a minute,” he said. “SMEs isn’t typically a target market for email security companies but we believe we can address this massive market with a solution that’s not scary to setup and expensive to support. More research is required though, to see if our hypothesis is right.”

“With MetaCert’s security, training is reduced to a single sentence ‘if it doesn’t have a green shield, assume it’s not safe,” said Walsh.



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Lime is debuting its line of shareable vehicles in Seattle this week


Lime, the well-funded startup known for its fleet of brightly colored dockless bicycles and electric scooters, has a new way for its customers to get around: cars.

Beginning this week, Lime users in Seattle will be able to reserve a “LimePod,” a Lime-branded 2018 Fiat 500, within the Lime mobile app. There will be 50 cars available to start as part of the company’s initial rollout. Lime plans to increase that number at the end of the month.

“LimePods, Lime’s car-sharing product line, a convenient, affordable, weather-resistant mobility solution for communities,” a spokesperson for Lime said in a statement provided to TechCrunch. “The ease of use of finding, unlocking, and paying for cars will be consistent with how riders use Lime scooters and e-bikes today.”

Lime will roll out 50 “LimePods” in Seattle this week.

Rides in the LimePod will cost $1 to unlock the car and 40 cents per minute of use. The company plans to unleash additional shareable cars in California early next year. Its scooters and e-bikes, for reference, are $1 to unlock and 15 cents per minute and regular pedal bikes are $1 to unlock and 5 cents per minute.

Founded in 2017 by Berkeley graduates Toby Sun and Brad Bao, the startup has raised a total of $467 million to date from GV, Andreessen Horowitz, IVP, Section 32, GGV Capital and more. Reports indicate that Lime is on the fundraising circuit now, targeting a $3 billion valuation, or nearly 3x its latest valuation.

LimePods will be available to order in the Lime mobile app.

The company is expanding rapidly, most recently releasing a fleet of e-scooters and bikes in Australia, as well as making notable hires on what seems like a weekly basis. In the last month, Lime has tapped Joe Kraus, a general partner at Alphabet’s venture arm GV and an existing member of the startup’s board of directors, as its first chief operating officer. Before that, it brought on Uber’s former chief business officer David Richter as its first-ever chief business officer and interim chief financial officer.

In July, the company hired Peter Dempster from ReachNow to lead the LimePod initiative out of Seattle.



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Tesla, GM and Nissan are all part of a new coalition aiming to extend the EV tax credit


Tesla, GM and Nissan are among a group of 15 companies that launched a new coalition aimed at reforming the electric vehicle tax credit.

The group called EV Drive Coalition brings together a mix of automakers, industry giant ABB, climate change and energy lobbying organizations and EV infrastructure companies, including ChargePoint.

The coalition, which officially launched Tuesday, wants to pass legislation that would tweak the federal electric vehicle tax credit to “ensure that it works better for more consumers for a longer time frame and spurs increased growth of the U.S. EV market.”

The federal electric vehicle tax credit gives consumers a $7,500 credit when they buy an all-electric vehicle. The incentive has been credited for spurring adoption of EVs. However, once an automaker has sold 200,000 electric vehicles, the credit begins to wind down.

Tesla is already in this position and GM is closing in. Earlier this year, electric automaker delivered its 200,000th electric vehicle. The achievement activated a countdown for the $7,500 federal tax credit offered to consumers who buy new electric vehicles. Under these rules, Tesla customers must take delivery of their new Model S, Model X or Model 3 by December 31 to get the full credit.

Tesla vehicles delivered between January 1 and June 30, 2019, will get a reduced $3,750 federal tax credit. After that, the credit drops to $1,875 before ending altogether.
As of October, GM has sold nearly 197,000 electric vehicles.

The EV Drive Coalition wants to lift the current cap on the number of consumers who can take advantage of the credit through each manufacturer.

“Arbitrary constraints with the federal credit limit consumer options and make it harder for consumers to purchase the cars they want,” Joel Levin, executive director of Plug In America said in a statement. “Lifting the cap would create a more level playing field for all manufacturers, giving consumers the freedom to decide which car they want in a free and fair market. Increased competition spurs more American innovation and technology.”

The coalition says it supports the eventual phase out of the credit once the EV industry has had additional time to mature and grow.



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Google’s Project Fi gets an improved VPN service


Google’s Project Fi wireless service is getting a major update today that introduces an optional always-on VPN service and a smarter way to switch between WiFi and cellular connections.

By default, Fi already uses a VPN service to protect users when they connect to the roughly two million supported WiFi hotspots. Now, Google is expanding this to cellular connections as well. “When you enable our enhanced network, all of your mobile and Wi-Fi traffic will be encrypted and securely sent through our virtual private network (VPN) on every network you connect to, so you’ll have the peace of mind of knowing that others can’t see your online activity,” the team writes in today’s announcement.

Google notes that the VPN also shields all of your traffic from Google itself and that it isn’t tied to your Google account or phone number.

The VPN is part of what Google calls its “enhanced network” and the second part of this announcement is that this network now also allows for a faster switch between WiFi and mobile networks. When you enable this — and both of these features are currently in beta and only available on Fi-compatible phones that run Android Pie — your phone will automatically detect when your WiFi connection gets weaker and fill in those gaps with cellular data. The company says that in its testing, this new system reduces a user’s time without a working connection by up to 40 percent.

These new features will start rolling out to Fi users later this week. They are off by default, so you’ll have to head to the Fi Network Tools in the Project Fi app and turn them on to get started. One thing to keep in mind here: Google says your data usage will likely increase by about 10 percent when you use the VPN.



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WeRecover, the Kayak for addiction recovery, raises $2M


Approximately 90 percent of people in need rehabilitation services for drug and alcohol abuse don’t have access to them, according to a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration survey. Why? Often, because they don’t know where to look.

Santa Monica-based WeRecover wants to fill that information gap with its Kayak-like online booking engine for rehab centers. The startup’s matching algorithm pairs people with an accredited rehab center with open beds, tailored to that person’s budget, insurance, clinical needs and location. The goal is to make it easier for anyone seeking treatment for themselves or otherwise to quickly discover and secure a spot at a facility, streamlining what can be a daunting and logistically complicated process that prevents people from receiving the care they need.

Today, WeRecover is announcing another $2 million fundraise led by Crosslink Capital, bringing its total venture capital backing to $4.5 million. Box Group, Wonder Ventures, Struck Capital and others also participated in the round.

“It’s a really obvious idea … but truly no entrepreneurs anywhere were working to build a marketplace for addiction recovery centers,” WeRecover co-founder and chief executive officer Stephen Estes told TechCrunch. “There’s an overwhelming need for a simpler way to connect with patients.”

WeRecover co-founder and chief executive officer Stephen Estes.

Founded in 2016 by Estes and Max Jaffe, WeRecover has rapidly grown from connecting a few hundred people seeking treatment per month to roughly 4,000 users last month. The startup now provides information on 11,000 treatment centers in 29 states. The goal is to have at least 1 program listed in every state by the end of 2018. Currently, most of the programs the company tracks are located in California, Florida, Arizona and Colorado.

Estes said the WeRecover database is the most comprehensive database of free, non-profit and state-funded treatment programs in existence, simply because no one had set out to aggregate this particular set of information until now.

The startup plans to use the latest round of venture financing to continue hunting down treatment centers to add to its database, expand its 16-person team and eventually, Estes said, WeRecover would like to craft and integrate content into the experience.

“We play a really important role in somebody’s journey,” he said. “They find treatment through us and we are part of one of the most important decisions they make in their life, so we should keep them engaged. We do think there’s room to build an app to help people sustain their sobriety and connect them with their peers.”



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Open sourcing analysis, plus US, China and HQ2


The big news today is that — finally — we have Amazon’s selection of cities for its dual second headquarters (Northern Virginia and NYC). Then some notes on China. But first, semiconductors and open sourcing analysis.

We are experimenting with new content forms at TechCrunch. This is a rough draft of something new – provide your feedback directly to the authors: Danny at danny@techcrunch.com or Arman at Arman.Tabatabai@techcrunch.com if you like or hate something here.

Pivot: Future of semiconductors, chips, AI, etc.

Last week, I focused on SoftBank’s debt and Form D filings by startups. On Friday, I asked what I should start to analyze next. There were several feedback hotspots, but the one that popped out to me was around next-generation chips and the battle for dominance at the hardware layer.

As a software engineer, I know almost nothing about silicon (the beauty of abstraction). But it is clear that the future of all kinds of workflows will increasingly be driven by capabilities at the hardware/silicon level, particularly in future applications like artificial intelligence, machine learning, AR/VR, autonomous driving, and more. Furthermore, China and other countries are spending billions to go after the leaders in this space such as Nvidia and Intel. Startups, funding, competition, geopolitics — we’ve got it all here.

Arman and I are now diving deeper into this space. We will start to post once we have some interesting things to share, but if you have ideas, opinions, companies or investments in this space: tell us about them, as we are all ears: danny@techcrunch.com and Arman.tabatabai@techcrunch.com.

Open-source analysis at TechCrunch

Since I launched this daily “column” last week, I have included the text near the top that “We are experimenting with new content forms at TechCrunch.” One of those forms is what might be called open-source journalism. Definitions are fuzzy, but I take it to mean working “in the open”: allowing you, the audience of this column, to engage in not just feedback around finalized and published posts, but to actually affect the entire process of analysis, from sourcing and ideation to data science and writing.

I am thankful to work at a publication like TechCrunch where my readers are often working in the exact sectors that I am writing about. When I wrote about Form Ds last week, a number of startup attorneys reached out with their own thoughts and analysis, and also explained key aspects of how the law is changing around SEC disclosure for startups. That’s really powerful, and I want to apply it to as many fields as possible.

This thesis is ultimately intentional — now I have to operationalize it. There aren’t good tools (yet!) that I know of that allows for easy sharing of data and notes that doesn’t rely on a hacked together set of Google Docs and Github. But I’m exploring the stack, and will publish more things publicly as we have them.

Amazon HQ2 – the future of corporate relations with cities

Amazon’s long process for selecting an HQ2 is finally over, and the official answer is two: Northern Virginia and NYC. Tons of words have been spilled about the search, and I am sure even more analysis will strike today about what put those two locations over the top.

To me, the key for mayors is to start using these reverse searches (where a company seeks a city and not vice versa) as leverage to actually get resources to fund infrastructure and other critical services.

This is a theme that I discussed about a year ago:

Take Boston’s bid for GE’s new headquarters. Yes, the city offered property tax rebates of about $25 million , but GE’s move also pushed the state to fund a variety of infrastructure improvements, including the Northern Avenue bridge and new bike lanes. That bridge adds a critical path for vehicles and pedestrians in Boston’s central business district, yet has gone unfunded for years.

Ideally, governments could debate, vote, and then fund these sorts of infrastructure projects and community improvements. The reality is that without a time-sensitive forcing function like a reverse RFP process, there is little hope that cities and states will make progress on these sorts of projects. The debates can literally go on forever in American democracy.

So if you are a mayor or economic planning official, use these processes as tools to get stuff done. Use the allure of new jobs and tax revenues to spur infrastructure spending and get a rezoning through a recalcitrant city council. Use that “prosperity bomb” to upgrade old parts of the urban landscape and prepare the city for the future. A healthier, more humane city can be just around the corner.

Take DC. The city has seen one of the best-run Metro systems deteriorate to abysmal levels over the past few years due to a complete dumpster fire of organizational design (the DC transit agency WMATA is funded by inconsistent revenue sources that ensure it will never be sustainable). Here is an opportunity to use Amazon’s announcement to get the tax framework and operations figured out to ensure that real estate, transportation, and other critical urban infrastructure are designed effectively.

China’s mobile internationalization

Timothy Allen/Getty Images

Talking about second headquarters, the technology industry clearly has separated into poles, one based around the United States and the other based around China. Two articles I read recently gave good insights of the benefits and challenges for China in this world.

The first is from Sam Byford writing at The Verge, who investigates the native OS options that Chinese consumers receive from companies like Xiaomi, Huawei, Oppo, and others. The headline is much more shrill than the text, so don’t let that frighten you.

Byford provides an overview of the lineage of Chinese mobile OSes, and also notes that what might look like design gaffes in Western consumer eyes might be critical needs for Chinese buyers:

But what is true today is that not all Chinese phone software is bad. And when it is bad from a Western perspective, it’s often bad for very different reasons than the bad Android skins of the past. Yes, many of these phones make similar mistakes with overbearing UI decisions — hello, Huawei — and yes, it’s easy to mock some designs for their obvious thrall to iOS. But these are phones created in a very different context to Android devices as we’ve previously understood them.

The article is perhaps a tad long for what it is, but Byford’s key viewpoint should be repeated as a mantra by any person connected to the technology sector today: “The Chinese phone market is a spiraling behemoth of innovation and audacity, unlike anything we’ve ever seen. If you want to be on board with the already exciting hardware, it’s worth trying to understand the software.”

Of course, while China may be a huge country, its leading technology companies do want to globalize and expand their user bases outside of the Middle Kingdom’s borders. That may well be a challenging proposition.

Writing at Factor Daily, Shadma Shaikh dives into the failure of WeChat to break into the Indian market. The product lessons learned by WeChat’s owner Tencent could be applied to any Silicon Valley company — cultural knowledge and appropriate product design are key to entering overseas markets.

Shaikh gives a couple of examples:

Another design feature in the app allowed users to look up and send add-friend requests to WeChat users nearby. During initial onboarding when users were just checking app’s features, many would tap the “people nearby” feature, which would switch on location sharing by default – including with strangers. Once location sharing with strangers was switched on, it wasn’t very intuitive to turn it off.

“Women used to get a lot of unwarranted messages from men, which was a major turn off and many of them left the platform,” Gupta says. “China probably didn’t have this stalking problem.”

And

In China, where the internet was cheaper than in India in 2012, sending video files of, say, 4 MB was not a challenge. WhatsApp compresses a 5 MB photo to 40 kilobytes. WeChat did not compress the files and took many minutes and data to send and receive media files.

Internationalization will never be easy, but the lessons that Silicon Valley has slowly learned over the past two decades will need to be learned again by Chinese companies if they want to export their software to other countries.

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