Tenor hits 12B searches in its GIF keyboard every month


David McIntosh’s startup Tenor builds a GIF keyboard — but he actually hopes you’ll spend as little time searching on it as possible.

Instead, Tenor’s aim has been to collapse the amount of time it takes for you to find a GIF you like and send it to a friend. Instead of trying to get people to come to the service and kind browse around on the keyboard or a different website, Tenor’s goal has been to figure out what you are trying to say in some kind of a GIF and get it out the door as quickly as possible. And with that approach, Tenor says its users now search for GIFs on its keyboard more than 400 million times a day and 12 billion times a month.

“It comes down to search, fundamentally we’re a search product, unlike Facebook and Instagram and Twitter and Snap,” Tenor CEO David McIntosh said. “They succeed by grabbing more minutes, our success is getting you the right thing faster. Can we take that 25 second session time and make it 20 seconds, or even 15 or 10. There’s a viral loop in place where every time you make search a little better it’s faster.”

This more or less dovetails with an approach for some companies that are focusing on pitching engagement instead of a raw active user metric. Snap, for example, has stressed to investors that it is getting people to come back to the service more and more and spend more time on it. It’s roughly the same principle in terms of using Tenor, which McIntosh says is more of a search engine than an actual hub or portal. Basically, you want to communicate what you want to tell a friend in as little words as possible — except with something silly from Friends. Tenor works across a number of platforms, but now its sights have shifted abroad.

That might even be more true as Tenor begins to expand internationally, planting people on the ground to figure out what localized versions of the service look like. One of the appeals of GIFs is that it can compress a ton of information (McIntosh refers to it as “emotion”) into a short semi-video object in a messenger screen rather than having to type out a bunch of text. As it expands to more and more countries, Tenor is able to start picking off that low hanging fruit, as making small tweaks in certain regions can lead to dramatic improvements in engagement and usage, McIntosh said.

“Western content is so heavily exported all over the world that these things have almost become globally recognized object,” McIntosh said. “Often western content with a local caption will perform better. Sometimes the local content performs better. You gotta have the right set of search data, share data, community uploads, it’s the combination of all of them. It’s kind of like chicken and egg problem, it’s a slow grind until a spark happen — you’re guessing what’s gonna work. Once the flywheel is spinning really quickly you have so much data.”

It’s also begun running its first partner campaigns internationally as it’s started to expand, with the idea that it can go to potential advertisers and tell them that because people use the keyboard so much they’ll actually share that content. That includes campaigns with companies in even India and Germany. The whole goal is to, again, figure out how to get the right GIF in front of the right person in those couple of slots when they open the app and actually want to share it.

There is, of course, a data component to that problem as well. But with 12 billion searches every month, Tenor can start slightly tweaking each search to figure out what a person is looking for based on a wider array of parameters — and maybe figure out how to get that Tom Brady strip-sack in the expiring minutes of the Super Bowl this year in front of people more quickly. Two months ago, Tenor says it had 10 billion monthly searches monthly (around 330 million daily).

It might sound a little ridiculous now, but in retrospect there’s been a blossoming ecosystem around both creator tools for GIFs as well as ones for sharing them in messenger products or the web. Gfycat, which targets creators with more robust tools, says it has 130 million monthly active users, while Giphy says it has 300 million daily active users. Either way, it means that there is both a lot of competition and a lot of interest in this space — including venture financing.

Edtech company Kidaptive raises $19.1 million for its adaptive learning platform


Edtech startup Kidaptive, an adaptive-learning company that begin its life with a suite of curriculum-focused iPad games for kids, announced today it has closed on $19.1 million in Series C funding, in a round led by Formation 8 and Korean education company Woongjin ThinkBig. The investment follows a deal with Woongjin that will see Kidaptive powering an English language learning system Woongjin Compass wants to build; as well as deal with its parent company, a large publisher with half a million paying subscribers, to personalize their tablet experience.

The deal is one of several in the works for Kidaptive, which now styles itself as more of a “big data for learning” company, rather than maker of educational kids’ games it was known for just a few years ago. Its early apps, which involved interactive storytelling, high-quality animation, and puzzles, had helped to create educational profiles for the young players while helping young children with reading comprehension and math skills, as well as improved cognitive, emotional and social functions.

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The technology powering this experience has since evolved into Kidaptive’s “Adaptive Learning Platform,” a cloud-based assessment and reporting platform that can create learner profiles with actionable insights for parents and teachers. Another important aspect to Kidaptive’s platform is that it adapts in real-time based on how well the learner is performing in order to personalize the learning experience further.

The platform can also incorporate educational activity that takes place offline to enhance those learner profiles. This is especially important at younger ages, where parental involvement – like follow-up conversations to trip to museums – could help reinforce what the child learned. In other contexts, like language learning, for example, the platform could suggest to parents supplemental materials based on the child’s performance, like additional workbooks or videos to watch.

Kidaptive had specifically targeted the Korean market a few years ago with the acquisition of Hodoo English, an MMORPG which teaches children English. The acquisition was for both the IP and the team, giving the company a foothold in Korea, and a way to expand into China.

In addition to the deal with Woongjin, Kidaptive also has projects in the works in India and China. These are still under NDA, but the deal in China, which launches at the end of this summer, involves a large brick-and-mortar retailer that sells its own educational technology products (physical goods), which it wants to enhance with parental feedback mechanisms from Kidaptive.

In India, several deals are in the works, which Kidaptive hopes to announce by Q3.

Meanwhile, Kidaptive is working with the U.S. government and PBS KIDS a part of a $100 million five-year federal grant to create a personalized learning ecosystem. Kidaptive will be providing the adaptivity and learner profile management—two central features of the grant, says Kidaptive CEO P.J. Gunsagar.

“Our ability to ask the right questions at the right time by understanding who the learner is and provide actionable insights is unique. Just like Facebook has created a social graph, and LinkedIn a professional graph, our goal is to create are learning graph,” he explains.

The company is live with one PBS KIDS app associated with digital series The Ruff Ruffman Show, but it will be rolling out in two or three more this year, and multiple apps over the next few years.

As Kidaptive becomes further integrated across this PBS KIDS ecosystem of apps, the learner profiles will take into consideration the data generated from across all the PBS KIDS app where it’s live.

However, Gunsagar stresses that parents are in control of how this data is used.

“You own the learner model, not us…this is the parents’ and the childs’ model, it stays with them to make sure we’re optimizing the experience for them the way they want,” he says. The parents will be able to control how this data is used by requesting insights or not, or by disallowing the data to be shared across apps, if they don’t want it to be.

Gunsagar says big data for learning is starting to take off, and he believes his company will achieve profitability within the next 12 months as a result of its deals. It expects to manage 10 million active learner profiles within the next four years.

With the funding, Kidaptive plans to increase its 50-person team by 20 percent in the U.S. and 20 percent in Korea. It will also hire 5 people in China and 3 in India. The product itself will be further developed as well, with the next focus on test score prediction – something that half a dozen test prep companies in India and China talking with Kidaptive are now interested in.

Featured Image: Aping Vision / STS/Getty Images

Hypergiant helps big brands look beyond the AI buzzwords


Artificial intelligence and machine learning are phrases that get tossed around a lot these days, to the point where they’re starting to seem meaningless. In fact, Ben Lamm said he’s seen the problem firsthand at his chatbot startup Conversable.

“We kind of noticed this huge gap,” Lamm said. “Everybody has an emotional reaction to AI, everybody wants AI, nobody seems to know what that means.”

So Lamm founded a new startup called Hypergiant, which will work with large brands and enterprise to address address what he described as “this hunger for pragmatism in AI.”

In his view, most existing AI solutions either require “super powerful” technology, or they’re “complete BS marketing fluff.” Lamm’s goal is to find the sweet spot in the middle, where the technology can be used by Fortune 500 companies to solve real business problems.

For example, Hypergiant has already worked with TGI Friday’s to create Flanagan, an AI-powered mixologist. Sound gimmicky? Well, Lamm said Flanagan allows the restaurant chain to collect more data about its customers’ tastes, and to increase loyalty by offering personalized drink recommendations.

There are actually three divisions within Hypergiant. At Hypergiant Applied Sciences, the team will be working to develop and commercialize its own AI products. However, when it comes to working with brand costumers, Lamm said Hypergiant Space Age Solutions (yes, that’s the real name) will happily adopt whatever technology best meets the customer’s needs.

And then there’s Hypergiant Ventures, which invests in AI startups. It’s already backed Pilosa, Cerebri AI and Clearblade.

Lamm founded Hypergiant with two of his old colleagues from Chaotic Moon, the technology studio that Accenture acquired in 2015 — John Fremont (who served as artificial intelligence lead at Accenture after the acquisition and is now Hypergiant’s chief strategy officer) and Will Womble (who serves as chief revenue officer). And while Lamm is Hypergiant’s executive chairman and CEO, he’ll continue working as CEO at Conversable.

Featured Image: Aniwhite/Shutterstock

Tresorit adds file restore to its e2e encrypted cloud storage service


Europe-based cloud storage startup Tresorit, which mainly focuses on selling to small to medium size businesses, has added a file restore feature to its e2e encrypted cloud storage platform. It’s touting this as a helpful feature if you’re trying to recover from a ransomware attack.

Or, more prosaically, if you’ve accidentally deleted something.

Here’s a GIF showing the file recovery feature in action:

The file restore feature covers files stored in Tresorit’s cloud and files synced locally to a user’s devices.

Obviously, if files are only stored locally and not backed up or synced to Tresorit’s cloud there’s no fallback restoration in the event of a ransomware infection. (While files stored in Tresorit’s cloud that not synced locally would not be affected by any local ransomware infection.)

Tresorit already had a file versioning feature, which allows users to recover any previously saved versions of their files. But it says the addition of file restore helps mitigate the types of ransomware attacks that encrypt files without deleting them first.

There’s no time limitation on the file restore option. Files can always be recovered so long as
the user hasn’t confirmed permanent deletion.

Which does mean, over time, the feature may end up eating into your storage limit — at least if you don’t tidy up and fully delete files you no longer need.

“Non-permanently deleted items count towards the storage space of a user. So, it requires some ‘housekeeping’ from the user,” confirms a Tresorit spokeswoman. “But it is easy to get rid of all these deleted items that a user doesn’t need by selecting ‘Remove deleted items’.”

Also helpful: Tresorit has announced it’s doubling the amount of storage space it offers for individual plans — with its premium (aimed at individuals) and solo (freelancers and professionals) plan users now getting 200GB and 200TB respectively.

Today it’s also introduced a new basic plan which it describes as a “more capable” free version —  intended to help external collaboration between its business users and their clients or partners (who may not be Tresorit users).

Last year it launched free subscriptions for NGOs and activists for whom strong privacy is not just a nice to have. And the spokeswoman tells us more than 100,000 people are now using its tools — which includes both consumer (so some non-paying) and business users.

“Almost two-thirds of our customers are European, led by the traditionally security and privacy conscious countries like Germany and Switzerland. The next biggest European markets are the UK and the Benelux-states. The second largest region is North-America (mostly the US),” she says, adding that Europe’s incoming update to its data protection framework is also driving local uptake.

“With only a few months to go until the GDPR, we are seeing an even higher demand for secure, end-to-end encrypted online services with European data centers. A lot of smaller companies are just starting the preparation for the GDPR, and looking for secure services they can easily switch to.”

Tresorit’s zero-knowledge e2e encryption architecture means that, unlike cloud storage giants like Dropbox, it cannot decrypt and access users’ files. So it cannot be subpoenaed to hand over content data itself.

Although it can provide some user and service activity data in exchange to lawful requests — such as names, email addresses, billing details and so on. The company recently started publishing a Transparency Report to list any government data requests it receives and provide details on how it handles such requests.

“During the period covered in this (from September 24, 2013, to November 30, 2017), we received one informal request from a Swiss police authority to retain certain user data, however, as there was no official decision by Swiss authorities on this case, in the end, we didn’t hand over any data,” the spokeswoman tells us.

“As a Swiss company, Tresorit is primarily subject to Swiss jurisdiction regarding data protection and criminal procedures. Without an official decision by a Swiss cantonal or federal authority, no information can be provided to foreign requests.”

xMatters snares $40 million Series D led by Goldman Sachs Private Capital Investing


When a crisis happens and your system is down, it’s easy for panic and chaos to ensue. Large companies use a range of tools to monitor system health, and finding the source of the problem and ensuring the proper personnel are involved is not always easy.

That’s where xMatters comes in. It acts as an uber monitoring tool allowing you to understand the source of your problem and getting the right people involved to fix it. Today the company announced it has closed a $40 million Series D round led by Goldman Sachs Private Capital Investing.

The company, which launched in 2010, has raised almost $10 million in equity financing and $45 million in debt financing to-date, according to Crunchbase data. Today’s round brings the total raised in debt and equity financing to almost $95 million.

“We provide an incident management platform, that takes data and signals [from various tools] and helps [teams] to solve the incident as quickly as they can. We’ve been successfully doing that for a number of years,” xMatters CEO Troy McAlpin told TechCrunch.

The platform doesn’t stop there though. It can inform the customer that the system is down and that you are taking steps to fix the problem. What’s more, it provides a post-mortem for what happened and uses a machine learning component so that if a similar set of circumstances come together again in the future, the system can prevent it, or at least warn system admins that there could be a problem coming before it happens.

xMatters main console. Photo: xMatters

The tool uses signals from a variety of popular tools including New Relic, Dynatrace, Atlassian, Splunk and Servicenow to monitor overall system health. McAlpin says a big difference between his company’s solutions and those of competing products like PagerDuty and Everbridge, is that they move the discussion to the tools that operations teams are using like Jira and Slack, rather than moving them into their tool to resolve the issues. xMatters is simply the glue holding the incident response together among the different components. Customers work in their tools of choice to resolve it.

With the new money in hand, they plan to expand geographically including opening three R&D centers in Canada in Vancouver, Victoria and Montreal to help expand their machine learning and data science understanding. The company processes over a million responses a day and they want to learn to use that data more effectively to help their customers proactively monitor their applications and systems.

The company currently has 500 customers including Vodaphone, Box, MGM and Manpower. While McAlpin wouldn’t share revenue figures, he said the company was growing revenue 50 percent year over year.

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Featured Image: Getty Images

Qualcomm now plans to close the NXP acquisition for $44 billion as quickly as possible


Qualcomm, Broadcom and NXP are on a boat. Broadcom wants to acquire Qualcomm, Qualcomm wants to acquire NXP. While Qualcomm has planned on buying NXP for over a year, NXP shareholders were a bit disappointed by Qualcomm’s initial price.

Qualcomm just raised its bid and is now willing to pay $127.50 per share instead of $110 per share. It values NXP at $44 billion instead of $38 billion.

There are a few reasons why it matters. First, NXP is getting a sweet deal as Qualcomm doesn’t really have a choice. By closing this acquisition, Broadcom has to pause for a second and think again about acquiring Qualcomm. And Qualcomm has been dragging its feet ever since Broadcom showed some interests in Qualcomm.

A group of NXP shareholders led by hedge fund Elliott Management have already agreed to the new terms. NXP manufactures a bunch of different chips, but there’s one area that is particularly interesting. Qualcomm plans to get serious about the automotive space thanks to NXP chips.

Qualcomm has been manufacturing systems-on-a-chip for Android phones as well as modems and other communications chips. In addition to this semiconductor business, Qualcomm earns quite a bit of money from patent licensing deals. But Apple, South Korea and others don’t want to pay those fees anymore.

That’s why Broadcom has been looking at a potential Qualcomm acquisition for a few months now. After raising its offer multiple times, Qualcomm declined a $121 billion bid.

But it looks like Broadcom is not giving up as the company hired an independent proxy advisory firm called Institutional Shareholder Services to look at the deal. And this firm says Qualcomm shareholders should definitely consider selling to Broadcom. ISS recommends electing four Broadcom persons to Qualcomm’s 11-person board. It could greatly accelerate the talks.

Qualcomm’s annual shareholder meeting should take place on March 6. There will probably be a lot of discussions behind the scene before the big meeting.

Featured Image: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Snapchat adds GIF stickers via Giphy, plus new Friends and Discover screen tabs


Snapchat is bringing one of the best recent features of Instagram Stories to its own app, with the ability to add GIF stickers from Giphy to your posts. This is a notable reversal of the typical pattern we’ve seen of Instagram cloning Snapchat features, but it’s a good one for users since GIF stickers for Stories are basically the greatest thing ever invented on social media.

The new GIF options, also powered by Giphy as mentioned, are loaded in the Sticker Picker alongside existing options from Snapchat. But that’s not the only change rolling out today: Snapchat is also adding tabs to both the Friends and the Discover screens within the app, which will make it easier for users on the platform to follow along with the Stories they want to see whenever they want to see them, letting you do things like viewing friends with active stories and Group Chats in one tab and subscriptions you maintain in the other.

Snapchat CEO and founder Evan Spiegel noted on the company’s recent quarterly earnings call that Snapchat remains convinced their recent redesigns has “made our application simpler and easier to use,” and also noted improved ad performance post-overhaul, despite vocal user complaints. Spiegel also noted, however, that Snapchat is “constantly monitoring the rollout of the redesign and making improvements based on what we learn from our community and their usage of Snapchat,” and this design tweak seems to fall into that category.