It’s the end of another busy week in the global tech space. Stories of startups raising funds, hitting milestones, releasing new and interesting products among others made rounds across the tech world.
Here is a quick roundup of some of the major stories you might have missed.
Starship is Elon’s Top Priority
After SpaceX successful launch of its humans to space with the Crew Dragon, its CEO Elon Musk as revealed that the company’s top priority now is developing its next-generation spacecraft, Starship.
Starship is designed to be a fully reusable vehicle that can support both crew and cargo configurations while making trips to both Earth orbit and deep space destinations including the moon and Mars.
The spacecraft has been in development at a SpaceX production and testing site in Boca Chica, Texas, since 2019. When completed SpaceX the Starship wants to replace both Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy.
PlayStation 5 (PS5) Launch
After more than 4 months of waiting, Sony finally unveiled its latest PlayStation Console (PS5). Announced back at CES in January, gamers and game enthusiasts can now have a feel of the new and improved game console.
The PS5 tower unveiled is pretty slick, with a sort of white with black trim colour. Spec-wise, it has an AMD Zen 2 CPU and AMD’s rDNA 2-based GPU, coupled with 16GB of RAM and an 825GB SSD. It also a separate HD camera accessory and matching Pulse 3D headphones.
Details about its pricing and other features will be released later.
German Flying Taxi Startup becomes a Unicorn
With a new round of funding German flying taxi, Lilium has become a billion-dollar “unicorn”. The $35 million new funding came from
Baillie Gifford & Co., one of the largest investor in Tesla.
The startup which makes an all-electric vertical takeoff and landing passenger jet is now worth more than a billion dollars, according to post-money valuation.
The new funding brings the Lilium’s total investment to date to more than $375 million.
The startup’s CEO, Daniel Wiegand says the company’s goal is to create a transportation system that’s accessible to everyone and not just to be used as a toy for the rich.
Twitter to revamp verification System
Verifying twitter accounts will soon be easier. The social media company is planning to bring back the option that allows individual users to request verification.
The new in-app system for requesting verification was discovered by a reverse engineer Jane Manchun Wong.
For years, Twitter’s account verification system has been mysterious as it appeared to be no general form of how or whose account is verified. This has led to confusion among users as to what it takes to actually be verified on the platform.
However, with the new verification system, Twitter has confirmed that the public will know what exactly is require to be verified.
The company didn’t reveal when the new system would go live or what the new guidelines will state when they become available.
Facebook Launches Messenger Kids across Sub-Saharan Africa
Facebook is rolling out Messenger Kids, its video chat and messaging app for Kids between the ages of 6 to 12 years in Sub-saharan Africa.
The app was designed to allow children to have fun by connecting with friends and family in safe space controlled by the parent.
The app is full of features like Playful masks, emojis and sound effects that make conversations to funny and interesting.
It also a library of kid-appropriate and specially chosen GIFs, frames, stickers, masks and drawing tools to let them decorate content and express their personalities.
Messenger Kids is now available to download on the Apple App and Google Play Stores.
This sums it, friends. Hope to see you here next week!
Android might separate emoji from OS updates so you can get new ones faster
Emoji are important. Heck, they were the biggest reason I wanted to write about the recent iOS 14.2 update. More emoji = better expression.
Whenever Unicode consortium, a non-profit organization that handles dissemination and approval of emoji, releases a new set, there’s palpable excitement to start using them in our favorite apps and devices as soon as possible. However, we often need to wait it out till Apple, Google, or your phone maker releases an OS update with the new set.
This process may change for Android users. Sleuths at XDA Developers a clue in Android code that suggests the Big G is thinking about separating emoji from the system update, so you can get them faster.
Here’s what’s happening: until now, font files containing emoji were stored under the /system/fonts directory. So refreshing them has been possible only through an over-the-air update.
The new code commit suggests that they are to be stored under a new /data/fonts/files directory, which allows for a server update to these files. That means Google or other manufacturers can push a font file update to push new emoji to users anytime.
The new code also indicates that this will help other apps read these files and import new emoji directly into their system.
As folks at XDA noted, this code hasn’t been merged to the Android open source project, so it’s not final yet. But we can hope that this update makes the cut and we get new emojis without waiting for an over-the-air update.
How COVID and an unexpected 17-hour time difference forced us to master asynchronous work
As my co-founder and I roll into the eighth month of our “one-week visit” to Australia, it amuses me how a company so focused on meeting efficiency ended up being one of the strongest examples of effective asynchronous communication.
Like many, we were surprised by the sudden grounding of our entire team. In particular, we were two co-founders of a San-Francisco based company stranded down under, putting a 17-hour time difference between ourselves and our headquarters.
Fortunately, we already had processes around asynchronous communication alongside our already unique meeting culture. To adapt to our new situation, we moved more of our day-to-day collaboration to asynchronous modes. Sure, it’s been a (major) adjustment, but it’s just accelerating our arrival to somewhere we were already heading.
The pandemic shifted companies to more synchronous collaboration
Our experience hasn’t been the norm. Many teams have replaced face time with another form of synchronous communication: Meetings.
While most teams made adjustments to accommodate remote work back in March, they were often short term solutions. A common issue since then has been too many meetings — a drain on productivity and time. When you can’t tap a co-worker on the shoulder, you might pop a “short sync” on their calendar instead. The result is a surge in meetings, many of which are unnecessary (or unnecessarily long).
Now, we make software that powers meeting workflows for Adobe, Netflix, Spotify, and thousands of others, so we don’t think there’s anything wrong with meetings. That said, meetings are expensive when poorly used.
The obvious cost is the hour that people are in the meeting, but that’s only a portion of the time spent. Research shows that switching one task to another costs between 10 minutes to 2 hours. Meetings may interrupt productivity, but despite the cost, the data still shows a natural tendency to reach for the calendar invitation.
Research across our customer base shows a large increase in the average number of meetings per person since the onset of the pandemic.
In other words, companies haven’t embraced asynchronous collaboration. Despite so many ways to share information — chat, email, documents, video recordings — meetings appear to be the go-to communication channel for socially-distanced teams.
Analysis of the titles of these meetings is even more revealing. Updates, syncs, weekly status meetings, check-ins, demos, and reviews dominate. In other words, most meetings aren’t for decision-making; they’re for sharing information. As such, they could have been just as effective when performed asynchronously.
Mastering the async: Assessing your choices
At Hugo, we have a 4-hour per week limitation on synchronous, internal meetings. This is to protect everyone’s productivity. We only use meetings for the 3Ds: Debate, Discussion, and Decision-making. All of our other collaboration is asynchronous.
Perhaps ironically, one of the most important forms of asynchronous information is the documentation around meetings: agendas, notes, and tasks. If an agenda is shared or collaboratively prepared prior to a meeting, attendees can intelligently choose whether to attend or skip a meeting. If they get the notes, takeaways, and tasks assigned, they can find out what’s happening on other teams without attending their meetings too. And even, if we find ourselves in a meeting, being well-prepared means we can get through a lot of Ds in short order and we often end early.
But, how do we choose whether to have a meeting or do something else?
Think about the way you communicate at work as a continuum between synchronous and asynchronous, which in both cases range from low to high nuance. What we mean by nuance is the density of the non-verbal cues, such as body language, voice tone, the position at the table, etc.
Generally, we go from high-nuance to low-nuance when choosing the means of communication. While you’re probably well-versed in the synchronous methods of working together, we also owe our success in building a strong, aligned team to these asynchronous channels.
- Video — A three-minute video often replaces a 30-minute meeting. That’s why we love tools like Loom and Vimeo Record. It’s easy to record videos talking through an idea and sharing a screen. We can use whiteboarding, images, anything. Even when we’ve written up a document, we might talk about it through a video, highlighting specific information or ideas. I’m known to send late night videos conveying my excitement for an idea, or concern about a challenge in the same dynamic way that I like to communicate in meetings.
- Voice — Voice gives a level of personality and tone. With humor and empathy especially, voice is usually better than text. The disadvantages of voice and video are that people don’t tend to keep and review them.
- Email and notes — Email is great for long-form information. Email and documents give you more time to consider your wording and put things together in an organized fashion. Written communication also allows you to reference links and other docs.
- Threaded chat — Chat apps such as Slack and Microsoft Teams allow people to have asynchronous group conversations and we use them heavily. Most companies are making great use of these tools. When any of the chats reach the point where they are a Debate, Discussion or Decision-making need, then a synchronous conversation (aka a meeting) may be called for.
- Text — Text is best for short, logistical communications. Text can also be important as a supplement to other communications. For example, if you have an urgent deadline, you might want to tell someone by text to watch your video right away.
Take a week to consider the different kinds of communications in your organization. How many synchronous meetings could be replaced by one of these asynchronous methods? Are people communicating in ways that lack nuance, such as via text, when it would be faster and more effective to send a video?
It’s natural to lean on habits simply because that’s how we have always operated. But a silver lining to this crisis is that it’s also an opportunity to assess whether there are better ways to work — both in and out of the office.
Even if you’re not on the other side of the globe from most of your team, you can still benefit from combining synchronous and asynchronous methodologies of communication. Find that balance, and you’ll see for yourself how it reduces fatigue and distraction, increases effectiveness, and makes your organization more productive.
Shola Akinlade: Paystack’s maturity relied on a community of hard and smart workers
At Paystack, triggers and nudges for product creativity and stunning user interfaces derive from team members’ expectations for how they want the world to look and feel.
The call, if you will, to work at the company is an opportunity to do something about your complaints. To take the matter of changing the world into your hands, not with Molotov cocktails but code bases and Adobe’s magic buttons.
Paystack, the Lagos-based payments startup that helps merchants accept payments from their customers, is now part of an American company following the celebrated (though still under-discussed and under-analysed) sale to Stripe, the global payments giant-in-waiting.
The fusion of both companies, though separated miles apart in distance, is testimony to how similar desires are around the world.
But it is chiefly good reckoning for Shola Akinlade, the mid-thirties somewhat shy developer who co-founded Paystack with Babcock University schoolmate Ezra Olubi and turned it into an envy of the world.
As of this writing, Paystack is live in Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa. With the acquisition, they could be popping up in more places.
On Building from the Ground Up, a TechCabal live video interview series in partnership with the UK-Nigeria Tech Hub, we got an honest lowdown from Akinlade on what it took to begin the journey that has made Paystack a $200million company.
Typically self-effacing, Akinlade ascribes the early days’ momentum to encouragement from figures within the Nigerian community – the ecosystem. Osita Nwoye’s name pops in the conversation, with reference to a famous email sent to Michael Seibel – CEO of YCombinator – urging the famed accelerator to consider the innovation Akinlade was working on.
Other interesting characters at the scene of Paystack’s nativity in the second half of 2015 include angel investor Olumide Soyombo, Oluyomi Ojo (CEO of Printivo), Odun Longe of the Longe Practice and Honey Ogundeyi, who used to run the fashion website Fashpa.com en route her current role as the Nigeria country director for the UK-Nigeria Tech Hub.
Paystack took off early because businesses like Piggyvest, Supermart.ng and now defunct ride-hailing service Jekalo needed payments integrations to build their own proofs of concept.
It’s not like Paystack had it all figured out at the time. Akinlade remembers telling the Jekalo people that “we can help you collect your money but not be able to settle,” but his service was commissioned and invoiced anyhow.
That kind of confidence from the community spoke to a perception that Akinlade knew what he was up to.
Before Paystack, he had built an open source version of Dropbox and operated it for about 5 years. He’d built software for a few Nigerian banks.
In the conversation with Big Cabal Media’s CEO Tomiwa Aladekomo, Akinlade says building Paystack was partly a result of discovering he could charge a card from his computer. A decade ago, that was sort of a big deal in Nigeria’s emerging financial technology and ecommerce sector, but the process was anything but seamless for the mass consumer or small time business owner.
The challenge, then, was to design a payments product that anyone could consume.
To achieve this, Akinlade would have to go on a recruitment spree. He would convince new developers hungry for a challenge to come on board. He would persuade ex-bank employees and experienced product engineers at older fintechs who were probably comfortable at their jobs. One key hire was Khadijah Abu who came in from Interswitch in 2017 and has been integral to shaping product.
Akinlade would need the expertise of design geeks like Opemipo Aikomo, and the storytelling prowess of Emmanuel Quartey.
Akinlade says it was inevitable that Quartey would be a key cog for the company’s public image following a spectacular presentation during a one-week familiarisation period.
The result? In November 2020, Paystack now processes 5 times what Nigeria as a country was doing in payments pre-Paystack.
Clients include MTN, Bolt and Domino’s, part of 60,000 small to medium-scale businesses using the multiple payments and accounting features the startup has developed over the last five years.
Paystack was built from the ground up by visionary Africans, in concert with investors from around the world.
Thanks to a work culture centered on transparency, clear communication and practicing kindness, the startup’s 120 or so staff are discernibly among the happiest people in Nigerian tech.
The Stripe acquisition means they’ll be even happier thanks to the stock options they hold. A key question for the ecosystem since mid-October has been this: how do we scale this happiness? How do we build more Paystacks from the ground up?
Here are Akinlade’s thoughts on that:
This acquisition shows that people can build something valuable and appreciate value. I like the idea of different ways to do this. One problem with a small ecosystem is that everybody will want to follow one path. If we do so, it’ll be bad. We need more people trying different things so that the options will be plenty. And then, people can have different paths ahead of them.
The man has sold a company for $200million, earning a valuation above some Nigerian banks that have been around longer. Might be worth paying attention to.
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