Cleo, the ‘digital assistant’ that replaces your banking apps, picks up $10M Series A led by Balderton

When Cleo, the London-based ‘digital assistant’ that wants to replace your banking apps, quietly entered the U.S., the company couldn’t have expected to be an instant hit. Many better funded British startups have failed to ‘break America’. However, just four months later, the fintech upstart counts 350,000 users across the pond — claiming more than 600,000 active users in the U.K., U.S. and Canada in total — and says it is adding 30,000 new signups each week. All of which hasn’t gone unnoticed by investors.

Already backed by some of the biggest VC names in the London tech scene — including Entrepreneur First, Moonfruit founder Wendy Tan White, Skype founder Niklas Zennström, Wonga founder Errol Damelin, TransferWise founder Taavet Hinrikus, and LocalGlobe — Cleo is adding Balderton Capital to the list.

The European venture capital firm, which has previously invested in fintech unicorn Revolut and the well-established GoCardless, has led Cleo’s $10 million Series A round, in which I understand most early backers, including Zennström, also followed on. One source told me the Series A gives the hot London startup a post-money valuation of around £30 million (~$39.7m), although Cleo declined to comment.

In a call with co-founder and CEO Barney Hussey-Yeo, he explained that the new capital will be used to continue scaling the company, with further international expansion the name of the game. Hussey-Yeo says Cleo will be targeting Western Europe, the Americas, and Australasia, aiming to launch in a whopping 22 countries in the next 12 months, as Cleo bids to become the “default interface” for millennials interacting and managing their money.

Primarily accessed via Facebook Messenger, the AI-powered chatbot gives insights into your spending across multiple accounts and credit cards, broken down by transaction, category or merchant. In addition, Cleo lets you take a number of actions based on the financial data it has gleaned. You can choose to put money aside for a rainy day or specific goal, send money to your Facebook Messenger contacts, donate to charity, set spending alerts, and more.

However, in the context of traction and Cleo’s broader global ambitions, it is the decision not to become a bank in its own right, that Hussey-Yeo feels is really beginning to bear fruit. His argument has always been that you don’t need to be a bank to become the primary way users interface with their finances, and that without the regulatory and capital burden that becoming a fully licensed bank brings, you can scale much more quickly. I have a feeling that strategy — and its pros and cons — has a long way to play out just yet.

Equifax slapped with UK’s maximum penalty over 2017 data breach

Credit rating giant Equifax has been issued with the maximum possible penalty by the UK’s data protection agency for last year’s massive data breach.

Albeit, the fine is only £500,000 because the loss of customer data occurred when the UK’s prior privacy regime was in force — rather than the tough new data protection law, brought in via the EU’s GDPR, which allows for maximum penalties of as much as 4% of a company’s global turnover for the most serious data failures.

So, again, Equifax has managed to dodge worse consequences over the 2017 breach, despite the hack resulting from its own internal process failings after it failed to patch a server that was known to be vulnerable for months — thereby giving hackers a soft-spot to attack and swipe data on 147 million consumers.

Personal information that was lost or compromised in the 2017 Equifax breach included names and dates of birth, addresses, passwords, driving licence and financial details.

The UK data protection regulator is involved because up to 15 million UK citizens’ data was also breached in the attack. And while the hack compromised Equifax’s US systems, the UK citizens’ data was being processed in the US.

The UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said today that the UK arm of Equifax failed to take adequate steps to ensure its US parents was protecting this data.

Reporting the result of its investigation, the ICO said Equifax contravened five out of eight data protection principles of the Data Protection Act 1998 — including, failure to secure personal data; poor retention practices; and lack of legal basis for international transfers of UK citizens’ data.

“Equifax Ltd has received the highest fine possible under the 1998 legislation because of the number of victims, the type of data at risk and because it has no excuse for failing to adhere to its own policies and controls as well as the law,” said information commissioner Elizabeth Denham in a statement. “We are determined to look after UK citizens’ information wherever it is held.”

“The loss of personal information, particularly where there is the potential for financial fraud, is not only upsetting to customers, it undermines consumer trust in digital commerce. This is compounded when the company is a global firm whose business relies on personal data,” she added.

The regulator’s investigation, carried out in parallel with the UK’s financial regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority, revealed multiple failures at the credit reference agency.

The ICO says it found that measures that should have been in place to manage personal information were “inadequate and ineffective”, and there were also “significant problems” with data retention, IT system patching, and audit procedures.

It flags the fact that the US Department of Homeland Security had warned Equifax Inc about a critical vulnerability as far back as March 2017, noting that “sufficient steps to address the vulnerability were not taken meaning a consumer facing portal was not appropriately patched”.

“Many of the people affected would not have been aware the company held their data; learning about the cyber attack would have been unexpected and is likely to have caused particular distress,” added Denham, emphasizing the reasons for the ICO to issue the maximum possible penalty for the breach.

The ICO also recently issued Facebook with the same level of fine for allowing user data on up to 87 million Facebook users to be scraped by a third party app which used it to try to build voter targeting models, selling this as a service to a political consultancy involved in US elections.

“Multinational data companies like Equifax must understand what personal data they hold and take robust steps to protect it,” she continued. “Their boards need to ensure that internal controls and systems work effectively to meet legal requirements and customers’ expectations. Equifax Ltd showed a serious disregard for their customers and the personal information entrusted to them, and that led to today’s fine.”

Equifax has responded with disappointment to the ICO’s decision. In a statement responding to the ICO’s ruling, a company spokesperson said: “We have received the Monetary Penalty Notice from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) on Wednesday afternoon and are considering the detailed points made. Equifax has cooperated fully with the ICO throughout its investigation, and we are disappointed in the findings and the penalty.

“As the ICO makes clear in its report, Equifax has successfully implemented a broad range of measures to prevent the recurrence of such criminal incidents and it acknowledges the strengthened procedures which are now in effect. The criminal cyberattack against our US parent company last year was a pivotal moment for our company. We apologise again to any consumers who were put at risk.

“Data security and combatting criminal digital activity is an ongoing battle for all organisations that requires continued innovation and attention. We have acted and continue to act to make things right for consumers. They will always be our priority.”

The company points to a number of changes it says it has made in response to the incident to strengthen its policies and processes, and also highlights ongoing investments in infrastructure and corporate governance procedures, including hiring additional IT staff, which are intended to improve the resilience of its systems to hack attacks.

However it does concede that the breach itself was the result of internal process failings, given that a file containing historical consumer information which should have been deleted was not.

And the key point here is that the ICO’s decision is based on scrutinising exactly what happened that led to the breach occurring.

How a company has acted since a security crisis will be taken into consideration, as part of the overall picture, but having shut the barn door after the horse has bolted is only going to get so much credit vs the reasons for the barn door not being properly secured in the first place. And that’s as it should be given the point of data protection legislation is to encourage companies to prioritize security, not overlook it.

In the Equifax decision the ICO writes: “The Commissioner has also taken into account her underlying objective in imposing a monetary penalty notice, namely to promote compliance with the DPA [data protection act]. She considers that, given the nature, seriousness and potential consequences of the contravention arising in this case, that objective would not be adequately served by an unduly lenient penalty.”

Call for smart home devices to bake in privacy safeguards for kids

A new research report has raised concerns about how in-home smart devices such as AI virtual voice assistants, smart appliances, and security and monitoring technologies could be gathering and sharing children’s data.

It calls for new privacy measures to safeguard kids and make sure age appropriate design code is included with home automation technologies.

The report, entitled Home Life Data and Children’s Privacy, is the work of Dr Veronica Barassi of Goldsmiths, University of London, who leads a research project at the university investigating the impact of big data and AI on family life.

Barassi wants the UK’s data protection agency to launch a review of what she terms “home life data” — meaning the information harvested by smart in-home devices that can end up messily mixing adult data with kids’ information — to consider its impact on children’s privacy, and “put this concept at the heart of future debates about children’s data protection”.

“Debates about the privacy implications of AI home assistants and Internet of Things focus a lot on the the collection and use of personal data. Yet these debates lack a nuanced understanding of the different data flows that emerge from everyday digital practices and interactions in the home and that include the data of children,” she writes in the report.

“When we think about home automation therefore, we need to recognise that much of the data that is being collected by home automation technologies is not only personal (individual) data but home life data… and we need to critically consider the multiple ways in which children’s data traces become intertwined with adult profiles.”

The report gives examples of multi-user functions and aggregated profiles (such as Amazon’s Household Profiles feature) as constituting a potential privacy risk for children’s privacy.

Another example cited is biometric data — a type of information frequently gathered by in-home ‘smart’ technologies (such as via voice or facial recognition tech) yet the report asserts that generic privacy policies often do not differentiate between adults’ and children’s biometric data. So that’s another grey area being critically flagged by Barassi.

She’s submitted the report to the ICO in response to its call for evidence and views on an Age Appropriate Design Code it will be drafting. This code is a component of the UK’s new data protection legislation intended to support and supplement rules on the handling of children’s data contained within pan-EU privacy regulation — by providing additional guidance on design standards for online information services that process personal data and are “likely to be accessed by children”.

And it’s very clear that devices like smart speakers intended to be installed in homes where families live are very likely to be accessed by children.

The report concludes:

There is no acknowledgement so far of the complexity of home life data, and much of the privacy debates seem to be evolving around personal (individual) data. It seems that companies are not recognizing the privacy implications involved in children’s daily interactions with home automation technologies that are not designed for or targeted at them. Yet they make sure to include children in the advertising of their home technologies. Much of the responsibility of protecting children is in the hands of parents, who struggle to navigate Terms and Conditions even after changes such as GDPR [the European Union’s new privacy framework]. It is for this reason that we need to find new measures and solutions to safeguard children and to make sure that age appropriate design code is included within home automation technologies.

“We’ve seen privacy concerns raised about smart toys and AI virtual assistants aimed at children, but so far there has been very little debate about home hubs and smart technologies aimed at adults that children encounter and that collect their personal data,” adds Barassi commenting in a statement.

“The very newness of the home automation environment means we do not know what algorithms are doing with this ‘messy’ data that includes children’s data. Firms currently fail to recognise the privacy implications of children’s daily interactions with home automation technologies that are not designed or targeted at them.

“Despite GDPR, it’s left up to parents to protect their children’s privacy and navigate a confusing array of terms and conditions.”

The report also includes a critical case study of Amazon’s Household Profiles — a feature that allows Amazon services to be shared by members of a family — with Barassi saying she was unable to locate any information on Amazon’s US or UK privacy policies on how the company uses children’s “home life data” (e.g. information that might have been passively recorded about kids via products such as Amazon’s Alexa AI virtual assistant).

“It is clear that the company recognizes that children interact with the virtual assistants or can create their own profiles connected to the adults. Yet I can’t find an exhaustive description or explanation of the ways in which their data is used,” she writes in the report. “I can’t tell at all how this company archives and sells my home life data, and the data of my children.”

Amazon does make this disclosure on children’s privacy — though it does not specifically state what it does in instances where children’s data might have been passively recorded (i.e. as a result of one of its smart devices operating inside a family home.)

Barassi also points out there’s no link to its children’s data privacy policy on the ‘Create your Amazon Household Profile’ page — where the company informs users they can add up to four children to a profile, noting there is only a tiny generic link to its privacy policy at the very bottom of the page.

We asked Amazon to clarify its handling of children’s data but at the time of writing the company had not responded to multiple requests for comment.

The EU’s new GDPR framework does require data processors to take special care in handling children’s data.

In its guidance on this aspect of the regulation the ICO writes: “You should write clear privacy notices for children so that they are able to understand what will happen to their personal data, and what rights they have.”

The ICO also warns: “The GDPR also states explicitly that specific protection is required where children’s personal data is used for marketing purposes or creating personality or user profiles. So you need to take particular care in these circumstances.”

Ostrichpillow Hood, the latest product from Studio Banana, is no joke

I’m not going to lie, when Studio Banana released the original Ostrichpillow back in 2012, despite breaking all Kickstarter records at the time, I thought the whole thing might be an elaborate joke. Or, worse still, since the sleep-at-your-desk styled product had found popularity amongst people who worked at startups, Silicon Valley was now parodying itself.

Except that “transformative” design company Studio Banana is based in Europe, with offices based in London, Lake Geneva and Madrid. And 500,000 sales and five products later, the joke is arguably on its critics. As I’m fond of telling founders who ask for validation, ultimately it is the market that decides.

Enter the latest Ostrichpillow creation: the aptly named Ostrichpillow Hood. Aptly named because, well, it’s a hood. However, unlike the previous products in the range, which were designed to facilitate sleep in non-traditional places, the Ostrichpillow Hood, we’re told, is to be used in “everyday waking life”.

Specifically, by reducing the ability to see activity in the edges of your field of vision, it is intended to help you focus on the task at hand and/or reduce overstimulation, such as the kind induced by open plan co-working spaces.

The Ostrichpillow Original

“The product we’re launching now is the sixth of the different products that have emerged in the Ostrichpillow family and they’re catering to different needs,” Ali Ganjavian, co-founder of Studio Banana, tells me in a video call yesterday. “Ostrichpillow was really about complete isolation and it was really a statement product… So different products have different use-cases and different functions, and also different social acceptances”.

I suggest that the Ostrichpillow Hood may turn out to be broadly socially acceptable, not least for anyone already familiar with the original Ostrichpillow, but also because asking work colleagues to respect the need to focus is a lot different to asking them to ignore your need to take a nap at your desk. Ganjavian doesn’t degree, even though there is no doubt the two products share the same design heritage.

“A lot of the stuff we are thinking about now is about the state of mind,” he says, noting that throughout the working day we are bombarded with stimuli and information, from messaging apps, emails, social media, meetings and even something as innocuous as having to say hello to work mates. “[The Ostrichpillow Hood] is really about sheltering. It is not only a physical movement, there is psychology in the way it shelters you… it’s about shifting your mood”.

Next Ganjavian demonstrates the three positions the Ostrichpillow Hood is designed to be worn.

The ‘Hood’ position is for when you need to concentrate on something in public, for example when commuting or in an open plan office or coffee shop. Like wearing a pair of visually loud headphones, it also has the added effect of signalling to colleagues that you’d rather not be disturbed or are “wired in“.

The ‘Eclipse’ position, where the hood can be turned around to cover your face completely, is for when you need to truly switch off from your surroundings, such as to deeply think, take a short break or meditate. “If I’ve got my headphones on in that posture then what it allows me to do is to totally isolate myself in the same way I would with an Ostrichpillow but in a much more acceptable way,” says Ganjavian.

Finally, the ‘Hoop’ position, with the hood worn down around your neck, is designed to feel warm and cozy and turns the Ostrichpillow Hood into attire more akin to a fashion accessory.

Adds the Studio Banana co-founder: “What I find really exciting about this moment is that I currently work in between three different geographies, there is so much going on, and how do we create a tool or object that makes me feel good, helps me perform better, and helps me become more efficient, and also feeds that overall well-being that I’m looking for in my workplace. At the same time, I can just walk out into the street with it on and just go home and feel good about it”.

Ultimate.ai nabs $1.3M for a customer service AI focused on non-English markets

For customer service, Ultimate.ai‘s thesis is it’s not humans or AI but humans and AI. The Helsinki- and Berlin-based startup has built an AI-powered suggestion engine that, once trained on clients’ data-sets, is able to provide real-time help to (human) staff dealing with customer queries via chat, email and social channels. So the AI layer is intended to make the humans behind the screens smarter and faster at responding to customer needs — as well as freeing them up from handling basic queries to focus on more complex issues.

AI-fuelled chatbots have fast become a very crowded market, with hundreds of so called ‘conversational AI’ startups all vying to serve the customer service cause.

Ultimate.ai stands out by merit of having focused on non-English language markets, says co-founder and CEO Reetu Kainulainen. This is a consequence of the business being founded in Finland, whose language belongs to a cluster of Eastern and Northern Eurasian languages that are plenty removed from English in sound and grammatical character.

“[We] started with one of the toughest languages in the world,” he tells TechCrunch. “With no available NLP [natural language processing] able to tackle Finnish, we had to build everything in house. To solve the problem, we leveraged state-of-the-art deep neural network technologies.

“Today, our proprietary deep learning algorithms enable us to learn the structure of any language by training on our clients’ customer service data. Core within this is our use of transfer learning, which we use to transfer knowledge between languages and customers, to provide a high-accuracy NLU engine. We grow more accurate the more clients we have and the more agents use our platform.”

Ultimate.ai was founded in November 2016 and launched its first product in summer 2017. It now has more than 25 enterprise clients, including the likes of Zalando, Telia and Finnair. It also touts partnerships with tech giants including SAP, Microsoft, Salesforce and Genesys — integrating with their Contact Center solutions.

“We partner with these players both technically (on client deployments) and commercially (via co-selling). We also list our solution on their Marketplaces,” he notes.

Up to taking in its first seed round now it had raised an angel round of €230k in March 2017, as well as relying on revenue generated by the product as soon as it launched.

The $1.3M seed round is co-led by Holtzbrinck Ventures and Maki.vc.

Kainulainen says one of the “key strengths” of Ultimate.ai’s approach to AI for text-based customer service touch-points is rapid set-up when it comes to ingesting a client’s historical customer logs to train the suggestion system.

“Our proprietary clustering algorithms automatically cluster our customer’s historical data (chat, email, knowledge base) to train our neural network. We can go from millions of lines of unstructured data into a trained deep neural network within a day,” he says.

“Alongside this, our state-of-the-art transfer learning algorithms can seed the AI with very limited data — we have deployed Contact Center automation for enterprise clients with as little as 500 lines of historical conversation.”

Ultimate.ai’s proprietary NLP achieves “state-of-the-art accuracy at 98.6%”, he claims.

It can also make use of what he dubs “semi-supervised learning” to further boost accuracy over time as agents use the tool.

“Finally, we leverage transfer learning to apply a single algorithmic model across all clients, scaling our learnings from client-to-client and constantly improving our solution,” he adds.

On the competitive front, it’s going up against the likes of IBM’s Watson AI. However Kainulainen argues that IBM’s manual tools — which he argues “require large onboarding projects and are limited in languages with no self-learning capabilities” — make that sort of manual approach to chatbot building “unsustainable in the long-term”.

He also contends that many rivals are saddled with “lengthy set-up and heavy maintenance requirements” which makes them “extortionately expensive”.

A closer competitor (in terms of approach) which he namechecks is TC Disrupt battlefield alum Digital Genius. But again they’ve got English language origins — so he flags that as a differentiating factor vs the proprietary NLP at the core of Ultimate.ai’s product (which he claims can handle any language).

“It is very difficult to scale out of English to other languages,” he argues. “It also uneconomical to rebuild your architecture to serve multi-language scenarios. Out of necessity, we have been language-agnostic since day one.”

“Our technology and team is tailored to the customer service problem; generic conversational AI tools cannot compete,” he adds. “Within this, we are a full package for enterprises. We provide a complete AI platform, from automation to augmentation, as well as omnichannel capabilities across Chat, Email and Social. Languages are also a key technical strength, enabling our clients to serve their customers wherever they may be.”

The multi-language architecture is not the only claimed differentiator, either.

Kainulainen points to the team’s mission as another key factor on that front, saying: “We want to transform how people work in customer service. It’s not about building a simple FAQ bot, it’s about deeply understanding how the division and the people work and building tools to empower them. For us, it’s not Superagent vs. Botman, it’s Superagent + Botman.”

So it’s not trying to suggest that AI should replace your entire customers service team but rather enhance your in house humans.

Asked what the AI can’t do well, he says this boils down to interactions that are transactional vs relational — with the former category meshing well with automation, but the latter (aka interactions that require emotional engagement and/or complex thought) definitely not something to attempt to automate away.

“Transactional cases are mechanical and AI is good at mechanical. The customer knows what they want (a specific query or action) and so can frame their request clearly. It’s a simple, in-and-out case. Full automation can be powerful here,” he says. “Relational cases are more frequent, more human and more complex. They can require empathy, persuasion and complex thought. Sometimes a customer doesn’t know what the problem is — “it’s just not working”.

“Other times are sales opportunities, which businesses definitely don’t want to automate away (AI isn’t great at persuasion). And some specific industries, e.g. emergency services, see the human response as so vital that they refuse automation entirely. In all of these situations, AI which augments people, rather than replaces, is most effective.

“We see work in customer service being transformed over the next decade. As automation of simple requests becomes the status-quo, businesses will increasingly differentiate through the quality of their human-touch. Customer service will become less labour intensive, higher skilled work. We try and imagine what tools will power this workforce of tomorrow and build them, today.”

On the ethics front, he says customers are always told when they are transferred to a human agent — though that agent will still be receiving AI support (i.e. in the form of suggested replies to help “bolster their speed and quality”) behind the scenes.

Ultimate.ai’s customers define cases they’d prefer an agent to handle — for instance where there may be a sales opportunity.

“In these cases, the AI may gather some pre-qualifying customer information to speed up the agent handle time. Human agents are also brought in for complex cases where the AI has had difficulty understanding the customer query, based on a set confidence threshold,” he adds.

Kainulainen says the seed funding will be used to enhance the scalability of the product, with investments going into its AI clustering system.

The team will also be targeting underserved language markets to chase scale — “focusing heavily on the Nordics and DACH [Germany, Austria, Switzerland]”.

“We are building out our teams across Berlin and Helsinki. We will be working closely with our partners – SAP, Microsoft, Salesforce and Genesys — to further this vision,” he adds. 

Commenting on the funding in a statement, Jasper Masemann, investment manager at Holtzbrinck Ventures, added: “The customer service industry is a huge market and one of the world’s largest employers. Ultimate.ai addresses the main industry challenges of inefficiency, quality control and high people turnover with latest advancements in deep learning and human machine hybrid models. The results and customer feedback are the best I have seen, which makes me very confident the team can become a forerunner in this space.”

UK warns of satellite and space program problems in case of Brexit ‘no deal’

The U.K. government says that access to satellites and space surveillance programs will suffer in the event of a “no deal” departure from the European Union .

Britain has less than six months to go before the country leaves the 28-member state bloc, after a little over half the country voted to withdraw membership from the European Union in a 2016 referendum. So far, the Brexit process has been a hot mess of political infighting and uncertainty, bureaucracy and backstabbing — amid threats of coups and leadership challenges. And the government isn’t even close to scoring a deal to keep trade ties open, immigration flowing and airplanes taking off.

Now, the government has further said that services reliant on EU membership — like access to space programs — will be affected.

The reassuring news is that car and phone GPS maps won’t suddenly stop working.

But the government said that the U.K. will “no longer play any part” of the European’s GPS efforts, shutting out businesses, academics and researchers who will be shut out of future contracts, and “may face difficulty carrying out and completing existing contracts.”

“There should be no noticeable impact if the UK were to leave the EU with no agreement in place,” but the U.K. is investing £92 million ($120 million) to fund its own U.K.-based GPS system. The notice also said that the U.K.’s military and intelligence agencies will no longer have access to the EU’s Public Regulated Service, a hardened GPS system that enhances protections against spoofing and jamming. But that system isn’t expected to go into place until 2020, so the government isn’t immediately concerned.

The U.K. will also no longer be part of the Copernicus program, an EU-based earth observation initiative that’s a critical asset to national security as it contributes to maritime surveillance, border control and understanding climate change. Although the program’s data is free and open, the U.K. government says that users will no longer have high-bandwidth access to data from the satellites and additional data, but admits that it’s “seeking to clarify” the terms.

Although this is the “worst-case scenario” in case of no final agreement on the divorce settlement from Europe, with just months to go and a distance to reach, it’s looking like a “no deal” is increasingly likely.

Uber drivers in Denmark could face fines for every ride they offered

The Danish Supreme Court has upheld large fines issued to several Uber drivers for operating without a taxi license, at a time when the ride-hailing giant was still running its non-licensed p2p driver UberPop service in the market.

The decision could mean more than a thousand additional Uber drivers who sold rides in Denmark could also be faced with a big bill.

The four drivers had appealed fines issues by the national court — of between DKK 40,000 (~$6,270) and DKK 486,500 (~$76,200) — but the Supreme Court judged the amounts to be appropriate.

The level of fines is based on the number of Uber rides each driver carried out. In the case of the largest fine the unnamed individual had apparently run up 5,427 Uber rides.

Uber drivers in Denmark have also faced demands for unpaid taxes this year, after Danish tax authorities found tax avoidance among almost all of them.

Meanwhile Uber pulled out of Denmark early last year, blaming a new taxi law which includes requirements such as mandatory fare meters and seat sensors. Though it says it continues to engage with local authorities to lobby for the kind of tech-friendly reform which would enable it to return.

When it left Denmark the company said it had more than 2,000 drivers in the market and 300,000 users.

According to AP, today’s Supreme Court judgement paves the way for fines to be issued against a further 1,500 people who had also driven for Uber without a taxi license. A spokesman for the Copenhagen police told Reuters it would assess the verdict and decide how to proceed next week.

At the end of 2016 Danish prosecutors sought to bring a test case against Uber’s European business, seeking to indict it on charges of assisting two drivers of breaking local taxi laws — likely contributing to Uber’s decision to shut up shop there.

In November of the same year the Danish Supreme Court also ruled Uber to be an illegal taxi service, rather than a ride-sharing platform as the company’s lawyers had sought to argue.

Since then Europe’s supreme court, the ECJ, has cemented that view of the business in the region, ruling at the end of last year that Uber is a transport company, not a platform — and locking the company into a new era of needing to work with local authorities to try to reform taxi laws, rather than just burning rubber over their rulebooks.

Under its current CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber is certainly trying to put founder Travis Kalanick’s legacy way of doing business behind it — dispensing apologies and emollient words.

And seeking to enact a pivot to become a multi-modal transport platform — to be able to offer cities something other than just more traffic and congestion on already clogged and polluted roads.

This week it also debuted a new streamlined brand look, after hiring a new CMO Rebecca Messina, who spent two decades selling sugared water at Coca-Cola.

But even as Uber seeks to carve out a new, more progressive looking path its past practices keep coming back to bite it in the boot.

It’s not only the company’s ambitions being dented either; In Denmark, for example, it’s thousands of people who put their faith in its platform to sell driving services now faced with being on the hook for thousands of dollars worth of fines apiece.

Commenting on the Supreme Court ruling an Uber spokesperson told us: “We are very disappointed for the drivers involved and our top priority is to support them during this difficult time.

“We are changing the way we do business and are operating in line with local laws across Europe, connecting with professionally licensed drivers. Drivers who used the Uber app were key in providing a safe, reliable and affordable option to help hundreds of thousands of Danes get around Copenhagen.”

We also asked whether Uber would be paying fines issued to drivers in Denmark as a result of them offering an unlicensed service in the market. The company did not respond directly to our question, saying only that it is in the process of reviewing the Supreme Court ruling and its implications.

The Family raises $17.4 million to support European startups

The Family has always been an ambitious startup accelerator. But it has always felt like the company never had enough money to grow as quickly as it wanted. The Family is raising a new $17.4 million funding round (€15 million).

Private banking and asset management group LGT Capital Partners is leading the round, with HummingBird Venture, Project A, eVentures and others also participating.

“It’s the first time an investor understands The Family’s business model. It’s the first time an investor isn’t trying to turn us into a VC fund,” The Family co-founder Oussama Ammar told me.

According to him, The Family is basically going to do more of the same. Except that this funding round “makes [The Family] virtually immortal.” The Family had to double-check its bank account many, many times to make sure that there was enough money to pay all its employees. This funding round should let the company catch its breath.

The Family has fine-tuned its fellowship program over the years. Here’s how it works today. Every quarter, around 20 startups join The Family. They will attend onboarding sessions in Paris, Berlin and London.

In Paris, The Family’s team is focused on product and engineering. In London, The Family can help you raise money. And in Berlin, The Family’s team is all about operations and execution.

After the onboarding stuff, companies can still seek for advice and connections. There’s no demo day and end of batch. The Family plans to support startups when it comes to funding, product, hiring and more.

Being part of The Family is not free of course. Startups need to be willing to give away 5 percent of their equity in exchange of this support system. This isn’t for everyone and many entrepreneurs are already surrounded by a supportive ecosystem. So if you don’t think you’re getting enough value, you can ask for your shares back within a year.

I’ve covered some of The Family’s startups over the years, such as Agricool, Algolia, Clustree, Comet, Doctrine, Fretlink, Heetch, Nestor, Payfit, Side, Stanley Robotics, Trusk and more.

With today’s funding round, The Family plans to invest in every funding round after a startup joins the fellowship. As a startup, if you can find a lead investor, The Family will automatically join the round with the same valuation and conditions.

But the fellowship is just one side of the story. “Our goal with the fellowship is that we never exit because we want to maximize the returns on investment,” Ammar said.

In order to support a staff of 60 people around 3 countries, The Family had to find a way to make money before those long-term exits. That’s why the company has launched other products.

For instance, Pathfinder helps big companies become digital companies, Lion educates startup employees and Kymono sells startup sweatshirts. The Family has spun off all those products into their own companies. They all have a dedicated CEO and team, but The Family retains at least 60 percent of the shares.

And The Family wants to create more side businesses like those. It seems like The Family is leveraging this model to finance all the fellowship activities.

Eventually, The Family’s dream is to be able to follow portfolio companies at every step of the way. It’s clear that you don’t need as much external support if you’re a Series C company. But The Family wants to become an infrastructure company that lets you build European tech giants.