Strava Acquires Fatmap, a 3D Mapping Platform For the Great Outdoors

Strava, the activity tracking and social community platform used by more than 100 million people globally, has acquired Fatmap, a European company that’s building a high-resolution 3D global map platform for the great outdoors. TechCrunch reports: Founded in 2009, Strava has emerged as one of the preeminent activity tracking services, proving particularly popular in the cycling and running fraternities which use the Strava app to plot routes, converse with fellow athletes, and record all their action for posterity via GPS. The company has increasingly been targeting hikers too, and last year it launched a new trail sports and routes option aimed at walkers, mountain bikers, and trail runners.

Fatmap, for its part, was founded a decade ago, with an initial focus on providing ski resorts with high-resolution digital maps. In the intervening years, the company has worked with various satellite and aerospace companies to bolster its platform with detailed maps incorporating summits, rivers, passes, paths, huts, and more, arming anyone venturing into mountainous terrain the information they need to know exactly what they’ll encounter before they arrive. With 1.6 million registered users, Fatmap’s mission, ultimately, is to be the Google Maps of the great outdoors, with a premium subscription ($30 / year) unlocking access to extra features such as downloadable maps and route planning in the mobile app.

The ultimate long-term goal for Strava is to integrate Fatmap’s core platform into Strava itself, but that will be a resource-intensive endeavor that won’t happen overnight. And that is why Strava is working to create a single sign-on (SSO) integration in the near-term, meaning that subscribers will be able to access the full Fatmap feature-set by logging into the Fatmap app with their Strava credentials. While Strava and Fatmap will remain separate products for now, Strava said that it will decide in the future whether Fatmap will live on as a standalone product once the technical integration has taken place. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. However, TechCrunch suggests the price of this deal “could comfortably be in the 9-digit range” given the $30 million Fatmap had raised in funding, “including a hitherto undisclosed $16.5 million round that it said it closed in early 2020.”

“It’s clear that the proprietary 3D mapping technology Fatmap had developed would have taken too much time and resources for Strava to replicate itself from scratch, which is why buying Fatmap outright likely made more sense in this instance,” the report added.

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Will Digital Signatures Replace Handwritten Ones?

The Toronto Star notes “the near-elimination of cursive from the school curriculum and a move to paperless commerce” over the past two decades. So where does that leave handwritten signatures?

Then the pandemic hit, and with it came an accelerated adoption of technology, including the electronic signature, which helped us through forcibly distant transactions. Overnight, companies like Docusign and Adobe became vital lifelines as people shifted to relying on e-signatures. Docusign, for example, went from 585,000 customers in 2020 to 1.1 million as of January 2022 and revenue over the same period grew from $974 million to $2.1 billion, according to the company’s most recent annual report. “We believe that once businesses have shifted to digital agreement processes, they will not return to manual ones,” noted Docusign.

So even as life has returned to a semblance of normal, the now near ubiquitous option to just tap an electronic device doesn’t bode well for the signature as we know it…. During the pandemic, jurisdictions round the world, including Ontario, amended legislation or relaxed rules around contract activity to mitigate the challenges social distancing posed….

Since 2006, the Ontario language curriculum lists cursive only as an option beginning in Grade 3. A plan by the Toronto Catholic District School Board in 2019 to reintroduce it as part of a pilot project was shuttered by the pandemic. And so you get stories of parents shocked to discover their child has to resort to block letters on a passport because they don’t know how to “sign” their name.

Digital signatures may be poised for even more growth. Market research firm P&S Intelligence estimates that just the U.S. digital signature market alone “stood at $921.3 million in 2021,” and “will propel at a mammoth compound annual growth rate of 31.2% in the years to come, reaching $10.6 billion by 2030.”

Of course, there’s always the question of whether or not handwritten signatures ever worked in the first place.

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JP Morgan Says Startup Founder Used Millions Of Fake Customers To Dupe It Into An Acquisition

JPMorgan Chase is suing the 30-year-old founder of Frank, a buzzy fintech startup it acquired for $175 million, for allegedly lying about its scale and success by creating an enormous list of fake users to entice the financial giant to buy it. Forbes: Frank, founded by former CEO Charlie Javice in 2016, offers software aimed at improving the student loan application process for young Americans seeking financial aid. Her lofty goals to build the startup into “an Amazon for higher education” won support from billionaire Marc Rowan, Frank’s lead investor according to Crunchbase, and prominent venture backers including Aleph, Chegg, Reach Capital, Gingerbread Capital and SWAT Equity Partners. The lawsuit, which was filed late last year in U.S. District Court in Delaware, claims that Javice pitched JP Morgan in 2021 on the “lie” that more than 4 million users had signed up to use Frank’s tools to apply for federal aid.

When JP Morgan asked for proof during due diligence, Javice allegedly created an enormous roster of “fake customers — a list of names, addresses, dates of birth, and other personal information for 4.265 million ‘students’ who did not actually exist.” In reality, according to the suit, Frank had fewer than 300,000 customer accounts at that time. […] Frank’s chief growth officer Olivier Amar is also named in the JP Morgan complaint. It alleges that Javice and Amar first asked a top engineer at Frank to create the fake customer list; when he refused, Javice approached “a data science professor at a New York City area college” to help. Using data from some individuals who’d already started using Frank, he created 4.265 million fake customer accounts — for which Javice paid him $18,000 — and had it validated by a third-party vendor at her direction, JP Morgan alleges. Amar, meanwhile, spent $105,000 buying a separate data set of 4.5 million students from the firm ASL Marketing, per the complaint.

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Salesforce Guts Tableau After Spending $15.7 Billion in 2019 Deal

Salesforce division Tableau was hit harder than other units in the company’s largest-ever round of jobs cuts this week, adding to a major reorganization that signals the $15.7 billion acquisition hasn’t lived up to expectations. Bloomberg reports: Chief Executive Officer Mark Nelson was ousted from the data analytics division in late December and more senior staff were axed Wednesday as part of Salesforce’s announcement that it would eliminate 10% of its workforce. Job reductions at Tableau were greater, proportionally, than the company at large thus far. After a half-decade of fast hiring and large acquisitions, Salesforce is trying to cut costs and better integrate the companies it has purchased. The software maker, which lost almost half of its value in 2022, has been pressured by investors to improve profit. The job cuts made public Wednesday — about 8,000 workers — are less than half of the number of employees hired in the pandemic and followed the announced exit in December of co-CEO Bret Taylor and the elimination of hundreds of sales positions in November.

Acquisitions fueled the company’s headcount growth. Tableau, then Salesforce’s most expensive deal when it was bought in 2019, came with 4,200 employees while Slack, purchased in 2021, and Mulesoft, acquired in 2018, together brought another 3,700, according to company filings. The three deals combined cost almost $50 billion with the estimated $27.7 billion for Slack leading the way. Workers across these acquired divisions were pummeled by the job reductions, particularly in recruiting and customer success roles, according to company employees. Tableau is increasingly being treated as a visualization tool for data contained in Salesforce’s other services rather than a standalone program — co-founder and CEO Marc Benioff highlighted the new integrations in a December keynote speech. The division has trailed the rest of the company in sales growth since the acquisition.

Salesforce also plans to pare back its office footprint. The company currently has four offices in the Seattle area, more than any other city, according to the company website. Three were inherited in the Tableau deal. Salesforce declined to comment on whether it would be reducing space in the Seattle area. Asked about the effect of Wednesday’s job cuts on Tableau, a Salesforce spokesperson said the unit “is a vital part of our product strategy.” Tableau contributes to a product that “processes over 100 billion customer records, and helps our customers understand and act on their data,” the spokesperson said.

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Fossil Fuel Power Fell Up To 68% as Blackouts Hit US South

Power plants that burn coal and natural gas to produce electricity had significant drops in generation as a winter storm hit the US Southeast, forcing blackouts that left hundreds of thousands in the dark. From a report: Duke Energy and the Tennessee Valley Authority cut power to homes and businesses during the holiday season as an extreme winter storm pummeled the region. Duke instituted rotating outages Dec. 24 that interrupted service to about 500,000 customers, while TVA for the first time in its history had rotating blackouts Dec. 23 and Dec. 24. The disruption was the latest instance of a major failure to generate electricity in the US following a storm or natural disaster, a trend that’s brought attention to the state of the nation’s energy infrastructure and its dependence on fossil fuels to keep the lights on even as the Biden administration advocates for a transition to renewable energy.

The failure of coal and gas highlights how even the power sources that have long served as the backbone of the US electrical grid can still falter, especially as the South sees its population increase and relies more on electric heat. TVA saw power generation from coal plants drop about 68% from more than 4 gigawatts early Dec. 23 to a low of about 1.5 gigawatts on Dec. 24, according to federal data. While gas generation increased Dec. 23, on Dec. 24 it fell roughly 25% from about 11.5 gigawatts to less than 9 gigawatts as the utility ordered outages for almost six hours. High winds damaged several of the protective structures at the Cumberland Fossil Plant, the biggest TVA coal plant, as well as multiple gas-fired combustion turbines used during peak power periods, a TVA representative said in an email.

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‘Lifetime Value’ Is Silicon Valley’s Next Buzzword

So long, “total addressable market.” Farewell, “flywheel effect.” Silicon Valley has a new buzzword. As the cost of signing up new customers rises, “lifetime value” is set to become must-use jargon for technology executives, investors and analysts in 2023. Reuters reports: Companies like Uber, DoorDash and Spotify want shareholders to know they can squeeze more revenue out of users than it costs to recruit them. As with previously popular jargon, though, the idea can quickly get garbled. The concept of lifetime value is not new, but a common definition remains elusive. The venture capitalist Bill Gurley defines it as “the net present value of the profit stream of a customer.” Hollywood uses it to estimate the cumulative income from streaming movie titles, after deducting the cost of making the film.

It’s catching on in the tech world. Uber boss Dara Khosrowshahi and his team invoked (PDF) the term seven times during the ride-hailing firm’s investor day. At a similar event in June executives from music streaming service Spotify mentioned (PDF) it 14 times, with another 47 references to the abbreviation LTV. Earnings transcripts for 4,800 U.S.-listed companies analyzed by Bedrock AI show executives and analysts mentioned “lifetime value” over 500 times between October and mid-December, up from just 47 times in three months to March 2019.

The problem is that everyone seems to have a different definition of lifetime value. Food delivery firm DoorDash looks at it as a metric to measure “customer retention, order frequency, and gross profit per order” over a fixed payback period. Uber and its Southeast Asian peer Grab treat it as the ability to bring in one customer and then cross-sell different services at a lower cost. The $49 billion e-commerce firm Shopify defines lifetime value as the total amount of money a customer is expected to spend with the business over the course of an “average business relationship.” But lifetime value isn’t a silver bullet, as Gurley noted a decade ago. As capital becomes more scarce, generating free cash flow remains the most important target. As with previous buzzwords, investors may find that references to lifetime value do more to confound than clarify.

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‘Diablo IV’ Developers Work Long Hours, Bracing For Impending Release

Activision Blizzard employees developing the upcoming dark fantasy action role-playing game “Diablo IV” say it will be hard to meet a June 6, 2023, release date without working significant overtime, in a process they say has been plagued by mismanagement. The release date, which has not been announced publicly, comes in the same month that Microsoft’s proposed $68.7 billion acquisition is set to close. The Washington Post reports: Fifteen current and former Blizzard employees spoke to The Washington Post on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about company operations. They described a mounting sense of dissatisfaction and malaise among employees as they endured leadership changes at Activision Blizzard and on the “Diablo IV” team. The Diablo team has been losing talent for over a year, as employees look for more competitive wages and better work conditions elsewhere, according to employees. One group of about 20 developers working on one portion of the game saw about half of its members leave within a year, according to two former employees. Blizzard did not comment on attrition on the “Diablo IV” team. Last January, Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick attributed the company’s stock price drop to the game delay of Diablo in a Venture Beat interview, rather than an ongoing sexual harassment lawsuit filed against the company in July of 2021. “I think what affected the stock price more than [the sexual harassment investigation] is pushing out [the release dates of] ‘Overwatch’ and ‘Diablo,'” he said, explaining that was one of the reasons he was selling the company to Microsoft. His comments frustrated some of the company’s developers, who felt he was blaming them unfairly.

“Crunching” in the video game industry is a common practice, but it’s become controversial in recent years, even while game developers continue working late into the evenings and weekends, sometimes secretly. Despite wishing to avoid crunch, some Blizzard employees in recent months find themselves facing down long hours again, unwilling to publish an unfinished product. They described consequences of crunch that included chronic back injuries, insomnia and anxiety, as well as less time to spend with family or to maintain romantic relationships. […] “We were never going to hit our date without crunch,” said a former Blizzard employee of a previously-intended “Diablo IV” internal release date. “And even with crunch, I don’t even know if we would have hit our date.” Activision Blizzard is offering “Diablo IV” developers a deal in which they will gain twice as many company stock shares when the game releases. Employees said they were offered more stock to stay on based on their position and seniority, from around $5,000 in value for entry-level workers to upward of $50,000 for more senior employees. […]

“Diablo IV” had multiple internal, unannounced release dates. At one point, 2021 was floated as an internal goal. A more specific date emerged — December 2022 — after the title was publicly announced in 2019 at the company’s annual gaming convention BlizzCon. Developers appealed for more time to avoid massive cuts to the game. After moving the date to April 2023, the team felt it still needed more time and was able to get the June date approved. The June date feels harder to move, several employees say. “We’re at the point where they’re not willing to delay the game anymore,” said a current Blizzard Albany employee. “So we all just have to go along and figure out how much we’re willing to hurt ourselves to make sure the game gets released in a good enough state.”

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