Amazon launches a $4.99-per-month ‘personal shopper’ service for men’s fashion

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Amazon is introducing a personal shopping service for men’s fashion. The service, now available to Prime members, is an expansion of the existing Personal Shopper by Prime Wardrobe, a $4.99 per month Stitch Fix rival, originally aimed at women. With Personal Shopper by Prime Wardrobe, an Amazon stylist selects an assortment of fashion items that match a customer’s style and fit preferences. These are are then shipped to the customer on a monthly basis for home try-on. Whatever the customer doesn’t want to keep can be returned using the resealable package and the prepaid shipping label provided.

At launch, the new men’s personal shopping service will include brands like Scotch & Soda, Original Penguin, Adidas, Lacoste, Carhartt, Levi’s, Amazon Essentials, Goodthreads, and more — a mix of both Amazon’s own in-house brands and others. In total, Amazon says Personal Shopper by Prime Wardrobe will offer hundred of thousands of men’s styles across more than a thousand different brands.

The service itself is similar in many ways to Stitch Fix, as it also starts customers with a style quiz to personalize their monthly fashion selections. Also like competitive fashion subscription services, customers can reach out to their stylist with specific requests  — like if they need a professional outfit for job interview, for example, or some other occasion where they may want something outside their usual interests.

But unlike Stitch Fix, which charges a $20 “stylist fee” which is later credited towards any items you choose to keep, Amazon’s personal shopping service is a flat $4.99 per month. Another difference is that the Personal Shopper service will alert you ahead of your shipment to review their picks. You then choose the up to 8 items you want to receive, instead of waiting for the surprise of opening your box.

Image Credits: Amazon

Before today, Amazon had offered men’s fashion in its try-before-you-buy Prime Wardrobe product selection. But that service simply allows Amazon Prime members to request certain fashion items for home try-on, instead of paying for them upfront then returning what doesn’t work. To date, Prime Wardrobe’s biggest drawback has been that many of the fashion items found on Amazon aren’t eligible for home try-on, particularly many of those from the most in-demand brands.

However, Amazon claims it doesn’t stuff Prime Wardrobe with only its own brands. The company says less than 1% of its total selection of brands within Prime Wardrobe are Amazon-owned. (Of course, that percentage may be higher in the boxes customers receive from their personal shopper, at times.)

Amazon also says millions of customers have used the home try-on option provided by Prime Wardrobe and   “hundreds of thousands” of customers have created fashion profiles within Personal Shopper by Prime Wardrobe since its 2019 launch.

However, only “tens of thousands” of customers today use the Personal Shopper service on a monthly basis.

That means Prime Wardrobe is no real threat to Stitch Fix at this time, if making a comparison purely based on number of paying customers.

StitchFix has had longer to perfect its model and refine its insights which has allowed it to grow its active client base to 3.5 million. That figure is up 9% year-over-year, as of the company’s latest earnings reported earlier this month. More recently, Stitch Fix benefited from the pandemic — after it got through its initial backlogged orders — as customers sought to change their style from businesswear to activewear.

Men’s activewear had been particularly in demand, which is perhaps a trend Amazon had also seen ahead of the launch of its new service.

While home try-on via Prime Wardrobe is available today in the U.S., UK, Germany, Austria and Japan, the Personal Shopper by Prime Wardrobe subscription is currently available in the U.S. only. It’s also only available on mobile devices.

 

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Hear from Postmates, Refraction AI and FedEx about autonomous delivery at TC Sessions: Mobility 2020

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Small startups and logistics giants alike are working on how to use automated vehicle technology and robotics for delivery. Some have even accelerated their efforts, with mixed results, as the COVID-19 pandemic drove up demand for delivery.

But is the world — or the tech — ready for the mainstream?

TechCrunch has tapped three experts from FedEx, Refraction AI and Postmates to join our virtual stage at TC Sessions: Mobility 2020 to talk about the challenges and opportunities of using robots for delivery. TC Sessions: Mobility is a two-day conference scheduled for October 6 and October 7 that aims to bring together the best and brightest minds working on the future of transportation.

Matthew Johnson-Roberson, co-founder of Refraction AI; Ali Kashani, VP of Special Projects at Postmates; and Rebecca Yeung, VP of Advanced Technology & Innovation at FedEx will discuss the changing face of delivery, what it will take to make this technology commercially viable and whether the COVID-19 pandemic has changed their strategy.

Johnson-Roberson’s company, Refraction AI, came out of stealth on our stage last year. The Midwest-based startup, which developed a delivery robot that uses the bike lane, has been ramping up testing and operations in its home state of Michigan. Johnson-Roberson has worked in robotic perception since the first DARPA grand challenge, and is associate professor of robotics at the University of Michigan College of Engineering.

Kashani has co-founded several startups, including Lox, which was acquired by Postmates in 2017. When Kashani joined the company he launched Postmates X, which aimed to solve the economic and environmental dilemma of using vehicles to deliver food. His team came up with Serve, the robot that is now used to deliver food in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Yeung’s primary responsibility as VP of advanced technology is to accelerate innovation in the autonomous vehicles and robotics space and use it to improve FedEx’s operations and customer experience. Yeung has more than 20 years of experience in emerging technology, strategy, marketing and business development. She is the lead officer for FedEx’s same-day robot known as Roxo. She also oversees key autonomous vehicle and robotics initiatives at the enterprise level, evaluating emerging technologies to inform R&D investments.

In case you hadn’t heard, TC Sessions: Mobility 2020 is virtual this year. The virtual version of TC Sessions: Mobility will bring all of what you’d expect from our in-person events, from the informative panels and provocative one-on-one interviews to the networking and this year, even a pitch-off session. This year, we’re also holding Q&A sessions following several of the panels, allowing ticketholders to submit questions to the panelists.

We want TC Sessions: Mobility to be accessible to as many people as possible, so we’ve created a range of pass levels to fit just about every budget. Prices start at $25 for the Expo ticket and students can attend for $50. We also have discounts for groups. Or buy an Early-Stage Startup Exhibitor Package to claim a spot in our expo before we run out of space!

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Get a free Extra Crunch membership when you buy TC Sessions: Mobility 2020 tickets

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TC Sessions: Mobility is coming up next week, and we’ve decided to sweeten the deal for what’s included with your event pass. Buy your ticket now and you’ll get a free annual membership to Extra Crunch, our membership program focused on startups, founders and investors with more than 100 exclusive articles published per month.

Extra Crunch unlocks access to our weekly investor surveys, private market analysis and in-depth interviews with experts on fundraising, growth, monetization and other core startup topics. Find answers to your burning questions about startups and investing through Extra Crunch Live, and stay informed with our members-only Extra Crunch newsletter. Other benefits include an improved TechCrunch.com experience, 20% discounts to future TechCrunch events and savings on software services from DocSend, Typeform, Crunchbase and more.

Here are samples of Extra Crunch mobility and transportation articles that TC Sessions: Mobility audience members will find appealing:

Learn more about Extra Crunch benefits here, and buy your TC Sessions: Mobility tickets here.  

What is TC Sessions: Mobility?

TC Sessions: Mobility is a two-day online event with the best founders, investors and technologists who are hell-bent on inventing a future Henry Ford never could have imagined. TechCrunch’s editors will break through the hype to help attendees understand the current state of the mobility revolution and try to see which technologies and players will own the future of transportation.

The event will take place October 6-7, and we’d love to have you join. Learn more about the event, including how to purchase tickets, here

Once you buy your TC Sessions: Mobility pass, you will be emailed a link and unique code you can use to claim the free year of Extra Crunch.

Already bought your TC Sessions: Mobility ticket?

Existing pass holders will be emailed information on how to claim the free year of Extra Crunch membership. All new ticket purchases will receive information over email immediately after the purchase is complete.

Please note that the free Extra Crunch membership will not be available for attendees that purchase a discounted student, government or nonprofit Disrupt pass. 

Already an Extra Crunch member?

If you are already an existing annual or two-year Extra Crunch member and have not yet bought a ticket to TC Sessions: Mobility, you can reach out to extracrunch@techcrunch.com to request a 20% discount. If you are an annual or two-year member and purchased a TC Sessions: Mobility ticket without the 20% discount, we’re happy to extend the length of your existing membership by 12 months for free by contacting extracrunch@techcrunch.com.

Alternatively, if you are an existing monthly Extra Crunch member, we’re happy to extend the length of your membership by a year for free; however, you won’t be able to claim the 20% discount for an event ticket for TC Sessions: Mobility. You will be eligible for the 20% off event tickets for other future TechCrunch events. Please contact extracrunch@techcrunch.com if you are an existing monthly customer and want to take advantage of the membership extension.

Learn more about Extra Crunch benefits here, and buy your TC Sessions: Mobility tickets here.  

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Cannabis vape companies experiencing sales boom during pandemic

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The global pandemic is driving interest towards cannabis, and device makers are recording record sales. From startups to major players, several leading manufacturers told TechCrunch that their companies are seeing record sales since the start of the crisis. Coupled with supply constraints, consumers are now seeing limited supply on some top models as makers try to keep up.

Some company CEOs see the pandemic driving consumer acceptance and pushing legalization at the national level. With legalization, new consumers enter the market, and companies such as Canopy Growth, PAX, and Grenco Science look to benefit as makers of some of the best vaporizers on the market — that is if consumers can find them in stock.

Supply chain issues are partly to blame, and cannabis products are not alone in facing short supply. For the US-market, many products, from bicycles to kayaks, are hard to find right now. And like those products, increased demand is straining the already-stressed supply. 

Grenco Science was founded in 2012 and was an early mover in the dry herb vaporizer market. In 2019 the company raised a Series A for an undisclosed amount to develop and release innovative products. And in early 2020, the company was ready to launch the inexpensive Dash and the Roam, a portable water-filtered concentrate vaporizer. 

COVID-19 hit.

CEO and co-founder Chris Folkerts says product launches were pushed back, yet the company was still able to launch the Roam and Dash. 

“We’ve still been able to see growth and expand the product pipeline significant,” Folkerts said. “There are still releases slated for later this year and being able to launch the redesigned Stundenglass after the company’s acquisition.”

Indeed, Grenco had a busy pandemic, launching two new products and acquiring the maker of another. And they’re not done. Folkerts says interest in dry herb vaporizers is spiking and could be due to the Dash vape launch. Grenco has three more new dry herb vaporizers in its release pipeline.

Folkerts admits that there were troubles along the way, primarily around customer support and shipping products. The company saw an influx of orders through online sales and distributors that the company was not prepared to handle. He says the company had to repurpose “a decent portion” of its staff to speak directly to online consumers to address product and shipping concerns. 

Canopy Growth’s marquee vaporizer company Storz & Bickel is also experiencing increased customer support issues. Browse any user forum, and it’s clear the company cannot keep up with customer relations. Buyers are reporting delayed shipping and inconsistent customer support. Most items on Storz-bickel.com carry a “low inventory” warning though most are available through official distributors.

Andy Lytwynec, VP, Global Vape Business at Canopy Growth, says Storz & Bickel’s sudden growth is outpacing forecasts, and the company accelerated production expansion. Thirty new employees were added to its German factory through a heightened scene of urgency, he said.

In 2000 Storz & Bickel released the Volcano, arguable the first worthwhile desktop dry herb vaporizer. The company now sells two versions of the Volcano and a handful of handheld devices that use the same underlying technology, all of which are certified for medical use. In 2018 Canopy Growth acquired Storz & Bickel, where it joined the conglomerate’s other vaporizer brands.

Lytwynec points to Storz & Bickle as a barometer of sorts in judging the impact of COVID-19. The German-based vaporizer company saw an uptick in sales, as reported in Canopy Growth’s latest quarterly report. The company reported a 71% increase during the first quarter ending on June 30. The financial report pointed to Storz & Bickel’s increased sales and distribution expansion as a primary reason for the increase. 

During the pandemic, consumers are not just turning to dry herbs. Makers of concentrate vaporizers also see an increase in sales.

Puffco, maker of the fantastic Puffco Peak e-rig, tells TechCrunch its also seen an explosion in sales. Puffco founder Roger Volodarsky says, “Since the pandemic hit, it seems like many new users have been joined the cannabis space. Puffco has seen historic sales during this time. We’re thankful to see our growth continue despite the challenges that we’ve been faced with.”

Instead of using ground flower, Puffco’s products are designed to be used with concentrates, which many see as the next big cannabis inhalation market. It sits between dried flower and portable so-called vape pens.

Jupiter Research is the largest distributor of CCELL vaporization hardware and sells into all regulated cannabis markets globally, including across the United States. For this market, namely the pre-packaged, self-contained THC cartridges, Jupiter Research has seen little effect from Covid-19.

There hasn’t been a material increase or decrease in the vape market as a whole due to COVID-19,” Tim Conder, COO and president said, adding, “at least from what our data tells us. In fact, Jupiter has continued to gain market share in the vape category as a whole. Vape remains the second largest category in cannabis henna flour. The third is edibles.”

Conder sees COVID-19 potentially changing the government’s stance on cannabis. As he told TechCrunch, it feels like cannabis legalization is gaining more traction at a federal level. He hopes state and the federal government are looking at the fiscal benefits of a nationwide legal cannabis market.

Other cannabis hardware manufacturers agree COVID-19 is pushing the United States government to look at cannabis through a different light.

Dynavape, a Wisconsin-based manufacturer, says the public perception of cannabis has remained consistent with continual movement into positive public acceptance. Eric Olson, founder, and CFO of Dynavape, notes that he feels the cannabis plant has even had positive effects and eases the impact from COVID-19.

“The post-pandemic outlook for the cannabis plant will be an impactful positive public movement assuming the industry can continue the legalization momentum on the federal and state levels in the US,” Olson told TechCrunch.

Dyanvape, which employs 50 people in Wisconsin, says it started increasing staffing in May and recently launched several new products, including a portable induction heater called “the Orion.”

Now, six months out from the start of the global crisis, the cannabis market seems to have gained significant traction as such manufacturers have ramped up production and increased staffing to keep up with demand.

Canopy Growth’s Lytwynec sees the past few months as a turning point around cannabis. And not just for the economic impact for legalization (and taxing) cannabis. He says he sees consumers are waking up to the level of sophistication around cannabis. 

“People are spending their dollars, not on baggies of illicit weed, but they’re spending their money on higher-end products, and it’s nice to see the category mature in the middle of a pandemic. We see people investing in [devices] and the quality of consumables. It speaks to the health of the category, and I’m hopeful the industry picks up tailwinds, and we exit this dystopian period sooner than later.”

 

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Deep Science: Robot perception, acoustic monitoring, using ML to detect arthritis

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Research papers come out far too rapidly for anyone to read them all, especially in the field of machine learning, which now affects (and produces papers in) practically every industry and company. This column aims to collect the most relevant recent discoveries and papers — particularly in but not limited to artificial intelligence — and explain why they matter.

The topics in this week’s Deep Science column are a real grab bag that range from planetary science to whale tracking. There are also some interesting insights from tracking how social media is used and some work that attempts to shift computer vision systems closer to human perception (good luck with that).

ML model detects arthritis early

Image Credits: UC San Diego

One of machine learning’s most reliable use cases is training a model on a target pattern, say a particular shape or radio signal, and setting it loose on a huge body of noisy data to find possible hits that humans might struggle to perceive. This has proven useful in the medical field, where early indications of serious conditions can be spotted with enough confidence to recommend further testing.

This arthritis detection model looks at X-rays, same as doctors who do that kind of work. But by the time it’s visible to human perception, the damage is already done. A long-running project tracking thousands of people for seven years made for a great training set, making the nearly imperceptible early signs of osteoarthritis visible to the AI model, which predicted it with 78% accuracy three years out.

The bad news is that knowing early doesn’t necessarily mean it can be avoided, as there’s no effective treatment. But that knowledge can be put to other uses — for example, much more effective testing of potential treatments. “Instead of recruiting 10,000 people and following them for 10 years, we can just enroll 50 people who we know are going to be getting osteoarthritis … Then we can give them the experimental drug and see whether it stops the disease from developing,” said co-author Kenneth Urish. The study appeared in PNAS.

Using acoustic monitoring to preemptively save the whales

It’s amazing to think that ships still collide with and kill large whales on a regular basis, but it’s true. Voluntary speed reductions haven’t been much help, but a smart, multisource system called Whale Safe is being put in play in the Santa Barbara channel that could hopefully give everyone a better idea of where the creatures are in real-time.

Image Credits: UW/UC Santa Barbara

The system uses underwater acoustic monitoring, near-real-time forecasting of likely feeding areas, actual sightings and a dash of machine learning (to identify whale calls quickly) to produce a prediction for whale presence along a given course. Large container ships can then make small adjustments well-ahead of time instead of trying to avoid a pod at the last minute.

“Predictive models like this give us a clue for what lies ahead, much like a daily weather forecast,” said Briana Abrahms, who led the effort from the University of Washington. “We’re harnessing the best and most current data to understand what habitats whales use in the ocean, and therefore where whales are most likely to be as their habitats shift on a daily basis.”

Incidentally, Salesforce founder Marc Benioff and his wife Lynne helped establish the UC Santa Barbara center that made this possible.

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Google Play to better enforce in-app purchase policies, ease use of third-party Android app stores

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Under threat of regulation, Google announced today it’s updating its Google Play billing policies to better clarify which types of transactions will be subject to Google’s commissions on in-app purchases. While the more detailed language doesn’t actually change the earlier policy’s intention, it will impact a percentage of developers who don’t currently use Google Play’s billing system when selling digital goods in their app. In addition, the company announced it will make changes in Android 12 that will make it easier for users to install and use third-party app stores as an alternative to Google Play.

The company says that its current billing policies only apply to less than 3% of apps on Google Play. Of those apps, 97% already use Google Play’s billing library. That means there’s only a small percentage of apps that will need to come into compliance under the clarified terms.

To make the transition easier, app developers will be given an extended 1-year grace period to introduce Google Play’s billing library into their apps, had they previously skirted Google’s policies around digital purchases.

Google will also give some businesses impacted by the pandemic the ability to opt-out of its payment policies for the next 12 months. This could apply to those businesses that had to move their previously physical services online — such as live events.

Apple recently did the same for Facebook’s paid events business on the iOS App Store.

Google also said it won’t limit developers’ ability to communicate with customers, including about alternative ways to pay — in stark contrast with Apple.

“To clarify, Google Play does not have any limitations here on this kind of communication outside of a developer’s app. For example, they might have an offering on another Android app store or through their website at a lower cost than on Google Play,” the company noted. “We understand the importance of maintaining the customer relationship. As such, we have also always allowed developers to issue refunds to their customers and provide other customer support directly,” it said.

Bloomberg had previously reported Google was planning to increase its push for a cut of Play Store apps’ in-app purchases.

The policy updates indicate how Google is responding to the increased regulatory scrutiny of its Android mobile platform and how it operates its app store, Google Play. These matters have recently been the subject of antitrust investigations in the U.S. and other markets, where governments are attempting to determine if the current crop of tech giants have been abusing their power by way of anti-competitive business practices.

At issue is the fact that app stores have become the default way — and in some cases, the only possible way — for developers to distribute apps to mobile consumers. But these app stores also commission many of the apps they distribute, even when the platform maker itself offers a competing product. For example, the stores distribute alternative music streaming services, like Spotify, and take a cut of its subscription revenues. At the same time, they also offer their own music streaming service, like Apple Music or Google’s YouTube Music.

In other cases, larger app publishers like Epic Games don’t want to pay app stores for distribution and billing services, as they’re capable of providing the platform and tools for distribution and can bill their customers directly. In Apple’s case, Epic has engaged in a lawsuit over the matter which is still ongoing. A group of developers, including Epic, also last week launched a coalition to demand more “fairness” in the app industry and to fight back against what they perceive to be app stores’ overreach.

Google’s app store business hasn’t received quite the same level of attention as Apple’s because it already offers users the ability to sideload apps. That means users can toggle a setting to install apps hosted outside of the Google Play Store.

In an announcement today, Google also says it will make changes in next year’s release of Android 12 that will make it easier for consumers to use other app stores on Android devices, without compromising Android’s existing safety measures. Google hasn’t said what these changes may include, but one area of concern has been how the Android OS approaches the messaging around sideloading apps.

Today, it presents the option as only as a serious security risk that users must manually enable. More recently, it limited sideloading in its Advanced Protection Program which is designed for high-profile Google users, like politicians or public figures, or those whose accounts could be targeted by hackers, like journalists or political dissidents.

That means reasonably safe alternatives to Google Play have more difficulty acquiring users.

The company said the changes related to third-party app stores were directed by developer feedback.

Google stressed, too, that its policies are applied universally, even to its own apps.

“Our policies apply equally to all apps distributed on Google Play, including Google’s own apps. We use the same standards to decide which apps to promote on Google Play, whether they’re third-party apps or our own apps,” the company said, in an announcement. “In fact, we regularly promote apps by Google’s competitors in our Editors Choice picks when they provide a great user experience. Similarly, our algorithms rank third-party apps and games using the same criteria as for ranking Google’s own apps,” it added.

 

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N26 hires Adrienne Gormley as its new Chief Operating Officer

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Fintech startup N26 is announcing some changes in the leadership team with two new C-Level hires. First, Adrienne Gormley, pictured above, is joining the company as Chief Operating Officer, replacing Martin Schilling who left the company in March 2020. Second, Diana Styles, pictured below, will become N26’s Chief People Officer.

Gormley has spent the last six years working for Dropbox in Dublin. She was the VP of Global Customer Experience as well as the head of EMEA for Dropbox. Previously, she’s worked at Google and Transware.

At N26, she will be in charge of a large chunk of the company, from customer service, to business operations, service experience and workplace division.

Styles has many years of human resources experience. She was the Senior Vice President of Human Resources, Global Sales and Brands at Adidas. Similarly, as Chief People Officer, she will oversee important aspects of the company, such as employee retention, leadership development, talent acquisition and more.

Both will be based in Berlin and report to the company’s co-founder and Chief Financial Officer Maximilian Tayenthal. N26 has grown quite a lot over the past few years as there are now 1,500 employees working for the company.

Image Credits: N26

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2 strategies for creating top-of-funnel marketing content

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Even when you’re excellent at making the sale, you still need people to know you exist in the first place.

Content is excellent at making the case for your product or service, but it also excels at providing value to potential customers in a more tangential way, introducing them to your brand and building awareness and authority.

Here’s how utilizing content marketing and digital PR can make huge strides in getting your brand name out there.

Ranking on-site content for awareness keywords

When on-site content you created ranks well in the search engine results pages (SERPs), that doesn’t just mean you get more traffic (although that’s certainly a major benefit).

You’re also getting your brand name in front of searchers because you’re appearing in the results. You’re building authority because Google appears to believe you have the best answer for their query. You’re giving the searcher and answer to their question and beginning to build trust.

So how do you know which keywords/topics to target and what kind of content to create? You perform keyword research, which basically means examining what keywords people are searching for, how many people search for them per month and how hard it’ll be to rank for them.

Google Ads Keyword Planner provides this information, but you can also use Chrome plugins like Keywords Everywhere and Keyword Surfer or free tools like Ubersuggest.

When your goal is to build awareness, it’s important that the keywords and topics you target have high volume. In other words, they’re searched a lot. Awareness objectives mean reaching as many people as possible so more people know that your brand exists and begin to understand what it’s about.



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GV bets on young team behind high school social app HAGS

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As high schools pivot to hybrid models and students see less in-person face time with friends, the current social app sphere seems to be missing a way to build deeper bonds with classmates. HAGS is building a social network designed around high school networks and they’ve picked up some fresh funding led by Google’s venture arm GV.

The team is building on old school social play focused on Gen-Z high school socialization. The first iteration of their vision was a digital yearbook they rolled out earlier this year which allowed high schoolers torn from the last weeks of their school year by the COVID-19 pandemic to leave messages for friends in a virtual yearbook, replicating the act of passing around the memento over Snapchat. The team’s acronymic name “HAGS” refers to the “have a great summer” message often speedily scrawled in a classmate’s yearbook.

The young founding team at HAGS is fully remote with CEO Suraya Shivji, 23, her younger brother Jameel, 18, and co-founder James Dale, 19, building out the product. The company says that “tens of thousands of high school students” used the app after its initial launch. In the course of building out their app, the team caught the eye of investors over Twitter and began to roll together some early investments.

“Especially when you’re investing so early, you lean on the team so much when it comes to an investment decision,” GV’s Terri Burns told TechCrunch in an interview. “HAGS is really early and very much in the spirit of experimentation.”

HAGS team, photo via HAGS.

The HAGS team ended up pulling together a $1 million investment led by GV with participation from BoxGroup and a handful of angel investors. It’s a smaller deal for some of the names involved, but the team’s product represents a familiarly ripe opportunity, shipping social products to teens. The HAGS app leverages high school networks, prompting users to log into their specific school. The team has already begun building out a network of “ambassadors” at several high schools to bring people into the app.

The app comes during an unprecedented period of upended socializing for high schoolers amid a pandemic, one that could offer more opportunities for a social app that aims to keep students in touch with a broader swatch of their classmates that goes beyond their core friend group.

The team kicked things off with the yearbook built onto Snapchat’s Snap Kit SDK, but they’re staying open minded about what comes next as they plan for the next feature launches inside their app in the coming months. The team is aiming to expand their utility while also staying dialed in to the core of their feature set.

“We ended up with this idea that the foundation of everything we do is creating things that are fun, and seeing that as a need and a first principle of what we do.” CEO Suraya Shivji tells TechCrunch. “Now, we’re basically exploring how to take this socially intimate space for a high school student and build on that.”

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Why everybody’s talking about Donald Trump’s ‘bombshell’ tax returns

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Trump

Description 

Newly published records show that US president paid no federal income tax in ten of last 15 years

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Trump

Newly published records show that US president paid no federal income tax in ten of last 15 years


In Depth

Gabriel Power

Monday, September 28, 2020 – 1:59pm

Donald Trump is facing fresh controversy just weeks before US voters go to the polls, amid reports that the self-proclaimed billionaire paid less than $1,000 in federal income tax in the year when he won his first presidential election.

According to records obtained by The New York Times (NYT), the US leader has paid no income taxes in ten of the past 15 years, and handed over just $750 (£580) in 2016.

Trump’s tax payments have been the source of speculation for years, with the Art of the Deal author portraying himself as a shrewd moneymaker. But the newly published tax documents reveal a “pitifully inept businessman and a serial tax avoider crushed by massive debts that could expose him to conflicts of interest”, says CNN

What do the documents show?

Trump has “faced legal challenges for refusing to share documents concerning his fortune and business” since winning the White House, and made headlines following his inauguration for being the “first president since the 1970s not to make his tax returns public”, the BBC reports. 

Now, the NYT may have discovered the reason for that secrecy as Trump fights to secure a second term in office

The newspaper has dug up records on companies owned by The Trump Organization dating back to the 1990s that show he paid federal income taxes in just five of the last 15 years. The president was able do so largely because he “declared substantial losses on his businesses which he said outweighed his income”, says The Telegraph

Trump’s finances improved in 2016, but he still only paid $750 in federal income tax that year and then again in 2017, his first in the White House.

As CNN notes, he has shelled out “far less than many Americans who are working hard amid a deep recession to stay afloat”.

The NYT report also reveals that “most” of Trump’s businesses, including his golf courses and hotels, “report losing millions, if not tens of millions, of dollars year after year”. 

“That equation is a key element of the alchemy of Mr Trump’s finances: using the proceeds of his celebrity to purchase and prop up risky businesses, then wielding their losses to avoid taxes,” the paper says.

Trump is also alleged to be personally responsible for more than $300m (£233m) in personal loans that are due for payment within the next four years.

Against that backdrop, the records go much further toward revealing the actual and potential conflicts of interest created by Mr. Trump’s refusal to divest himself of his business interests while in the White House,” the NYT continues. 

“His properties have become bazaars for collecting money directly from lobbyists, foreign officials and others seeking face time, access or favour; the records for the first time put precise dollar figures on those transactions.” 

What has Trump said?

At a White House press briefing on Sunday, the president called the NYT report “totally fake news”, adding: “Actually, I paid tax. And you’ll see that as soon as my tax returns – it’s under audit, they’ve been under audit for a long time.”

Trumped added that the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) “does not treat me well. They treat me very badly. You have people in the IRS – they treat me very badly.”

Meanwhile, the NYT is out to “create a little bit of a story”, he insisted, adding: “They’re doing anything they can. That’s the least of it. The stories that I read are so fake, they’re so phony.”

Alan Garten, a lawyer for The Trump Organization, said that “most, if not all, of the facts appear to be inaccurate”, claiming: “Trump has paid tens of millions of dollars in personal taxes to the federal government, including paying millions in personal taxes since announcing his candidacy in 2015.”

Could the claims affect the election outcome?

Many of Trump’s supporters will probably be “unmoved” by the reports, says CNN, which points to the president’s “strong emotional and tribal connection to his followers, his success in constructing alternative political realities while discrediting journalists, and the propaganda from conservative media”.

“Stories about Trump’s refusal to pay his creditors, casino bankruptcies and morally questionable business practices have been circulating for years and did not stop him from winning in 2016 or tarnish his self-created mystique as the hard-driving real estate shark,” the broadcaster adds.

The Guardian agrees that “these supporters seem to embrace the idea of the blue-collar billionaire as one version of the American dream”.

“There are also large chunks of Trump’s cult who pay little attention to the New York Times or Twitter as it is,” the paper adds.

But tax lawyer and policy analyst Steve Rosenthal – who helped the NYT look into the Republican leader’s finances – argues that the story “goes to the heart of Trump’s image as a successful businessman”.

Rosenthal told the BBC that voters should also question “whether Trump can continue to operate the country in our interest or whether he looks out for himself more and more”.

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