Jack Dorsey’s Bitcoin project TBD kills its plan to trademark ‘Web5’

A plan which would see a corporate entity trademark the term “Web5” has been put to rest after much backlash. Late Tuesday night, TBD, the Bitcoin-focused division of Jack Dorsey’s payments company Block (formerly Square), announced an ill-thought-out plan to trademark the term, which refers to its vision for a decentralized, privacy-focused iteration of the future web that TBD has been promoting in recent months. In its announcement, TBD explained that trademarking “Web5” would protect the term from misuse and ensure it’s “used as intended.”

This move, however, did not fly with the TBD community, as many pushed back at the idea that free and open-source technology needed such a gatekeeper.

i have been instructed to make an announcement. it’s long. so i did the screenshot thing. pic.twitter.com/Bp67ehWMZi

— TBD (@TBD54566975) November 29, 2022

“Seek protection for open source protocols?,” asked one Twitter user in response to TBD’s tweet. Another scoffed, “wow web5 is so decentralized that a centralized entity can control the PR and IP.”

“Welcome to the real decentralized web. you will need our permission in order to be able to use the term decentralized web…,” remarked another user, when retweeting the announcement. “can’t tell truth from satire anymore.”

Other comments seemed to also poke fun at this idea that we even have to name and brand each iteration of the web — as is being done now with Web3.

“What happened to Web4?,” asked one. “ok hear me out: web SEVEN,” joked another.

According to TBD, the plan to trademark “Web5” was born out of issues it saw where the term was being applied to other products and services that were “diametrically opposed to the tenets of Web5 that we set out.” In other words, grifters and scammers were using the term inappropriately, TBD believed. For instance, people have been trying to sell things like “Web5” tokens or sell NFTs as “Web5.”

The company said that seeking protection for “Web5” would allow TBD to prevent confusion about the meaning of the term and defend its principles. Its plan was to later enable commercial and non-commercial uses of “Web5” — as long as participants agreed to uphold its main attributes involving its decentralized principles, identity solutions, and open-source protocols.

“Eventually, we hope to establish a coalition of companies, individuals and other stakeholders to maintain these standards,” TBD’s original announcement stated.

In subsequent tweets, TBD Lead Mike Brock responded to complaints by noting that such a plan would not unusual for the space. Linux is trademarked, he said. And The Free Software Foundation holds trademarks, too. But while some agreed with this, others felt this move would be in opposition to Web5’s overall decentralization principles.

“So some centralization, got it,” mocked one user.

For several months, TBD has been promoting the term Web5, explaining how Web5 technologies could bring decentralized identity and data storage to applications while returning ownership of data and identity to individuals. This concept is meant to combat issues with today’s web where identity and personal data had become the property of third parties. In theory, Web5 would allow users to connect with apps using their decentralized identity, instead of constantly creating new profiles for services they wanted to try. And if they wanted to switch apps, users could take their social persona involving their connections and relationships with them.

But only 6 hours after unveiling its plan to trademark “Web5,” TBD announced its plan has been scrapped due to community backlash.

we have heard the community and we are responding to their concerns. pic.twitter.com/xw31x6LMZA

— TBD (@TBD54566975) November 30, 2022

“…we have heard loud voices in the community who are concerned about the potential for abuse of trademark law in ways that would undermine the mission of decentralization. We hear you,” wrote the company, admitting that its move could undermine people’s trust in its mission.

“Therefore, we are suspending and rescinding our previously announced plan under further notice.”

TBD declined to comment beyond what was already published to Twitter.

(updated 11/3/22, 12:50 pm et with TBD response to a request for comment.)

Jack Dorsey’s Bitcoin project TBD kills its plan to trademark ‘Web5’ by Sarah Perez originally published on TechCrunch

Crypto exchange Kraken cuts 1,100 jobs

Crypto exchange Kraken today announced it’s letting go of 1,100 staffers. The announcement came from a company blog post and follows similar news from DoorDash that it was also cutting staff.

News that Kraken is cutting staff — and therefore costs — is not a surprise, given a generally gloomy macroeconomic climate and even worse climes in crypto-land. Prior to the Kraken news, we’ve seen several high-profile implosions in and amongst web3 companies, and layoffs from other exchanges including the American crypto giant Coinbase earlier in the year.

Per Kraken, the 1,100 affected employees represent around 30% of its staff, making them stiffer most cuts that we’ve seen from tech companies this year, reductions that tended to land in the 10% to 20% range.

The exchange explained why it made the cuts, writing that “significantly lower trading volumes and fewer client sign-ups” this year led it to reduce its hiring pace and avoid “large marketing commitments.” However, continuing “negative influences on the financial markets” according to Kraken made the cuts necessary despite its attempts to cut other expenses before laying off staff.

DoorDash cited “macro” impacts that led to it make cuts, striking a related tenor concerning the market it is confronting today.

Layoffs have become commonplace in the technology market this year. From startups to tech giants, many tech companies have looked to trim their costs in response to slower than anticipated growth, or the need to reduce unprofitability as investor sentiment has evolved; last year’s growth at all costs mantra has run head-first into market expectations for cleaner P&L statements this year.

After a slight slowdown, tech layoffs have picked back up. The crypto market has see a sharper contraction this year than the technology market more generally, making the Kraken cuts not a surprise, even if they constitute a greater portion of the company’s overall workforce than we have seen amongst other companies.

Coinbase and Kraken are not alone in reducing their personnel costs. OpenSea, another company that saw its valuation soar during the 2021-era startup and crypto boom was forced to cut its headcount as well.

Crypto exchange Kraken cuts 1,100 jobs by Alex Wilhelm originally published on TechCrunch

Spyware vendor Variston exploited Chrome, Firefox, and Windows zero-days, says Google

A Barcelona-based company that bills itself as a custom security solutions provider exploited several zero-day vulnerabilities in Windows, and Chrome and Firefox browsers to plant spyware, say Google security researchers.

In research shared with TechCrunch ahead of publication on Wednesday, Google’s Threat Analysis Group (TAG) says it has linked Variston IT, which claims to offer tailor-made cybersecurity solutions, to an exploitation framework that enables spyware to be installed on targeted devices.

“Our team consists of some of the industry’s most experienced experts,” Variston IT’s website reads. “We are a young but fast-growing company.”

Google researchers became aware of the so-called “Heliconia” exploitation framework after receiving an anonymous submission to its Chrome bug reporting program. After analyzing the framework, Google researchers found clues in the source code that suggested Variston IT was the likely developer.

Heliconia comprises three separate exploitation frameworks: one that contains an exploit for a Chrome renderer bug that allows it to escape the walls of the app’s sandbox to run malware on the operating system; another that deploys a malicious PDF document containing an exploit for Windows Defender, the default antivirus engine in modern versions of Windows; and another framework that contains a set of Firefox exploits for Windows and Linux machines.

Google notes that the Heliconia exploit is effective against Firefox versions 64 to 68, suggesting the exploit was used as early as December 2018, when Firefox 64 was first released.

Google said that while it has not seen the bugs actively exploited in the wild, the bugs were likely utilized as zero-days — named as such since companies have no time, or zero days, to roll out a fix — and later as n-day bugs — when bugs are exploited but after patches are made available. Google, Microsoft and Mozilla fixed the bugs in early 2021 and 2022.

When reached by email, Variston IT director Ralf Wegner told TechCrunch that the company wasn’t aware of Google’s research and could not validate its findings, but “would be surprised if such [sic] item was found in the wild.”

Google said in its blog post commercial spyware, like the Heliconia framework, contains capabilities that were once only available to governments. These capabilities include stealthily recording audio, making or redirecting phone calls, and stealing data, such as text messages, call logs, contacts and granular GPS location data from a target’s device.

“The growth of the spyware industry puts users at risk and makes the internet less safe, and while surveillance technology may be legal under national or international laws, they are often used in harmful ways to conduct digital espionage against a range of groups,” Google said. “These abuses represent a serious risk to online safety which is why Google and TAG will continue to take action against, and publish research about, the commercial spyware industry.”

Google’s research lands months after linking a previously unattributed Android mobile spyware, dubbed Hermit, to Italian software outfit, RCS Lab.

Spyware vendor Variston exploited Chrome, Firefox, and Windows zero-days, says Google by Carly Page originally published on TechCrunch

Dear Sophie: How should I prepare for my visa interview?

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

TechCrunch+ members receive access to weekly “Dear Sophie” columns; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one- or two-year subscription for 50% off.

Dear Sophie,

Our startup was just accepted into the winter batch of a top accelerator!

My co-founder with an H-1B just got laid off from big tech, but he’s OK because his immigration lawyer is filing a change of status to B-1 within the 60-day grace period. I’m nervous though, because I’m outside the U.S. and I don’t yet have a B-1/B-2 visitor visa.

How can I ace the visa interview? What type of questions will I be asked? How should I prepare?

— Tenacious in Tobago

Dear Tenacious,

Thanks so much for reaching out! Before I dive into your questions, let me provide some context and general recommendations for preparing for a consular interview.

Get advice from an expert

An interview with any immigration official is a high-stakes undertaking. Immigration officials have the discretion to decide whether or not to grant you a non-immigrant visa or an immigrant visa (green card) that will enable you to enter the United States. And how well — or poorly — you do during the interview will have implications for your future visa and green card applications.

According to Mandy Feuerbacher, who was a consular officer at the U.S. Department of State, officials take notes about whether they think an interviewee is responsible, credible, and qualified, and that record will be available for all consular officers to see even if a person applies for another visa category or at another U.S. embassy or consulate.

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Unfortunately, you cannot bring an immigration attorney with you to a consular interview — the State Department stopped allowing that more than 25 years ago. In contrast, you are allowed to bring an attorney with you to a green card interview with a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officer inside the U.S.

Immigration officers are human, too!

Image Credits: Joanna Buniak / Sophie Alcorn (opens in a new window)

This sounds obvious, but reminding yourself of that may help alleviate your anxiety. Like everyone else, consular officers have families, good and bad days, hopes and dreams, and personalities and world views shaped by their unique experiences. They are simply trying to do their job to the very best of their ability.

As an aside, the H-1B specialty occupation visa and the L-1 visa for intracompany transferees are dual-intent, and allow you to intend to remain in the U.S. by filing for a green card. The O-1 extraordinary ability visa has some flexibility as well.

Dear Sophie: How should I prepare for my visa interview? by Ram Iyer originally published on TechCrunch

Antaris predicts the future of the space economy at TC Sessions: Space

We’re just about one week away from achieving liftoff for TC Sessions: Space — a full day jam-packed with the latest space science, tech and trends. Join us on December 6 in Los Angeles to hear from and connect with the startups, researchers, investors and technologists forging the future of space.

A word (or two or three) about our partner companies. They play a vital role at TechCrunch events. As subject-matter experts, they show up and present sessions with relevant content designed to help early-stage founders succeed. And yes, we’re about to showcase one of them.

Beat the price hike: The moon is not made of cheese, but if you act quickly enough, you’ll save a chunk of cheddar. Buy a $199 pass before December 2 at 11:59 pm (PST). The price goes up to $495 at midnight, December 2.

Today, we’re excited to highlight Antaris, a cloud-based satellite software platform dedicated to simplifying satellite design and deployment while reducing cost and time-to-orbit.

Be in the room when Tom Barton, co-founder and CEO at Antaris, and Laura Crabtree, co-founder and CEO at Epsilon3, take the stage for a session called, “Hardware? What’s That? Why Software is the Future of the Space Economy.”  

Launch gets all the press, but satellites and the software behind them are the workhorses of space. Barton and Crabtree — both spirited founder/CEOs — will talk about how SaaS, open source and cloud-based platforms are revolutionizing the satellite industry and accelerating the space economy. They’ll also discuss what it’s like to be first-time founders, what it really takes to put good code into space and share tips for fellow spacepreneurs.

Tom Barton is the co-founder and CEO of Antaris, an early-stage satellite software innovator. Barton and his team created the company in 2021 with a vision to revolutionize Software for Space — including leveraging open APIs and open source to dramatically reduce costs and time-to-orbit for satellites. 

Antaris, widely considered a New Space disruptor for the satellite ecosystem, is backed by Lockheed Martin Ventures, Acequia, Possible Ventures and E2MC. Barton previously served as COO of satellite leader Planet Labs for three years and was a member of the leadership team responsible for putting the largest imaging satellite constellation in history into orbit. 

Barton was also CEO of Diamanti, Rackable Systems and Cygnus Solutions, and he has held senior leadership roles at Red Hat and Lightspeed Venture Partners. He holds both a B.S. and M.B.A. from Stanford University.

Laura Crabtree is the CEO and co-founder of Epsilon3, a software platform for complex engineering, testing and operational procedures. Among the initial members of the operations team for SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft, Crabtree helped put the U.S. back in the human space-flight business. She wants to continue to revolutionize the space industry, beginning with operational tools.

TC Sessions: Space takes place on December 6 in Los Angeles. Buy a pass for $199, and then join us — and our partners — to learn about the latest space tech, network for opportunities and build a stronger startup to the stars.

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at TC Sessions: Space? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

Antaris predicts the future of the space economy at TC Sessions: Space by Lauren Simonds originally published on TechCrunch

Netflix launches 9 more mobile games, including Gameloft’s ‘FarmVille’ clone

Netflix released nine more mobile games this month, the company announced on Tuesday. The addition of games brings Netflix’s total to over 40 titles, keeping the streamer on track to have more than 50 titles in its mobile games catalog by the end of 2022.

Newly added games include “Country Friends,” the “FarmVille” clone developed by Gameloft; “Reigns” Three Kingdoms,” a card-swiping strategy game; “Skies of Chaos,” an arcade-style shoot-em-up game; “Flutter Butterflies,” a game for butterfly collectors and “Cats & Soups,” a relaxing cooking game. Other new titles include “Hello Kitty Happiness Parade,” “Immortality,” “Stranger Things: Puzzle Tales” and a TV game, “Triviaverse.”

Gameloft released “Country Friends” in 2015 when FarmVille and Hay Day were at their peak. “Country Friends” offers the same experience as the other farm management games, but it’s likely Netflix hopes that players will want to check out the game for yet another way to fulfill their farmer fantasies.

The company re-launched “Stranger Things: Puzzle Tales,” based on its hit series. Developed by Next Games, “Stranger Things: Puzzle Tales” used to be free on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. However, Netflix has since purchased the game, and it’s now exclusively available to Netflix subscribers. Netflix acquired Next Games in March for $72 million.

A match-3 puzzle RPG adventure game, “Stranger Things: Puzzle Tales” lets players fight the Demogorgon, collect and level-up characters from the show as well as enjoy different storylines and quests.

There are already two other “Stranger Things” mobile games in Netflix’s library–“Stranger Things: 1984” and “Stranger Things 3: The Game.”

The streaming giant tends to rely on well-known games and IP to beef up its library. For instance, Netflix released the “Hello Kitty Happiness Parade” yesterday, November 29, which feels like a slower version of “Subway Surfers” and “Temple Run.” Featuring adorable characters from the Sanrio universe, such as Hello Kitty, My Melody and Pompompurin, “Hello Kitty Happiness Parade” lets players join Hello Kitty’s friends in a festive parade where they can show off their dance moves. Players must avoid traps set by Kuromi and Nyanmi to keep the party going.

Only Netflix subscribers can play its mobile games. However, there are no extra fees, ads, or in-app purchases. The games are available on iOS and Android devices and can be found within the Netflix mobile app. Once you click on a game, you will be redirected to the app store to download the game separately. You must have your Netflix login information to play.

As we’ve previously learned, a reported average of 1.7 million users play Netflix games daily, which is less than 1% of its streaming subscriber base. Despite this, Netflix continues to invest in gaming. Last month at TechCrunch Disrupt, Netflix VP of Gaming Mike Verdu revealed that Netflix was opening a new studio in Southern California and is venturing into cloud gaming.

Also, earlier this month, Netflix added “Triviaverse” to its interactive series lineup. Players must answer questions as quickly as they can using the TV remote before time is up.

Netflix launches 9 more mobile games, including Gameloft’s ‘FarmVille’ clone by Lauren Forristal originally published on TechCrunch

Adtech antitrust class damages claim filed against Google in UK — seeking up to $16.3BN

Litigation against Google and its parent entity Alphabet being brought in the UK on behalf of thousands of digital publishers — seeking up to £13.6 billion (~$16.3BN) in damages on their behalf for alleged anti-competitive behavior related to Google’s adtech practices — has been filed with the Competition Appeal Tribunal (CAT).

“The claim alleges that Google abused its dominant position in the market for online advertising, earning super-profits for itself at the expense of the tens of thousands of publishers of websites and mobile apps in the UK,” runs a press release accompanying news of today’s filing at the CAT.

The competition class-action style suit, which includes a parallel European Economic Area (EEA) claim in the Netherlands, was announced earlier this fall. That EEA-wide multi-billion Euro claim is expected to be filed in early 2023, per Geradin Partners, one of the law firms involved in the legal action.

City litigation firm Humphries Kerstetter is also acting on the claim — which is being funded by litigation funder, Harbour.

While Claudio Pollack, a former director of the UK’s media and comms regulator, Ofcom, is named as heading the claim — as the representative for the class of businesses allegedly damaged by Google’s actions.

The lawsuit will argue that Google has abused its dominance of adtech infrastructure to dictate terms, control pricing and deploy self preferencing that has damaged thousands of businesses that have had little choice but to use its tools if they wish to generate revenue from advertising.

The suit is being brought on behalf of around 130,000 businesses publishing around 1.75M websites and apps in the UK which the litigation claims have been harmed by Google’s anti-competitive practices.

Economic analysis produced to support the claim suggests Google’s practices may have reduced advertising revenues by up to 40% for some companies.

£13.6BN is an estimate of the total loss to those 130k businesses since January 1, 2014 to date.

The claimants can point to enforcement last year by France’s competition watchdog — which found Google had abused a dominant position for ad servers for website publishers and mobile apps and fining it up to €220 million for a variety of self-preferencing abuses and also extracting a series of interoperability commitments.

Google’s adtech stack — and certain other ad-related practices  — remain under investigation by both EU and U.K. competition authorities.

But European web and app publishers evidently aren’t waiting around for further regulatory smackdowns — not least as they’re hoping to force Google to fork over major damages for what the class action style suits alleges are “serious” anti-competitive practices.

In a statement on the suit, Pollack said: “The marketplace for online advertising is sophisticated, technical and highly automated. Advertising is sold in a fraction of a second in a process which is designed to match the product being advertised with the profile of an individual visiting a website. Third party platforms operate on both sides of the marketplace matching supply with demand and — in an ideal world — ensuring the market operates efficiently and effectively. Unfortunately, it is now well established that this market has developed in a way that is primarily serving Google.”

In another statement, Damien Geradin, founding partner of the eponymous law firm, added: “While the value of the claim we are bringing is substantial, we believe the matter is about much more than money. For years Google has been denying companies in the UK and Europe and beyond, including the local press and the publishers of community focused websites, the chance to earn a proper income by way of advertising.

“As well as bringing Google to account the parties who have lost out need proper compensation, something a CAT claim can achieve at no cost to those parties.”

Google was contacted for a response to the development. The company previously dubbed the litigation “speculative and opportunistic”.

In a further statement emailed to TechCrunch today it said:

Google works constructively with publishers across Europe — our advertising tools, and those of our many adtech competitors, help millions of websites and apps fund their content, and enable businesses of all sizes to effectively reach new customers. These services adapt and evolve in partnership with those same publishers.

While Google is keen to dismiss the legal challenge as baseless, the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has expressed major concerns about dysfunction in the digital ad market — following a deep dive investigation it kicked off in 2019.

Its final report, published in July 2020, concluded that the market power of Google and Facebook was so great a new regulatory approach (and dedicated oversight body) was needed to address what it summarized as “wide ranging and self reinforcing” concerns.

However the UK government has so far failed to bring forward the necessary legislation to enable that reboot — which may be another factor driving antitrust class action litigation.

In the meanwhile, a planned adtech stack migration by Google away from third party cookie-based tracking (aka its Privacy Sandbox proposal) remains under close regulatory supervision by the CMA — which stepped in following fresh objections by publishers concerned the move would further entrench the adtech giant’s market dominance.

Adtech antitrust class damages claim filed against Google in UK — seeking up to $16.3BN by Natasha Lomas originally published on TechCrunch

Spend management platform Teampay expands partnership with Mastercard, raises $47M

In 2016, Andrew Hoag, formerly a senior manager at Verisign and a web project lead at NASA’s Ames Research Center, founded Teampay, a platform that attempts to automate the software purchasing process for companies. Hoag’s insight was that the way businesses spend money is changing, particularly as they embraced digital transformation, and that visibility into — and control over — spend was becoming increasingly important with the economy’s ups and downs.

It seems that his thesis was correct. Today, Teampay has hundreds of customers and significant venture capital financing behind it. This morning marked the close of the company’s $47 million ($35.25 million in equity, $11.75 million in debt) Series B led by Fin Venture Capital with participation from Mastercard, Proof Ventures, Trestle and Espresso Capital, bringing Teampay’s total raised to $65 million.

Hoag says that the new cash will be put toward expanding Teampay’s partnership with Mastercard and growing its sales and marketing operations. Last year, Teampay launched a Mastercard-branded corporate card, Catalyst, with spend management features, signaling the startup’s intentions to venture further into the heated corporate card space.

“Today, companies care more than ever about where every dollar goes, which requires a new perspective,” Hoag told TechCrunch in an email interview. “In today’s economic environment, Teampay’s software-led approach has proven resilient — as we saw in late 2020 to 2021, when the economy rebounds, Teampay benefits disproportionately through accelerated growth … We increased our debt facility for additional flexibility in uncertain times.”

Teampay’s platform provides workflows for employees to submit and approve spending. Using it, managers can implement policies that automatically collect approvals or deny expenses that fall into certain categories. Teampay integrates with existing chat tools and delivers real-time reporting, automating invoice processing and offering virtual cards that can be limited by vendor and amount.

Image Credits: Teampay

Hoag notes that Teampay is low-code and doesn’t require custom development. “Enterprises crave control and visibility over the finances, and this not only helps the IT department, but [also] enables all departments to make better aligned business decisions,” he added.

For the past several years, venture capitalists have poured money into the corporate spend management space, lured by the promise of low-hanging fruit.

Just in January, European startup Moss, which offers corporate credit cards for small- and medium-sized companies, raised $86 million. Spendesk landed $118 million in July 2021 for its corporate spend management service. And in April, Ramp, which offers both corporate cards and spend-tracking software, secured $550 million in debt and $200 in equity at an $8.1 billion valuation.

According to Dealroom, over $2.8 billion was invested into corporate spend management companies in 2021. This year, $1.6 billion was invested between January and May alone.

Is Teampay sufficiently differentiated? Hoag believes it is, pointing to the Mastercard partnership. Teampay will collaborate with Mastercard “deeper” going forward, Hoag says, to “mutually explore opportunities” that “enhance product capabilities at scale.”

“Some teams are still stuck with a legacy, reactive mindset anchored on how businesses handled spending when purchasing was centralized,” Hoag said. “With education and innovation, we look forward to bringing best-in-class ‘consumerized’ tools to the finance department.”

The Mastercard plans might be a bit vague, and Hoag was loathe to reveal even a ballpark estimate of Teampay’s financials, including annual recurring revenue. But the total addressable market is certainly large enough to sustain more than one vendor — Grand View Research estimated its size at $15.9 billion in 2021.

In a smart analysis of the sector on Dealroom, Lorenzo Chiavarini writes that horizontal differentiation — for example, expanding to adjacent services like payment processing and targeting underserved segments — will play a key role in winning corporate expense management. Some of this sort of thing is already on Teampay’s roadmap, like growing the company’s accounts payable solution and expanding cross-border payments functionality. The challenge, though, will be maintaining momentum in the face of stiff competition like Brex, Bill.com-owned Divvy, Airbase and incumbents such as Concur and Expensify.

FinVC partner Peter Ackerson added in a statement via email: “We saw Teampay’s remarkable traction and are excited to have led this Series B round. Spend management remains an antiquated space, and we believe Teampay’s platform is ideally positioned given the long-term, strategic importance of spend management to the office of the CFO.”

Teampay, which is based in New York, has over 100 employees currently. The goal is to grow that number by 5% to 10% by the end of the year, Hoag says, barring unforeseen market turbulence.

Spend management platform Teampay expands partnership with Mastercard, raises $47M by Kyle Wiggers originally published on TechCrunch

Series A rounds are looking a little crunchy in the United States

Earlier this month, TechCrunch argued that startups looking to raise a Series C round were facing a uniquely difficult fundraising threshold. As Series Cs can be considered the first “late” startup stage, companies looking to raise the particular tranche appear to be running into backwash from the public markets, where tech valuations have come down sharply and IPOs are moribund at best.

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However, further data focused on the U.S. market indicate that the Series A round is also looking green around the gills for domestic startup founders. Data from PitchBook (hat tip to Brex’s Shai Goldman) and Redpoint detail a falling pace for Series A rounds in the United States through Q3 2022. Recent data is even more dismal.

Naturally, during a market slowdown, we anticipate general pressure on startup fundraising. It’s hardly a conservative method of disbursing capital, and so when rates rise and duller investments gleam brighter, venture activity dips and no one is shocked.

Series A rounds are looking a little crunchy in the United States by Alex Wilhelm originally published on TechCrunch

ResortPass, backed by Jessica Alba and Gwyneth Paltrow, lands $26M so you can take a daycation

Have you ever looked longingly at the website of a posh hotel or resort and thought, “Man, I wish I could hang out there.”

Well, thanks to startup ResortPass, that might not be as out of reach as you might think.

The six-year-old company gives people the option to purchase day passes to over 900 hotels and resorts – think Ritz Carlton, Four Seasons, W Hotels, Hyatt Hotels, Fairmont and Westin – around the world. With the passes, users have access to amenities such as pools, spas and fitness centers without having to shell out the big bucks to actually stay overnight.

ResortPass itself serves as a marketplace, teaming up users with hotels and taking a cut of each booking. As COVID-19 pandemic restrictions have eased and people are eager to make up for lost time, the company says it has seen a surge in business with a 100% increase in gross booking volume so far in 2022 compared to 2021. In other words, it has doubled its number of users.

The startup works with the properties to help determine prices, which generally reflect the level of service and amenities that a hotel offers. For example, a day pass to access a pool can range from $25 to $100 per adult depending on the hotel. Children generally pay less, or are free. 

Beyond its marketplace offering, ResortPass has also built SaaS software to make it easier for the hotel industry to support day guest access. The rationale is that ResortPass provides a new revenue stream for these hotels, by giving them a way to allow for more guests – on a per day basis. In fact, ResortPass claims to have delivered over $1 million in new booking revenue to “many” of its individual hotel partners.  Since inception, the startup says it has teamed up 1.6 million guests to its partner hotels. While it’s free for hotels to join ResortPass, many do subscribe to its access management and booking software tools, which also can give overnight guests the ability to book amenities on the premises.

ResortPass currently operates mostly within the United States – in 35 states including Florida, California, New York, Hawaii, Oklahoma and Arizona. But it’s seeing such good traction in recently-entered markets outside the U.S. such as the Caribbean, Mexico and Puerto Rico that it plans to eventually further expand into new geographies such as Europe and the Asia-Pacific region. To fuel that geographic expansion, ResortPass is announcing today that it has raised $26 million in a Series B funding round co-led by Declaration Partners and 14W, bringing its total raised to $37 million. Early backer CRV also participated in the financing, along with new investors such as William Morris Endeavor, Adam Grant, celebrity entrepreneurs Gwyneth Paltrow and Jessica Alba and Brian Kelly, also known as The Points Guy. 

Also investing was Airbnb’s syndicate, AirAngels. This makes sense considering both Airbnb and ResortPass have aimed to create new markets out of underutilized inventory.

New York-based ResortPass is also announcing today that Michael Wolf – who previously worked at ClassPass, Supernatural, and Lululemon – has assumed the role of CEO. Amanda Szabo founded ResortPass in 2016 and served as its chief executive until late in the third quarter. As the company has grown, Szabo decided that it would benefit from having a leader with extensive experience in working with marketplaces to help it scale. She will serve in an advisory capacity moving forward.

“She [Amanda] was a 0 to 1 person,” Wolf told TechCrunch. “I’m a one-to-many person. And, I was impressed with how the company had built a really strong business without a lot of capital.” 

He added: “It’s genuinely the most excited I have been about a company having worked across dozens of startups.”

Geographically, in the short term, ResortPass is looking to expand “more completely” throughout the U.S. and the Caribbean. 

“We’re seeing incredibly strong performance from our hotels outside the U.S.,” Wolf told TechCrunch in an interview. “Some properties in Puerto Rico are among the top performing hotels in the entire system.”

Longer term, ResortPass will add additional overseas markets such as Europe and the Asia-Pacific region as well as more hotel partners.

Interestingly, the majority of ResortPass’s users are locals who want to experience the amenities of hotels in their own or nearby cities. “Our local users never had the opportunity to access the hospitality industry locally,” Wolf said. “They thought they had to get on a plane to enjoy those sorts of amenities.”

Travelers who stay at an Airbnb in a city for the extra space but still want access to amenities such as a nice pool or fitness center represent another segment of ResortPass’s customers.  Another popular use case are cruise passengers who dock in a city and want to be able to access a nice property just for the day, or get off of a cruise ship well before their flight and don’t want to sit in an airport all day.

When booking users, Wolf says ResortPass aims to “emulate the normal operating flow of a hotel” so that the guests simply blend in.

The “vast majority” of ResortPass’s users come across its offering through word of mouth, according to Wolf.

With its new capital, the company plans to beef up its team across all departments, including sales, marketing, product and operations. Presently, it has about 50 employees – 20 of whom are engineers. ResortPass is not currently profitable, but Wolf says the company’s user growth is reflected in nearly all of its business metrics.

The company had previously raised about $11 million, including $9 million in a Series A that was announced in August of 2019. Wolf declined to reveal at which valuation this latest round was raised, saying only that it was done “at over 2.5x the valuation of the last round.”

Via email, CRV General Partner Saar Gur noted that his firm led ResortPass’s seed and Series A rounds based on its belief that the company “delivered a unique and delightful experience to consumers, while adding significant incremental profits to their hotel partners with no additional cost.”

14W’s Ryan Ackell is also naturally bullish. “ResortPass is pioneering a whole new segment of the $1.5 trillion global lodging industry,” he said in a written statement. “By creating this opportunity for hotels and guests, ResortPass is aligning the industry with how people are choosing to take time off with shorter, more frequent experiences closer to home.”

ResortPass, backed by Jessica Alba and Gwyneth Paltrow, lands $26M so you can take a daycation by Mary Ann Azevedo originally published on TechCrunch

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