News June 19 2019

Roli’s newest instrument, the Lumi, helps you learn to play piano

There has been a longstanding gulf between the consumption of music and the creation of it: not everyone has the time or money to spend on lessons and instruments, and for those in school, many music education programs have been cut back over the years, making the option of learning to play instruments for free less common. Still others have had moments of interest but haven’t found the process of learning that easy. Now we’re seeing a new wave of startups emerge that are attempting to tackle these issues with technology, creating tools and even new instruments that leverage smartphones and tablets, new hardware computing innovations and new software to make learning music more than just a pastime for a select few. In the latest development, London startup Roli is launching a new interactive keyboard called the Lumi. Part colourful, sound-sensitive lightboard and part piano, the Lumi’s keys light up in a colorful array to help guide and teach you to play music. The 11-inch keyboard — which can be linked with one or two more of the same to add more octaves — comes with an iPad app that contains hundreds of pieces, and the two are now selling for $249 alongside a new Kickstarter to help drum up interest and offer early-bird discounts. The Kickstarter campaign blew through its modest £100,000 goal within a short while, and some of the smaller tiers of pledges are now sold out. The product will start shipping in October 2019, the company says. As you might already know, or have guessed by the reaction to the kickstarter, this is not Roli’s first rodeo: the company has made two other major products (and variations on those two) before this, also aimed at music making. First came the Seaboard, which Roli described as a new instrument when it first launched. Taking the form factor of a keyboard, it contained squishy keys that let the player bend notes and create other effects alongside electronic-based percussive tapping, as you would do with a normal keyboard. Its next product was Blocks: small, modular light boards that also used colored light to guide your playing and help you create new and interesting sounds and beats with taps (and using a similarly squidgy surface to the Seaboard) and then mix them together. Both of these were interesting, but somewhat aimed at those who were already familiar with playing pianos or other instruments, or with creating and playing electronic music with synthesizers, FX processors and mixers. (Case in point: the people I know who were most interested in these were my DJ friends and my kids, who both play the piano and are a little nerdy about these things.) The Lumi is in a way a step back for Roli from trying to break new ground by conceiving of completely new instruments, with new form factors built with the benefits of technology and electronics in mind. But it’s also a step ahead: using a keyboard as the basis of the instrument, the Lumi is more familiar and therefore more accessible — with an accessible price of $249 to go along with that. Lumi’s emergence comes after an interesting few years of growth for Roli. The company is one of the select few (and I think the only one making musical instruments) to be retailed in Apple stores, and it’s had endorsements from some very high-profile people, but that’s about as mainstream as it has been up to now. The startup’s founder and CEO, American-born Roland Lamb, is probably best described as a polymath, someone who comes across less as a geeky and nervous or (at the other end) ultra-smooth-talking startup founder, and more like a calm-voiced thinker who has come out to talk to you in a break between reading and writing about the nature of music and teaching a small philosophy seminar. His background also speaks to this unconventional manner. Before coming to found Roli, he lived in a Zen monastery, made his way around the world playing jazz piano, and studied Chinese and Sanskrit at Harvard and design at the Royal College of Art. Roli has always been a little cagey about how much it has raised and from whom, but the list includes consumer electronics giants like Sony, specialist audio makers like Onkyo, the music giant Universal Music Group and VCs that include Founders Fund, Index and LocalGlobe, Kreos Capital, Horizons Ventures and more. It’s also partnered with a number of big names like Pharrell Williams (who is also an investor) in the effort to get its name out. And while it has most definitely made a mark with a certain echelon of the music world — producers and those creating electronic music — it has not parlayed that into a wider global reputation or wider accessibility. After bringing out instruments more for a high-end audience, the Lumi seems like an attempt to do just that. That seems to be coming at the right time. Services like Spotify and YouTube — and the rise of phones and internet usage in general — have transformed how we listen to music. We now have a much wider array of things to listen to whenever we want. On top of that, services like YouTube and SoundCloud furthermore are giving us a taste of creating our own music: using electronic devices, we can go beyond what might have been limitations up to now (for example, having never learned to play an instrument in the traditional sense) to get stuck into the craft itself. The Lumi is also tapping into another important theme, and that is of music being “good for you.” There is a line of thought that says learning an instrument is good for your mind, both if you’re a younger person who is still in school or indeed out of school and looking to stay sharp. Others believe it has health benefits. But realistically, these beliefs don’t get applied very often. Roli cites stats that say that only 10% of adults aged 18-29 have played an instrument in the past year, and of those that played as children, some 80% say they quit by age 14. Putting this together with the Lumi, it seems that the aim is to hit a wider swathe of the market and bring in people who might want to learn something like playing an instrument but previously thought it would be too much of a challenge. Roli isn’t the first — nor likely the last — company to reconsider how to learn playing the piano through technology. The Chinese company ONE Music Group makes both smart pianos with keyboards that light up, as well as a strip that you overlay on any keyboard, that also corresponds to an iPad app to learn to play piano. An American startup called McCarthy Music also makes illuminated-key pianos, also subscribing to the principle that providing this kind of guidance to teach muscle memory is an important step in getting a student acquainted with playing on a keyboard. The Lumi is notable not just because of its cost, but its size — the single, lightweight keyboards have a battery life of six hours and can fit in a backback. That said, Roli is hoping there will be a double audience to these in the longer term, bridging the divide between music maker and listener, but also amateur and pro. “Many people would love to play an instrument but worry that they don’t have the talent. Through our research, design, and innovation at ROLI,  we’ve come to believe that the problem is not a lack of talent. Rather, instruments themselves are not smart enough,” said Lamb in a statement. “What excites me most is that the intelligence of LUMI means that there’s something in it for everyone. On one hand my own kids now prefer LUMI time to movie time. On the other hand, several of the world’s leading keyboard players can’t wait to use LUMI in the studio and on the stage.”

News June 12 2019

Bux raises additional $12.5m
as it gears up to launch
‘zero-commission’ investing app

  Bux, the Amsterdam-based trading app that wants to make investing fun, has picked up an additional $12.5 million in new funding. Venture capital firms Velocity Capital and Holtzbrinck Ventures led the round, which also includes debt financing from Kreos Capital. It brings total funding to $35 million since being founded over five years ago. The newly raised capital will in part be used to launch “STOCKS,” the company’s planned app for “commission-free” investing. Bux is also disclosing that it has already spent some of the funding on the acquisition of online broker ayondo markets Limited (AML). Ayondo is the back-end provider the startup has been using to power its existing trading app BUX,  while the merger arguably puts Bux squarely in the “neo-broker” territory and up against the likes of London-based Freetrade. “The acquisition of AML marks the first acquisition by BUX since its founding in 2014,” says the Dutch company. “To-date, the partnership with AML has allowed BUX to fully focus on creating an app that removes the complexity from the financial markets and simplifies the trading experience. It has allowed BUX to reach a base of over 2 million users in just over four years across 9 European countries”. By bringing its brokering in-house, Nick Bortot, CEO and founder of Bux, says it gives the company control over “the full value chain,” including a full brokerage license, back-end technology and operation. This, he believes, will enable Bux to service customers better going forward, and make it much easier to quickly launch new features. It’s a similar argument made by challenger banks that have built out their own banking stack, and echoes the thinking behind competitor Freetrade’s decision to acquire a broker license very early on. “We will additionally add 50% to our future revenues, as we will keep servicing other clients of AML,” adds Bortot. On track to launch this summer is STOCKS, Bux’s commission-free investing app that is quite different to the BUX app that offers a “gamified” trading experience and generates revenue per trade. “Our current trading app allows users to trade in CFDs on stocks, indices, forex and other financial products for the short term with limited leverage,” explains the Bux CEO. “STOCKS will allow users to invest in companies for the mid to long term and allow them to invest in real shares commission-free [as opposed to CFD trading]. It will offer a unique combination of a simplified investing experience along with a vibrant community where they can follow, learn from fellow investors and explore new investing opportunities. This unique combination will be unlike anything that will be in the market once we are live”. Meanwhile, Revolut, the fast-growing banking app, is also planning to launch a free trading feature, although Bortot is sceptical about how successful that will be. “At this time Revolut has not yet launched their zero-commission trading service,” he says, [and] we are convinced that brokerage and banking are two completely different animals. It requires different skills, expertise, regulation, etc. “Therefore, similar to what we have seen in neo banking, we will see the rise of 2 to 3 pan-European neo brokers over the next few years (we anticipate 2 to 3 as a matter of scale across Europe). In order for these mobile brokers to be successful across the whole of Europe, and become true neo brokers, it will be crucial for them to be able to easily adapt their services to other languages, but also to different legal systems, local tax systems, local KYC regulations, etc. Europe is very fragmented and not a one size fits all geography”. To that end, Bux says its soon-to-launch STOCKS app currently has over 100,000 users on the waitlist. Netherlands and Germany will get access to the new app first, followed by a broader rollout across Europe “in the coming year”.

News May 21 2019

Zebra Technologies to acquire Profitect Inc.

  Zebra Technologies Corporation (NASDAQ: ZBRA), an innovator at the edge of the enterprise with solutions and partners that enable businesses to gain a performance edge, today announced it intends to acquire Profitect Inc., a privately-held, leading provider of prescriptive analytics for the retail and consumer packaged goods (CPG) industries. Using machine learning and prescriptive analytics, Profitect’s solution identifies opportunities to positively impact sales and margin for some of the most recognized retail and CPG brands in the world. Profitect uses data from across the value chain for improving inventory and pricing accuracy, out of stocks, supply chain inefficiency, unsellable merchandise, and assortment discrepancies. The solution identifies a potential opportunity and can generate suggested actions, sending them directly to a worker’s mobile device, providing step-by-step instructions for resolution. By enabling users to understand and act on data, Profitect customers typically realize sales lift, as well as margin and labor productivity improvement enabling a better overall consumer experience. Zebra will also leverage the investment to accelerate the development of its Savanna data platform through the acquisition of Profitect’s technology, talent, and skillsets. Combining the real-time data that Zebra solutions capture, with Profitect’s access to operational data, machine learning, and prescriptive analytics, Zebra will work with its’ partners to empower front-line workers even more – across all verticals - with the insights they need to make better, faster, smarter decisions. “The acquisition of Profitect expands our relevancy deeper and wider in global retail operations while advancing our software capabilities to make our Enterprise Asset Intelligence vision even more accessible,” said Anders Gustafsson, Chief Executive Officer of Zebra Technologies. “We have had a strong relationship with Profitect for the past five years through Zebra Ventures, and we are excited to take our strategic investment to the next level by welcoming the Profitect team to the Zebra family.” “We are excited to join Zebra and bring our award-winning prescriptive analytics solution to every worker at the edge,” said Guy Yehiav, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board of Profitect, who will be a key leader in the business integration. “Together we will ensure the workforce of the future is more connected and optimally utilized. We value Zebra’s support and expertise over the past five years as a key venture capitalist. I’m proud of the contribution that Profitect’s solution will bring to Zebra and look forward to working closely to deliver prescriptive analytics as part of its innovative and broad solution portfolio.” Zebra expects to fund the acquisition of Profitect with a combination of cash on hand along with fully committed financing available under its credit facility. The transaction is subject to customary closing conditions and is expected to close in the second quarter of 2019. The transaction is expected to be immaterial to sales and profitability in the near term. Financial terms of the acquisition are not being disclosed.   Zebra Technologies Safe Harbor Statement This press release contains forward-looking statements, as defined by the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995, including, without limitation, the statements regarding the company’s outlook and the ability to complete the acquisition of Profitect Inc. Actual results may differ from those expressed or implied in the company’s forward-looking statements. These statements represent estimates only as of the date they were made. Zebra undertakes no obligation, other than as may be required by law, to publicly update or revise any forward-looking statements, whether as a result of new information, future events, changed circumstances or any other reason after the date of this release. These forward-looking statements are based on current expectations, forecasts and assumptions and are subject to the risks and uncertainties inherent in Zebra’s industry, market conditions, general domestic and international economic conditions, and other factors. These factors include customer acceptance of Zebra’s hardware and software products and competitors’ product offerings, and the potential effects of technological changes. The continued uncertainty over future global economic conditions, the availability of credit and capital markets volatility may have adverse effects on Zebra, its suppliers and its customers. In addition, a disruption in our ability to obtain products from vendors as a result of supply chain constraints, natural disasters or other circumstances could restrict sales and negatively affect customer relationships. Profits and profitability will be affected by Zebra’s ability to control manufacturing and operating costs. Because of its debt, interest rates and financial market conditions will also have an impact on results. Foreign exchange rates will have an effect on financial results because of the large percentage of our international sales. The outcome of litigation in which Zebra may be involved is another factor. The success of integrating acquisitions could also affect profitability, reported results and the company’s competitive position in its industry. These and other factors could have an adverse effect on Zebra’s sales, gross profit margins and results of operations and increase the volatility of our financial results. When used in this release and documents referenced, the words “anticipate,” “believe,” “outlook,” and “expect” and similar expressions, as they relate to the company or its management, are intended to identify such forward-looking statements, but are not the exclusive means of identifying these statements. Descriptions of the risks, uncertainties and other factors that could affect the company’s future operations and results can be found in Zebra’s filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, including the company’s most recent Form 10-K.   ABOUT PROFITECT Profitect’s prescriptive analytics solution leverages pattern detection and machine learning to identify opportunities that impact sales and margin. Profitect takes retail and CPG company data to identify areas for improvement including: inventory accuracy, out of stocks, pricing accuracy, unsellable merchandise, and assortment discrepancies. Profitect customers typically realize a two to five percent increase in sales, better consumer experience, 10-15% basis point margin improvement, and labor productivity improvement within six months. To learn more about Profitect visit: www.profitect.com or follow the company on Twitter and LinkedIn.   ABOUT ZEBRA Zebra (NASDAQ: ZBRA) empowers the front line of business in retail/ecommerce, manufacturing, transportation and logistics, healthcare and other industries to achieve a performance edge. With more than 10,000 partners across 100 countries, we deliver industry-tailored, end-to-end solutions that intelligently connect people, assets and data to help our customers make business-critical decisions. Our market-leading solutions elevate the shopping experience, track and manage inventory as well as improve supply chain efficiency and patient care. Ranked on Forbes’ list of America’s Best Employers for the last four years, Zebra helps our customers capture their edge. For more information, visit www.zebra.com or sign up for our news alerts. Follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. ZEBRA and the stylized Zebra head are trademarks of Zebra Technologies Corporation, registered in many jurisdictions worldwide.All other trademarks are the property of their respective owners. ©2019 Zebra Technologies Corporation and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.

News March 26 2019

Israeli media app building co Applicaster raises $20m

Applicaster's platform helps media companies build content distribution applications. Israel startup Applicaster today announced a $20 million growth financing round led by Viola Growth, the Viola Group's growth fund, with participation from 83North Venture Capital and existing investors, among them Pitango Venture Capital, Saban Ventures, and Planven Investments.The current round brings the amount raised by the company to $60 million. Applicaster has developed a platform for media companies for building applications to distribute content. Applicaster, founded in 2011 by CEO Jonathan Laor and CTO Neer Friedman, works with broadcasting agencies and television networks to develop and produce applications designed to connect viewers to television programs and get them more involved with the content.The company operates a software as a service (SaaS) platform for managing applications for media companies, including tools for building and maintaining applications that make it possible to transmit content directly to the consumer on telephones, tablets, and smart television sets in a suitable manner for the various interfaces. The platform makes it possible to build and change the applications with a click, thereby providing Applicaster's customers with flexibility and speed.Applicaster does not disclose its revenue, but Laor says that the company has 100 customers, including Fox, DirecTV, and Viacom. Applicaster also developed an application for the 2018 Winter Olympics in cooperation with Olympic Channel, the official channel for the Olympic Games. Applicaster currently has 100 employees: 40 in Israel and the rest in New York, London, Miami, and San Jose. Following the financing round, the company plans to increase its staff in Israel by 20 employees, mainly in sales, product, and development."The media market today has giant players like Netflix and companies like it with huge development centers. The other companies are essentially not technology companies," says Viola Growth partner Eran Westman, who joined Applicaster's board of directors after the financing round. "These companies are constantly competing for users, and I believe that this trend will intensify, because everyone wants to give better service and more interesting applications that will earn them more money. What Applicaster does is to give those companies technological capabilities - a platform that will make it much easier for them to build and maintain an application, including analytics, software updates, and so forth."