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Running a queer dating startup amid a pandemic and racial justice uprising – TechCrunch

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The events of the past few months have shaken the lives of everyone, but especially Black people in the U.S. COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted members of the Black community while police violence has recently claimed the lives of George Floyd, Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks and others. 

Two weeks ago, two Black transgender women, Riah Milton and Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells were murdered. In light of their deaths, activists took to the streets to protest the violence Black trans women face. Two days after Floyd’s killing, McDade, a Black trans man was shot and killed by police in Tallahassee, Florida. 

In light of Pride month coinciding with one of the biggest racial justice movements of the century amid a pandemic, TechCrunch caught up with Robyn Exton, founder of queer dating app Her, to see how her company is navigating this unprecedented moment. 

Exton and I had a wide-ranging conversation including navigating COVID-19 as a dating startup, how sheltering in place has affected product development, shifting the focus of what is historically a month centered around LGBTQ people to include racial justice work and putting purpose back into Pride month.

“Pride exists because there is inequality within our world and within our community and still there is no clear focus on what it is we should be fighting for as a community,” Exton says. “It almost feels like since equal marriage was passed, there’s a range of topics but no clear voice saying this is what everyone should focus on right now. And then obviously everything changed after George Floyd’s murder. Over the course of the following weekend, we canceled pretty much everything that was going out that talked still about Pride as a celebration. Especially for Black people within our community, in that moment of so much trauma, it felt completely wrong to talk about Pride just in general.”

Worldwide, Pride events have been canceled as a result of the pandemic. But it gives people and corporations time to reflect on what kind of presence they want to have in next year’s Pride celebrations.

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Amazon takes a Prime step back into restaurant delivery in the US with new Grubhub investment and partnership – TechCrunch

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Amazon tried but then ultimately stepped away from building its own cost-intensive Grubhub and DoorDash competitor in the U.S. back in 2019. Now three years on, it’s taking a different approach to tackling the space to build in one more sweetener to encourage more sign-ups to its Prime subscription service. Today, the e-commerce giant and Just Eat Takeaway — which owns Grubhub in the U.S. — announced a partnership in which Amazon will offer free membership to Grubhub+ for one year to Prime members in the country.

Grubhub+, when it launched in 2020, was described as the “Amazon Prime of food delivery”: like other loyalty programs run by other delivery services, it’s a subscription service where members get free delivery on orders and potentially other bonuses. It’s normally charged at $9.99 per month.

The commercial terms of the agreement looks like it will give Amazon a stake in JET. Specifically, it will include a provision to renew the deal annually (just like a Prime subscription!), and that ” a subsidiary of Amazon will receive warrants (exercisable at a de minimis price) over 2% of Grubhub’s fully-diluted common equity.” It also notes that “Amazon will also receive warrants (exercisable at a formula-based price) over up to a further 13% of Grubhub’s fully-diluted common equity, the vesting of which is subject to the satisfaction of certain performance conditions, principally the number of new consumers delivered through the commercial agreement.” Those numbers will change, but as of December 31, JET said that the gross assets of Grubhub were €6,521 million ($6.7 billion, down from the $7.3 billion it paid in 2020) and the loss before tax for the 12 months ending in that period was €403 million.

Just Eat Takeaway — a massive food delivery conglomerate that includes both of those international brands, plus Grubhub in the U.S., among other interests — has been under some pressure in its U.S. business in recent times, where it competes against the likes of Uber Eats and Doordash and many other outfits in what its a highly competitive, and often low margin, space. In a trading update from April (its most recent figures) it noted that Q1 orders in North America were at 89.6 million, a decline of 5% over the same period a year ago (when pandemic buying lifted many delivery boats). Revenues on paper looked like they grew 3% but in constant currency also declined by 5%.

At the same time, the company has been reassessing its ownership of Grubhub. It hotly contested buying the operation back in 2020 for $7.3 billion, but by May of this year it was weighing options for the business. It confirmed today that this remains the case: “The Company, together with its advisors, continues to actively explore the partial or full sale of Grubhub,” it said in a statement.

JET (as its abbreviated) noted that the deal is expected to expand Grubhub+ membership, although it doesn’t disclose current membership numbers; and that it will have a “neutral impact” on Grubhub’s 2022 earnings and cash flow, with accretive impact from 2023 onwards.

This is not the first time the two companies have danced together. About a year ago, Amazon started offering Grubhub+ subscriptions free for a year to Amazon Prime Student members. It’s not clear how well that partnership has gone, although today’s news feels like an expansion of that, so chances are it’s been positive overall.

Sometimes those dances are not so harmonious, though. In the U.K., where Amazon pulled out of its original Restaurants service as it did in the U.S., it also stepped back into the restaurant delivery biz in a similar partnership, but this time with JET competitor Deliveroo, offering a free year of Deliveroo Plus to its Prime members in the country. Deliveroo Plus is — you guessed it — Deliveroo’s take on the membership subscription/free delivery model.

Amazon is a part-owner of Deliveroo. Given JET’s bigger picture of the state of its business in the U.S., and the fact that Amazon clearly still sees a lot of opportunity in building more strands for its delivery and subscription beast, it’s interesting to consider how and where these three companies will continue to compete, where they will cooperate, and possibly where they might potentially swap assets?

The deal today does certainly seem to point to at least some more ties in that regard.

“I am incredibly excited to announce this collaboration with Amazon that will help Grubhub continue to deliver on our long-standing mission to connect more diners with local restaurants,” said Adam DeWitt, CEO of Grubhub. “Amazon has redefined convenience with Prime and we’re confident this offering will expose many new diners to the value of Grubhub+ while driving more business to our restaurant partners and drivers.”

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Azota is solving exam headaches for Vietnam’s teachers – TechCrunch

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Creating and grading tests is one of the most time-consuming tasks teachers need to deal with. In Vietnam, a startup called Azota wants to help with an online software platform that not only helps educators develop and proctor tests, but also automatically grades them using information from Vietnamese teaching materials. The company announced today it has raised $2.4 million in pre-Series A funding led by GGV Capital, with participation from Nextrans and returning investor Do Ventures. 

Founded last year, Azota now counts 700,000 teachers and 10 million students in primary, secondary and high schools among its users. It says that during peak test periods, it serves over six million users each month, or about 30% of the total number of teachers and students in Vietnam. It claims it can cut down the grading process from two hours when done manually to just two minutes. 

Azota’s creation came amidst the pandemic in 2021. Before co-founding the startup, Au Nguyen, its CEO, worked for Viettel, one of the largest telecoms in Vietnam. He led an educational unit on school management solutions, but realized that educators had many pain points that his team could not solve. As a result, he decided to team up with his friends, Dai Nguyen and Hung Le, to create Azota. 

“As the team sees it, there are two major scopes of work for teachers: teaching and assigning and grading tests,” they told TechCrunch in an email. “During the COVID times, teaching had to go online, and there were numerous tools to support this change such as Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Team, etc. But when it comes to online assigning and grading, there were few tools available, which made the process very labor-intensive and time-consuming.” 

Azota built an optical character recognition app to automatically recognize Q&A’s from test images taken from teachers’ phones. It shuffles those questions and answers to create hundreds of modified test combinations. Since the OCR was built using Vietnamese teaching materials, the team said it can recognize Vietnamese tests with a 99% accuracy rate. 

Azota’s founders are also working on a more advanced question bank features that will allow teachers to pick and chose from its inventory to create exams from scratch. 

The startup is used by educators across the nation, with about 22% coming from the major cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, and the rest distributed equally among all provinces in Vietnam, they added. 

The team identifies two main groups of competitors. The first are big corporations that provide learning management software (LMS) to schools, but they say it’s still a fragmented market in Vietnam with different companies dominating different regions.

The second are startups that provide tools for teachers, but Azota’s founders say the teaching tool segment is still early and Azota differentiates by using a product-led growth model, solving teachers’ main challenges as they grow, especially for assigning and grading, instead of trying to address every issue that comes up. 

In a prepared statement, GGV Capital global managing partner Jixun Foo said, “Using technology to empower teachers to teach better, Azota makes great education accessible to millions of students. They can unleash the true potential of teachers to groom the next generation of Vietnamese youth.”

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Raising capital for robotics startups with Bee Partners and Rapid Robotics – TechCrunch

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Jordan Kretchmer founded Rapid Robotics with the mission of simplifying robotics for manufacturing by providing out-of-the-box automation solutions. Founded in 2019, the company quickly gained the attention of top VCs, including Bee Partners, which led Rapid Robotics’ seed round and participated in each of the following rounds. Hear Rapid Robotics’ pitch and hear from Kira Noodleman, partner at Bee Partners, to learn why robotic companies are quickly (and easily) gaining VC money.

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