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Snapdocs raises $60M to manage the mortgage process in the cloud

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The US economy may be in a precarious state right now with a presidential election looming on the horizon and the country still in the grips of the coronavirus pandemic. But partly thanks to lower interest rates, the housing market continues to rise, and today a startup that has built technology to help it run more efficiently is announcing a major growth round of funding. 

Snapdocs, which is used by some 130,000 real estate professionals to digitally manage the mortgage process and other paperwork and stages related to buying a home, has raised $60 million in new equity funding on the heels of a few bullish months of business.

In August 2020 — a peak in home sales in the US, reaching their highest level in 14 years — the startup saw 170,000 home sales, totaling some $50 million in transactions, closed on its platform. This accounted for almost 15% of all deals done that month in the US. Snapdocs is now on track to close 1.5 million deals this year, double its 2019 volume.

On top of this, the startup’s platform is being used by more than 70% of settlement agents nationally, with customers including Bell Bank, LeaderOne Financial Corporation, Googain, Georgia United Credit Union among its customers.

The Series C is being led by YC Continuity (Snapdocs was part of Y Combinator’s Winter 2014 cohort), with existing investors Sequoia Capital, F-Prime Capital and Founders Fund, and new backers Lachy Groom (formerly of Stripe and now a prolific investor) and DocuSign, a strategic backer, also participating.

“Like us they are on a mission to defragment an ecosystem,” King said, referring to it as a “perfect complement” to Snapdocs’ own efforts.

Snapdocs is not talking about its valuation. Aaron King, the founder and CEO, said in an interview that he believes disclosing it is nothing more than “grandstanding” — which is interesting considering that the industry he focuses on, real estate, is all about public disclosures of valuation — but he noted that most of the $103 million that the startup has raised to date is still in the bank, which says something about the company’s overall financial health.

And for some further context, according to PitchBook data estimates, Snapdocs was valued at $200 million in its last round, in October 2019.

Snapdocs’ central premise is that buying a house requires not just a lot of paperwork but also a lot of different parties to be on the same page, so to speak, to set the wheels in motion and get a deal done. There is not just the mortgage (with its multiple parties) to settle; you also have real estate brokers and agents, the home sellers, inspectors and appraisers, the insurance company, the title company, and more — some 15 parties in all.

The complexity of all of them working together in a quick and efficient way often means the process of buying and selling a house can be long and costly. And that’s before the pandemic — with the problems associated with social distancing and remote working — hit us.

Snapdocs’ solution has been to build one platform in the cloud that helps to manage the documents needed by all of these different parties, providing access to data and the ability to flag or approve things remotely, to speed the process along. It also has built a number of features, using AI technology and analytics, to also help identify what might be potential issues early on and get them fixed.

King is not your typical tech startup entrepreneur. He began working in mortgages as a notary when he was still in high school — he’s effectively been in the industry for 23 years, he said — and his earliest startup efforts were focused on one aspect of the complexities that he knew first-hand: he saw an opportunity to lean on technology to get notarized signatures sorted out in a legal, orderly, and quicker way.

He then got deeper into identifying the possibilities of how tech could be used to improve the larger process, and that is how Snapdocs came into existence.

Given how big the real estate market is — it’s the largest asset class in the world, by many estimates — and how many other industries tech has “disrupted” over the years, it’s interesting that there have been so few attempting to solve it. One of the reasons, it seems, is that there hasn’t been enough of a crossover between tech experts and mortgage experts, and Snapdocs is a testament to the virtues of building a startup specifically around a hard problem that you happen to know really well.

“Most people have identified this as a tech problem, and a lot of the tech — such as e-signatures — has existed for 20 years, but the fragmentation of real estate is the issue,” he said. “We’re talking about a mass constellation of companies and workflow. But we’re obsessed about the workflow of all of these constituents.”

That’s a position that has both helped Snapdocs build its standing with the industry, as well as with investors.

“I’ve known the Snapdocs team for many years and have always been amazed by their focus and execution toward bringing each stakeholder in the mortgage process online,” said Anu Hariharan, partner at YC Continuity, in a statement. “In 2013, Snapdocs began as a notary marketplace before expanding horizontally to service title companies and, more recently, lenders. By connecting the numerous parties involved in a mortgage on a single platform, Snapdocs is quickly becoming the “operating system” for mortgage closings. Mortgages, much like commerce, will shift online, bringing improved efficiency and a far better customer experience to the outdated home-closing process.” Hariharan has real estate experience herself and is joining the board with this round.

There have been a number of companies taking new, tech-based approaches to the market to find new and faster ways of doing things, and to open up new kinds of value in the market.

Opendoor for example has rethought the whole process of selling and buying houses, taking on a role as a middleman in the process both to take on a lot of the harder work of fixing up a home, and handling all of the difficult stages in the sales process: it’s a role that has recently seen the company catapult to a valuation of $4.8 billion by way of a SPAC-based public listing. An interesting idea, King said, but still only accounting for a small sliver of house sales.

Others like Orchard, Reonomy, and Zumper have all also raised large rounds on the back of a lot of promise of the market continuing to grow and the opportunity to take part in that process through new approaches. It’s a sign that “safe as houses” still has a place in the market, even with all the other unknowns in play.

“Over the next 5 years the real estate industry will be completely digitized so a lot of companies are trying to figure out what their place are, and how to provide value,” King said.

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How Riot used tech from The Mandalorian to build Worlds’ astonishing mixed reality stage

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After a hard-fought win over Korean team Gen.G, all five members of Europe’s G2 Esports stood at the edge of a pool of clear, glistening water to take a bow and celebrate their victory. Two members then picked up their star teammate, Rasmus “Caps” Borregaard Winther, and held him over the water, as if to throw him overboard. It’s a good thing they didn’t — despite how real the water may have looked to viewers, it was nothing but pixels.

The annual League of Legends World Championship is currently underway in Shanghai, and like most major events, it has had to be re-envisioned in order to be possible in our new pandemic-dominated reality. Typically, the early stages of the tournament are something of a traveling road show, with different rounds taking place in different cities. In 2020, things had to change.

With travel restrictions in place, and fans no longer able to attend matches, the team at League developer Riot tried something different. They built out a set made up of massive LED screens in a technology setup similar to what Disney used to create The Mandalorian’s sci-fi landscapes. It has been used to startling effect. Matches have looked like they’ve taken place in a cloudy, cyberpunk Shanghai skyline or amid a flooded landscape. What could have been a drab competition in the absence of fans has turned into perhaps the most impressive Worlds in recent memory.

“There are any number of days where we come to the set and say ‘Wait, I don’t think this has ever been done before.’ You just kind of get used to it after a while,” says Michael Figge, creative director at Possible Productions, which partnered with Riot on the event.

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The feat is all the more impressive when you consider the compressed schedule. Typically, producers from Riot and Possible spend well over a year planning for Worlds, but that simply wasn’t possible this year. It wasn’t until May that the decision was made to utilize this tech in a studio without fans.

The setup is a powerhouse, and Riot says that the LED screens — there are more than 900 LED tiles in total — display visuals at 32K resolution and at 60 frames per second. Those visuals were made using a modified version of the Unreal Engine, and in total, the team is made up of 40 artists and technicians. Nick Troop, executive producer for Worlds 2020 at Riot, describes it as “a creative tool that gives us effectively infinite power to manifest whatever our collective imaginations bring to the fore.” And he says one of the most important elements of the whole setup is the way things are shot, powered by four specialized cross-reality cameras.

“Rather than having a single projected camera perspective, we actually have two running simultaneously, effectively all of the time,” he explains. This allows the broadcast team to work in a more traditional way; they can swap between the two simulated perspectives at will, using four cameras to shoot the action on set. “It means that the broadcast team can do what feels to them what feels like a ‘normal television show,’ but in this curated, and beautiful series of environments,” says Troop.

For viewers watching on Twitch or YouTube, the LED soundstage is transformed into a sprawling fantasy world, with AR technology used to make the images expand beyond just the screens. You still see players sitting at desks and playing, but their surroundings are quite elaborate. In a nod to the current state of League of Legends, where four elemental dragons are of pivotal importance in a game, each of the four preliminary rounds of Worlds was styled with a different element.

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Initially, there were lots of crumbling rocks and mountains to represent the earth dragon; this was followed by the cloudy Shanghai skyline for the air dragons; later, the set appeared to be flooded with water that stretched on forever. This weekend, during the two semi-finals games, things will shift to fire.

While this technology has been used before, most notably on The Mandalorian, this is the first time it’s been done live. “Pretty much every [cross-reality] expression that has been broadcast to this point has not been live,” explains Possible’s Figge, whose company has worked on everything from Super Bowl halftime shows to Justin Bieber concerts. “It’s been pre-shot, similar to a lot of AR stuff for awards shows in North America. It’s risky to do live. We’re doing up to 10 hours a day of live television on this stage. There’s no second chance at it.”

One of the challenges was balancing the desire to make things look cool without interfering with the players. Everyone onstage — teams, coaches, and support staff — has a somewhat different visual experience than viewers at home, since the AR elements only appear for viewers at home. This turned into something of an advantage for the broadcast team.

“When we do these games, it’s really important for the competitive integrity of the sport for the players not to be able to see the game on the Jumbotron or anything like that. It’s a really difficult design problem,” says Figge. “With this stage, everything that’s above a certain level of height on the stage is completely virtual. It’s augmented reality. So we have the game playing in the background and the players can’t see it.”

A comparison showing how the stage looks to players (left) and viewers (right).
Photo: Riot Games

That said, while players don’t get the full experience viewers do, it was still important that being onstage felt special. This is the World Championship, after all, something teams from across the globe have been striving for all year long. Without the roar of a crowd to hype up players, the spectacle of a vibrant fantasy backdrop is a solid second option. Those onstage can’t see the AR elements, but they can see the graphics on the screens around them. “It helps ground the player,” says Troop. “They can still have a sense of the [game] world reacting, in a way that I think helps with their Worlds experience. There is a certain mindset that comes from being on stage, and we wanted to preserve that.”

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In most years, the technical showcase of Worlds is reserved for the opening ceremonies at the finals. In the past, that’s included an AR K-pop concert and a holographic hip-hop performance. It’s still not clear what this year’s big show will look like (though it will likely involve K-pop again), but you could argue that the early rounds have already stolen the show thanks to this new technology. Each round even opened with its own mini ceremony, featuring choreographed dances set in the fantasy realm; performers jumped across crumbling stone bridges and twirled around with magical spells. Despite the circumstances, Riot turned what could have been a low-key edition of Worlds into a surprisingly memorable one.

“It’s been more educational than frustrating,” says Troop of the experience so far.

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The Apple Watch Series 6 Is Already $20 Off

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Best Tech DealsBest Tech DealsThe best tech deals from around the web, updated daily.

Apple Watch Series 6 (44mm) | $415 | Amazon
Apple Watch Series 6 (40mm) | $385 | Amazon

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It’s only been out a week since launch and we’re already seeing discounts on the Apple Watch Series 6. Amazon has some 40mm models down to $375, while the 44mm falls to $415, both about $20 off and shipping anywhere between 1-4 weeks out.

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The Apple Watch Series 6 runs laps around the competition as far as technology is confirmed. It features everything you love about the Series 5 watch like an ECG heart rate sensor, and also adds new tricks like a blood oxygen sensor and an always-on altimeter, making it more ideal than ever for fitness buffs.


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Samsung thinks its new 85-inch Interactive Display is the digital whiteboard for the COVID-19 classroom

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Samsung would like you to believe its new 85-inch Interactive Display can bridge the gap between students in the classroom and students studying at home, now that blended-learning is the new normal across the country. In reality, it’s just a slightly bigger digital whiteboard — but assuming it doesn’t cost too much, the tweaked vision does sound intriguing.

Now that COVID-19 has swept the country, some students are huddling around tiny Chromebook screens at home while others stay in class, and Samsung’s internet-connected digital whiteboard promises to let students and teachers collaborate with each other, whether they’re in that classroom drawing on the board or adding to it in real-time from their laptop at home. The goal here isn’t to necessarily connect everyone better – they’ve had a few months to get a handle on that over Zoom – but rather to let the kind of collaboration that can happen when everyone’s together, happen while students are apart.

Samsung’s 65-inch Flip 2
Samsung

While the Interactive Display is mostly just a larger version of Samsung’s existing Flip 2 digital whiteboards, the 85-inch size means it’s as large as an actual school whiteboard (though it weighs far more at 164 pounds). Compared to the previous 55- and 65-inch models, more students could theoretically use the board at once. Samsung imagines the display primarily mounted in a classroom where they can use its 4K touchscreen and support for four pens (it comes with two) to write and draw; it supports up to 20 fingers (and pen tips) simultaneously. Teachers might be able to hook up multiple computers or other video sources to the display, too, with two HDMI 2.0 ports compared to the one on the Flip 2.

But before you petition your school for one, it’s worth mentioning that the device has no announced price. The 65-inch Flip 2 comes in at $2,599.00, and Samsung’s 85-inch TVs start at $1,799.99, so perhaps the Interactive Display won’t cost too much more than those? Still, most schools are even more constrained during the pandemic than they would be normally, and this screen doesn’t even come bundled with some of the education software Samsung is advertising. I think it would be great for these to be used in schools, but to me, Samsung’s framing for the Interactive Display sounds a little more opportunistic than realistic.

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