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).

Snap CEO Evan Spiegel got a $637 million bonus last year


Snap’s stock investors haven’t made much money since the company went public last year, but CEO Evan Spiegel still got a hefty payday.

According to an SEC filing, he was granted an RSU of 37,447,817, which vested at the time of the IPO. In other words, that was worth nearly $636.6 million. His salary for the year was $98,078, and he had over $1 million in other benefits, so all in all, Spiegel made $638 million in 2017 alone.

That’s…a lot of money. But the Snapchat co-founder also started the whole thing.

It isn’t the norm, however. It’s said to be the third-highest CEO payout ever.  It’s also just a fraction of Spiegel’s overall net worth, which is estimated to be almost $4 billion.

And he wasn’t the only executive to get a big payday. Chief Strategy Officer Imran Khan netted over $100 million and the company’s new general counsel Michael O’Sullivan earned almost $17 million, for less than half a year’s work. Former general counsel Chris Handman earned over $54 million for the first seven months of last year.

Snap’s stock also faced a steep drop earlier this week after a Citi analyst gave it a downgrade, following negative reviews about the app’s redesign. Many were quick to blame Kylie Jenner’s tweet about her losing interest in the platform, but the truth is Jenner was just one of the millions of people who criticized the update (albeit one of the more influential people).

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Facebook says it’s clarifying its ad metrics


Facebook is looking to clean up and clarify the way advertisers measure their campaign performance.

Over the past couple of years, the company has had to acknowledge multiple mistakes in its ad metrics. Last fall, researchers even pointed out that Facebook’s purported reach was greater than the US Census population in every state.

So making these kinds of tweaks (and taking other steps to increase transparency) could help restore advertisers’ confidence in the company’s numbers.

Facebook laid out the changes in a blog post, and also at a press event this morning, where Vice President of Marketing Science Brad Smallwood was joined by Edward Gaffney, director of implementation research at ad agency GroupM. (Gaffney is part of Facebook’s Measurement Council.)

The first change comes in the way these metrics will be labelled. Facebook will now explicitly point out when an ad metric is an estimate, in development, or both.

Gaffney said that advertisers are used to working with estimates, but he recalled that even in the Measurement Council, there was some uncertainty around which numbers were estimated versus directly measured. So this kind of clarity is needed “to understand that an estimate is just that — it’s better than a guess, but it is not the absolute truth.”

Meanwhile, Smallwood said that it’s natural for Facebook to experiment with the most effective ways to present its data. By labeling a measurement as in development, the company is telling advertisers to expect those measurements to change. (As Gaffney put it: “Don’t build a complex model around that.”)

Some of the metrics might eventually disappear entirely if they’re not helpful to advertisers. In fact, Smallwood said Facebook plans to remove 20 of them in July because they were judged redundant, outdated, not actionable or infrequently used.

For example, he said the social reach metric (which shows how often people saw an ad accompanied with context like a comment from their friend) turned out to be not that different from a standard reach metric, and advertisers didn’t know how to use the data to improve their campaigns. So it’s getting cut.

Lastly, Smallwood said Facebook will be launching a new initiative called Measure What Matters, combining in-person events, online events and online content to help advertisers understand more about how to measure and improve their campaigns.

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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.

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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.”

Anchor’s new app offers everything you need to podcast


Broadcasting app Anchor, which helps anyone record and share audio, is relaunching its app today with a new focus on serving the larger podcaster community. While in the past, Anchor was carving out a niche for itself in the short-form, social audio space, the new version – Anchor 3.0 – aims to be everything you need to record, edit, host, publish, and distribute a podcast of any length, as well as track how well the podcast is performing.

The changes follow Anchor’s close of a $10 million Series A from Google Ventures and Accel last fall, and arrive at a time when interest in podcasts is continuing to grow. Half of U.S. homes are now podcast fans, Nielsen has said, and 22 percent consider themselves “avid” fans. In addition, the rise of smart speakers with voice assistants has made it more convenient to listen to audio recordings in the home, helping to boost adoption further.

Anchor’s general belief has been that anyone should be able to easily record and share audio without the need for special tools or technical know-how. The new product represents a doubling-down on that belief, as it aims to remove the many obstacles that would-be podcasters face, from hosting fees, to the needs for special editing software, and the lack of insight into how well podcasts are being received by listeners, among other things.

Though Anchor had been targeting short-form audio, professional podcasters began using its app in greater numbers last year to take advantage of several of its tools. This included Anchor videos, which turns audio into shareable, video clips (which will be re-added to the new app in a later release), as well as a “call-ins” feature which allows them to receive voice messages from listeners that could be later integrated into a new episode.

But most of all, they were using the one-touch podcast feature that lets anyone record and distribute audio with a tap of a button.

“That’s when the floodgates opened, and we saw all this interest around podcasting, specifically using Anchor tools,” explains Anchor CEO Mike Mignano.

He says the team then looked to see how they could better serve their podcaster user base, and found that it was still surprisingly hard to create a podcast today.

“It seemed crazy how difficult it was to make an actual podcast. There’s the expensive microphone you have to buy, the difficult software you have to manage on your computer and learn. And there’s the process of uploading and paying to host your audio files,” he says. There’s also dealing with the podcast’s RSS feed, which not everyone understands.

What’s New

The new app will now drop users straight into a podcast creation screen, with color-coded buttons for using Anchor’s various features in addition to the big, red “Record” button.

There are buttons for recording with friends; for call-ins (now called voice messages, meant for direct, private conversations); for adding music from Apple or Spotify; and for adding transitions from Anchor’s built-in library of sounds.

As you create and use these components, they appear as drag-and-drop modules in a visual editor on the screen, so you can move them around to create your podcast episode.

This all color-coded as well, as is a bar at the top of the screen showing the length of each audio piece you’ve assembled. And Anchor has dropped the 5-minute limit on recording your voice, too.

Anchor will also now host your podcasts for free, and allow you to easily import your back catalog if you want to make a switch from your current hosting provider. There are no limitations on who can use this feature.

“In 2018, this is just the way it should be – there shouldn’t be hosting fees holding people back from this,” says Mignano.

After you’ve finished your edit, you can push a button to publish the podcast for availability on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Overcast, Pocketcasts, Stitcher, Amazon Alexa devices, Google Assistant devices, Apple HomePod, Android Auto, Apple Carplay, and, as of today, Spotify.

Also in the new app, and to a greater extent on the web, Anchor now offers podcast analytics which show things like plays per episode, total plays, downloads, and more. On the web, these are available as charts and graphs, and there’s a section showing which platforms listeners are coming from, too.

The web version offers a more advanced editor with the ability to upload audio files from your computer and re-use recordings from your Anchor history.

Of course, there is one concern for professional podcasters migrating to Anchor’s platform – and that’s whether it will be around in the long-term.

For now, the company isn’t generating revenue – it’s living off its funding. Podcasters who pay for hosting or self-host don’t generally have to worry with whether they’ll one day have to quickly migrate elsewhere because the company is shutting down or being acquired – and that’s always a concern with startups.

Mignano says Anchor’s plan is to eventually introduce monetization tools for podcasters, which will play a role in Anchor’s business model. (Specifics were not available, but Anchor would likely take a cut of the revenue it helped to generate, as is standard.) This seems like a good bet, especially considering how popular the format has become.

Several big names are launching on Anchor 3.0.

This list includes: Reshma Saujani & Girls Who Code, BuzzFeed, Relay FM, Penguin Random House author Alison Green, Tiffany Zhong and Zebra Intelligence, Seeker, Fatherly, Eniac Ventures, Abby Norman, The Outline, Cheddar, The Players Tribune, and Atlantic Records.

Along with hosting, every podcaster gets their own custom URL for their show, which includes buttons to subscribe anywhere its hosted – like Apple Podcasts, Google Play, etc.

Partners, and other Anchor broadcasters, will continue to see their work featured within the app, as before, but in a redesigned “browse” section that has more of an iTunes-like look-and-feel.

Anchor 3.0 is rolling out to iOS and Android, and on the web, starting today.

Twitter is (finally) cracking down on bots


Twitter is cracking down on bots after it announced changes to its API that will massively reduce the impact of services that allow links and content to be shared across multiple accounts, i.e. the software that powers Twitter bots.

So that means an end to services that let those controlling large numbers of accounts to batch tweet, follow users, retweet or like tweets. Twitter will continue to allow content to be posted to accounts using software, for example, weather alerts, RSS feed updates and more, but they will now be limited to a single account going forward.

“These changes are an important step in ensuring we stay ahead of malicious activity targeting the crucial conversations taking place on Twitter — including elections in the United States and around the world,” Yoel Roth, who heads up API policy and product trust, for Twitter explained in a blog post.

There is a small caveat for public service-related information.

“As a sole exception to this rule, applications that broadcast or share weather, emergency, or other public service announcements of broad community interest (for example, earthquake or tsunami alerts) are permitted to post this content across multiple accounts who have authorized an app,” Roth wrote.

The new measures are a clarification of a crackdown that Twitter first announced in January in response to concerns around how the platform was used in relation to the 2016 U.S. Presidential election.

Overall, it’s a shame. Bots can be great when put to work properly — researchers have come to that very conclusion — but some internet people are inherently bad and bot networks can be used to give them oversized influence and power. For example, Twitter itself has confirmed that there were over 50,000 Russia-linked bots that attempted to interfere with the election.

It isn’t exactly clear what size audience those bots reached overall, but it is likely to be some way lower than the Russia-backed election meddling efforts on Facebook, which are said to have reached nearly 150 million of the social network’s users.

“Since June 2017, we’ve removed more than 220,000 applications in violation of our rules, collectively responsible for more than 2.2 billion low-quality Tweets,” Twitter said last month.

For anyone who has been at the receiving end of bots — whether it be spam or more serious incidents such as harassment — Twitter’s move to restrict what is possible is long overdue. App developers have until March 23 of this year to make the necessary changes to comply with this new policy so we’ll get a chance to see what a difference this makes right after that date.

Already there has been some controversy after the social network removed large numbers of suspected bot accounts from its service this week. In doing so, some users’ follower counts were reduced. The numbers seemed to particularly hurt conservative and right-wing opinionated users who cried foul play, as Gizmodo reports.

Twitter told Gizmodo that it acted without political bias in response to accounts that it suspected were bots or had violated its policy.

Twitter’s tools are apolitical, and we enforce our rules without political bias. As part of our ongoing work in safety, we identify suspicious account behaviors that indicate automated activity or violations of our policies around having multiple accounts, or abuse. We also take action on any accounts we find that violate our terms of service, including asking account owners to confirm a phone number so we can confirm a human is behind it. That’s why some people may be experiencing suspensions or locks. This is part of our ongoing, comprehensive efforts to make Twitter safer and healthier for everyone.

Hold on to that popcorn, more drama to come soon.

Related: Twitter has a big bot problem

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