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KZen raises $4 million to bring sanity to crypto wallets

KZen, a company run by former TC editor Ouriel Ohayon, has raised $4 million in seed to build a “better wallet,” obviously the elusive Holy Grail in the crypto world. Benson Oak Ventures, Samsung Next, Elron Ventures invested. Ohayon, who has worked at Internet Lab and founded TechCrunch France and Appsfire, wanted to create an easy-to-use crypto wallet that wouldn’t confound users. The company name is a play on the Japanese word kaizen or improvement and it also points to the idea of the zero-knowledge proof. Omer Shlomovits, Tal Be’ery, and Gary Benattar are deep crypto researchers and developers and helped build the wallet of Ohayon’s dreams. “We wanted something that did not feel like a pre-AOL experience, that was incredibly superior in terms of security, and simple to use,” he said. “We wanted a solution that brings peace of mind and that did not force the user into compromising between convenience and security which is, unfortunately, the current state of affairs. We quickly realized that this mission would not be possible to achieve with the same tools and ideas other companies tried to use so far.” The app is launching this month and is being kept under wraps until then. Ohayon is well aware that the world doesn’t need another crypto wallet but he’s convinced his solution is the best one. “The market does not lack solutions,” he said. “On the contrary, there are software wallets, hardware wallets, paper wallets, vaults, hosted custody. But there is no great solution. To be able to use a crypto wallet you either need a good dose of Xanax or a master’s degree in computer science or both, unless you want to depend on a central entity, which is even worse as the news are reminding us weekly.” We’ll see as they use the cash to launch a crypto wallet that anyone – not just Xanax-eaters – can use.

It’s the end of crypto as we know it and I feel fine

Watching the current price madness is scary. Bitcoin is falling and rising in $500 increments with regularity and Ethereum and its attendant ICOs are in a seeming freefall with a few “dead cat bounces” to keep things lively. What this signals is not that crypto is dead, however. It signals that the early, elated period of trading whose milestones including the launch of Coinbase and the growth of a vibrant (if often shady) professional ecosystem is over. Crypto still runs on hype. Gemini announcing a stablecoin, the World Economic Forum saying something hopeful, someone else saying something less hopeful – all of these things and more are helping define the current market. However, something else is happening behind the scenes that is far more important. As I’ve written before, the socialization and general acceptance of entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial pursuits is a very recent thing. In the old days – circa 2000 – building your own business was considered somehow sordid. Chancers who gave it a go were considered get-rich-quick schemers and worth of little more than derision. As the dot-com market exploded, however, building your own business wasn’t so wacky. But to do it required the imprimaturs and resources of major corporations – Microsoft, Sun, HP, Sybase, etc. – or a connection to academia – Google, Netscape, Yahoo, etc. You didn’t just quit school, buy a laptop, and start Snapchat. It took a full decade of steady change to make the revolutionary thought that school wasn’t so great and that money was available for all good ideas to take hold. And take hold it did. We owe the success of TechCrunch and Disrupt to that idea and I’ve always said that TC was career pornography for the cubicle dweller, a guilty pleasure for folks who knew there was something better out there and, with the right prodding, they knew they could achieve it. So in looking at the crypto markets currently we must look at the dot-com markets circa 1999. Massive infrastructure changes, some brought about by Y2K, had computerized nearly every industry. GenXers born in the late 70s and…

Microsoft acquires Lobe, a drag-and-drop AI tool

Microsoft today announced that is has acquired Lobe, a startup that lets you build machine learning models with the help of a simple drag-and-drop interface. Microsoft plans to use Lobe, which only launched into beta earlier this year, to build upon its own efforts to make building AI models easier, though, for the time being, Lobe will operate as before. “As part of Microsoft, Lobe will be able to leverage world-class AI research, global infrastructure, and decades of experience building developer tools,” the team writes. “We plan to continue developing Lobe as a standalone service, supporting open source standards and multiple platforms.” Lobe was co-founded by Mike Matas, who previously worked on the iPhone and iPad, as well as Facebook’s Paper and Instant Articles products. The other co-founders are Adam Menges and Markus Beissinger. In addition to Lobe, Microsoft also recently bought Bonsai.ai, a deep reinforcement learning platform, and Semantic Machines, a conversational AI platform. Last year, it acquired Disrupt Battlefield participant Maluuba. It’s no secret that machine learning talent is hard to come by, so it’s no surprise that all of the major tech firms are acquiring as much talent and technology as they can. “In many ways though, we’re only just beginning to tap into the full potential AI can provide,” Microsoft’s EVP and CTO Kevin Scott writes in today’s announcement. “This in large part is because AI development and building deep learning models are slow and complex processes even for experienced data scientists and developers. To date, many people have been at a disadvantage when it comes to accessing AI, and we’re committed to changing that.” It’s worth noting that Lobe’s approach complements Microsoft’s existing Azure ML Studio platform, which also offers a drag-and-drop interface for building machine learning models, though with a more utilitarian design than the slick interface that the Lobe team built. Both Lobe and Azure ML Studio aim to make machine learning easy to use for anybody, without having to know the ins and outs of TensorFlow, Keras or PyTorch. Those approaches always come with some limitations, but just like low-code tools, they…

Your Clients Increasingly Use Windows 10 as an Operating System and Chrome as Their Browser

Knowing the platforms your customer use can help your business better engage with them and also help you find new potential clients. The latest figures from NetMarketShare reveal Windows is still king when it comes to desktop operating systems and Chrome is the browser to beat. The lead Windows and Chrome have over their competition seems insurmountable at the moment. The numbers for August have Windows in 88.18% of the world’s systems, while Chrome has 65.21% of the market share. Small businesses can use this data to better engage with your customers, vendors, partners and even your employees. By using the platforms your potential clients prefer, you will increase the chances of engaging with them without having to worry about compatibility issues and meeting them where they work, shop and play. The Growth of Windows 10 Market Share With the introduction of Windows 10 and the upcoming end of support of Windows 7, Microsoft was looking to bring all of its users aboard the new operating system. However, things haven’t gone as planned because Windows 7 is still thriving around the world. By 2020, Windows 7 will no longer receive support from Microsoft, which means no security updates, making it extremely vulnerable to security breaches. But this still hasn’t encouraged some users to migrate to Windows 10. According to NetMarketShare, the number of Windows 7 users for August only went down by about one percentage point to 40.27% of all personal computers. When it comes to all of the computers running Windows, almost half or over 45% are still running Windows 7. Compare this to the operating system Microsoft is currently pushing. Windows 10 runs only 37.8% of all personal computers and just 42% of the computers running on Windows. But its popularity is slowly growing as more individuals and businesses migrate away from Windows 7. From May to July, Windows 10 has increased by almost three percentage points, but Microsoft needs to do better if it wants to get all of its Windows 7 users switched over by the time it ends support in 2020. By comparison, Microsoft’s competition…

Microsoft Ends Enrollment for Program Helping Small Businesses Finance Surface Plus

Almost a year to the date after Microsoft launched the Surface Plus Program, new enrollments officially ended on August 31, 2018. Although Microsoft has stopped accepting new applicants, those who are already enrolled can continue with their plans, including upgrading their device. The only reason the company has given to date is a brief explanation on the FAQ of its press page, “After much thought and consideration, Microsoft has decided to end new enrollment into the Surface Plus Program”. When the program was introduced in 2017, it gave small businesses and individuals who wanted to purchase the Surface devices an affordable option. The 24-month financing was ideal because it also allowed a trade in for a new Surface after 18 months. Under the program, people who purchased a Surface computer had the option of trading their old device for a new one after 18 months. If they wanted to continue making the payment for the entirety of the contract (24 months) they owned it outright. Students seemed to be the primary target customers for the program when it was launched as Microsoft looked to compete with the success of the Chromebook in the educational sector. However, small business owners seeking to get their hands on the device affordably certainly benefited as well.  Customers could purchase a new Surface Pro for $34 per month; Surface Laptops for $42 per month; and Surface Books for $63 per month — all for the 24 month period. The financing for the program was being managed by Klarna, a Stockholm-based online financial services provider. Engadget reported customers have been experiencing some problems with Klarna, but the site didn’t say whether this was the reason for ending the program by Microsoft. Surface Plus for Business Even though the Surface Plus program is now over, you can still get a Surface device financed for your small business. The Surface Plus for Business program is available with more options, including 18, 24, 30, and 36-month financing. You can get the Surface Pro, Surface Book 2 and Surface Studio financed and also be able to trade your old device…

Microsoft Will Require Suppliers – Including Some Small Businesses – to Provide Paid Parental Leave

The support for parental leave is gaining steam in the US, especially with millennials who seek a work/life balance in their lives. Building on a 2015 announcement, Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) says it will require more of its suppliers within the US to provide paid parental leave for their employees. Larger Microsoft Suppliers Must Offer Paid Parental Leave In 2015 Microsoft started this process by requiring its suppliers to provide a minimum of 15 days of paid leave each year. The directive applied to suppliers with 50 or more employees in the United States and was required for employees who had worked for more than nine months (1500 hours). According to Microsoft, the new directive will include many small businesses owned by women and minorities, which account for more than $2 billion of business in the US. Paying for parental or any other type of paid leave is a great recruiting tool for new employees and an important enticement for existing employees to stay with any organization. As the job market continues to tighten, these incentives will be even more significant. On the official Microsoft blog, Corporate Vice President and General Counsel Dev Stahlkopf explains why the company is expanding on the 2015 initiative. Stahlkopf says, “Paid time off is good both for employers and employees, and it was the right step for our business.” As it applies to parental leave he adds, “Studies show that paid parental leave enriches the lives of families.  Women who take paid maternity leave are more likely to be in the workforce a year later and earn more than mothers who do not receive paid time off. Employers who offer paid time off for new mothers experience improved productivity, higher morale, and lower turnover rates.” The New Requirements Microsoft says it is going to be working with its US suppliers over the next 12 months to implement the new expanded paid parental leave policy. Under the new policy, suppliers will be required to provide 12 weeks paid parental leave of up to $1,000 per week. The changes will apply to parents employed by Microsoft suppliers…

For Labor Day, work harder

Labor Day is a holiday that just doesn’t fit Silicon Valley. Its purported purpose is to celebrate working men and women and their — our — progress toward better working conditions and fairer workplaces. Yet, few regions in recent times have supposedly done more to “destroy” quality working conditions than the Valley, from the entire creation of the precarious 1099 economy to automation of labor itself. My colleague John Chen offered the received wisdom on this discrepancy this weekend, arguing that Valley entrepreneurs should take the traditional message of Labor Day to heart, encouraging them to create more equitable, fair, and secure workplaces not just for their own employees, but also for all the workers that power the platforms we create and operate every day. It’s a nice sentiment that I agree with, but I think he misses the mark. What Silicon Valley needs — now more than ever before — is to double down on the kind of ambitious, hard-charging, change-the-world labor that created our modern knowledge economy in the first place. We can’t and shouldn’t slow down. We need more technological progress, not less. We need more automation of labor, not less. And we need as much of this innovation to happen in the United States as possible. The tech industry may have become a dominant force by some metrics, but we are only just getting started. Entire industries like freight have little to no automation. Several billion people lack access to the internet, to say nothing of critical, basic infrastructure. Our drug pipeline is anemic, and costs for education, health care, construction, and government are continuing to skyrocket. In short, we have barely scratched the surface of what we can achieve with software, with hardware, with better business models and better automation. These aren’t table scraps, but trillions dollar opportunities lying in wait for entrepreneurs to seize them. And yet, we keep hearing persistent claims that overwork is a problem in the Valley. Discussions of work-life balance are practically de rigueur for startups these days, as are free meals and massages and unlimited vacation time. These demands…

Buying Software for Your Small Business? Read These 3 Tips Before Taking the Plunge

Do you find that your team projects and collaborations often feel like a game of Jenga, just one botched deadline or failed communication away from toppling over? Finding the proper tools to promote team productivity is an ongoing quest for countless small businesses – that’s why we’re here to set the stage for your success. For SMBs, organization is key. By a show of hands, how many people have an endless stream of tabs open in their browser window right now, packed like sardines? We rely on software for nearly every aspect of getting our work done, but all too often, these productivity tools can actually end up fragmenting our time. The future of work lies in streamlining our digital processes. By gathering as many programs, tools, and capabilities as possible in one place, we begin to eliminate the need for toggling between a dozen windows and programs at a time. In light of SignEasy’s recent collaboration with Microsoft Teams – which transforms the popular e-signature software into a fully-integrated app for Microsoft’s latest chat platform – we wanted to explore the many ways in which integrations mark a fundamental shift in the way SMBs are able to do business. Here are the top three things your small business should consider when shopping for company software, so you can join the productivity revolution with confidence. 1. The one-stop shop The quickest way to banish your growing collection of tabs is to have all the programs and functionalities you need under one roof. Add-on apps and extensions are quickly becoming a popular choice for businesses who want to use one central program or browser – one that they would be using on a daily basis already – as a hub for tons of other productivity tools. Take the nearly 50% of web surfers that use Google Chrome as an example. Thanks to Chrome extensions, people that favor this platform can turn their browser into a to-do list, a task manager, a productivity tracker, and much more, simply by installing a few integrated add-ons. Similarly, Microsoft Teams users can use the SignEasy…

Microsoft Details Windows Phone 8.1 Phase Out? Here’s What Small Business Users MUST Know

Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) has announced it will be ending support for Windows 8.1 and now it has done the same for new apps in the Microsoft Store. Microsoft first announced plans to end support for Windows Phone’s operating system back in July 2017 so users — including small businesses — have had some warning. The platforms in question are for Windows Phone 8.x or earlier or Windows 8/8.1 packages (XAP and APPX). The company has laid out three dates so app creators can better plan their development cycles. Microsoft says after those dates it will stop distributing app updates to devices with the aforementioned platforms. However, customers with Windows 10 devices will continue to get updates. The Death of Windows Phone According to NetMarketShare in July of 2018, the market share for Windows Phone was an infinitesimal 0.17%. When you compare Android’s 70.07% and iOS’s 28.66% share, Windows had a long way to go to make any noticeable difference in the market. This in part is what led Microsoft to create Windows Mobile 10. Microsoft introduced Windows 10 Mobile with the goal of bringing together the Windows family across different devices. Since the company has abandoned its smartphone aspirations with the sale of Nokia, moving to the software side of mobility looks to be a more realistic avenue in order to be part of the mobile ecosystem. The Dates that Mark the End of the Windows 8 App Store On October 31, 2018, new app submissions will no longer be accepted for Windows Phone 8.x or earlier or Windows 8/8.1 packages (XAP or APPX). It is important to note, this will not affect existing apps with packages targeting the above platforms. On July 1, 2019, the distribution of app updates to Windows Phone 8.x or earlier devices will stop. Updates to apps can still be published, but they will only be available to Windows 10 devices. On July 1, 2023, all app update distributions to Windows 8/8.1 devices will stop. Just as in the case of the previous dates, updates can be published for the apps but they will only…

Microsoft Surface Hub 2 Could Be Your Business’s Ultimate Collaboration Tool

The new Microsoft Surface Hub 2 clearly seeks to define itself as a collaboration tool. Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) aimed at businesses in need of such tools in its announcement unveiling the new device. So small business owners must now consider whether the functionality of the latest addition to the Surface series makes it a good investment. Microsoft Surface Hub 2 The best way to describe the Hub 2 is to call it a modular 4K+ 50.5” multi-touch display tablet smartphone hybrid you can put together with different configurations. The question remains whether small businesses can afford it — and whether better options may exist when it is finally available in 2019. For certain segments, the benefits the Hub 2 provides will definitely be worth the investment, because it resolves many of the complexities associated with collaborative and conferencing hardware, software and infrastructure. Resolving these complexities becomes essential as the way small businesses work continues to evolve. In a post on Microsoft’s official Windows Blogs announcing the Hub 2, Panos Panay, Chief Product Officer at Microsoft, points out just where this evolution is headed. Panay writes, “It’s not just that how we work is changing, it’s that where we work is changing too. The environment around us is shifting — towards open offices, huddle rooms, and team workspaces — in fact, in three years, half the global workforce will be mobile.” ? Who Will Benefit from the Surface Hub 2? The Surface Hub 2 provides a potential tool for any business seeking to bring its team together in the most efficient way possible by helping members collaborate with less effort. According to Microsoft, the new device was designed from the ground up to be used by teams. The 50.5″ display seems  suited for Microsoft Teams, Microsoft Whiteboard, Office 365 and Windows 10. With the addition of the 4K cameras, which rotate with the device, integrated speakers, and far-field mic arrays, entire teams can fully participate in the conferences and collaborations taking place. The Surface Hub 2 is also modular, so you can use a single device with rolling stands to take it…

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