Tag Archives: Launches

La Belle Assiette Launches Its On-Demand Chef Service In Belgium And The U.K.

La Belle Assiette French startup La Belle Assiette just opened shop in Belgium. La Belle Assiette is a sort of on-demand chef service. You can browse the site, find your chef and book a meal directly from the service — a chef will then come to your home or office. The startup will also roll out its offering in the U.K., Switzerland and Luxembourg in the next six weeks. Here’s how the service works. Next… Read More


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Viki Launches On China’s Baidu To Expand Further In The World’s Biggest Online Video Market

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Video streaming site Viki, which allows users to write subtitles in over 160 languages, is expanding in China’s online video market by launching on Baidu, the country’s biggest search engine, with around 237 million monthly active users of its video service.

Over the past 18 months, Viki has been pushing aggressively in China’s online video market. Some of the recent alliances signed by Viki include content distribution partnerships with Renren (the Facebook of China), Sohu and LeTV to offer Chinese content in the rest of the world.

As part of this alliance, Viki will offer movies and shorter programs from the U.S., UK, Taiwan, Korea, Japan and ten other countries to Baidu video viewers in China.

Razmig Hovaghimian, CEO and co-founder of Viki, said he was encouraged to launch on Baidu after seeing the success of streaming popular sci-fi series “Falling Skies” across Renren, LeTV and Xunlei Kankan (video-on-demand sites).

For its part, Baidu has been pushing to sell more premium advertising, especially after it acquired  PPS in May this year to create China’s largest online video platform as defined by number of mobile users and video viewing time.

“We knew we were onto something when we released the TNT sci-fi show ‘Falling Skies’ over the summer and it began receiving four times the ratings than it did in the US,” said Hovaghimian.

The show was the most searched U.S. series on Baidu Video, outranking “The Big Bang Theory,” “Vampire Diaries,” “Under the Dome” and “The Walking Dead.” In addition,  “Falling Skies” generated more than 5.7 million posts on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social media platform.

“The show ranked number one on Baidu search results for US shows. We’re looking to replicate this success and build a pipeline of the best of global content for Chinese fans.” Viki on Baidu will launch with Falling Skies and hundreds of other titles on Thursday.

With over 25 million viewers a month, Viki is also looking to enter the Indian market. As for the competition from YouTube, Hulu and Netflix, Hovaghimian said there’s no direct rivalry.

“On many occasions, Viki has partnered with YouTube to stream its content and Viki shows can be found on our YouTube channels. We also have distribution deals with Netflix and Hulu – where we power their Korean dramas and other unique shows,” he said.

Viki crowdsources subtitling of movies and other shows in over 160 languages, and earns revenue by selling premium ads on its streaming video service. Three months ago, Viki was acquired by Japan’s e-commerce giant Rakuten.


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AmazonFresh Launches In San Francisco

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As we previously reported, Amazon has launched its grocery-delivery service in San Francisco today.

The service was previously available in Seattle and Los Angeles, but has now extended to the San Francisco Bay Area.

AmazonFresh costs $ 299/year and promises fresh produce, meats, dairy and more delivered on the same or next day. Prime membership is automatically included.

Grocery delivery seems to be a hobby for Amazon, which is looking to be your one-stop shop for online shopping. Today, Amazon is the digital incarnation of what Target was for brick-and-mortar.

By offering groceries, Amazon can loop customers into a subscription for something they need regularly. The hope is that each visit results in a wandering eye and extra purchases from Amazon’s never-ending catalog of products.

Right now, AmazonFresh competes with Instacart, which today launched in Boston, and Walmart in the grocery deliver vertical.

If you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area and want to try out AmazonFresh, head over here and sign up.

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With $3M In Funding, Qloo Launches To Let You Discover Interesting Content In Eight Categories

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Qloo, an iOS app that makes personalized recommendations across a wide range of categories, has closed a $ 3 million seed funding round with participation from angel investors Samih Toukan and Hussam Khoury, founders of Maktoob (which was acquired by Yahoo in 2009) and Cross Creek Pictures founding partner Tommy Thompson (who produced “Black Swan”). This round includes a previously announced $ 1.4 million raised from Qloo investors Kindler Capital, actor Danny Masterson and Cedric the Entertainer. The startup also launched its free app today.

While there are lots of other content discovery platforms, Qloo wants to differentiate by offering suggestions across eight verticals–music, film, TV, dining, nightlife, fashion, books and travel–with its proprietary, patent-pending recommendation engine. This means you don’t have to visit individual sites or apps like Goodread, Prescreen or Soundwave, and is especially handy for mobile users.

To use Qloo, you have to select at least four categories and enter one of your favorite things in each. I told Qloo that I like the book We Have Always Lived In The Castle, the movie “Let The Right Ones In,” “Mad Men,” the French electronic music duo Air and Ethiopian food. Some of the suggestions it came up with were indie rock band The Walkmen, author Neil Strauss, the 1984 movie “Paris, Texas” and fashion brand Nicole Miller. It also told me I might enjoy a “date night” in the 21st Amendment La Louisiane, a New Orleans bar. All of these recommendations piqued my interest, except for the fashion one, which seemed somewhat random. I have no plans to visit Louisiana soon, but I do like the latest season of “American Horror Story,” which takes place in New Orleans, as well as speakeasy-style bars, so I’m happy to consider the 21st Amendment La Louisiane for my fantasy travel list.

Qloo lets you vote yay or nay on recommendations by swiping left or right, which is supposed to train the app to make better suggestions. The startup says Qloo’s recommendation engine sourced data from a group of 25,000 “tastemakers” who entered more than a million things into the app’s private-beta. Each of the eight verticals also contain subcategories, so you can get even more specific recommendations. For example, you can chose “biographies,” “books for the coffee table” or “fun reads” in the book section. The app lets you sample recommendations by playing song samples, watching movie trailers, buying books or looking at menus. Qloo also includes a social discovery feature so you can find other people who share your interests or follow users. If you live in New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles or London, you can take advantage of Qloo’s “hyper-local” recommendations. It plans to add more cities on an ongoing basis.

The startup was founded in 2012 by Alex Elias and Jay Alger and plans to release an Android app by the end of this year, followed by a tablet version.


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Pinterest Launches Japanese Version 18 Months After Rakuten Investment

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The Japanese version of Pinterest is now live as the site ramps up its global expansion. The launch comes 18 months after Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten became an investor in Pinterest.

The localized site features subcategories that cover 100 different topics for hair styling, paper crafts, products, design, art and food popular in Japan. A Pinterest blog post says that the company took into account market research in Japan, as well feedback from a beta version. We’ve contacted Pinterest for more information.

Rakuten lead a $ 100 million Pinterest in May 2012 in a round of funding that was said to value the site at $ 1.5 billion. Then in October 2013, that valuation was bumped up to an impressive $ 3.8 billion after Pinterest raised a Series E of $ 225 billion from Andreessen Horowitz, FirstMark Capital, Bessemer Venture Partners and Valiant Capital Management. Rakuten did not return for the Series E, but Pinterest said that the proceeds would be used for corporate purposes including international expansion to build on its 125% international growth since the beginning of the year.

Pinterest’s new Japanese site comes on the heels of its launch into the UK, France and Italy. It said it plans to launch in 10 more countries by the end of this year (now presumably 9, since it’s checked Japan off that list). The company also added that it would continue to develop its monetization model, which began testing earlier this month, into a global program. Pinterest’s Japan launch comes amid continuing questions about how the site will justify its rich valuation. Potential answers include a developing a new advertising scheme that resembles a revenue share where it gets paid dollars when its ads lead directly to people buying items, opposed to getting paid cents per impression.

Last year, Rakuten’s CEO Hiroshi Mikitani told AllThingD that his company made its $ 100 million bet in Pinterest in part because he had developed a strong relationship with its founder Ben Silbermann.

Rakuten’s stake in Pinterest also fits into its ongoing investment into U.S. e-commerce startups. In 2013 alone, it has helped fund Slice, a company that organizes commerce data by tapping into your inbox; Apcera, an enterprise IT platform; retail marketplace Daily Grommet; and luxury retail site AHAlife. It also acquired Webgistik, a e-commerce fulfillment company, to help expand into the US. All these companies may help Rakuten fuel the expansion of its e-commerce business outside of Asia and make it a stronger competitor against Amazon.


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Google Launches Helpouts, Paid Video Chats With Experts To Address Whatever Is Bothering You Right Now

Helpouts, Google’s fusion of Google+ Hangouts, Google Wallet, and its identity tools is now live. A ‘Helpout’ is a Hangout-like video chat, but instead of speaking with a friend, you are connected to a purported expert in whatever it is that you need help with. The tagline that Google has come up with for Helpouts is “real help from real people in real time.”

Imagine a video chat session that you are paying for, that lasts for as little as a minute or two. You have an issue, say, what is this lump on my hand, or, how do I pull off a particular makeup trick, and have a quick chat with a person who can see what your problem is. And think broadly,

That’s the edge that Google thinks Helpouts has over every other content variety and service that helps you solve the situation you find yourself in. Today at its San Francisco offices, Google gave the media a look at the product, and proffered some hands-on time with its interface. The assembled tech press watched someone attempt to correct a drywall hole, apply lipstick in a particular way, and zest a lemon.

If you need a deep dive into the mechanics of Helpouts, TechCrunch helped break the story that Helpouts existed earlier this year. In this post, I want to dig into the economics of the offering, and its potential to succeed as a product.

Platform

Google is fond of calling Helpouts a platform and telling you that its team is separate from the Hangouts group. So, while the services share the core video experience, they should be thought of as distinct.

Helpouts uses your Google+ identity, Wallets payment features, and Hangout’s video technology to service its marketplace of providers. To seed Helpouts, Google has assembled a collection of just a little more than a thousand brands, Sephora for instance, and individuals so that people can dig in from day one.

Helpouts will need far more providers – diversity of offering here is key, naturally. Google has to demonstrate that its offering is better than what currently exists and that it is worth paying for. It must expand its database of on-demand information providers so that it can take nearly any request – if Helpouts doesn’t manage that, it will be niche, and therefore far too hit-and-miss to be compelling.

Google is working on an API for Helpouts, though it remains unclear to what end, and how developers will be able to better integrate the service into the lives of providers.

Everyone Else

If you are a regular Twitter user, you have probably by now become accustomed to asking your followers questions. It’s a fast, easy way to generate feedback about anything that you can think of. However, your followers are only so deep – unless you are a celebrity, of course – and you can’t pay them for help, so the relationship is quite different.

Would you pay $ 2 per minute to quickly speak with a cooking guru about your under-construction dinner? You can run Helpouts from your phone, of course, or regular computer. So, you would have a device in your kitchen that you could use. If the answer to that is no, Helpouts isn’t likely something that you’ll find too attractive.

On its face, having a cadre of brilliant people on demand about anything is attractive. It’s getting there that is hard.

YouTube how-tos. Yahoo Answers. Facebook friends. Real friend over the phone and text. These are free, and constitute Helpout’s competition. Google understands the power of free, and pointed out today that some Helpouts will be provided at no cost.

That is, if a specific provider decides as much. Why might you Helpout for free? Perhaps you want to help someone learn Spanish. Or the brand you work for wants a larger digital presence. There are a few options that are simple to imagine.

However, the theoretical magic of Helpouts involves money. That’s because the really good people – the best chefs, or what have you – don’t like working for free. So, you’ll get what you pay for

Who gets to charge for their advice? A fine question.

The Face In The Screen

Google approves every provider. Naturally, that won’t scale. The company either isn’t sure of what it will do next to handle quality of the providers that propagate Helpouts, or it didn’t want to tell the media. It isn’t clear.

Google has two needs that are in direct tension: Lots of providers and very good providers. There is always less supply of a superior good, period. Helpouts need a quickly expanding provider base – therapists! bankers! computer help! gardeners! – while keeping its quality up, which won’t be easy.

Will these people sit around, waiting for someone to book their time or ask for help in real-time? No. The company instead envisions that people who can Helpout will leave it on in the background of their computer, and have it alert them when they are needed. Providers can also receive SMS messages and the like when they are away from their desks. If you don’t hear back as a user in under five minutes, the session is free.

Will It Work?

Helpouts is not a small undertaking. Google wants you to be able to Google far outside of the search box. Helpouts as a service is a tacit admission by the company that its prized search algorithms can’t replace humans seeing your problems. The information is different. And you can’t feed the real world completely into a search engine. Or not yet, at least.

Video chatting remains a buggy experience. Google Hangouts and Skype are both less-than-excellent solutions. This becomes even harder when on the go, without Wi-Fi, which represents I think a large chunk of the provider and user side of Helpouts. Your car doesn’t break down in your living room, so when you need someone to talk you through your tire repair in the rain, your video bitrate won’t be too impressive.

I’m skeptical of Helpouts because it has so many moving parts, between moving people, looking for quick interactions. I don’t want you to tell me in five minutes if I burned the sauce. If I need a real-time answer, it has to work every time or I won’t come back.

Google has to find endless brilliant people to be providers, and keep their link strong enough to the service to be constantly available. You can book sessions, of course, at a price discount, but that’s different. A real Helpout is now, instantly, and based on video communication. You are never going to stand on a ladder and wait for someone to take their time to pop onto your phone to explain to you why you can’t roof worth a damn.

The Helpouts experiment is something of a question. Has Google perfected the experience to the point in which people will start paying for micro-video sessions? My gut says no.

The other side of that is simply that if Helpouts does work, it will be an incredible asset to life. And Google as a company is known for its brilliance, and not ignorance. But even the smartest companies can’t make everything work.

Finally, by allowing consumers to purchase less expert time at a time, say just 4 minutes as opposed to an hour-long session, Google could be limiting provider revenue by selling a more efficient system. That’s great for consumers, but could irk providers, if they see their ability to overcharge for a service that they could in the past shrink.

Tomorrow

Even if Helpouts doesn’t catch on, it is enjoyable to see Google assemble a new product out of its extant service line up. And, as we said, Google is not making small moves. But whatever happens in the end, we can still Google things. And so far that’s worked out pretty well.

Top Image Credit: Flickr


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500 Startups Alum Dakwak Launches Freemium Model For SMB Site Translation

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Web site translation and localization platform Dakwak, which we first profiled in July 2013 when it was part of 500 Startups’ sixth class, has launched a new freemium model to attract small- to medium-sized businesses. The startup hopes that the simplicity of its translation service and search-engine optimization for sites across different languages will convince companies to upgrade to paid plans that start at $ 50 per month.

Dakwak has also signed deals with Web security provider CloudFlare and domain hosting service Go.Co to market its services to their customers. On CloudFlare, Dakwak’s free app, which performs search-engine optimized translations, is now available for download.

Waheed Barghouthi , founder and CEO of Dakwak, says the freemium model is meant to position Dakwak as an attractive alternative for SMBs that want something more powerful than Google Translate’s Website Translator widgets, which allows site visitors to instantly translate text into different languages, but don’t want to invest in Smartlink’s enterprise translation software.

The incentive for customers to upgrade to paid plans include the ability to host translated Web sites at their own domain (free translated sites have a Dakwak URL), more languages and professional translation services in addition to machine translation.

Dakwak has so far acquired 50 paying customers in different sectors and countries. Barghouthi hopes the new freemium model and deals with CloudFlare and Go.Co will allow Dakwak to add 10,000 paying customers in the next six months. Half that number will allow the startup to break even, he says. Dakwak’s next plans include finding more distribution partners, including hosting companies. The company plans to close a new round of fundraising by the end of this year, which allow it to hire more people and expand its marketing and business development.


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Net Power & Light Launches Spin, A Fun, Tactile Video Chat App For iOS

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I don’t think I’ve ever had a great video chat experience on my smartphone or tablet. Until now, I assumed that’s just because I’m super-awkward, but the team behind a startup called Net Power & Light seems to think there’s a broader problem here, one that it’s trying to solve with the launch of a new app called Spin.

Obviously, there are plenty of other chat services out there, including Apple’s own FaceTime. But when Net Power & Light co-founder and CEO Tara Lemmey gave me a demo, I had to admit that it feels pretty different. There’s no single feature that makes Spin stand out, but as whole it has clearly been optimized around the touch experience of an iPad (and to a lesser extent the iPhone and iPod Touch). When you’re chatting with someone, it’s easy to use the screen to zoom in and out of the video, and also to share and swipe through photos and videos (which can be imported from Facebook, Flickr, or their iOS camera roll).

Other features include the ability to invite people for a scheduled call (you can have up to 10 people on a call), adjust the audio mix of the call (you just increase the size of someone’s image to make them louder and decrease it to make them softer), and introduce fun, random elements to the call by doodling or adding “FXPs” like paper airplanes or hearts.

“We really wanted people emotionally be together and to be entangled in each other’s lives,” Lemmey said. “We want to deliver emotion at the scale of the Internet.”

For example, Lemmey said she uses Spin to stay in touch with her children when she’s traveling, and to have shared sessions with her extended family when they want to watch football games together. Again, people already do that kind of thing with Skype and FaceTime, but Lemmey’s goal is to make that a more natural experience, where “the technology is in the background.”

The video and audio are also pretty high-quality. To illustrate that, Lemmey brought multiple people from multiple locations onto the demo chat, some of them in the Net Power & Light office, others out-and-about in San Francisco, without WiFi, and everything ran smoothly.

Although Spin feels like a consumer product, the company says it has been tested out by organizations such as Harvard University, TED, and DC United — this could be used for business video conferencing, or for larger webinars and virtual classrooms. In fact, it sounds like Net Power & Light sees a bigger business opportunity by selling the technology to enterprises.

It’s a good thing the app looks as nice as it does, by the way, since the company has apparently been developing the technology since 2009. Net Power & Light has raised an undisclosed amount of funding from investors that include Alsop Louie, John Seely Brown, BSkyB, and Singtel Innov8.

You can download the app here.


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Wish, The App For Logging What You Want, Launches A Complementary Gifting Feature

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Well, folks, it’s September. The holiday gift giving season is ON!

Wish, the mobile shopping app that lets users create lists of items they would like to purchase later, has launched Gifting, a feature that enables others to purchase and ship products to their friends. It draws from users’ existing wishlists and uses them to predict other items they would like. It’s a frazzled gift giver’s dream.

Gifting has been part of the plan since the inception of the app, Wish CEO Peter Szulczewski said, which makes every bit of sense, since it’s the natural other half to wishlist creation. At this point, Wish is seeing half a million people on the app daily, at an average session length of 29 minutes.

According to Szulczewski, sending presents was already a use case among Wish users prior to the feature’s launch this week. In looking at transactions, the team realized that people were requesting different shipping addresses for their purchases in order to send items to their friends.

In addition to allowing users to create and share targeted wishlists (the easiest way to get it right), Gifting also predicts items that friends most want and uses social integration to notify users on their friends’ birthdays.

“We use collaborative filtering in the same way that Amazon.com uses it,” Szulczewski said. “People that buy this will also buy these items.”

As Szulczewski explained, the Wish demographic skews toward the young and female. Gifting is a way to access an older demographic, like fathers who don’t really know what to buy their daughters, nieces, or granddaughters. While there are a slew of gifting apps out there — like Giftly for gift cards, the locally-focused Yiftee, Karma, and Wrapp — the fact that Wish draws on pre-existing knowledge of the recipient’s likes ups the giver’s odds of nailing it.

Wish has been bulking out its features this summer, having launched Wish Closet in late July to provide users a platform to resell their clothing. The plan is to grow internationally. Currently 55% of usage comes from North America, although there are growing communities in Europe and Latin America, which Szulczewski said present huge opportunities to grow the brand.


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Payments Startup MobiKwik Launches Mobile Wallet As India’s Central Bank Acts To End Country’s Cash Dependence

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In a move that could ease paper money’s stranglehold over the Indian economy and society, Mobikwik is releasing a mobile wallet for the country’s burgeoning smartphone-class to digitally buy goods directly from merchants. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is empowering payment companies to facilitate more digital transactions in order to create some competitive tension for existing players and the country’s biggest banks and telcos — which have so far failed to unleash the full potential of new technologies.

Despite the promises of the mobile and internet revolution, in a country with about 20% credit card penetration, cash still reigns as king. It’s the de facto transaction standard, so much so that e-commerce companies only flourished because of the quirky cash-on-delivery model, where the money is handed over only when the item arrives at your doorstep. The country’s biggest e-commerce company Flipkart said that 70% of its transactions are completed using COD, and it is developing its own seamless payment system to address the deficiencies of using credit cards (for Flipkart, one in three credit card online transactions fail).

The cash culture, and general fear and difficulty to use credit cards, is holding back the revolutionary forces of more efficient, scalable payment systems.

Mobikwik is the latest company to try solve this problem with its new mobile wallet available for Android and iOS devices, launched today. CEO Bipin Singh is promising a simple, one-click digital experience to purchase a range of products or services, such as mobile minutes, pay utility bills or even movie tickets, from about 500 merchants. He said customers can directly load up the wallet from their bank account or a credit card and start buying, with the funds being transferred to the merchant as soon as the transaction is completed (eventually he hopes to allow customers to top up their accounts via cash, with collection agents coming to your doorstep). Importantly, the Reserve Bank has licensed the company to allow customers to withdraw money from their account.

It will compete with products such as Airtel’s Money launched two years ago and other players, including the State Bank of IndiaMoney On Mobile, and ZipCash.

“Most existing products, like Airtel Money, have targeted merchants but the consumer experience and connect has not been created. We offer a simple, one-click customer buying experience so all we need to do is tell our users: ‘hey, use this wallet for your most frequent transactions every month: you can park 1000 rupees and recharge your phone credit, pay your utility bills, buy pizzas, movie tickets, train tickets, and occasionally e-commerce,’” Singh said.

Mobikwik already has about 1.5 million active users for its existing online and closed wallet which, like most other “wallets” available today, work like vouchers redeemable at a range of affiliated merchants but can’t be cashed out for legal tender. It processes 75,000 transactions each day with an average customer transaction around 120 rupees (~$ 2).

Airtel hasn’t disclosed the number of transactions or users but it has been pushing hard for its success, recently partnering with a bank to promote the service at 800 branches. Local publication Medianama reported that for the pilot project in second-tier city Gurgoan in 2011, Airtel Money was handling 1,665 transactions for a total volume of 156,456 rupees (~$ 2,400). The telco claims it’s the first mobile wallet which allows users to instantly transfer money to other users, as well as bank accounts across the country; and last year, announced the service was available in more than 7,000 outlets across India.

Airtel and other incumbents can expect more competition in the near future, as the country’s economic regulator takes action to stimulate the growth of the industry. Mobikwik was the 23rd company to be authorised by the RBI to deliver pre-paid payment instruments, required to allow consumers to withdraw funds from their wallet. The licenses of Mobile On Money and ZipCash are due to expire this month, which could open the door for new players to come into the market. Last month, another company One97 communications also received a five-year license to issue a mobile wallet.

In his inaugural speech, the country’s recently appointed RBI chief Raghuram Rajan announced a series of initiatives to boost the take-up of mobile payments amongst consumers located in both the cities and the densely-populated villages.

“We will also work to get banks and mobile companies to cooperate in rolling out mobile payments,” Rajan said. “Mobile payments can be a game changer both in the financial sector as well as to mobile companies.”

[Image via]


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