el producto #109 👉 a weekly round-up of Tech and Product goodness

Google Assistant live translation, Slack files for IPO, Airbnb transportation, Ofo decline, Mental models in product design, Fortnite and TikTok growth cases ,…


Welcome to another week full of fresh ideas and innovation at el producto.

🎰 The week in figures

$7.3B - size of Chinese podcast market, x23 larger than the US one.

$2.7B - pre-valuation of Reddit, raising $150M to $300M Series D led by Tencent; the site now claims 150k subreddits and 330M MAU.

$2.4B - Scooter- and bike-share company Lime valuation after raising $310M Series D at $2.4B, led by A16Z, GV; Lime has doubled the number of US cities it serves since June: now claims 100 US markets and 27 international cities; offers scooter rentals within the Uber app; raised more than $800M to date.

$1.6B - spent by Amazon on M&A deals in 2018; the company spent ~$840M to acquire Ring and ~$750M for PillPack.

$1B - valuation of meditation app Calm (iOS, Android) after raising $88M Series B; claims 40M installations and 1M paying subscribers; quadrupled revenue in 2018.

500M - MAUs claimed by short-form music video app TikTok; the platform, owned by ByteDance, launched in China in 2016 then consolidated with video app Musical.ly and relaunched in August; since its relaunch, it’s increased its downloads by 25%, expanding its US audience by 30M.

$10M - raised by Product management system Productboard on Series B; the company’s valuation has tripled since its Series A in July 2018; cloud software links customer feedback, feature requests, and product roadmaps; raised $19.7M to date.


📰 What’s going on

Airbnb names Fred Reid as Global Head of Transportation; Reid previously served as CEO of Virgin America and president of Delta; Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky says the company sees an opportunity to improve the transportation experience.

Amazon proposes guidelines for the responsible use of facial recognition: should be used in accordance with laws, including civil rights laws; use by law enforcement should be transparent, and should require human review and a 99% confidence threshold; public use should require notice.

Skype introduces a background blurring feature for video calls; similar to a tool launched in Microsoft Teams last year, the setting detects the outline of a user, blurring everything outside of their shape; Skype notes the tool is experimental and it currently works with desktop Skype only.

Microsoft joins open-source software licensing organization OpenChain Project; other members include Google, Facebook, and GitHub (owned by Microsoft); the body works to bring more clarity to open source certification and licensing.

Apple updates iOS to address a Group FaceTime bug that allowed callers to see and hear a recipient before a call was accepted; the company disabled group calling server side last week after a teenager discovered and reported the problem; iOS 12.1.4 is now available.

A number of iOS apps capture users’ screen activity without having to get explicit permission; e.g. apps from Abercrombie & Fitch, Hotels.com, Singapore Airlines, use “session replay” tools from firm Glassbox, allowing the recording of user activity; some experts say the service may inadvertently be capturing private info.

Recently published Apple patent application from 2017 potentially reveals plans for HomePod features; among the proposed features: Face ID, 3D hand gesture support, LEDs that display information, and an emoji-based avatar.

German teen discovers macOS bug that enables malicious apps to extract keychain passwords without administrative access; Henze refuses to share relevant information with Apple, protesting the terms of the company’s bug bounty program, which pays out rewards for finding iOS bugs, but not for macOS bugs.

WhatsApp adds biometric security features for iOS devices; users can lock access using Face ID or Touch ID; available in the latest update.

Facebook Messenger introduces an unsend; lets users delete a chat from a conversation within 10 minutes of it being sent; replaces deleted messages with a notification that it has been scrubbed; live on iOS & Android.

Facebook is developing a dashboard to let enterprise users access Instagram Direct messages alongside Messenger conversations; the tool will be available within Facebook Pages Manager app on the web and mobile.

Facebook introduces a new employee bonus structure that is tied to its success in dealing with its 2019 priorities; Mark Zuckerberg outlined the program during an all-hands call, noting payments will be directly linked to tackling social issues. Previously bonus were based on factors like user growth, increased user sharing, and product quality.

Germany’s competition authority FCO tells Facebook it cannot combine user data across its services without first gaining express user consent; the company must also get permission to connect data from third-party apps and websites to a user’s Facebook account; the ruling only applies to users in Germany; Facebook says it will appeal the decision.

Instagram says it will introduce “sensitivity screens” in an effort to protect users from seeing images relating to self-harm; certain images will be blurred out, with users having to actively tap on a post to reveal it; Instagram is also blocking more graphic photos and hashtags; follows the death of a British girl who had seen such images on the platform.

Google Assistant rolls out Interpreter Mode (real-time language translation) to Google Home and other supported devices; currently supports 26 languages; previously available at select US hotels.

Google uses TensorFlow to improve Gmail spam filtering, allowing it to flag an additional 100M junk messages each day; the tech also offers better spam filter personalization; the company already claims to block 99.9% of spam, but Google product manager Neil Kumaran notes that last fraction is difficult to catch.

Google introduces Adiantum, a new encryption mode for devices without cryptographic acceleration hardware; uses the ChaCha stream cipher (usually applied to HTTPS encryption) and AES concepts to provide disk and file encryption that doesn’t slow performance on lower-end gadgets.

Google launches Password Checkup: a Chrome extension that monitors credentials used to log into websites and compares them to a list of 4B compromised credentials.

The New York City Police Department sends Google a cease-and-desist letter, demanding the company stop notifying Maps users of speed camera locations; the newly added feature comes from Waze, which Google acquired in 2013; also displays information on police checkpoints.

YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki says the number of channels with over 1M subscribers has more than doubled in the last year; the number of YouTubers earning 5–6 figures has increased by 40% over the same period.

Spotify ($26B market cap) acquires podcast network and producer Gimlet Media for $230M; also bought Anchor, which provides consumer tools for producing and distributing podcasts; terms undisclosed; Spotify expects to spend $500M on M&A this year.

Spotify updates its terms of service to specifically ban ad blockers; the company warns it may immediately terminate or suspend accounts who use such tools; the new rules go into effect on March 1.

Slack files confidentially to go public, reportedly via direct listing; Reuters reported in December the company had hired Goldman Sachs to underwrite, and that it sought a $10B valuation.

Waymo to partner with the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance to develop autonomous taxis and related services; the companies are reportedly in late-stage talks and plan to announce the deal as soon as spring.

Transport data startup DOVU partners with UK rail company Go-Ahead to test a blockchain-powered passenger rewards program; users can earn tokens by sharing travel information.

Hewlett-Packard works with partners including BMW, Nike, and BASF to explore 3D printing materials and techniques; the company, which reports robust global growth for 3D printing, says it’s focused on identifying automotive and healthcare applications.

Opera updates its browser for Android with a free VPN service; the company previously bundled a VPN with its desktop browser; an Android user can enable the no-log feature within Opera’s settings and choose a from a list of locations for a virtual IP address.

Richard Branson plans to fly to space via Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo on the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing: July 20; Branson said he expects the company will have completed enough testing by then; he expects Virgin Galactic will be ready to take clients to space by year’s end.

New emojis. The latest batch will include people with hearing aids, mechanical arms and legs, a waffle, a flamingo, and more.


đź’° Q4 financial results

Alphabet ($791B market cap) Q4 beats: $39.3B revenue, up 22% YoY; $8.9B profit.

Twitter ($23.45B market cap) Q4 beats: $909M revenue, up 24% YoY ($860M expected); 321M MAUs, down 2.7% YoY; the company says it will stop providing MAU numbers after the next quarter; forecasts Q1 revenues of $715M to $775M.

Snap ($9.1B market cap) Q4 beats: $390M revenue, up 36% YoY ($378M expected); $192M losses; 186M DAUs, same as the previous Q; forecasts Q1 revenue of $285M to $310M; shares up ~20% in after-hours trading.


📚 Something to think about

The Information profiles bike-sharing Ofo; each bike costs ~$100 and are meant to last up to 2 years, but many are broken within a couple of months; the company reportedly owes hundreds of millions of dollars to bike manufacturers; it has also cut its staff from 3.6k to just a few hundred.

An alternative to Blitzscaling. Tim O’Reilly challenges the unprofitable (and unsustainable) growth model followed by Uber and Lyft, defended by LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman on his book Blitzscaling

Leveraging mental models in product design. Miklos Philips explores the importance of mental models (a model based on beliefs of what users know -or think they know- about a system), and how to leverage familiarity.

Revising McKinsey’s 3-horizon model for innovation. The trap of the model is not recognizing that today many disruptions can be rapidly implemented by repurposing existing Horizon 1 technologies into new business models — and that speed of deployment is disruptive and asymmetric by itself.

Growth lessons by Fortnite. Forget about the cases of Airbnb or Dropbox growth, Epic Games’ title is the perfect example of full-cycle growth marketing.


🚀 Like el producto? Forward it to a friend.

el producto is a curated selection of Tech&Product happenings within the last few days from a curious and frequently skeptical Product Owner’s perspective. Free forever. Sign-up here.