Small Door, the OneMedical for pets, launches NYC location

Small Door, a veterinary services membership startup, today announced the grand opening of its NYC location at 15 Seventh Ave. Small Door soft-launched the space in November of 2019.

The vet startup first came onto the scene in April of 2019 with a $3.5 million seed round led by Lerer Hippeau Ventures, with participation from Primary Venture Partners and Brand Foundry Ventures. Flatiron Health founders Nat Turner and Zach Weinberg, Warby Parker cofounders Dave Gilboa and Neil Blumenthal, and Sweetgreen founders on Neman, Nic Jammet, and Nat Ru also invested.

The company is taking a fresh approach to veterinary services by offering a membership program, not unlike One Medical.

Part of the problem with vet services is that veterinary practices are often overworked and underpaid. This can translate to long waits for patients, short visits, and a low quality of professional life for veterinarians themselves. Through a membership model, Small Door believes it can give vets more time with their pet patients and decrease wait times considerably for patients and their owners.

The company has also rethought healthcare space itself. For example, the waiting room is spread out and designed with little nooks to keep animals happy and unthreatened by their fellow patients while waiting.

Different membership tiers get users access to different features. For dogs, the base tier ($12/month) offers same or next-day appointments, priority access to specialists, and 24/7 virtual care. The Premium tier ($75/month) offers two annual exams, core vaccinations, an annual blood panel, and other preventative care like deworming, heartworm screening, etc. The Premium Plus Tier ($89/month) offers everything in the premium package alongside a 12-month supply of both flea and tick preventative treatment as well as a 12-month supply of heartworm preventative treatment.

For cats, plans range from $8/month to $74/month with similar offerings.

Small Door was set up as a Public Benefit Corporation, identifying Small Door vets and pets as key stakeholders in the business. Suicide is a growing problem among vets, who often deal with mounting debt, compassion fatigue, difficult hours and even more difficult customers.

Since its soft launch, 55 percent of Small Door customers are millennials and 70 percent of customers are women, according to founder Josh Guttman.

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UN calls for investigation after Saudis linked to Bezos phone hack

United Nations experts are calling for an investigation after a forensic report said Saudi officials “most likely” used a mobile hacking tool built by the NSO Group to hack into the Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ phone.

Remarks made by U.N. human rights experts on Wednesday said said the Israeli spyware maker’s flagship Pegasus mobile spyware was likely used to exfiltrate gigabytes of data from Bezos’ phone in May 2018, about six months after the Saudi government first obtained the spyware.

It comes a day after news emerged, citing a forensics report commissioned to examine the Amazon founder’s phone, that the malware was delivered from a number belonging to Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman. The forensics report, carried out by FTI Consulting, said it was “highly probable” that the phone hack was triggered by a malicious video sent over WhatsApp to Bezos’ phone. Within hours, large amounts of data on Bezos’ phone had been exfiltrated.

U.N. experts Agnes Callamard and Davie Kaye, who were given a copy of the forensics report, said the breach of Bezos’ phone was part of “a pattern of targeted surveillance of perceived opponents and those of broader strategic importance to the Saudi authorities.”

But the report left open the possibility that technology developed by another mobile spyware maker may have been used.

The Saudi government has rejected the claims, calling them “absurd.”

NSO Group said in a statement that its technology “was not used in this instance,” saying its technology “cannot be used on U.S. phone numbers.” The company said any suggestion otherwise was “defamatory” and threatened legal action.

Forensics experts are said to have began looking at Bezos’ phone after he accused the National Enquirer of blackmail last year. In a tell-all Medium post, Bezos described how he was targeted by the tabloid, which obtained and published private text messages and photos from his phone, prompting an investigation into the leak.

The subsequent forensic report, which TechCrunch has not yet seen, claims the initial breach began after Bezos and the Saudi crown prince exchanged phone numbers in April 2018, a month before the hack.

The report said several other prominent figures, including Saudi dissidents and political activists, also had their phones infected with the same mobile malware around the time of the Bezos phone breach. Some whose phones were infected including those close to Jamal Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi critic and columnist for the Washington Post — which Bezos owns — who was murdered five months later.

U.S. intelligence concluded that bin Salman ordered Khashoggi’s death.

“The information we have received suggests the possible involvement of the Crown Prince in surveillance of Mr. Bezos, in an effort to influence, if not silence, The Washington Post’s reporting on Saudi Arabia,” the U.N. experts said.

The U.N. experts said the Saudis purchased the Pegasus malware, and used WhatsApp as a way to deliver the malware to Bezos’ phone.

WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, filed a lawsuit against the NSO Group for creating and using the Pegasus malware, which exploits a since-fixed vulnerability in the the messaging platform. Once exploited, sometimes silently and without the target knowing, the operators can download data from the user’s device. Facebook said at the time more than the malware was delivered on more than 1,400 targeted devices.

The U.N. experts said they will continue to investigate the “growing role of the surveillance industry” used for targeting journalists, human rights defenders, and owners of media outlets.

Amazon did not immediately comment.

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Fortnite just officially became a high school and college sport

Fortnite, one of the world’s most popular games, will now be an official high school sport and college sport thanks to an LA-based startup called PlayVS .

The company has partnered with Epic Games to bring competitive league play to the collegiate and high school level. This also marks PlayVS’s entry into colleges and universities.

PlayVS launched in April of 2018 with a mission of bringing esports to high school, with a league akin to traditional sports like basketball or football. Though a partnership with the NFHS, high schools (or parents, or the students themselves) can pay $64/player to be placed in a league to compete with neighboring schools, just like any other sport.

But PlayVS partnerships go deeper than the NFHS (the NCAA of high school sports), as the company is also partnering with the publishers themselves. This is the part that puts PlayVS a step ahead of its competition, according to founder Delane Parnell .

While other companies are setting up paid competitive leagues around video games, very few if any have partnerships at the publisher level. This means that those startups could be shut down on a whim by the publishers themselves, who own the IP of the game.

PlayVS is the first to score such a partnership with Epic Games, the maker of the world’s most popular video game.

These publisher partnerships also allow PlayVS to productize the experience in a way that requires almost no lift for schools and organizations. Players simply sign into PlayVS and get dropped into their scheduled match. At the end, PlayVS pulls stats and insights directly from the match, which can be made available to the players, coaches, fans and even recruiters.

For PlayVS, the college landscape presents a new challenge. With high school expansion, the NFHS fueled fast and expansive growth. Since launch, more than 13,000 high schools have joined the waitlist to get a varsity esports team through PlayVS, which represents 68% of the country. PlayVS says that just over 14,000 high schools in the United States have a football program, to give you a comparison.

The NFHS has a relationship with the NCAA, but no such official partnership has been signed, meaning that PlayVS has to go directly to individual colleges to pitch their technology. Luckily, they’re going in armed with the most popular game in the world, and at a time when many colleges are looking to incorporate esports scholarships and programs.

And it doesn’t hurt that PlayVS has quite a bit of cash in the bank — the company has raised $96 million since launch.

Unlike the rest of the PlayVS titles, the first season of Fortnite competition will be free to registered users, courtesy of the partnership with Epic Games. Registration for the first seasons closes on February 17 for high schools, and February 24 for colleges and universities. The season officially kicks off on March 2.

The format for competition will be Duos, and organizations can submit as many teams of two as they like. The top teams will be invited to the playoffs with a chance to win a spot in the championship in May.

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Tesla could soon sell and service its vehicles in Michigan

Tesla reportedly reached a settlement with the State of Michigan regarding the sales and service of its vehicles. According to the AP, this settlement would end the automakers lawsuit against the state, which barred Tesla and others from selling vehicles directly to consumers. This would lead to consumers being able to purchase, take delivery, and service Tesla vehicles within the State of Michigan.

Currently, Michigan law states consumers can only purchase vehicles through franchised dealerships and not directly from an automaker. Tesla, as an automaker, sells directly to consumers through dealerships it owns. As a result, consumers in Michigan had to jump through hoops to purchase a Tesla vehicle.

Currently, Tesla has a limited presence in the home state of America’s Big Three automakers. Shoppers have to visit a so-called showcase within an upscale mall located in a Detroit suburb. Representatives at this location cannot advice shoppers on vehicle pricing or buying options. What’s more, if a Tesla vehicle is purchased in Michigan, it must be obtained in a different state.

Tesla challenged Michigan’s stance in a 2016 lawsuit and this settlement would give consumers more freedom of choice by allowing Tesla to sell and service vehicles. Under the terms of this settlement, Tesla would sell vehicles through a subsidiary and deliver vehicles to consumers. However, these vehicles would be titled from a different state, forcing the new owners to retitle them for Michigan. Tesla will also be allowed to open service centers in Michigan.

Elon Musk seems happy with the report of the settlement.

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Where top VCs are investing in adtech and martech

Lately, the venture community’s relationship with advertising tech has been a rocky one.

Advertising is no longer the venture oasis it was in the past, with the flow of VC dollars in the space dropping dramatically in recent years. According to data from Crunchbase, adtech deal flow has fallen at a roughly 10% compounded annual growth rate over the last five years.

While subsectors like privacy or automation still manage to pull in funding, with an estimated 90%-plus of digital ad spend growth going to incumbent behemoths like Facebook and Google, the amount of high-growth opportunities in the adtech space seems to grow narrower by the week.

Despite these pains, funding for marketing technology has remained much more stable and healthy; over the last five years, deal flow in marketing tech has only dropped at a 3.5% compounded annual growth rate according to Crunchbase, with annual invested capital in the space hovering just under $2 billion.

Given the movement in the adtech and martech sectors, we wanted to try to gauge where opportunity still exists in the verticals and which startups may have the best chance at attracting venture funding today. We asked four leading VCs who work at firms spanning early to growth stages to share what’s exciting them most and where they see opportunity in marketing and advertising:

Several of the firms we spoke to (both included and not included in this survey) stated that they are not actively investing in advertising tech at present.

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