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MonetaGo switches to R3’s Corda from Hyperledger

MonetaGo is leaving Hyperledger Fabric and porting its fraud mitigation network to Corda Enterprise, R3’s commercial distribution of its open source blockchain platform, Corda.

A blockchain-based solution launched in March this year, MonetaGo’s fraud mitigation network helps banks reduce fraud in receivables financing by enabling them to check if invoices have already been financed and verify the authenticity of electronic waybills. The blockchain network enables a bank to hash certain elements of the invoice, create a unique fingerprint for it and then publish it to the network. The bank can then apply different states to the invoice, such as whether it has been registered or financed. MonetaGo is also working to add in other states, including whether an invoice has been registered with the tax authority.

The fraud mitigation network is currently being piloted by Swift in India, and the Corda Enterprise migration will power the next deployment of the solution in Latin America, with an initial launch consortia in Mexico comprising six banks.

“With the new deployments that we have coming up in Mexico, as well in other Latin American countries, the regulators themselves have been potentially looking at adopting this system and Corda has a good architecture for that. Because we are not just publishing anonymised hashes any more, having the architecture for them to actually participate in the blockchain makes a lot of sense,” Jesse Chenard, CEO of MonetaGo, tells GTR. “As we have seen the distributed ledger technology (DLT) market unfold, it has become clear R3 is emerging as the leader in the financial services space. In order to make sure we take advantage of this momentum, it makes sense to provide our applications built on Corda Enterprise.”

Alisa DiCaprio, head of trade and supply chain at R3, explains: “The really exciting part of this announcement is that it unlocks some of the additional benefits of blockchain, beyond familiar topics like immutability and deterministic transactions. It does this by combining multiple applications for specific use cases that result in a richer solution. Today we’re joining fraud mitigation together with trade finance; in the future we’ll add things like KYC, onboarding, sanctions monitoring, and settlement.”

This announcement is the latest in a growing trend of financial services providers shifting over to Corda from Hyperledger. In June last year, the Blockchain Insurance Industry Initiative, B3i, a joint effort between 13 insurance and reinsurance companies to leverage blockchain for insurance, partnered with R3 to bring its solution into production on the Corda platform, leaving the Hyperledger Fabric framework on which it had developed its prototype.

Like B3i, MonetaGo’s reasoning for moving to Corda comes down to data privacy, scalability, interoperability and developer productivity. “Where you’ve got multiple different entities and you need to do one-to-many permutations, testing between the two different protocols has shown right now that at least for the foreseeable future it is Corda which is best suited for this,” says Chenard.

MonetaGo has been a member of the R3 partner network since September 2018, and the Corda Enterprise migration will be completed in early 2019.

Data startup Narrative raises $3M more

Narrative, a startup that makes it easier to buy and sell data, is announcing that it’s raised $3 million in additional seed funding.

The round was led by Glasswing Ventures .  XSeed, Tuhaye and Revel also participated.

When I first wrote about the company two years ago, it had already raised $2.25 million, and its business revolved around a marketplace for data. Founder and CEO Nick Jordan told me that’s still what Narrative offers — but customers have also started using its software to manage data transactions beyond the marketplace.

“Buying or selling data sounds really simple — anybody can write in a board deck … ‘We’re going to acquire data, we’re going to distribute data,'” Jordan said. “But it’s much more complex. As a buyer you want specific records, you’re buying for multiple parties. Every seller sells data in a different format. Broadly speaking, there’s a ton of fragmentation.”

And yet, these transactions do happen, with or without Narrative . But Jordan said companies have “historically built their own systems out of duct tape and prayers,” and they often lack features that “seem incredibly trivial, like reporting how much data was sold or bought.”

With Narrative, on the other hand, businesses don’t need to spend the time and resources to create this infrastructure, and they get a tool that allows them to monitor, and hopefully grow, their entire data business.

As this happens, the broader landscape around buying and selling user data is changing, thanks to GDPRthe California privacy bill and the potential for more regulation.

Jordan acknowledged that when GDPR went into effect, Narrative saw “a fairly precipitous drop in data made available in the EU.” At the same time, he said, “The industry as a whole grew up a bit,” and that’s made the technology more appealing to some customers, because it provides “full transparency between the buyer and seller.”

“It [gives] you the ability to do your own due diligence and make sure the data you’re getting is compliant, based on your own reading of GDPR law,” Jordan said.

In fact, he claimed that Narrative really started to see a positive response from customers in the second and third quarter of last year — coincidentally or not, right as GDPR was going into effect.

“This money is really to show that we’ve found product market fit,” Jordan added. That means investing in sales and marketing — and if that pays off, Narrative can probably go out and raise a bigger round.

25 Best Workout and Fitness Apps to Stay Healthy in 2019

The best fitness apps help keep you on that fitness grind no matter where you are. The best new workout apps make it easy to take your workout anywhere—especially when you're traveling, or even when life just gets too busy. The best free workout apps also provide awesome motivation, whether you need more variety in your workouts, ultra-convenient ways to exercise, accountability buddies, or just a digital nudge to stay committed.

There are so many apps out there, however, that it can be overwhelming to know where to start. Once you find one that works for you and your goals it can be easy to stay on track. Here are 25 of the best workout apps to choose from.

Get personalized advice based on your Fitbit data with Fitbit Coach.

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What it is: Fitbit Coach takes your Fitbit daily activity data into account to recommend exercises and provide fitness feedback just for you.

Why it's great: If you never leave home without your trusty Fitbit, this app takes the information from your wearable tech to the next level. It reccomends exercises and provides personalized fitness guidance, plus it's chock-full of workout videos with step-by-step directions and tips. You can also customize each sweat session to the best workout music with Fitbit Radio, which has stations ranging from pop to hip hop. Plus, if you have a Fitbit Ionic device, you can access the app right on the screen. (iOS and Android, $40/year)

Get focused out with fitness and yoga classes taught by world-class yogis on Alo Moves.

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What it is: Alo Moves offers up thousands of guided yoga practices taught by some of the biggest names in yoga.

Why it's great: Created by the ultra-popular apparel brand Alo Yoga, Alo Moves has over 2,000 videos organized into 200 plans and over 500 single classes taught by the top names in yoga, including Dylan Werner, Ashley Galvin, Caley Alyssa and Mackenzie Miller. And there's more than just straightforward yoga sessions: You can work on your skills with a handstand workshop, improve strength with total-body workouts, relax with guided meditations, and more. (iOS and Android, $20/month)

Start your day off right with the Yoga Wake Up alarm clock.

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What it is: The Yoga Wake Up app uses the sounds of yoga and meditation to gently get you moving for the day.

Why it's great: Who says alarm clocks have to be jarring? This app offers different audio yoga and meditation sequences that are designed to start in bed and end with you on your feet. Choose a wakeup that lets you ease out of bed slowly with calm stretching, or get energized with a faster-paced flow. (iOS, $7/month)

Access prenatal and postnatal fitness videos with Studio Bloom.

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What it is: This app from The Bloom Method studio in Boulder, Colorado offers fitness videos tailored to pregnant women and new moms.

Why it's great: Created by certified personal trainer and pre- & postnatal corrective exercise specialist Brooke Cates, The Bloom Method's classes are designed to be safe for pregnant women and new moms. The Studio Bloom app has more than 50 workouts ranging from 7 to 40 minutes, along with guided meditations and pre- and postnatal nutrition support. (iOS, $39/month)

Tune into obé's live 28-minute classes to add a fun pop of color to your workout.

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What it is: obé (which stands for Our Body Electric) offers a schedule of Sculpt, Power, Dance, and HIIT classes that you can join in on, or sweat your way through a pre-recorded class.

Why it's great: One look at obé's videos and you'll see what the hype is about—bright colors, neon accents, and an electric pastel palette make their workouts feel like a mini party (especially when you're tuning into one of their Dance sessions). obé has both strength and cardio-driven classes, and they take less than 30 minutes each. It's one of the best new workout apps of 2018. (iOS, $27/month)

Join the Peloton community (without investing in a whole bike or treadmill) with Peloton Digital.

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What it is: You can live-stream cycling and treadmill workouts from the sleek Peloton Studio in any space.

Why it's great: Sure, Peloton's bikes and treadmills have created a fitness revolution, but if that's not in the budget for you a Peloton Digital subscription still nets you access to their live-streamed classes. Set your phone up on the bike or treadmill at the gym to follow along, or try one of their bootcamp, floor, or outdoor classes. (iOS, $20/month)

Get your yoga classes and other yoga-inspired workouts in one place with Asana Rebel.

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What it is: Asana Rebel is a yoga-inspired fitness app that had guided yoga flows alongside "regular" workouts (that still have some yoga elements in them).

Why it's great: This is one of the best free workout apps around (although you can buy additional classes through the app). It's the best of both worlds if you're looking for other workouts to complement your yoga practice (or vice versa). In the app, you can input your goals, track your progress, and choose classes and programs based on how much time you have or the intensity you're after. (iOS and Android, free)

Get a custom workout program and support from your own personal trainer on Trainiac.

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What it is: Choose one of Trainiac's personal trainers to keep you motivated and create a workout program that's tailored exactly to your goals and your lifestyle.

Why it's great: Trainiac's plans aren't one-size-fits-all—you're talking a real, accredited fitness pro in real time who provides workouts just for you, along with encouragement and support over text, audio, and video messaging. They adjust your workouts to the equipment and space you have available at any given time (whether it's a full gym or nothing at all), and your workouts can evolve with your goals and your fitness level. (iOS, $50/month)

Work toward your fitness and nutrition goals in one app with 8fit.

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What it is: 8Fit offers custom no-equipment workouts ranging from 15 to 20 minutes long, along with nutrition guidance, meal plans, and other healthy eating tools.

Why it's great: If you're working on your fitness and your healthy eating habits, this app keeps it simple by putting everything in one place. You start by determining your goal and your current level, and from there, the app provides custom workouts and meal plans to help get you where you want to go. Plus, 8Fit actually explains proper exercise form and progression for all of their moves, so you can make sure you're getting the most out of every rep. (iOS and Android, $60/year)

Adjust your workouts to your heart rate in real time with PEAR.

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What it is: The PEAR Personal Fitness Coach uses heart rate monitoring to coach you through a workout, so you'll know when to push harder and when to scale back.

Why it's great: If you wear a heart rate monitor when you work out, this app takes out the guesswork out of heart rate zones and determines exactly what it should mean for your workout. The app can tell you when to speed up, slow down, or adjust what you're doing to make sure you're "training smarter, not harder," as they say. (iOS and Android, $6/month)

Keep track of all of your weightlifting stats with Stacked.

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What it is: Stacked is a strength training app that tracks what you lift, how often, and what areas of your body you're working.

Why it's great: This intuitive app is an excellent way to up your lifting game. It lets you choose a goal to work toward and keep track of your progress. You can also use it to create and store individual workouts, come up with a training schedule, or find an existing strength workout to try. (iOS, free)

Get outside with REI's Trail Run Project app.

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What it is: The Trail Run Project app is a guide to the best outdoor running trails in your area.

Why it's great: Designed for runners of all levels, this app makes it easy to find new routes—while the sidewalks around town can be great to get in a few miles, trail running gets you on softer surfaces, meaning your knees don't take as much pounding. Open REI's Trail Run Projects app to see just how many trails are near you, find loops, view images of the trail, and check out the elevation. The best part is that the app works offline, too, which is a life saver when you have zero service. There's no shortage of trails listed in every state, plus Canada, South America, Central America, and Europe. (iOS and Android, free)

Enjoy outdoor scenery on the treadmill with Treadmill Trails.

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What it is: Treadmill Trails lets you download follow-along videos of iconic runs fore when you're stuck indoors.

Why it's great: If you're getting bored with watching the same Housewives reruns on the treadmill, this app has you covered. Hike the Appalachian trail in fall, run along the bluffs in Big Sur, or check out New York City's Central Park. Each silent video is 30 minutes long, meaning you can listen to your own music as you run along the river banks. (iOS and Android, free)

Test out different workouts on the sleek Nike Training Club app.

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What it is: The Nike Training Club app offers a variety of guided workouts at different intensities and lengths in easy-to-follow video formats.

Why it's great: This is one of the best workout apps around, and for good reason—there's something for everyone, no matter how much time you have, your fitness level, or your workout interests. You've got plenty to choose from, including bodyweight strength workouts, heart-pumping cardio, yoga, and more. There are several workouts created or inspired by athletes and celebrities, too. (iOS and Android, free)

Book discounted classes last-minute with Zenrez.

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What it is: Zenrez offers up empty spots in fitness classes at a discount the night before.

Why it's great: This app is the perfect way to mix up your routine with new boutique fitness classes at a discount. For example, a barreyoga, or boot camp class you might normally pay $25 for may be available for $14 (prices vary based on the studio). Score. A new batch of classes for the following day shows up every night at 9 P.M., and it's available in most major U.S. cities. (iOS, free)

Track your reps, sets, and weights with Lift Log.

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What it is: Lift Log is a workout tracker and weightlifting journal that lets you jot down sets of exercises as you work out, along with weight and reps.

Why it's great: Keeping track of reps, sets, and weights in your strength training sessions is one of the best ways to see your improvements in the gym. This simple app makes it easy to keep track of your progress, and as you log each exercise, the app charts your improvement over time to keep you motivated and proud of your accomplishments. (iOS, free)

Find new teammates with Bvddy (basically, Tinder for sports).

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What it is: Set up a profile on Bvddy to start playing sports with other active people you match with in your area.

Why it's great: Your Bvddy profile takes into account your location, skills, and the sports you like and suggests matches who have similar interests. Just like a dating app, once you've "swiped right" on each other you can coordinate a meet-up, whether it's a tennis match or starting a kickball league. You can also join other people's events or create your own for a group of people, like a hike or a soccer game. (iOS and Android, free)

Take a music-driven fitness class for one with a pro trainer on Aaptiv.

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What it is: Aaptiv offers audio classes taught by trainers and perfectly matched to the best workout music.

Why it's great: During Aaptiv's on-demand audio classes, the voice of a trainer guides you through a fitness studio-style session. And with over 2,500 workouts to choose from (and more than 30 new ones added each week), there's no shortage in options, including cycling, yoga, strength training, stretching, elliptical workouts, and more. And for runners, the membership also comes with full marathon, half marathon, 10K, and 5K training programs. (iOS and Android, $15/month)

Keep track of your interval and circuit workouts with the Seconds timer.

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What it is: The Seconds Interval Timer app times your high-intensity and low-intensity intervals during HIIT workouts.

Why it's great: High-intensity interval training is effective for improving your cardiovascular health, and this app makes it easy to get in on the benefits. The app can also keep track of your circuits, so if you're doing, say, 20 seconds of push-ups and then 40 seconds of squat jumps, it'll let you know when to switch, so the only thing you have to think about is working hard during every rep. (iOS and Android, free)

Record your training sessions and connect with fellow runners and cyclists with Strava.

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What it is: Great for beginners and seasoned pros alike, Strava is a favorite of runners and cyclists to track their training and connect with other users.

Why it's great: The Strava app records distance, speed, routes, and pace, so your stats are always a touch away. It also has a social aspect, so you can compare and share your workouts with fellow road warriors for a little motivation-meets-healthy-competition. Plus, if you're a distance athlete, you can also share your location with other people with the Strava Summit Safety Pack ($3/month) for an added security measure. (iOS and Android, free)

Use Sworkit to follow a guided workout plan and get in-app access to personal trainers.

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What it is: Sworkit gives users custom no-equipment training plans, complete with guided videos for each workout.

Why it's great: Sworkit tailors straightforward, effective workout plans to three different fitness goals (whether you're looking to be leaner, fitter, or stronger). There are plans for beginners, intermediate, and advanced exercisers, and users can also connect with personal trainers to ask questions and get expert advice. The best part? There's no equipment required in their plans, so workouts ranging from five to 60 minutes long can be done right at home or on the road. (iOS and Android, $29.99/quarter)

Get your flow on at home with YogaGlo.

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What it is: The YogaGlo app offers yoga classes and guided meditations that you can do anytime, anywhere.

Why it's great: There are more than 3,800 (!!!) yoga workouts on the app, so you'll never run out of options. Whether you're in the mood for a long, heart-pumping sweat session or a quick, relaxing flow, there's an option for every mood and experience level. The subscription-based app also offers guided meditation classes when you feel like keeping your mind and body still. (iOS and Android, $18/month)

Make working out a habit with Today, which uses a "don't break the chain" approach to keep you motivated.

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What it is: The Today app keeps your fitness habits on track by allowing you to create a "streak calendar" for your workouts, or any other goals you're working on (like getting more sleep or drinking enough water).

Why it's great: By marking off your workouts (and planned rest days), you'll have a visual representation of your fitness habits. It's so satisfying to see the little green boxes add up as you build consistency, and it also reminds you of your longest streak so you can stay encouraged to beat it. The app also rewards with you with badges for keeping up the good work. Other habit-supporting features include Apple Health Charts for iPhone users (so you can see your daily steps), to-do lists, charts, a journal, photo galleries, and more. You can build your dashboard with the features that work best for you. (iOS and Android, free)

HIIT it hard with the short, high-intensity workouts on Keelo.

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What it is: Keelo keeps it simple with pre-programmed HIIT workouts under 20 minutes so you can get in, get sweaty, and get out.

Why it's great: High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a great way to get more done in less time, and Keelo makes it easy to get started. There's no need to keep track of your work and rest intervals or which exercise comes next—all you need to do is concentrate on working hard and the app does the rest. You can also reach out to a coaching team via email for advice and recommendations. The best part? There's no routine longer than 20 minutes. (iOS and Android, free)

Stay accountable and encouraged by getting involved in the PumpUp fitness community.

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What it is: PumpUp is a health-minded social network is great for connecting and building community with other people who are working toward fitness goals.

Why it's great: If you're not quite comfortable sharing your workouts and achievements with all of your Facebook friends or Instagram followers, PumpUp is the perfect place to post a gym selfie, share an accomplishment you're proud of, or just seek some encouragement and inspiration from fellow users. (iOS and Android, free)

Petal Set To Flourish With $34 Million Funding As US FinTech Finally Blossoms

US FinTech company Petal, a 'new kind of credit card company built to help people financially succeed' has today raised $34 million in new funding from global investment bank Jefferies and Silicon Valley Bank.

This funding will support the public roll-out of the Petal Visa credit card that launched today.

The company also said that 100,000 people who had already joined a waiting list in 2018, who will (obviously) be the first holders of the card. This sounds like a big deal for US FinTech startups, currently struggling to keep up with those in Europe.

There are a number of reasons why. US tech behemoths such as Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Google tend to discourage new opposition. Their ongoing forays into real-time payment apps and mobile banking services are frightening in their possible scope.

It’s not only that. Europe has especially benefited from legislation for the customer.

When authorized by the customer, the Payment Services Directive 2 (PSD2) enables the sharing of user (banking) data with other parties and here’s also the controversial General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that allows EU citizens to control their personal data; both initiatives mean a more transparent environment for consumers, banks and FinTech startups alike.

No surprise then that European FinTechs such as Monzo, Revolut, Transferwise, iZettle, Curve and many others have soared ahead in customer acquisition.

Now it may be time for the US FinTech revolution to finally accelerate with Petal, a credit card company that has recruited a team from the likes of  Google, Amazon, Square, WeWork, CitiBank, Capital One, American Express and Chase.

Petal may finally be the US FinTech product that hits critical mass.PETAL

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Petal says its product has been ‘established to help people build credit, not debt, by providing a credit card with no fees no financial traps and no prior experience with credit required’.

That doesn’t sound particularly revolutionary when compared to the European companies previously cited, but in an American banking culture with ten millions of Americans without a credit score, it could be a very big deal.

According to Business Insider, bad credit can cost as much as $250,000 over the course of an American’s lifetime in fees, interest and other charges. At the same time, the credit card industry rakes in $50 billion in fees each year.

Petal is a Visa credit card with high limits and low rates that people can qualify for even if a potential customer has never used credit before. The company sees the money its clients make and the bills they already pay to see if they qualify instantly.

Its ‘radically simplified’ user interface and mobile app makes it easy to manage money, track spending and build credit without thinking about it.

Speaking from London, Sarah Kocianski, Principal Research Analyst, 11:FS Research and Benchmarking thinks Petal has great ambition, but will need to focus on user behavior to become a success. 11:FS was listed in this week's LinkedIn Top Startups 2018, so her words have gravity.

Petal's ambition to provide simple and transparent credit products to those unserved by existing credit card providers is admirable.

That said, its success will depend on providing quality education for its customers around how to build healthy financial behaviours and support to help them achieve that end.

While Petal's strategy to bring America's 'uncredited' citizens may sound very familiar to the increasing numbers of people signing up for European FinTech, the potential growth of Petal in its American garden may be a game-changer.

Time will tell if it blooms or wilts, but $34 million is a decent round of funding to start planting.

I have 15 years' experience in the mobile, web and digital sectors. I write for The Economist, MIT Tech Review, Mashable, TechCrunch and Wired UK, and I have a weekly column for UK broadsheet The Telegraph. I speak on the BBC World Service and am a sought-after speaker aroun...

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Let's carry on the conversation over at my Google News-verified blog Mob76 Outlook or on Twitter - @montymunford

Petal Raises $34 Million, Publicly Launches Credit Card

Mobile-first credit card company Petal has raised $34 million in credit. The round was led by Jefferies and Silicon Valley Bank.

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This is Petal’s third funding round. Most recently, the company raised $13 million in January 2018. Previous investors in the company include Valar VenturesGreat Oaks Venture CapitalRiverPark Ventures and others. The round brings Petal’s total known funding to about $50 million, according to the company.

Founded in 2016, Petal aims to make financial services more accessible. Petal co-founder and CEO Jason Gross told Crunchbase News a close friend who had moved to the U.S. was unable to achieve basic financial goals— qualifying for a credit card, securing a lease, and getting a cell phone plan—due to his lack of a credit history in the U.S. His friend’s experience motivated Gross to start Petal.

“One of the major financial regulators also started to publish research about access to credit,” Gross explained. “They found that a tremendous number of people in the United States are excluded from the credit system […] because they haven’t yet had the opportunity to build credit.”

With that in mind, the mobile-first startup offers a no-fee credit card. Its approval process differs significantly from other providers, not taking into consideration a lack of past credit history. While the company doesn’t discount an applicant because of a lack of credit, credit history does carry weight in the process.

“We want to approve as many people as possible, but today we’re really built more for people that are new to credit and just establishing credit,” Gross said. “Chances are much higher that you will be approved if you haven’t had missed payments or bankruptcy.”

More From Crunchbase News:  Chinese Online Pharma Startup 111's IPO Slips After Disappointing Pricing

According to the company, its annual percentage rate is up to 50 percent lower than other entry-level credit cards, and Gross told Crunchbase News that the average credit limit for approved individuals is 10 times higher than that of bigger banks.

In addition to its credit card service, the mobile Petal platform gives its card holders insights into their payment history and habits. For example, the company sends individuals reminders and helps them assess how much interest will be paid based on the payment plan the individual has set in place.

The company, which was previously in beta, is officially launching the card publicly today. Gross told Crunchbase News that during its beta 100,000 individuals signed up to be notified of the launch. Gross also said that while debit and banking is an important aspect of financial services, Petal will be focused on credit for the foreseeable future.

“While 9 percent of the U.S. population doesn’t have a bank account, more than 50 percent of the US population has limited access to credit because they have a low or no credit score,” Gross explained. “And that’s the problem that we’re focused on solving today.”

With the round, Petal plans to increase its headcount from 50 to over 100 within the next year. It is focused on acquiring customers, launching its Android app, and building out features, including a rewards program, in the future.

iStock Photo / vladwel

Editorial Update: A previous version of this article stated the funding was Series B. It has since been updated.

This NYC Startup Just Raised $3.87M to Give Denied Credit Applicants a Second Chance

For someone whose credit score is off a few points from a financial institution’s qualifying score has few options: they are either outright denied a loan or end up with an expensive financial product. But that’s changing with Bloom Credit, the financial wellness platform that provides denied applicants with a data-driven credit-building roadmap to help improve their financial health. This system analyzes credit reports to determine the cause of poor credit and it then provides a specific solution to improve customers’ scores. Customers normally become eligible for a loan within six months of using Bloom Credit.

AlleyWatch spoke with CEO and cofounder Matt Harris about the company and the process of raising capital to innovate the credit industry.

Who were your investors and how much did you raise?

Bloom Credit has raised a total of $3.87M in seed investment. Resolute Ventures led the latest investment with participation from Kindred Venturesand Slow Ventures. Earlier investors include 500 Startups through their Fintech Fund.

Tell us about the product or service that Bloom Credit offers.

Bloom Credit is a financial wellness platform that helps consumers and lenders build a healthy credit relationship.

Bloom Credit works with financial institutions to nurture consumers who are denied a loan. Our platform provides denied applicants with a data-driven credit-building roadmap to help them improve their financial health and become serviceable for the loan they requested. Most consumers typically become eligible within six months and increase their credit scores 17 points on average.

What inspired you to start Bloom Credit?

I was working on the marketing team at an NYC startup focused on student lending. Every month we would have to decline hundreds of applicants because of the underwriting standards of the 300+ lenders with whom we worked.

I learned that financial institutions do not have a good solution for helping the applicants they turn away to become future customers.

Someone who is five or ten points off from qualifying today will receive an adverse action letter but no guidance as to how to improve their credit health. They end up with an expensive financial product or not getting financing at all. We’re helping consumers take positive actions to get them back in a lender’s portfolio and get the loan they need.

We show our lenders that when given the right cues, more than 30 percent of consumers on the Bloom Credit platform improve their credit score by 10 points or more, with 9 percent improving by over 40 points or more. If many of today’s lenders originated a loan to just 1 percent of their declines they’d see a 10-point bump in origination volume, which is huge.

While your offering focuses on helping consumer before they get a loan, what sort of thought is given to ensuring that these consumers are paying their loans once they are issued?

If I’m a lender and I’m looking to grow I should have an interest in maintaining and growing the health of all consumers, not just the ones with elite credit scores. This is about more than financial literacy; it’s about showing consumers that you’re aligned in your purpose to help them get a loan that meets their needs—that they actually qualify for and can repay.

The platform itself is positively selecting towards people who are attempting to take control of their financial lives and get on the right track. The thing that often prevents them from doing so is lacking the tools to understand how to manage their credit situation. We’re not so focused on selling the consumer more products, as much as we are helping them stay on track of their existing ones to ensure they keep improving their score and remain in a credit viable position. Lenders will begin to care more about this as CECL compliance comes down the pipeline in December of 2019. For us, we see that these consumers are far more likely to keep repaying, and we care to enable these consumers because without their success everyone loses.

To me, the lending scene is currently overly dominated by lead-gen companies that advertise loans to consumers when they’re most vulnerable vs. most ready and credit fit. They don’t care so much about getting you the best loan in the context of your life, just that they can sell you any product at all. This approach often creates a negative relationship dynamic between consumers and financial providers.

It costs consumers thousands of dollars in interest and contributes to our nation’s personal debt problem. It does nothing to improve the health of the consumer. It adds institutional risk to lenders. And it completely fails to leverage the best competencies and know-how of the mainstream financial industry.

To put this another way, think about how many loan offers you get in the mail today that have nothing to do with what you want, by lenders who pre-qualify you for sums you haven’t even requested, and with terms that seem arbitrary. What if someone just asked you what loan you wanted, how much you wanted to pay, and helped you get the right price. The Bloom Credit platform is designed to help consumers and lenders make the best loan matches in the context of their financial lives and possibilities.

How is Bloom Credit different?

The lending market is fixated on lead-gen-and-transfer tactics, blind offer engines, and so-called credit improvement programs, where the goal is to change or manipulate an existing credit report rather than improve the consumer’s financial habits.

Bloom Credit is focused on building the personal-credit and financial capacity of consumers. We help consumers take positive action and chart a course for financial wellness that lasts for a lifetime.

We are a financial wellness company that uses technology to facilitate financial inclusion. Our platform empowers consumers to be able to access the financing they need, while helping financial institutions better nurture, and ultimately serve, consumers in a responsible way and grow their business.

What market does Bloom Credit target and how big is it?

We like to say that we’re for every consumer. We also believe every consumer is inherently creditworthy. Everyone, at some point, will apply for a loan. And even super-prime and prime consumers will get declined or receive offers that miss the mark. But our platform is particularly acute for near-prime and subprime borrowers; one-third of Americans have subprime credit scores. We want to make an impact in this space and help more consumers build their credit health so they can participate in the best parts of the credit market like everyone else.

What’s your business model?

We license our API product for a fee. And when we graduate a declined applicant and send them back to the lender, we receive a ‘graduation fee’ — a portion of the closed loan balance of each originated loan. We also receive fees for product recommendations.

What was the funding process like?

Fundraising is a great opportunity to take a step back from your business and get feedback. Feedback is ultimately neutral, it’s up to us as entrepreneurs to interpret it and put it to use. This can be incredibly rewarding when approached from an empowered place.

I actually enjoyed most of it, because it gave me a good sense of how the market viewed our product as well as perspective on risks that I wasn’t seeing. I got to meet some incredibly brilliant people throughout the process, which I am grateful for. I was willing to lean into what it was and accept that not everyone was going to say yes.

I actually enjoyed most of it, because it gave me a good sense of how the market viewed our product as well as perspective on risks that I wasn’t seeing. I got to meet some incredibly brilliant people throughout the process, which I am grateful for. I was willing to lean into what it was and accept that not everyone was going to say yes.

What are the biggest challenges that you faced while raising capital?

Ultimately, entrepreneurs get to treat this like a job interview for their prospective investors. You’re trying to find the right match, more so than just fill out a number in your round. If you can’t work with someone for the next five years, don’t take their money. However, this is way easier said than done and likely the biggest challenge for any entrepreneur is to make this decision as they feel the pressure of needing to raise funds.

What factors about your business led your investors to write the check?

I think it was the combination of team, technology and demonstrated market opportunity. We’re going after a market that has been neglected up to now, at a time when financial institutions need to find new ways to grow, and we’re doing it in a data-driven way that empowers and serves consumers.

We also bring some incredible perspective most investors aren’t used to. We’ve worked on both the debt and “sweat” side of the marketplace lending businesses, so we understand the business model better than most. This gives us a ton of advantages through information arbitrage in the space.

What are the milestones you plan to achieve in the next six months?

We want to really innovate on the technology side to give consumers personalized information and options that will help them achieve all their goals, not just the one in front of them today. We want to put them on a journey to empowerment. There has been a lot of innovation like this in the investment management space with companies like Betterment, Acorns and Personal Capital. But it still does not exist on the lending and credit side.

We want to really innovate on the technology side to give consumers personalized information and options that will help them achieve all their goals, not just the one in front of them today. We want to put them on a journey to empowerment. There has been a lot of innovation like this in the investment management space with companies like Betterment, Acorns and Personal Capital. But it still does not exist on the lending and credit side.

So, for example, when a consumer tells us they want to buy a house, we can say, “O.K., based on your profile you want this type of mortgage, and here’s exactly how to get there, and here’s how you’re going to lower your debt to achieve this goal.”

What advice can you offer companies in New York that do not have a fresh

injection of capital in the bank?
Companies often focus a lot on the idea of getting money in the bank vs. what enables that capital to come through. When you look at most major successful companies, they start out with a hypothesis and a test that proves or disproves that hypothesis.

Facebook, Uber, and AirBnB all did these types of unscalable tests in order to prove they were businesses that could scale. If you’re looking to raise money, the first step isn’t to speak with investors. The first step is to prove your hypothesis to be true with real evidence. Once you’ve done this, raising money becomes far simpler.

Where do you see the company going now over the near term?

We’re going to build out the API technology further to make it really easy for companies to enable credit decisions now and into the future.

This is prevalent throughout the fintech world with budgeting, savings and investment management but the same type of planning and advice has yet to really breakthrough in the credit space, where a lot of the decisions can have much longer and more serious long-term ramifications. We intend to be sure we enable as many people as possible to be empowered and make good decisions when thinking about their credit picture.

What’s your favorite restaurant in the city?

Ho Foods in the East Village is great. Highly recommend everyone check it out.

How in-car tech will give new meaning to 'mobile commerce'

U.S. drivers are responsible for $212 billion of spending during their commutes, but carmakers have to overcome skepticism from consumers and advertisers about connected cars.

 

In-car commerce technology that lets people pay for gas, order food and see promotional offers from brands and retailers on the digital dashboards of connected vehicles is giving new meaning to the term "mobile commerce."

U.S. consumers spend a lot of time behind the wheel commuting to work, running errands or taking road trips to vacation spots, and interactive platforms increasingly will help them make the most of their travels. Americans are spending more time than ever before in their cars, with the average commute time increasing 20% since 1980, when the U.S. Census Bureau began asking people about their driving habits.

About 135 million people, or 54% of the U.S. adult population, rely on a car to get to work, and they typically spending 15 to 30 minutes each way, according to a study this year from Visa and Pymnts.com.

Those drivers are responsible for $212 billion of spending during their commutes, including $59.6 billion on gasoline. Nearly three quarters of all commuters surveyed, and 82% of millennials with long commutes, said they would shop more if the ability to shop and pay were integrated into their car, they survey of 2,000 people found.

Marketers are taking notice of the opportunities for in-car commerce as U.S. sales of connected vehicles are forecast to grow to 12.7 million a year, or 76% of new cars, by 2024 from 7.6 million two years ago, according to IHS Markit forecasts. The world's biggest automakers, such as General Motors, Ford, Toyota and Volkswagen, have developed connected-car systems with varying capabilities ranging from on-demand music streaming to automatic payments at gas stations. Retailers like Starbucks, TGI Fridays, Applebee's, Dunkin' Donuts and Wingstop are exploring how their customers are using these systems. 

"It is important that the in-car payment solution is a seamless experience that the consumer wants to adopt," Olabisi Boyle, senior director of IoT, global connected car at Visa, said by email. "To aid in creating that 'adoptable' consumer experience, we are looking at the various driver personas, as vehicles today are used for different purposes — family car, ride sharing, weekend adventures, ride-hailing and more."

One of the biggest concerns among marketers is whether enough consumers have adopted in-car commerce technology, making the digital dashboard a worthwhile marketing platform that meets or exceeds their experiences with a smartphone.  

"We're keeping our eye on it [in-car commerce]," Mike Balducci, vice president of strategy at marketing firm Valassis Digital, said in an interview with Mobile Marketer. "It's still in the early stages, and it's a chicken-or-the-egg problem of whether there are enough users or enough content to make it interesting for brands. That makes it challenging to get off the ground."

He said carmakers have contacted his company about distributing promotions and offers for its clientele of advertisers.

Faces of Entrepreneurship: Mimi Chan, Founder & CEO of Littlefund

Mimi Chan is the founder & CEO of Littlefund , a new, more intentional way for family and friends to gift savings to a fund dedicated to a child's future goals and dreams. For instance, instead of gifting clothing that's outgrown or toys that will be donated, family and friends can choose to gift a monetary amount that grows at 1% APY in compounding cash rewards. Chan took a moment to update the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center  on her journey as a founder so far.

What does "entrepreneurship" mean to you?

MC:  Entrepreneurship means dreaming, creating, building, and sacrificing for change. I believe if you choose entrepreneurship, you are choosing to take on a mission to bring the world what you believe is missing and then, ultimately, improving the lives of others.

Could you describe the a-ha moment to lead to Littlefund?

MC:  I was inspired to start Littlefund after becoming a parent to our daughter Liv. Though I appreciated the material gifts received from family and friends for her, I felt guilty. Most went unused or donated. I wanted to find a way to better align a person's support with a child's needs and desires. As I spoke with family and friends about this problem, I realized our generation's values had changed there had been a shift away from hyper consumerism yet no simple and clear alternative to material gifting existed. This took me on the mission to reimagine gifting.

The aha moment came twice, when I had the idea, and then after we launched. So as you can imagine, there was a long time in between filled with insecurity, self-doubt, paranoia, and just pure hard work. Launching the product to the world made this journey more real because it became real to others. We've received positive feedback from the market which gives us promising signals we're on to something.

What is the biggest experience or lesson gained on your journey so far?

MC:  My resilience has been tested over and over. More than I knew it was capable of being tested.

It was during Demo Day for 500 Startups preparation that I realized my ability to maintain composure or quickly rebound from adversity would be the secret to fulfilling the Littlefund mission. Our beloved nanny had to leave without notice after she was unexpectedly diagnosed with stage 3 lung cancer. Within a matter of minutes, our child care and support system were gone. Finding last minute, trusting care, was a whole new level of stress for both my husband and I - he was in the midst of a fundraising round for his own startup and we had no family nearby to help. I had so many emotions to sort through but didn't have the adequate time to sort because I was focused on finding a solution. In the end, I survived, we survived, and our nanny was able to get the treatment she needed to survive.

I expected building a tech startup was going to be a tough journey, but I never fathomed the physical toll it would take on me. This time around felt different from the past. I'm older and wiser. I'm in constant recovery, reset, and go mode. The only way I can describe it to others is to call it an emotional rollercoaster without a clear end. When funding didn't go the way we hoped, hires didn't pan out, or the product didn't behave the way we wanted it to, I had to figure out how to forge on and rally the team quickly to keep moving forward. Entrepreneurs make sacrifices, some of which you are cognizant of, and others you only realize you've made in hindsight.

How is your company changing the landscape?

MC:  Littlefund is going against the grain but we're confident that the timing is right for a company like ours to exist so we believe we won't be against the grain in the long term. There was a time when paying to sleep on someone's couch "would never work" or "getting in stranger's car is crazy" left people wide-eyed. There's a white space and families are underserved in the financial landscape. Littlefund's mission is to inspire people to invest in a child's future, one gift at a time.

What do you wish you knew when you started?

MC:  I've learned through my entrepreneurship journey to have more confidence in my intuition. In retrospect, my gut knew the best decision for me, team, and product. Especially when it came to consumer messaging- telling an authentic story that resonates. Not telling the story that investors are guessing consumers want. That's the other thing I want to share- to not place so much confidence in investors, it's okay if they disagree with you because no one knows what you're vision is better than you do.

What is your professional and personal mission statement?

MC:  When I was younger, I was struck by this beautiful quote from Eleanor Roosevelt and I've kept it as a reminder to not be afraid to dream big and go for it: "The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams." The second thing I keep with me is something an advisor told me when things got really tough in my last startup, "Startups are like football. You play until the game is over. Don't lose hope or quit before the clock runs out. Hail Marys are possible."

What advice do you have for fellow entrepreneurs about building and leading teams?

MC:   When you start, all you have is you and your idea so that's why I make sure that what I am doing is something I believe wholeheartedly in. It's true when people say it won't feel like work if you are choosing a problem you are passionate about solving. When working with others, invest in communication. Just as in a personal relationship, it's the foundation to everything else. It's what holds you accountable to the company's goals, team and vice versa.

Where do you find inspiration when faced with challenges?

MC:  My husband and daughter. None of this would be possible without their constant support. They also play an important role in my productivity. Some people work out to reset. I spend time with my family and let my mind not be on work.

What does "success" look like for you? What do you think will help you achieve it?

MC:  Success is a state of mind. I know that I am already successful in different areas of my life. I am a mother- a title that I am proud to serve. I am a wife to an incredible husband and teammate in life. I have wonderful family and friends. Professional life- I am proud to spend time on work that is of service to others. My ultimate goal is to leave a legacy with Littlefund as a company that gets to start every child's life journey and set the next generation's path to success. For me to achieve this, it will take personal discipline and diligence to get there but also a community of the smartest families rallying together for this future we envision.

Could you give some examples of the biggest highs and lows that are part of the founder's journey?

MC:   Proudest - launch day. Darkest - everything before launch and after launch. Highs are when people are showering you with congrats and love. Lows are when you constantly live in fear of running out of money or that you don't achieve product market fit.

Many entrepreneurs continue to perfect their daily routines to support their work and greater vision; would you mind sharing your morning routine or a regular ritual that grounds your work each day?

MC:   It took me about a year to figure out my workflow and put into practice daily preparation and ruthless prioritization. I'm still not an expert at it and I admire those who are. I've made a conscious effort to set myself up to be success-oriented versus task-oriented. My most important decision at work every morning is how I will choose to spend my time. I spend a majority of it focused on the two things that I believe would provide the greatest value toward our overall success goals. Then the small things, I don't sweat. I had to learn what the small things were -t hey used to be clustered in with everything as a to-do list.

Has being a female entrepreneur helped or discouraged you in your context? What do you think would help women, entrepreneurs and  leaders, the most?

MC:   There are moments that are discouraging when the playing field is obviously not equal or fair, especially as a woman in Fintech, but I've learned to forge on. I surround myself with those that are supportive. I also look to my peer mentors to share stories and get their perspectives on situations. It's going to take time and major cultural shifts for women entrepreneurs to have the same opportunities and confidence, especially from investors, to do the same jobs. It's happening though, I see the wheels in motion. Discussions that bring awareness to the issues and advocates, both men and women, putting initiatives forward to focus and fund female entrepreneurs are especially important in making change happen.

Nasdaq's Education Foundation helped launch The Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center in the fall of 2015. Located in San Francisco, it has quickly become the go to destination for the next generation of risk takers and idea makers who take the plunge into entrepreneurship.

LiveLike will now let you watch sports with your Facebook friends in VR

LiveLike, the service that partners with sports broadcasters to create and host their VR viewing experiences, is going social.

As a refresher, LiveLike’s VR experience is a “virtual suite” overlooking the field, where you can select different camera angles, look around the suite, view pre-produced content, etc. We’ve looked at the experience before, and think it’s much more interactive than VR solutions that just provide viewers with a floating screen to watch the game.

And now you’ll be able to do this with friends. Starting with the CONCACAF Soccer Gold Cup next week, users in the Fox Sports VR App (made by LiveLike) will be able to watch with their friends.

Upon opening the app, users will be able to connect to Facebook and join a room with any of their Facebook friends who have also downloaded the app, or can select a random option where they are put in a room with three other viewers.

In the app you appear as an avatar (which is basic, but still slightly customizable) with your name above, and can turn and talk to your friends while watching the game. LiveLike explained that they’re using 3D audio, meaning your friend’s voice will get louder when you look at them and quieter when you turn back to the action, making the experience feel a little more real.

And to make it more accessible for everyone, you now don’t even need to have a headset to use the app. Users can still download the app on their phone or tablet and experience a slimmed-down version — basically they can scroll and pan around and see everything they’d see if they were actually in VR.

LiveLike is planning to put this social feature in every deployment they do going forward, but cautioned that there is a chance some partners may not want the feature in their broadcast. But outside of that, LiveLike sees these social features as the future of their platform.

Eventually the startup wants to build in community-focused functionality, like the ability to watch the game in a virtual room with other fans from your team. And this community aspect could convince fans to increase the time they spend in VR, which may help transform it from a novelty into an experience people actually prefer over traditional TV, especially if they are watching alone.

Here’s a video of what LiveLike’s experience looks like now (without the new social features).

Narrative simplifies the buying and selling of online data

We hear a lot about our online data being bought and sold by advertisers, but Narrative founder and CEO Nick Jordan said the actual process remains “incredibly cumbersome.”

And he should know, since he’s spent years in the adtech world, most recently as an executive at Tapad. Jordan explained that from the data buyer’s perspective, you have to go out and strike “one-off” deals with a long list of different providers — as he put it, “There’s no one-stop shop.” And if you’re looking to sell data, you’ve got to figure out how to package and price it.

“There’s a pent-up demand for folks looking to buy data, and a pent-up supply of people looking to sell data,” he said. “For the data economy to have less friction, we need to give tools to both the buyers and sellers to help them find each other easily and let them easily integrate with each other.”

That’s what Narrative is providing, with a marketplace where data buyers can browse different sellers and bid on their data, and where sellers can manage all of their transactions.

The startup is announcing that it has raised $2.25 million across two seed rounds of funding, with investors including XSeed Capital, Kiwi Ventures, C2 Ventures, Amobee’s Kim Reed Perell and Adelphic co-founder Jennifer Lum.

“Simply put, trading on all types of data and streamlining the pipes between demand and supply is way overdue and will solve tons of pain points for publishers and advertisers,” C2’s Chris Cunningham told me via email.

Jordan added that Narrative is different from a data management platform, which packages data in a way that’s usable by advertisers — though he said the potential confusion is “one of the challenges for Narrative as a business.” So the company is currently describing its approach as “data commercialization.”

He also argued that while Narrative’s initial focus has been on adtech, the platform could be useful far beyond that industry. For example, a commercial real estate firm working with a brick-and-mortar retailer could purchase data that helps them choose where to open their next business.

Of course, privacy advocates might not be quite as excited about a company that makes it easier to buy and sell data. However, Jordan said Narrative performs a “pretty thorough review” to make sure the businesses selling data are following applicable laws and best practices. And whereas a traditional transaction might involve “a number of opaque intermediaries,” Narrative creates a transparent connection between buyers and sellers, so “much more rigor can be put into privacy and compliance.”

5 reasons I’m invested in Embrace.io

A few weeks ago, I shared the news on my investment in Embrace.io and theirraise of $2.5 million from investors including Eniac Ventures, the Chernin Group, Techstars Ventures and BoxGroup.

After spending a year in stealth mode, listening to their market and building, Embrace.io launched with a clear mission: helping developers better understand how their apps are performing. Having lived the challenges of building, releasing and managing enterprise-scale apps from my days as CEO of appssavvy, I totally got this value proposition.

A large percentage of an app’s performance issues have nothing to do with crashes, though they tend to get treated that way. So, when something goes wrong, engineers are forced to crawl through the muck of issue discovery and diagnosis using a bunch of disconnected tools that weren’t even made for mobile. It’s a waste of time, a pain in the ass, and app teams hate it.

So, when I saw what Embrace.io has to offer (basically, a single tool to identify, visualize, diagnose and fix app performance problems), and the layer of detail they’re able to get to on the individual user level, I knew I was looking at a winner on the tech side. But what makes a company really worth investing in for me goes way beyond their tech. In the case of Embrace.io, here’s everything I saw that convinced me this one was going to be a winner:

Founders who’ve had success. Eric Futoran (cofounder of Scopely, which just raised another $60 million) is a winner, period. So are Eric’s cofounders,Maggie Shih and Fredric Newberg. As people who have built, taken to market and performance-managed some of the top grossing game apps of all time, including Walking Dead and Yahtzee, they’ve experienced first-hand the problems they’re trying to solve. Intimacy with a market’s pain, combined with the talent and partnerships to solve it, provides a superb launch pad for any startup.

The mobile app ecosystem is exploding. As of this writing, there’s more than 5 million apps between Apple’s App Store and Google Play, with maybe 2,500 per day being added. More apps, means more performance problems, which means more need for tools like Embrace that make apps easier to manage. In the same way that BlueKai used cookies to create better profiles, Mopub made monetization easier, mParticle solved for central data piping, and Unacast is aggregating and harmonizing location, Embrace.io is solving app performance for a growing and fragmented mobile marketplace.

Licensed products vs. ad businesses are refreshing. In my article on selling data, I talked about the tangible benefits of a licensed revenue arrangement as compared to always getting stuck on the likes of CMP models. Embrace.io gets a similar nod of approval for having a SaaS business that scales and provides revenue predictability. This the route we go at Unacast, and I’d encourage more founders to factor this type of ‘investor think’ into their own pitches and revenue models. It’s a real difference-maker.

Visibility (this is huge). For the first time, by using Embrace.io’s platform, app teams have the ability to see all the in-app data for a given user’s session, including network calls, memory, CPU usage, SDK interaction, clicks and screenshots. When there’s a problem, the engineer can dive-down into each user’s individual timeline, quickly diagnose an issue, and correlate it to a specific outcome (e.g. loss of an IAP, voluntary app closure, or an uninstall). Bridging that gap between a technical performance issue and a specific user experience, or business outcome, is a massive evolution for the apps business.

The power to change an industry. When apps can be more efficiently produced and managed, they will run better. When apps run better, user experiences improve. When user experiences improve, brands, advertisers and marketers will be able to create more compelling native engagements in those apps, improving monetization. When all this happens at-scale, we have a more efficient apps industry. Publishers are making better product (and have more time to focus on making cool stuff, rather than fixing broken stuff). Enabling techs and other businesses will rise up to bolster the industry and claim their piece of the pie.

Consumers will consume, companies will grow, mergers/acquisitions/exits will abound and we’ll be well on our way to the next big thing. Embrace.io is one of those rare companies that has the people, partners, vision and technical know-how to lead us there.

Chris Cunningham is Chief Revenue Officer of Unacast, founder of C2.Venturesand a Limited Partner with Bowery Capital and Techstars.

For $15 a day, Journy will serve as your personal concierge

You surprised your significant other with a weekend trip right after the holidays. 

Just the two of you in a beautiful boutique hotel, surrounded by glamorous shopping, a nearby ancient city filled with restaurants, and the sounds of a crackling fireplace to keep you warm. 

Except the hotel turns out to be riddled with termites and every restaurant you walk into is a tourist trap.

That all could have been avoided if you had access to an awesome travel concierge to tell you exactly what hotels, restaurants, activities and neighborhoods you should go to, and who would take care of all the bookings. You know, the type of concierge that caters to you if you have a luxury credit card or at least tons of time to talk on the phone to explain your preferences. 

Now, Journy aims to provide that same kind of service through an iOS app and website at a price point of $15 per day of your trip. 

SEE ALSO: RIP photo maps, the best part of Instagram that apparently no one else used

Co-founders Leiti Hsu and Susan Ho tell Mashable the idea for the business came when Susan took a last-minute trip to Buenos Aires. She spent most of her time figuring out how to find her way out of the tourist traps where she constantly found herself. 

Hsu says, "It was crazy how as an internet-savvy person who took the time to research and plan, she couldn’t find the local authentic experiences she was craving, and even still, why wasn’t there a solution that was trustworthy that didn’t cost thousands of dollars?"

IMAGE: FACEBOOK

Journy currently plans trips in over 50 worldwide cities, with Tokyo being the most popular international destination "by far." Each trip is planned by Journy's travel concierges. They communicate with the traveler after said traveler completes a short digital form detailing what the ideal trip should entail.  

The travel concierges are chosen by having a combination of travel knowledge, street smarts and "empathy towards the traveler"  (read: not booking a couple the honeymoon suite in a hotel best known for raucous spring break getaways). 

Many traditional travel agents don't charge the client on the front end for booking trips, whereas Journy does. However, Hsu says, "Millennials[...] prefer transparency — knowing that Journy makes its money on $15/day of travel and has your best interests in mind. We'll never partner with restaurants, activities and attractions because we always want to be agnostic—and these choices are so nuanced and personal." She emphasizes the combination of technology and personal attention to detail blends the best of traditional travel planning with new digital travel tools.

Hsu says the ideal Journy client is a millennial who, "will stay in a centrally located well-priced private room in a hostel and then be able to enjoy a quick walk to Noma and save up that cash for the tasting menu with full beverage pairing because: YOLO."

Here's how Mashable's experience with Journy went down. 

Cons:

No Droid app

If you have a Droid, you're out of luck and will have to use Journy's website. The site has a clear and simple interface, but it's not always as convenient as planning on the fly from your phone. 

No family option (not optimized for families with young kids or groups of more than five)

This isn't a downside for everyone, but it would be incredible to have this service geared towards planning a family vacation that doesn't include any cartoon mice or mandatory family therapy upon return. 

Additional charges add up if you change your mind

When you receive your original itinerary, you may send back as many changes as you like and the concierge will provide one round of edits for free. However, after that round of edits, there is an additional $15 charge for each full round of edits after that. If you totally want to redo a vacation day with a day trip to the countryside, that'll cost ya. If you don't like your experience, however, the company does offer a money-back guarantee on the website. Additionally, changing up a restaurant reservation here or there is free of charge.

Pros: 

Website is easy to use

This can't be overstated. The interface is clean, intuitive and simple. 

No shaming on what you like to do

You might be the type of person who loves historical walking tours and spending all day in antiquarian museums and bookshops. Or you might prefer to go shopping in fun boutiques punctuated by many bakery respites. Whatever your pleasure, Journy offers options to choose from like spas, tours and historical buildings. You don't have to feel judged if you care more about cannabis cafes than the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. 

Asked important questions about what you do or don't like about activities

Sure, you can look up great restaurants and cool exhibits on your own. But Journy asks you what you want to get out of those adventures. It tailors your itinerary to your personal preferences like outdoor dining, hole in the wall restaurants or even specific neighborhoods 

Obtained difficult reservations at prime times

This was the most exciting part of the itinerary. The travel concierge was able to nab a prime reservation at one of NYC's most lauded hot spots. Reservations at any time are notoriously difficult to obtain, and this wasn't a 4:30 p.m. dinner. This was a 7:15 p.m. over the holiday season dinner reservation. This reservation was worth the initial Journy fee in and of itself. 

IMAGE: FACEBOOK

Large range of areas and pricing

This isn't a service that caters exclusively to the uber-wealthy. There is a range of hotel prices, restaurant categories, and activities. Small, less pricey neighborhoods and even alternatives to traditional hotels are suggested if that's what the budget and travel interests suggest. 

Communicative concierge

The concierge we worked with was excellent. She was quick to answer questions and provide suggestions. She offered to book the hotel for us (if you book your hotel with Journy concierge, you sometimes get perks like late check-out or continental breakfast) but wasn't pushy when we said we preferred to book it personally. She sent gentle reminder emails about confirming plans and was tuned into the type of restaurants and activities we wanted. This is a concierge service you would expect from a high-level credit card. 

The Verdict

Journy is fun, functional and provides personalized trip concierge service to which you might not otherwise have access.  Though it's not perfect, it's a fun and very personal gift for a friend or family member who's planning a special trip. 

It's also an indulgent gift to yourself so you can spend your time getting your passport in order instead of praying the Yelp reviews for that amazing place aren't all shills. 

Now all you have to do is figure out a way to get the time off to actually take the vacation. 

BONUS: This pod-like mini yacht is just as luxurious as a superyacht — but cheaper

Volume 90%

TOPICS: APPSCULTUREIOS APP


JOURNY’S COMPREHENSIVE TRAVEL CONCIERGE SERVICE A TASTEMAKER-DRIVEN APP AND WEB PLATFORM THAT HANDLES JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING

It’s the balance between carefully-selected tastemaker recommendations and a distinct technological platform that separates Journy from the array of competitive travel services presently available. They also have a very uncommon and cost-efficient pricing platform (but more on that later). First, it’s necessary to mention that Journy doesn’t only recommend options when traveling, but also handles the reservations (from hotels to restaurants and activities). The technology makes it easy, but the locals they’ve partnered with for recommendations—top chefs, hoteliers and more—lend a personal touch that surpasses those of peer-generated options and keeps more fresh than lists from a singular expert.

“Typical concierge services can help you make arrangements and transact experiences that you already know you want to have,” co-founder Leiti Hsu explains to CH. “We take care of bookings and reservations but also specialize in helping you discover new things, like that light-filled cafe in Paris or that hidden courtyard in Barcelona,” she adds. Hsu and her co-founder Susan Ho have spent years hand-picking their local experts—and it’s a crop that continues grow across the 51 cities they’re already located within. Beyond chefs (and sommeliers), they’ve tapped into local fashion brands, photographers and many more. Their scope of a city is built upon broad cultural recommendations to strike at every need.

Back to their pricing model: it’s actually by the day. “We can deliver this highly personalized service starting at just $15 per day of your trip, effectively democratizing the traditional luxury travel agent model,” Hsu explains. “Modern travelers are discerning and busy, yet they reject opaque travel agent pricing with hidden booking fees in the hundreds, even thousands of dollars.” This is a far less expensive route to take than most services. It’s also time-saving; in essence cutting out time spent on Foursquare or Yelp, TripAdvisor and more—and the time required to organize all that information in an itinerary. Within the app, one can view their complete itinerary, as well as a map overlay.

“Our most requested city is Tokyo, by far,” Hsu notes. It’s double that of their second most requested: Paris. Tokyo makes a great case study for the offerings. “The language and culture are huge challenges, and we handle everything, from maps, directions and making reservations. We even have the ability to find you an amazing spot to do dinner when everywhere else is closed on New Years. There’s no more sitting in your hotel room and calling up 20 places.” Hsu herself, before launching Journy, was known as a culinary connector and has spent years traveling the world’s food scene—and collecting individuals of the same ilk. When that’s combined with the intuitive UI of Journy, and an experimental pricing system, it puts a lot at one’s fingertips.

Download Journy for free at the iOS app store, or explore their services further on their website.