Duolingo Earns $100M in Annual Bookings, Raises $30M from Alphabet

Duolingo’s Premium subscription offering, which launched in 2017, has contributed to a meteoric increase in annual bookings. It continues to invest more and more R&D into AI and machine learning to power its tutoring software and growth. Duolingo raised some serious money from Alphabet bringing the total valuation of the charming Pittsburgh startup, to roughly $9 billion:

Popular language learning app Duolingo has raised $30 million in a series F round of funding from Alphabet’s investment arm CapitalG. […]

Duolingo claims 30 million users are actively learning languages on its platform, and it has emerged as one of the most downloaded educational apps globally. Since its last funding round more than two years ago, it has more than doubled its employees from 95 to 200 and has opened additional offices in Seattle, New York, and Beijing. It also now claims annual bookings of $100 million after it launched its premium plan in 2017, a significant increase from the $33 million it drew in last year.

(via VentureBeat)

New Apple Variety, Cosmic Crisp, or WA38, Enters the Market

Who would have thought that a new apple variety would be such a huge ordeal? A cross-breed between the Honeycrisp and the Enterprise apple gave way to the Cosmic Crisp. A sweet, rigid, crisp, pretty and juicy apple variety that can allegedly last up to a year in refrigerators. A holy-grail, whose fruit finally came to bare after 20-year’s of research and cross-breeding.

I wouldn’t call a new apple variety “game-changing.” However, a variety that can last longer than a few months in refrigeration is no small feat. I’ve never understood the Washingtonian penchant for Red Delicious. Maybe the Cosmic Crisp will become the new Pacifc Northwest favorite. Production of the classic red apple has been in decline for a while now. Personally, I favor the Gala, Fiji or Honeycrisp variety. Then again, there are quite a lot of cultivars out there to chose from.

Meet Mitsubishi Electric’s TO-ST1-T, the $270 Japanese Toaster that Toasts One Slice at a Time

I’ve always been intrigued by specialized instruments and devices. Some items that first come to mind are Post Hole Diggers, SoloWheels, Garlic Choppers or even the Ninm It’s OK Bluetooth Cassette Player.

This one is no different. It serves a very unique purpose. Toasting a single slice of bread to a niche specification preferred by Japanese markets. I’m talking about the Mitsubishi Electric TO-ST1-T.

Akio Kon/Bloomberg

Reed Stevenson for Bloomberg:

There’s nothing more enchanting than the perfect slice of toast, says Kaori Kajita, founder of the Japan Butter Toast Association, which sounds half-baked but actually exists. “You can’t help but be elated.”

It helps that bread in Japan is tailored for toast. Called shoku pan, Japanese-style square bread has been around for years (think of a high-quality version of Wonder Bread). The toaster boom has its origins in the desire to have soft, chewy bread that tastes and feels like it came out of a baker’s oven, Kajita says.

I can relate. Nothing is better than fresh bread from the baker (well okay, Mr.s Baird’s Bread beats em all but I digress).

Japan is full of specialties, traditions, and politeness the rest of the world often doesn’t understand. This toaster slots into that cultural framework easily. Let’s face it, toasters (and now, more than even smart ovens) are temperamental and frequently too complicated. I’m not in love with the price tag, but personally, I find the TO-ST1 a refreshingly simple device I can get behind.

Poolside.fm

It’s pretty rare these sorts of websites exist anymore, but here we are in 2019 and poolside.fm has me completely captivated. In my opinion, the same advice given to athletes, goes for websites, apps and startups too:

Do one thing, really well.

Poolside.fm does one thing very well indeed. Emulating a very specific aesthetic. Observe:

Player detail. I just love this. Reminds me of System 8.

It just so happens to play the most wonderfully curated playlists this side of the internet. Come for the aesthetic, stay for the jams. Right? Poolside is a labor of love from Marty Bell (@marty). Marty also admins a VIP entrepreneurs chat room called Jacuzzi Club.

Poolside consists of the classic trappings of a decent music site: a delicious summery mix of jams, dancey tunes, indie tracks, seasonal goodies, lo-fi mixes and rarities that your neighboring college radio station envies — I could easily spend days here myself. It has a fantastic nostalgia too (Majestic Casual anyone?). It’s a good place. In an age where algorithmically generated playlists tend to breed boring, repetitive (and all too frequently predictable) Spotify playlists and Twitter trends, Poolside fills the void with serendipitous sounds that I seemingly never grow tired of.

I feel like this exactly what the music community needs right now. According to The Verge:

That’s intentional. Poolside.FM has about 32,000 followers on Instagram, and Bell says that the site has 4,000 monthly listeners. He wants to grow that number this year and continue building up the community. Part of that is welcoming new listeners, but he also wants to encourage other artists and musicians to submit their tracks. It’s a collaborative process.

Spectacular. Very encouraging.

KFC Sells Out of Plant-Based ‘Chicken’ in Atlanta

Photo from Unsplash

Time flies doesn’t it? It was just yesterday everyone was talking about Beyond Meat’s deep-friend nugget and boneless wing test in Georgia. Before we dive into the news, let’s do a head-count. As of writing, here’s an up-to-date compilation of all the fast-food restaurant chains with plant-based items on their menus (for sale, or in test markets):

  • KFC, The Imposter (not a typo), a U.K. chicken burger
  • Little Caesars, Supreme Pizza (spicy-sweet sausage)
  • Qdoba, Qdoba Impossible Bowl or Qdoba Impossible Taco
  • Burger King, Impossible Whopper
  • Carl’s Jr., Beyond Famous Star
  • Del Taco, Beyond Taco
  • Dunkin’, Beyond Sausage Breakfast Sandwich
  • Red Robin, Impossible Burger
  • TGI Fridays, Beyond Burger 
  • White Castle, Impossible Slider

Derrick Bryson Taylor for The Times writes:

For weeks, a debate over where to get the best chicken sandwich has waged between Popeyes, Chick-fil-A and the chicken-eating public at large. But KFC, another chicken giant with a global reach, is working on its own agenda: a plant-based “chicken” that proved so popular in a sales test that it sold out in a single day.

“It’s confusing, but it’s also delicious,” read a tweet from KFC on Monday announcing the sale of Beyond Fried Chicken, created with the help of the company Beyond Meat, at a single location in Atlanta. In about five hours on Tuesday, a KFC representative said, the restaurant sold as many plant-based boneless wings and nuggets as it would sell of its popular popcorn chicken in an entire week. (A “Kentucky Fried Miracle,” the company declared.)

In 24 hours, the test market sold out. This is simply put, delicious news for everyone.

KFC is Going Beyond Fried Chicken in Atlanta

KFC

Kentucky Friend Chicken is rolling out Beyond Meat’s plant-based meat substitute deep-fried nuggets and boneless wings in test markets in Atlanta. The Morning Brew reports:

The meatless revolution has breached the castle walls. Today, a KFC store near Atlanta is rolling out Beyond Meat’s plant-based nuggets and boneless wings, all but guaranteeing fried chicken will remain in the news cycle for a second straight week.

I cannot wait to try this. Here’s to hoping the test market responds well to Beyond Fried Chicken 🤞

When a Transit Agency Becomes a Suburban Developer

John Surico for CityLab writes:

The big magnet to the Westchester County town is its Metro-North Railroad commuter rail station, which provides a 45-minute connection to midtown Manhattan. Although Harrison has had a steady population increase since 2010, Belmont is thinking about the future: namely, a younger generation that prefers the bustle of urban life to the quiet of suburbia. The community needs more to make them stick around, he believes. “What I’m trying to do is attract Millennials, so eventually they want to buy here in Harrison,” he said.

That is what inspired Harrison’s Halstead Avenue project, a $76.8 million mixed-use real estate development built in collaboration between the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), which oversees the Metro-North, and developer AvalonBay Communities. It is the first time ever that the Metro-North will sell a parcel of its land for transit-oriented development (TOD); in this case: 143 apartments, 27,000 square feet of retail space, two pedestrian plazas, and a 598-space parking garage, most of which is reserved for the public and commuters.

That is kind of mind-blowing. Metro-North/MTA is selling a parcel of land to a real-estate development company at the benefit of Harrison residents. Harrison, for residents outside of New York, is a Long Island Sound shore-town in Westchester just north of New York City.

Essentially, the Transit Authority has taken on additional duties as a real-estate developer. The soon-to-be built apartments however convenient to the residents, are likely to be mostly luxury apartment units. Only seven of the apartments are earmarked for affordable status. I’m sure this will be fantastic in the long-run but, I have the feeling that only reason this is really kicking off, is because it ensures the certainty of Harrison’s nearby real estate valuations as impending tumultuous financial times loom. The lack of affordable housing aside, it’s interesting to see the MTA dipping their toes into real-estate development. Not sure that is the best idea, but it is literally a slide taken directly from the MTA’s latest plan to maximize use of commuter rail capacity.

GameStop Lays Off Over 100 People, Including Half of Game Informer Staff

From Andy McNamara, Editor-in-Chief at Game Informer:

Yesterday, as part of a GameStop restructuring plan, our parent company eliminated the positions of about 120 employees across its various offices. We lost seven members of our team – our cohorts, compatriots, and friends. They shaped us and made us who we are today, just like every member of the Game Informer team who passes through this company.

Welp. That sucks. I haven’t visited a GameStop in years. Probably won’t visit one ever again to be honest. That’s not out of spite either. Hell, I barely play video games these days at all. Let alone buy used games or consoles. I’ll tell you what definitely do — read Game Informer online.

I have a deep suspicion that these layoffs (or any others that follow in the coming 90 days for that matter), have to do the damned inverted yield curve:

So for the curve to invert implies that investors are forecasting that something unusual will happen. Something that will push future interest rates down low enough to justify long-term yields being low despite the risks. Something like a future collapse in private sector investment demand that makes government borrowing cheap. Or something like a series of Federal Reserve moves to try to reduce interest rates and spur more economic activity.

In other words, a future recession.

And, indeed, if you look at the historical track record, every time the two-year/10-year inversion has happened, a recession has followed.

Sigh. We’ll know if we’re in a recession in 6 months. The winds of change are pretty good that Trump will astroturf the U.S. economy in an ego-driven, exploitative ego-driven (and as a reminder, 100% totally avoidable) trade-war with China.

Regardless, GameStop is shitty business, even if Game Informer is a great online and print publication. It’s umbilical cord to GameStop is financial poison. The parent company that manages the magazine is just absolutely terrible. The level of incompetence mismanagement is gargantuan. They closed hundreds of stores in 2012. GameStop was caught intentionally deceiving customers in 2017, and the company has been trying to sell itself to private equity firms for pretty much half a decade. Perhaps, instead of peddling snake oil — they should hire back the seven game journalists, and should spin off the publication wholesale to someone who cares. Microsoft, The Verge or shit, even Rooster Teeth are all wealthy contenders happy to expand their media empire. Literally anyone would benefit from the editorial prowess Game Informer brings to the gaming beat.

Microsoft Hires Apple’s Former Siri Chief, Bill Stasior

Stasior has an incredible resumé. A small selection of the giants he’s been stationed at include: Amazon, A9, Alta Vista, (and now Apple joins the A-list) Oracle and various positions at MIT before that.

According to CNBC’s reporting, he led the growth of Apple’s machine learning initiative which wasn’t siloed to the Siri product alone:

He said that he expanded the team from 70 engineers to more than 1,100 people and that he “played the leading role in bringing modern machine learning to Siri and Apple.” Apple said in 2018 that Siri was being actively used on more than 500 million devices, and earlier this year the company said that Siri would sound more natural in the forthcoming iOS 13 release. Apple previously made gains in this area through AI work.

Microsoft has always been a company who grows throw acquisition, but recently they’ve been on a hiring spree. Which isn’t normally their modus operandi for acquiring talent. Something tells me they’re laying the pipework for an aggressive regime of ML and Voice growth in the coming years.

I find this to be curious timing. Given Apple’s vestigial connection to its Jobsian past. Jony Ive has essentially severed that connection with his departure and newly launched design firm LoveFrom. Apple hasn’t engaged in this sort of assault from software and hardware competitors in decades.

Verizon Sells Tumblr to Automattic, the Home of WordPress

The WSJ reports:

Verizon Communications Inc. has agreed to sell its blogging website Tumblr to the owner of popular online-publishing tool WordPress, unloading for a nominal amount a site that once fetched a purchase price of more than $1 billion.

Automattic Inc. will buy Tumblr for an undisclosed sum and take on about 200 staffers, the companies said. Tumblr is a free service that hosts millions of blogs where users can upload photos, music and art, but it has been dwarfed by Facebook, Reddit and other services.

This is a shocking acquisition. No doubt, this a good move for the preservation of blogs. I firmly believe Automattic will be a better steward of creators than Verizon (or was it called Oath?) would’ve been. I have long awaited the day where Tumblr and WordPress have publication parity. This has to be really excited for everyone at Tumblr. I mean this even has Tumblr veteran Marco Arment pumped:

Now the hard question — what about the adult content ban? For now, it seems the ban stays in place. But, it’s really unclear if Matt will ever changed the policy. Regardless, the blogs at Tumblr will live on under the safe and profitable umbrella of Automattic.