Startup of the week: Last Link — Bubble

Startup of the week: Last Link — Bubble
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Updated 05 November 2021

Startup of the week: Last Link — Bubble

Startup of the week: Last Link — Bubble

Bubble is a web proximity-based solution where users can have simultaneous conversations. Audio sharpens as you approach others and fades away as you move away; Just like real life. It is used for meetings, conferences, training, classrooms and more.

Last Link is a Technology and Production virtual event company that was established in June 2020. It came up with the idea for Bubble in May 2021.

Their biggest client in the kingdom today is Ithra in their yearly thematic innovation program, Creative Solutions. 

It was founded by Taqi Sleel, the firm's Chief Operating Officer, and his fellow co-founders Vish Kashi and Pavan Thanai.

The concept of Bubble is new and first of its kind in the Kingdom, although a few similar companies exist in Europe and North America. 

Bubble recreates real-life experience in training or workshops where participants walk into a room and move around freely to interact with one another all virtually. 

Multiple participants can simultaneously form different groups, all in one room. They can see each other but only hear those who are close to them. 

“Since the pandemic thrusted virtual solutions on us, the shift towards virtual events has been a struggle for many - not the least for the training and workshop organizers,” Sleel told Arab News.

He explained that for such events, engagement is an important factor, but has been difficult to achieve in a way that is similar to the pre-pandemic era.

“The future is already being shaped where many enterprises have already adopted virtual training and workshops, and are in the process of going fully virtual or hybrid. Not to mention, enterprises are already seeing the benefits of remote work, remote learning and virtual events.,” he said.

Since September 2020, Last Link has worked with more than 40 clients and produced more than 300 training workshops. 

“Our experience has taught us what is lacking and what needs to be improved. We know that engagement is an important factor in such settings, but virtually it is difficult for participants to engage properly,” he said. 

Bubble allows multiple presentations to be held at once. Other useful tools offered by Bubble are pinning different types of files, use of whiteboards, a megaphone to allow announcements, and chat. 

“As an example, we recently produced a training workshop for twenty participants and two instructors. Participants joined Bubble in a specific lobby area assigned by the instructors. At this stage, all users appear as bubbles with their video on. The instructors used the megaphone, which enabled them to speak to all participants irrespective of where in the lobby the bubbles (participants) were,” he explained.

“Upon informing the participants about the task, they formed small groups in each corner of the lobby and embarked on the task. The instructors could easily oversee the work, and move effortlessly among the groups to follow the discussions as well as provide support for the participants. When the participants finished the task they moved to the center of the lobby,” he added.

Bubble is currently in beta and has more than 25 enterprises using the product today and is officially launching in January 2022. 

Bank of England hawk considering pause on interest rate hike vote due to omicron: Reuters

Bank of England hawk considering pause on interest rate hike vote due to omicron: Reuters
Updated 11 sec ago

Bank of England hawk considering pause on interest rate hike vote due to omicron: Reuters

Bank of England hawk considering pause on interest rate hike vote due to omicron: Reuters

LONDON: Bank of England policymaker Michael Saunders, who voted for an interest rate hike last month, said on Friday he wanted more information about the impact of the new omicron coronavirus variant before deciding how to vote this month.

Saunders said omicron might slow Britain’s economy but it could also add to inflation pressures if it led to people spending more money on goods, when supply chains are already strained, than on going out or on other services.

“At present, given the new omicron COVID variant has only been detected quite recently, there could be particular advantages in waiting to see more evidence on its possible effects on public health outcomes and hence on the economy,” Saunders said in a speech.

Sterling fell on the comments by Saunders which investors took as reducing the likelihood of the BoE raising rates from their current all-time low of 0.1 percent on Dec. 16, at the end of this month’s meeting.

Investors were pricing in only a 33 percent chance of a December rate hike after the speech, down from about 75 percent last week before news broke of the new variant.

The British central bank upended bets by investors on a rate hike on Nov. 4 when it said it wanted to wait for more data on whether the end of the government’s job protecting furlough scheme had led to a jump in unemployment.

Saunders said there did not appear to have been a big hit to the labor market and there were risks from delaying a rate hike too long because that could lead the labor market to tighten further and push up already high inflation expectations.

“This could require a more abrupt and painful policy tightening later,” Saunders said. “For me, the balance between these considerations is likely to be a key factor at the December meeting.”

He said the rates were likely to rise over the next few quarters, assuming the economy behaves as expected.

In a question-and-answer session after his speech, the former Citi economist declined to give a steer on his likely decision at this month’s meeting.

“I don’t want to use code words today to indicate either way as to what my vote at the December meeting might be. There are potential costs and benefits to waiting for more data,” he said.

Saunders and Deputy Governor Dave Ramsden were the two members of the BoE’s nine-strong Monetary Policy Committee who cast votes in early November to raise Bank Rate to 0.25 percent from its pandemic emergency, all-time low of 0.1 percent.

— Reuters 

Jack Dorsey rebrands Square as Block following Twitter exit: crypto wrap

Jack Dorsey rebrands Square as Block following Twitter exit: crypto wrap
Updated 5 min 35 sec ago

Jack Dorsey rebrands Square as Block following Twitter exit: crypto wrap

Jack Dorsey rebrands Square as Block following Twitter exit: crypto wrap
  • Dorsey hints at future direction of company with reference to blockchain

LONDON: Just days after stepping down from his role as CEO of Twitter, Jack Dorsey is ringing the changes at Square, the other major company he founded, which has changed its name to Block.

While Dorsey is a renowned crypto enthusiast, the rebrand is not all about the blockchain, according to the company: “The name has many associated meanings for the company — building blocks, neighborhood blocks and their local businesses, communities coming together at block parties full of music, a blockchain, a section of code, and obstacles to overcome,” Square said in a statement.

The new name for the holding company, which comes into effect around Dec. 10, does not reflect any organizational changes within the business, and its subsidiaries – Square, peer-to-peer payment service Cash App, music streaming service Tidal and its bitcoin-focused financial services unit TBD54566975 – will keep their brands.

The move comes just over a month after another Silicon Valley stalwart, Facebook, changed its name to Meta, for similar reasons: Mark Zuckerberg no longer wanted the range of brands, including Instagram, WhatsApp and its virtual reality headset Meta Quest (formerly Oculus), to sit under the umbrella of another company in the stable. It also gave Zuckerberg an opportunity to position the company for what he sees as the future: the Metaverse.

Dorsey sees a future dominated by cryptocurrencies. The single hashtag on his Twitter bio reads #bitcoin and he has invested a sizeable chunk of Square’s cash in the biggest cryptocurrency.

Square bought $50 million of bitcoin even before the wave of institutional interest that propelled the digital currency’s price to record highs this year. In February, it further raised its wager and invested another $170 million in it.

Square has also been weighing the creation of a hardware wallet for bitcoin to make its custody more mainstream.

At a Miami conference in June, Dorsey told the thousands of attendees: “If I weren’t at Square or Twitter, I’d be working on bitcoin.”

Square has a division devoted to working on projects and awarding grants with the aim of growing bitcoin’s popularity globally. Even at Twitter, he began pushing the decentralization project, including creating a team to construct a decentralized social media protocol, which will allow different social platforms to connect with one another, similar to the way email providers operate.

Twitter allows users to tip their favorite content creators with bitcoin and has been testing integrations with non-fungible tokens (NFTs), a type of digital asset that allows people to collect unique digital art.

While Dorsey and Zuckerberg may seem to have a lot in common as creators of two of the world’s leading social media platforms, they haven’t always seen eye to eye, and Dorsey was critical of Facebook’s rebrand.

Soon after Zuckerberg announced his Metaverse vision, a Twitter user noted that the concept was first coined by science-fiction write Neal Stephenson as a virtual world owned by corporations where end users were treated as citizens in a dystopian corporate dictatorship. When the user asked: “What if Neal was right?” Dorsey responded: “He was.”


France says UAE arms deal secures supply chain, jobs

France says UAE arms deal secures supply chain, jobs
Updated 20 min 25 sec ago

France says UAE arms deal secures supply chain, jobs

France says UAE arms deal secures supply chain, jobs
  • The deal is worth 14 billion euros for 80 Rafale fighters, 2 billion for air-to-air and cruise missiles and 1 billion for 12 Airbus Caracal helicopters

PARIS: A 17-billion-euro ($19.23 billion) French arms deal with the United Arab Emirates will secure the industrial supply chain for France’s Rafale warplane for the next decade and directly support 7,000 domestic jobs, a French defense ministry official said.
The deal, sealed on Friday, includes the largest ever overseas sale of the French warplane. It brings the number of new or second-hand Rafales sold for export to 236 and will trigger an increase in production for the warplane, the official told reporters.
The sale deepens existing security ties between France and the UAE at a time when diplomats say US allies in the Middle East are increasingly questioning the commitment of the United States to the region following its exit from Afghanistan.
The French official said the contract demonstrated the appetite of several nations to “diversify their security.”
The deal is worth 14 billion euros for 80 of Dassault Aviation’s Rafale fighters, 2 billion for air-to-air and cruise missiles supplied by European consortium MBDA and 1 billion for 12 Airbus H225M Caracal helicopters, the official said.
The sale involves the latest F-4 standard of Rafale being developed for the French air force, which aims to increase connectivity and shared target identification between the jets, following the example of the US Lockheed Martin F-35.
Defense sources have said the Rafale would replace a fleet of Dassault Mirage 2000 jets already deployed in the UAE and is unlikely to displace an order for the F-35 as the UAE continues to hedge its security between two major suppliers.
However, the deal is widely seen as a signal of impatience as the US Congress hesitates on approving an F-35 deal amid concerns about the UAE’s relationship with China, including the prevalence of Huawei 5G technology in the country.
The French official said the deal included no provision to buy back Mirage 2000s or carry out industrial offset investments.

Jeddah music center promotes Kingdom’s nascent entertainment sector

Jeddah music center promotes Kingdom’s nascent entertainment sector
Musicians performing at Jeddah's Makan Music Center. (Supplied)
Updated 35 min 51 sec ago

Jeddah music center promotes Kingdom’s nascent entertainment sector

Jeddah music center promotes Kingdom’s nascent entertainment sector
  • Music has become not just an integral part of daily life, but a dynamic new economic sector
  • Jeddah-based Makan Music Center has become a focal point of the Kingdom’s burgeoning music scene.

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s music industry has seen rapid growth from a standing start, largely due to the Vision 2030 reform plan, which positions entertainment front and center in the diversification of the Kingdom’s economy away from oil and its derivatives.

The General Entertainment Authority was established in 2016 with a mission to “provide recreational opportunities for all segments of enrich lives and to spread joy.” It is doing just that with spectacular mega-events like Riyadh Season.

And with the relaxation of social norms in the Kingdom, music has become not just an integral part of daily life, but a dynamic new economic sector.

Numerous KSA-based companies are getting in on the act, via a spectrum of platforms: TV, Internet, social media, streaming services such as Lebanon-based Anghami (focused on Middle East-origin music) and live performance.

Saudi promoters such as Benchmark and AK Events have brought major international stars to local audiences. Mariah Carey, the Black Eyed Peas and Enrique Iglesias have all performed in the Kingdom, prior to the COVID-19 epidemic putting a temporary halt on public gatherings.

Jeddah-based Makan Music Center, which offers a full range of musical services, is a focal point of the Kingdom’s burgeoning music scene.

The center’s General Manager Shaher Karkashan, 32, founded the center with his musician colleagues in 2018.

He told Arab News: “Our goal was to create a hub for musicians. And our vision is to enable an individual to go the full circle with us — from learning an instrument to recording original material and then presenting his or her music to a live audience.

“That’s the goal, for both boys and girls — and surprisingly, over 60 percent of our clients are female.”

Such activities are crucial for the incubation of Saudi musical performers in order to supply high quality content to an industry hungry for new talent.

The center was initially launched with just two rooms — a recording studio and a jamming and learning space.

Three years on, it occupies an entire 400-square meter building divided into an eight-room teaching area, a 250-capacity auditorium and a recording studio.

Clients can learn a variety of instruments, including guitar, violin and drums, along with vocals. The typical age of musicians is 15 to 40, although some are aged 50 and above.

The center also provides equipment, talent and management services for indoor and outdoor corporate events, staged in malls and other public spaces, attracting audiences of up to 2,000.

Karkashan said that as the center has grown, it has become a more professional outfit with a robust business model and several income streams: tuition, ticketed concerts, artist management, equipment hire and corporate events.

He said: “We started with five employees — and now we are 20 and growing. We have six departments, including human resources, accounting and sales, and we’re hiring more people.”

While the KSA’s music industry – specifically live performance — was negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the future outlook appears positive. With the Kingdom’s health situation returning to normal, forthcoming live events include the appearance of Justin Bieber, A$AP Rocky and Jason Derulo, who are set to headline post-race concerts at this weekend’s inaugural Formula 1 Grand Prix in Jeddah. Industry players are hoping that this progress will not be impeded by the omicron COVID-19 variant.

Health conditions permitting, Karkashan and his associates are also planning a large new year concert as part of the port city’s Jeddah Season festivities.
Such activities were unheard of in the Kingdom even a few years ago, and Karkashan noted that the changes stemmed from the Vision 2030 reforms.

“Saudi Arabia had some major artists back in the 1980s, after which there was a huge 30-year gap,” he added.

“Then we started seeing a few Saudis performing on TV shows like ‘Star Academy’ and ‘Arab’s Got Talent’ — but they went on to work in Kuwait or the Emirates, because there was no opportunity for them to develop in Saudi Arabia.

“Now things have changed. The Ministry of Culture is involved, there’s the Entertainment Authority, even a Music Authority, and they are all helping to develop the KSA’s music industry.

“I think potentially big names will soon emerge in Saudi Arabia. They are under development now, and we will probably see them go mainstream in around 2023.”

Some of Makan’s clients have come together to form bands — one called Robin and another Bad Reception — and the center has also allowed more established acts, such as death metal outfit Wasted Land, to record and perform their own material.

Karkashan said that he is optimistic about the future of Makan as well as Saudi Arabia’s music sector as a whole.

He pointed out that he was focused on three main areas of growth: artist management, staging bigger outdoor events and opening new centers in Riyadh and other cities in the Kingdom.

“Five years ago, it was all very different. But now aspiring musicians have our full support as well as support from the media and the government.

“And social media really opens up huge possibilities. Many young people are passionate about learning music or starting a band or a career in music, and this is definitely the right time to do it.”

The Saudi music industry is slated to see exponential growth over the next decade and the Makan Music Center will surely play a part in that, both artistically and commercially.

Elon Musk’s Tesla share sales pass $10bn

Elon Musk’s Tesla share sales pass $10bn
Updated 03 December 2021

Elon Musk’s Tesla share sales pass $10bn

Elon Musk’s Tesla share sales pass $10bn
  • Musk sold a further $1.01 billion according to a regulatory filing on Thursday

RIYADH: Elon Musk offloaded $1.01 billion worth of Tesla shares, surpassing $10 billion in over the past month, as he seeks to sell 10 percent of his stake in the electric-car maker.

Musk got rid of about 934,000 shares in the latest transaction, according to regulatory filings dated Thursday.

The world’s richest person is aiming to offset taxes on the exercise of about 2.1 million options, Bloomberg reported.

Musk is the richest person in the world with a $284.1 billion fortune, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

His wealth has surged by $128.1 billion this year with Tesla shares having climbed 54 percent.