Google’s new voice recognition system works instantly and offline (if you have a Pixel)

Voice recognition is a standard part of the smartphone package these days, and a corresponding part is the delay while you wait for Siri, Alexa or Google to return your query, either correctly interpreted or horribly mangled. Google’s latest speech recognition works entirely offline, eliminating that delay altogether — though of course mangling is still an option.

The delay occurs because your voice, or some data derived from it anyway, has to travel from your phone to the servers of whoever operates the service, where it is analyzed and sent back a short time later. This can take anywhere from a handful of milliseconds to multiple entire seconds (what a nightmare!), or longer if your packets get lost in the ether.

Why not just do the voice recognition on the device? There’s nothing these companies would like more, but turning voice into text on the order of milliseconds takes quite a bit of computing power. It’s not just about hearing a sound and writing a word — understanding what someone is saying word by word involves a whole lot of context about language and intention.

Your phone could do it, for sure, but it wouldn’t be much faster than sending it off to the cloud, and it would eat up your battery. But steady advancements in the field have made it plausible to do so, and Google’s latest product makes it available to anyone with a Pixel.

Google’s work on the topic, documented in a paper here, built on previous advances to create a model small and efficient enough to fit on a phone (it’s 80 megabytes, if you’re curious), but capable of hearing and transcribing speech as you say it. No need to wait until you’ve finished a sentence to think whether you meant “their” or “there” — it figures it out on the fly.

So what’s the catch? Well, it only works in Gboard, Google’s keyboard app, and it only works on Pixels, and it only works in American English. So in a way this is just kind of a stress test for the real thing.

“Given the trends in the industry, with the convergence of specialized hardware and algorithmic improvements, we are hopeful that the techniques presented here can soon be adopted in more languages and across broader domains of application,” writes Google, as if it is the trends that need to do the hard work of localization.

Making speech recognition more responsive, and to have it work offline, is a nice development. But it’s sort of funny considering hardly any of Google’s other products work offline. Are you going to dictate into a shared document while you’re offline? Write an email? Ask for a conversion between liters and cups? You’re going to need a connection for that! Of course this will also be better on slow and spotty connections, but you have to admit it’s a little ironic.

African e-commerce startup Jumia files for IPO on NYSE

Pan-African e-commerce company Jumia filed for an IPO on the New York Stock Exchange today, per SEC documents and confirmation from CEO Sacha Poignonnec to TechCrunch.

The valuation, share price and timeline for public stock sales will be determined over the coming weeks for the Nigeria-headquartered company.

With a smooth filing process, Jumia will become the first African tech startup to list on a major global exchange.

Poignonnec would not pinpoint a date for the actual IPO, but noted the minimum SEC timeline for beginning sales activities (such as road shows) is 15 days after submitting first documents. Lead adviser on the listing is Morgan Stanley .

There have been numerous press reports on an anticipated Jumia IPO, but none of them confirmed by Jumia execs or an actual SEC, S-1 filing until today.

Jumia’s move to go public comes as several notable consumer digital sales startups have faltered in Nigeria — Africa’s most populous nation, largest economy and unofficial bellwether for e-commerce startup development on the continent. Konga.com, an early Jumia competitor in the race to wire African online retail, was sold in a distressed acquisition in 2018.

With the imminent IPO capital, Jumia will double down on its current strategy and regional focus.

“You’ll see in the prospectus that last year Jumia had 4 million consumers in countries that cover the vast majority of Africa. We’re really focused on growing our existing business, leadership position, number of sellers and consumer adoption in those markets,” Poignonnec said.

The pending IPO creates another milestone for Jumia. The venture became the first African startup unicorn in 2016, achieving a $1 billion valuation after a $326 funding round that included Goldman Sachs, AXA and MTN.

Founded in Lagos in 2012 with Rocket Internet backing, Jumia now operates multiple online verticals in 14 African countries, spanning Ghana, Kenya, Ivory Coast, Morocco and Egypt. Goods and services lines include Jumia Food (an online takeout service), Jumia Flights (for travel bookings) and Jumia Deals (for classifieds). Jumia processed more than 13 million packages in 2018, according to company data.

Starting in Nigeria, the company created many of the components for its digital sales operations. This includes its JumiaPay payment platform and a delivery service of trucks and motorbikes that have become ubiquitous with the Lagos landscape.

Jumia has also opened itself up to traders and SMEs by allowing local merchants to harness Jumia to sell online. “There are over 81,000 active sellers on our platform. There’s a dedicated sellers page where they can sign-up and have access to our payment and delivery network, data, and analytic services,” Jumia Nigeria CEO Juliet Anammah told TechCrunch.

The most popular goods on Jumia’s shopping mall site include smartphones (priced in the $80 to $100 range), washing machines, fashion items, women’s hair care products and 32-inch TVs, according to Anammah.

E-commerce ventures, particularly in Nigeria, have captured the attention of VC investors looking to tap into Africa’s growing consumer markets. McKinsey & Company projects consumer spending on the continent to reach $2.1 trillion by 2025, with African e-commerce accounting for up to 10 percent of retail sales.

Jumia has not yet turned a profit, but a snapshot of the company’s performance from shareholder Rocket Internet’s latest annual report shows an improving revenue profile. The company generated €93.8 million in revenues in 2017, up 11 percent from 2016, though its losses widened (with a negative EBITDA of €120 million). Rocket Internet is set to release full 2018 results (with updated Jumia figures) April 4, 2019.

Jumia’s move to list on the NYSE comes during an up and down period for B2C digital commerce in Nigeria. The distressed acquisition of Konga.com, backed by roughly $100 million in VC, created losses for investors, such as South African media, internet and investment company Naspers .

In late 2018, Nigerian online sales platform DealDey shut down. And TechCrunch reported this week that consumer-focused venture Gloo.ng has dropped B2C e-commerce altogether to pivot to e-procurement. The CEO cited better unit economics from B2B sales.

As demonstrated in other global startup markets, consumer-focused online retail can be a game of capital attrition to outpace competitors and reach critical mass before turning a profit. With its unicorn status and pending windfall from an NYSE listing, Jumia could be better positioned than any venture to win on e-commerce at scale in Africa.

Goalsetter gives parents a way to teach their kids how to save money

When the bubble burst in the year 2000, Tanya Van Court lost over $1 million in stock and options over the course of a few minutes. Then and there she vowed to never let something like that happen to her children.

Five years later, her daughter Gabrielle was born. At the time, she was a VP of Digital Product Dev at ESPN. She then went on to work as SVP of Digital Products, Parenting & Preschool for Nickelodeon and, in 2013, moved to SVP of Marketing at Discovery Education, leading the charge to roll out digital textbooks nationwide.

Today, she runs Goalsetter, an app that allows parents and their kids to replace gift-giving with goal-giving.

It started when her daughter Gabrielle was eight years old. Van Court told her daughter that if she could save $100, Van Court would match that $100 and start her an investment account. After learning how exactly an investment account works, Gabrielle decided all she wanted for her ninth birthday was a bike and an investment account.

“I thought that these are amazing things for a nine-year-old to want, but she was going to get all kinds of stuff she didn’t want or need instead,” said Van Court. “I realized how early consumerism starts. We all have more and more and more and value things less and less and less.”

After conversations with fellow moms, Van Court got to work on Goalsetter. The app has two main branches: a savings account for kids and a financial literacy learning center with fun quizzes.

Kids and parents together sign up for the app, where kids input some of their goals, from college tuition to a new bike or gaming console. Kids can then earn their allowance through the app, and can also receive ‘GoalCards’ (replacing a gift card) from parents and relatives to save towards their goals.

Moreover, parents can round-up their debit card swipes to go towards their kids bigger goals, such as college tuition or a first car. Parents can also set up auto-save to set aside a few dollars each month.

“Moms in particular all feel the pain of their kids having too much stuff,” said Van Court. “When they step on yet another lego in the house or go into the kids room to find 80 toys, only five of which they play with, these become daily pain points for moms. The idea of teaching kids how to save instead of teaching them how to acquire more stuff really resonates with moms.”

Goalsetter also offers a financial literacy quiz game called “It’s LIT” that is mapped to financial literacy standards for K – 12. The game uses pop culture memes, song lyrics, etc. to engage kids while teaching them the fundamentals of personal finance. Parents can choose to reward their kids with money toward their goals for each question they get right.

What’s more, Goalsetter has plans to launch “It’s LIT” as a curriculum to school districts, complete with lesson plan materials, quizzes and more.

Alongside the curriculum, Goalsetter makes money by charging a dollar for every GoalCard sent through the platform. Goalsetter donates 5 percent of its transaction fee to children’s related charities. The company also has a donation function that allows users to pay the company whatever amount they find appropriate for the features offered.

Gaolsetter skews a bit younger than some of its competitors, including Current, Greenlight, and Step.

Goalsetter currently has more than 20,000 users and was recently featured on Shark Tank — Van Court turned down Mr. Wonderful’s investment offer.

The company graduated from the Entrepreneurs’ Roundtable Accelerator in 2017 and has raised a total of $2.1 million, including investment from Morgan Stanley, CFSI sponsored by JP Morgan Chase, Pipeline Angels and Backstage Capital.

“When the bubble burst, I had to learn the hard way that what goes up can actually come down,” said Van Court. “Our mission is to teach children that money has real value that can go towards the things you want to accomplish in life, and to people who are in need of it.”

Truepill, the ‘AWS for pharmacies,’ gets $10M from Initialized Capital

Venture capitalists’ latest on-demand delivery bet is in the pharmaceutical space.

Truepill, an online pharmacy powering delivery for the likes of Hims, Nurx, LemonAID and other direct-to-consumer healthcare brands, has nabbed a $10 million Series A from early-stage VC fund Initialized Capital. The investment brings the Y Combinator graduate’s total raised to $13.4 million. Y Combinator, Sound Ventures, Tuesday Capital and others participated in the round.

Founded in 2016, the San Mateo-based startup employs 150 workers and plans to expand its team and fulfillment facilities into the U.K. with the fresh funding. Truepill is currently active in all 50 states and has delivered 1 million subscriptions for birth control, erectile dysfunction medication, hair loss treatment and more.

It is, as co-founders Sid Viswanathan and Umar Afridi explained, Amazon Web Services for pharmacies.

“We are really only scratching the surface of where this telemedicine landscape is going to go,” Viswanathan, who became a product manager at LinkedIn after the social network acquired his transcription service CardMunch, told TechCrunch. “We are catering to this first wave of those companies and we want to be that pharmacy fulfillment service powering that entire shift … We want to build the next generation of pharmacy infrastructure.”

Afridi, for his part, previously spent more than a decade as a pharmacist at retail chains like CVS and Fred Meyer.

In addition to operating a prescription delivery service, Truepill provides a set of APIs that give its customers programmatic access to its pharmacy and allows brands to fully customize packaging.

Foundation Capital, Index Ventures, Social Capital, Box Group and Joe Montana are also Truepill stakeholders.