Momo buys Tantan, China’s Tinder, for $600M as Chinese social networks consolidate


WeChat is far and away the biggest messaging platform in China at the moment, and that is helping to drive a push among the smaller players to get together for better scale. Today, Momo, the Chinese location-based social networking app that has more recently made a big push into dating services and is traded on Nasdaq with a market cap of around $6 billion, announced that it has acquired Tantan, China’s top dating app, for $600.9 million in an all-cash deal.

It’s not clear how that price compares to Tantan’s pre-exit valuation: it had never disclosed the number. Overall, Tantan had raised $120 million, including a $70 million round last year from a mix of strategic and financial investors. Its backers included DST Global, Kleiner Perkins, video social network YY, Genesis Capital, SAIF China, Zhongwei, DCM and Bertelsmann.

We’d actually heard rumors of this acquisition recently, so it’s not coming as a complete surprise.

WeChat has in a way written the playbook in China for how to leverage a popular social platform to move into other services and it seems that would-be competitors are following suit. Other notable moves and exits in recent years have included Alibaba buying Youku Tudou and also investing heavily in WeChat competitor Weibo; selfie-making app Meitu going public and Meituan Dianping making a move into transportation. For its part, Momo had been moving into streaming services but with government pressure over the content of these services, going to its dating roots may have felt like a safer bet for now.

And the deal will indeed give Momo a big boost in its own dating business. Tantan said that it has enabled 5 billion matches since launching in 2015. (As a point of comparison, Tinder — one of the leading dating apps in the West — says that its enabled at least 8 billion matches since its launch in 2012.)

This does not signal a shift for Momo into dating exclusively (sorry for the pun), but to double down on one of the more successful ways that it’s diversified its business.

“Our core position will continue to center on social networking and this acquisition enriches our product line in the social space,” said Yan Tang, chairman and CEO of Momo, in a statement. “We will continue to invest and incubate more sub-brands to serve the social and entertainment needs of different demographics. Tantan has become widely recognized within a short period of three years since its inception, which is largely attributable to the outstanding performance of its talented team. We also respect Tantan’s product strategy that focuses on the customer experience of female users. After the acquisition, the Tantan team will continue to operate the mobile apps under the Tantan brand with our full support.”

Indeed, you can see this as similar to the strategy taken by IAC, which operates a number of dating apps alongside Tinder, such as Match.com and OKCupid.

For Tantan, the deal will give the company not just a funding boost but potentially some economies of scale in its developer backend and other areas of its business. “Momo and Tantan have their own strengths in their respective markets and among targeted customers,” said Yu Wang, chairman and CEO of Tantan, in his own statement. “The acquisition is a critical strategic upgrade to cover a greater range of user demographics and needs, and build up a larger social networking market through complementary businesses and strategic synergy. We are very confident in our future development.”

Additional reporting by Jon Russell (not this Jon Russell).

Samsung saves Opera Max browser app from the deadpool


Opera Max lives on after Samsung acquired the mobile browser to save it from oblivion.

The browser was one of the first data-friendly mobile browsers and it later added privacy-focused settings, including safeguards against insecure WiFi connections and a VPN. The popular app clocked up more than 500,000 installs, but that didn’t stop parent company Opera — which is owned by a consortium of Chinese firms — from announcing its closure last year.

“Opera has now decided to discontinue Opera Max. The product had a substantially different value proposition than our browser products, and represented a different focus for Opera,” it wrote at the time. “We, therefore, focus on our browsers and other upcoming services.”

Step forward Samsung, which said today that it has picked up the service and turned it into ‘Samsung Max’ — as first spotted by VentureBeat.

Screenshots of Samsung Max for Android

Opera Max users will get an update that brings them over to the now-Samsung-owned version, while other users can get their hands on the Android app or check the Galaxy Apps store. Bad news though, it’ll only be available on Samsung phones rather than all Android devices as had previously been the case.

In addition, Samsung plans to preload the app on its devices in a number of emerging markets: Argentina, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria, South Africa, Thailand and Vietnam.

“At Samsung, we’ve been committed to creating inclusive data saving and privacy protection services for all our devices. Because of this, we are now introducing Samsung Max to our mid-range devices as an exclusive and unique service that sets Samsung devices apart from the rest of the smartphone market,” Seounghoon Oh, VP of Samsung R&D Institute India, said in a statement.

It’s unclear how much Samsung paid for the service, if anything at all, but you’d imagine it wasn’t a lot since it was destined for closure.

Bump is a peer-to-peer marketplace for streetwear


As the streetwear and sneaker industry continues to explode in popularity we’re seeing more and more startups popping up to service the industry, all from slightly different angles.

Meet Bump, a peer-to-peer take on a streetwear marketplace. Founded six months ago in the U.K and now part of Y Combinator’s Winter ’18 batch, the startup already has over 200,000 users buying and selling limited edition streetwear from brands like Supreme and Kith.

After signing up anyone can create a listing or buy an item – all prices are set by sellers, who pay a 6% transaction fee to Bump and 2.9% fee to PayPal on all sales. Users can sort by price, size, category or brand – and can also follow specific sellers and “like” items too.

There’s also a messaging feature so you can talk to the seller and potentially negotiate on price. Bump says over 5.5 million messages have been sent on the platform so far, and the majority of purchases involve some type of back and forth and negotiation before being completed. Not only does talking to the seller make buyers feel more comfortable, but it also creates a sense of community where users can just chat about streetwear and develop relationships for future purchases. This is especially important in the streetwear world where getting the newest items is all about what connections you have.

Speaking of getting new items, the app also has a “proxy” category, where users can list their “camping services”, i.e charge you money to wait in line and buy limited edition items then ship them to you. This service is surprisingly popular, and Bump provides a platform to arrange these services where users have PayPal’s buyer protection as a fall back option in case anything goes wrong.

The most notable difference between Bump and competitors like GOAT and StockX is that Bump doesn’t physically inspect and verify the items sold on their platform before they are shipped to a buyer. Instead, they rely on moderators and crowdsourcing to police the platform and report/block any listing that’s a fake.

Of course this sounds easier said than done – especially with how good the quality of fakes are becoming these days. But Jack Ryder and Sam Howarth, cofounders of Bump, explained that their moderators are hard-core streetwear experts and typically know these items inside and out – meaning they know exactly what to look for when spotting a fake.

And while anyone can flag a listing as fake, historically most are taken down by moderators before they are even around long enough to be seen by buyers. Fake sellers are banned and also have their device ID blocked, effectively removing them from the platform. There’s also an eBay-style review system, so sellers can build up positive reviews to signal that they’re a trustworthy seller.

Ryder and Howarth said that these precautions result in a “negligible” fraud rate in the low single digits. But of course this isn’t perfect, and there’s always going to be a little more risk buying on a peer-to-peer marketplace than directly from the retailer or through a platform that verifies each item by hand.

For this reason Bump will probably (at least initially) be used by more savvy streetwear buyers who at least have some personal knowledge of the item they’re trying to buy. But anyone that does receive a fake item is able to receive a full refund via PayPal’s buyer protection services, who processes payments for the startup via their Marketplace Program.

While the startup admitted it may need to eventually look into a physical authentication service as the platform grows, the marketplace aspect does allow for a much wider range of goods to be sold. For example, a scroll through Bump reveals a Supreme Shovel, an Off-White T Shirt and Yeezy Shoes – all on the same page. This is a wider variety compared to services like GOAT where product categories are more limited – as of now that platform still only supports sneakers.

Even though Bump was started in the U.K about 45% of users are now from the U.S, and there’s a decently high percentage of transactions occurring across countries. Essentially buyers are happy to pay a slightly higher shipping price to score an item they’d otherwise not be able to get.

Bump is available on iOS now, and you can check it out here.

Snips brings its privacy-focused voice assistant to cars


French startup Snips is announcing two things for its voice assistant SDK. First, the company is showing off an interesting use case in Nuremberg with a Snips-powered voice assistant in a car. Second, you can now build voice assistants in German.

Snips isn’t technically competing with Alexa Voice Service or Google Assistant SDK as they’re not designed the same way. Snips lets you build a voice assistant that runs locally. While many hackers have been playing around with the SDK, Snips eventually wants to convince manufacturers that they should embed a Snips-powered assistant instead of Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant.

Your voice recordings or instructions are never sent to the cloud with Snips. It respects your privacy and allows some low-latency use cases even if your device isn’t connected or has some connection issues.

While it could be limiting in some cases if you want to build a general-purpose smart speaker, it makes a lot of sense for some devices. For instance, your car might not always be connected to the internet if you’re driving abroad for instance. Snips assistants run on ARM chips that are at least as powerful as a Raspberry Pi 3. So it should work with most infotainment systems out there.

With Snips, you can still launch the navigation system and set a destination with your voice without sending any data. The company thinks that many devices are going to have a voice interface so that you can interact with them directly. For instance, you only want to tell your Roomba to start vacuuming — no need to let you start a Spotify playlist from your vacuum cleaner.

In the demo, you can ask the Snips-powered car to give you an ETA, call a contact and go to an address. Car manufacturers can also work with Snips to customize the wakeword so that you can say “Hey Toyota” instead of a generic “Ok Google” wakeword.

In addition to that, Snips is adding new languages to its embedded voice recognition platform. You can now build a Snips-powered assistant that works in English, French and German. Now let’s see if that will be enough to convince infotainment system manufacturers.

Featured Image: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Airbnb is rolling out a new tier aimed at higher-end travelers


Airbnb today is rolling out a few new additions to their home-booking system, including new tiers that are aimed at higher-end customers called Airbnb Plus and Beyond by Airbnb.

The new Airbnb Plus tier has homes that are verified for “quality and comfort,” rolling out with around 2,000 homes to start that have been inspected against a thorough checklist. The Luxury tier, called Beyond by Airbnb, is built around whole trips including hospitality, custom experience and — of course — higher-end homes. Each appears to be targeting verticals within the travel space that make sense based on the typical hospitality industry, but weren’t specifically singled out on Airbnb.

Rather than just searching for a home on Airbnb and flipping through the photos or reviews, the new tiers may offer customers willing to spend more an opportunity to tap into the same expectations they’d get from a luxury resort — or, at least, a higher-end one aiming to hit the status of something like the Sofitel in Bangkok, Thailand. Frequent business travelers often have accumulated massive piles of reward points (and maybe have bigger travel budgets) and may be accustomed to this, and there’s also plenty of opportunity to target the same kinds of experiences that something like an Atlantis full-service resort in the Bahamas might offer.

In addition to those tiers, which are being announced at an event at San Francisco this morning (I overheard that there may be more than 1,000 employees at this event as well as a few dozen “super-hosts”), the company is also adding new ways to search for property on its service. The new brackets are vacation home, unique space, B&B, and Boutique. All these basically already existed on the platform, but that segmentation wasn’t there yet. Hosts are going to have an opportunity to have a more granular way of classifying their homes.

In fact, you’ll often find these kinds of setups already in place when you’re searching for places to stay abroad. You might find several rental units in the same building, or of the same configuration, all by the same host. It’s almost like a kind of faux hotel system, but this will offer an opportunity for Airbnb hosts to differentiate themselves for users that are looking for something more specific.

As Airbnb has tried to begin turning itself into a kind of experience machine with the launch of Experiences, it’s trying to cater itself as an alternative and more robust option in the hospitality industry. Rather than just booking a hotel at a luxury resort you find on TripAdvisor, Airbnb is trying to build the credibility that it can offer unique experiences you won’t find in those hotel environments — whether that’s a tiny apartment in the middle of Shinjuku, Japan, to a beautiful condo in the middle of Ponta Delgada in the Azores. All this comes back to the hosts, which now have an opportunity to try to craft those experiences and, in the end, pick up an additional revenue stream on the property they might already own.

Still, Airbnb is going to continue to face challenges, ranging from some criticism for its expansion in cities like New York to the recent departure of its CFO Laurence Tosi. Airbnb is pegged as one of the next major consumer IPOs, which is highly anticipated given the nigh-flop of Snap and the most-definite flop of Blue Apron as everyone holds their breath for Uber’s IPO in 2019. Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky has said there are no plans for an IPO in 2018, but it doesn’t change that it has to set itself up as a company that has the capacity to be a robust competitor in the hospitality space.

Featured Image: Carl Court/Getty Images

Robinhood rolls out zero-fee crypto trading as it hits 4M users


Coinbase has some serious competition. Today Robinhood starts rolling out its no-commission cryptocurrency trading feature in California, Massachusetts, Missouri, Montana and New Hampshire. Users can buy and sell Bitcoin and Ethereum with no extra fees, and track those and 14 other coins in its sleek app. That’s compared to paying 1.5 to 4 percent fees in the US on Coinbase. Users can sign up on the Robinhood Crypto site to waitlist for access.

Robinhood has a chance to usurp Coinbase as the defacto crypto trading site app by vastly undercutting its fees. When people are buying thousands of dollars of cryptocurrencies at a time, Coinbase’s 1.5 to 4 percent fees in the US can quickly add up.

But Robinhood sees giving away the service for free as a powerful way to gain users for its existing service that lets people trade stocks, ETFs, and options without additional charges. It’s stylish, retro-future Tron interface is also a super easy way to check on pricing and news about 16 coins: Bitcoin, Ethereum, Bitcoin Cash, Litecoin, Ripple, Ethereum Classic, Zcash, Monero, Dash, Stellar, Qtum, Bitcoin Gold, OmiseGo, NEO, Lisk, and Dogecoin.

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Robinhood Crypto first announced the feature last month, with one million people signing up in just the first four days. That interest has driven Robinhood’s total registered user count to over 4 million, up from 3 million in November. Those users have transacted over $100 billion to date, saving $1 billion in commission fees.

On most stock trading services like E*Trade and Scottrade, customers pay around $7 per trade to cover these companies’ marketing, physical branches, and sales reps. Founded in 2013, Robinhood ditches those fees by running a lean operation centered around engineers and its app. It makes money on the interest of cash its customers keep with it, or by selling monthly Robinhood Gold subscriptions that let users borrow money to trade with.

That business has allowed the startup to raise $176 million, most recently at a $1.3 billion valuation. And with its free crypto trading, it may have found a way to luring in a fresh class of amateur investors. Keeping security locked tight will be critical, especially given disastrous breaches at other crypto companies. But as crypto draws a new generation into the world of finance, Robinhood wants to help them play the market, day or night.

For more, read our full story on the debut of Robinhood Crypto

[Disclosure: The author of this story owns small positions in Bitcoin and Ethereum]

Product Hunt launches no-spam tech news digest app Sip


“We didn’t want to create another app thirsty for attention” writes Product Hunt CEO Ryan Hoover. So instead of a constant stream of fresh stories and alerts, Product Hunt today is releasing what’s essentially a tech industry newsletter in iOS and Android form. Sip distills the day’s big headlines into a set of Twitter Moments-esque slideshows delivered via silent notification at 5pm.

Combining explanations, commentary tweets, links to news outlets, Product Hunt pages, and polls, Sip offers a bite-sized alternative to long-winded articles. Skewing trendy, not wonky, you’ll find Sip highlighting 2018’s most innovative companies, Elon Musk selling flamethrowers, or Uber’s new bus killer.

“Our ultimate goal is to create an experience people want to come back to every day that might appeal to those that don’t already use Product Hunt” Hoover explains. It’s essentially a user growth play, rather than a revenue driver for the startup bought by AngelList for around $20 million in 2016. “As I shared earlier in the year with the community, we’re aiming toward profitability and have made some great progress through various initiatives, but Sip is not one of them. We don’t have plans to monetize Sip in the short term as we focus on growing its user base.”

With Facebook purposefully reducing the amount of news surfaced by its feed, Twitter full of bots and trolls, and Google Reader gone, people need better ways of keeping up with the world. Like Reddit, Hoover sees Product Hunt as a community first, though one that “has always played a role in delivering news”.

Doubling down here could unlock new demographics. Not everyone gravitates towards the site to discover the latest beta tests, hackathon projects, Chrome extensions, and fledgling startups. But the top stories about tech’s titans, our social media society, and the hottest new apps have become must-read news for many. Sip could become their gateway into the Product Hunt fold.

“Sip is an experiment” Hoover tells me. “The app was designed and built by Chad on our team to give us an opportunity to surface different types of content and stories that wouldn’t necessarily inside Product Hunt today.” Sip already has 3000 people signed up for its beta. The app will have to compete with traditional tech sites and their emails, the constant flow of Twitter and other social apps, various newsletters like Hacker Noon, and reader apps like Feedly and Flipboard. But Sip is set apart by boiling down the news into snackable nuggets.

Product Hunt needs to continue finding ways to engage the younger, scrappier techies at the core of its audience. Launched in 2013 as a newsletter, the startup’s buzz peaked in 2014 and 2015 after it raised a $7 million round led by Andreessen and was accepted into Y Combinator. Its parties in San Francisco became legendary, drawing over 1000 people with a line around the block. These were the heady days of mobile, when tech was still an underdog to some degree and the backlash about its ills had yet to surge.

Product Hunt CEO Ryan Hoover(left) at TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2014

After years of the crowd-ranking daily product launches on its site, fatigue seems to have set in since AngelList bought Product Hunt. While well-aligned, Product Hunt lost some of its cool by joining up with more dignified tech adults. Last year it launched Ship for helping startups release their products, and an Ask Product Hunt recommendations feature. Hoover even debuted his own $3 million Weekend Fund. Yet Product Hunt’s luster has waned. Though in a much glitzier venue, this winter’s Product Hunt party saw no line out the door. They weren’t even checking RSVPs.

The next generation of Product Hunters might not be as religiously bound to their phones, delighted by a non-stop barrage of alerts. Instead, they seem to value an undistracted sense of flow and more mindful tech usage. Sip could appeal to them. “My phone is often warm with alerts” says Hoover. “Many app creators overwhelm their users with numerous push notifications throughout the day or even unwelcome text messages. We don’t want Sip to add to the clutter.”