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Pickle app puts on users, as millennials/Gen-Z latch onto location apps to fight Covid lockdowns

By Mike Butcher

As the coming of winter combined with the coronavirus continues to put new restrictions on peoples’ movements, location-based apps are on the rise again. People are looking to find out who is close to them. Who is in their community. People are understandably looking for new friends and resources close to them.

Apps that connect young mums locally (Pumpspotting, Peanut), professionals (Fishbowl, Lunchclub), Jetset daters (Raya, Bumble), digital nomads (Homeis), locals (Nextdoor ) and millennials (Friended) are all being dialed-up.

And with government lockdowns coming back for their “2nd album” the UK’s millennials and Gen-Zs are increasingly turning to location-based apps to try and hang out with each other and burst the so-called ‘rule of six’ bubble, whether the government wants them to or not.

Pickle is fast making a name for itself amongst an estimated 350,000 millennials and Gen-Zs for that reason. After starting out as a taskrabbit-style app for Gen-Z, it is now seeing growth as an app for that generation to find fellow travelers locally, even as their normal travel has been curtailed by COVID-19.

Founder Daneh Westropp says: “Loneliness is the number one fear of young people today – ranking ahead of losing a home or a job. 71% of millennials reported feeling lonely [survey conducted by Cigna] and 69% of millennials experience FOMO when they can’t attend something that their family or friends are going to [study by Eventbrite]. So it comes as no surprise that people genuinely hate doing certain activities alone.” That’s why, she says, Pickle is climbing up app-store rankings.

Westropp understands the feeling of alienation. She ran away from Tehran during the 1988 Iran/Iraq war with her mother and sister, and was raised by a single mother who suffered from loneliness and depression. After dropping out of school at the age of 15 she went on to join the ranks of other entrepreneurs.

But a few problems remain with the Pickle app that are cause for concern. It has no 2FA for starters. Plus, the lack of regulation or content filtering means it’s anyone’s guess who users might be arranging to meet. Those are big red flags for the average observer.

Whether Gen-Z cares or not during a global pandemic that has shut down their lives, remains to be seen.

Fishtown Analytics raises $29.5M Series B for its data engineering platform

By Frederic Lardinois

Fishtown Analytics, the Philadelphia-based company behind the dbt open-source data engineering tool, today announced that it has raised a $29.5 million Series B round led by Sequoia Capital, with participation from previous investors Andreessen Horowitz and Amplify Partners.

The company is building a platform that allows data analysts to more easily create and disseminate organizational knowledge. Its focus is on data modeling, with its dbt tool allowing anybody who knows SQL to build data transformation workflows. Dbt also features support for automatically testing data quality and documenting changes, but maybe most importantly it uses standard software engineering techniques to help engineers collaborate on code and integrate changes continuously.

If this all sounds a bit familiar, it’s probably because you saw that Fishtown Analytics also announced a $12.9 million Series A round in April. It’s not often we see both a Series A and B round within half a year, but that goes to show how the market for Fishtown’s service is expanding as companies continue to grapple with how to best make use of their data — and how much investors want to be part of that. 

Image Credits: Fishtown

“This was a very productive thing for us,” Fishtown Analytics co-founder and CEO Tristan Handy told me when I asked him why he raised again so quickly. “It’s standard best practice to do quarterly catch-ups with investors and eventually you’ll be ready to fundraise. And Matt Miller from Sequoia showed up to one of these quarterly catch-ups and he shared the 40-page memo that he had written to the Sequoia partnership — and he came with the term sheet.”

Initially, Handy declined. “We’re very bullheaded people, I think, as many founders are. It took some real reflection and thinking about, ‘is this what we want to be doing right now?’ ”

In the end, though, the team decided to go ahead with this round — mostly because this round allowed the team to think long-term and provided stability and certainty.

One thing Handy has always been very clear about is that he did not found Fishtown to purely build the largest possible company but to solve its users’ problems, even as the market looked at companies like Databricks and Snowflake — and their financial success — as potential analogs. “My worry was that the financial markets were driving things that weren’t necessarily going to be good for our users,” Handy said.

Databricks launches SQL Analytics

By Frederic Lardinois

AI and data analytics company Databricks today announced the launch of SQL Analytics, a new service that makes it easier for data analysts to run their standard SQL queries directly on data lakes. And with that, enterprises can now easily connect their business intelligence tools like Tableau and Microsoft’s Power BI to these data repositories as well.

SQL Analytics will be available in public preview on November 18.

In many ways, SQL Analytics is the product Databricks has long been looking to build and that brings its concept of a ‘lake house’ to life. It combines the performance of a data warehouse, where you store data after it has already been transformed and cleaned, with a data lake, where you store all of your data in its raw form. The data in the data lake, a concept that Databrick’s co-founder and CEO Ali Ghodsi has long championed, is typically only transformed when it gets used. That makes data lakes cheaper, but also a bit harder to handle for users.

Image Credits: Databricks

“We’ve been saying Unified Data Analytics, which means unify the data with the analytics. So data processing and analytics, those two should be merged. But no one picked that up,” Ghodsi told me. But ‘lake house’ caught on as a term.

“Databricks has always offered data science, machine learning. We’ve talked about that for years. And with Spark, we provide the data processing capability. You can do [extract, transform, load]. That has always been possible. SQL Analytics enables you to now do the data warehousing workloads directly, and concretely, the business intelligence and reporting workloads, directly on the data lake.”

The general idea here is that with just one copy of the data, you can enable both traditional data analyst use cases (think BI) and the data science workloads (think AI) Databricks was already known for. Ideally, that makes both use cases cheaper and simpler.

The service sits on top of an optimized version of Databricks’ open-source Delta Lake storage layer to enable the service to quickly complete queries. In addition, Delta Lake also provides auto-scaling endpoints to keep the query latency consistent, even under high loads.

While data analysts can query these data sets directly, using standard SQL, the company also built a set of connectors to BI tools. Its BI partners include Tableau, Qlik, Looker and Thoughtspot, as well as ingest partners like Fivetran, Fishtown Analytics, Talend and Matillion.

Image Credits: Databricks

“Now more than ever, organizations need a data strategy that enables speed and agility to be adaptable,” said Francois Ajenstat, Chief Product Officer at Tableau. “As organizations are rapidly moving their data to the cloud, we’re seeing growing interest in doing analytics on the data lake. The introduction of SQL Analytics delivers an entirely new experience for customers to tap into insights from massive volumes of data with the performance, reliability and scale they need.”

In a demo, Ghodsi showed me what the new SQL Analytics workspace looks like. It’s essentially a stripped-down version of the standard code-heavy experience that Databricks users are familiar with. Unsurprisingly, SQL Analytics provides a more graphical experience that focuses more on visualizations and not Python code.

While there are already some data analysts on the Databricks platform, this obviously opens up a large new market for the company — something that would surely bolster its plans for an IPO next year.

Arrival becomes latest electric vehicle startup to test the public markets with a SPAC

By Kirsten Korosec

Arrival has gone from stealthy electric vehicle startup to prospective public company in a span of a year. The UK-based company, which operated in relative secrecy for several years until January when it announced a $110 million investment from Hyundai and Kia, said Wednesday it has agreed to merge with special purpose acquisition company CIIG Merger Corp.

Arrival was already considered one of the UK’s most valuable startups before Wednesday’s SPAC merger announcement.  This deal, which when completed will make Arrival a publicly traded company listed on the Nasdaq exchange, will push its valuation up to $5.4 billion. Arrival said it raised $400 million in private investment in public equity, or PIPE, from investors that included Fidelity Management & Research Company, Wellington Management, BNP Paribas Asset Management Energy Transition Fund and funds managed by BlackRock. Arrival will have about $660 million in cash proceeds.

Arrival’s aim is to produce electric vehicles that are competitive in price with traditional fossil fuel-powered vehicles and lower than other EVs. Arrival says its modular electric “skateboard” platform, which can be used on a range of different vehicle types, along with its use of microfactories set up near major cities are the key ingredients to its price competitive sauce.

The company already has working prototypes of two major vehicle lines — an electric bus and electric van. The plan is to have four vehicles in the market by 2023, Arrival Automotive CEO Mike Ableson said.

“We are building a strong order book for these products, including 10,000 electric vans from UPS with the additional option to order more thereafter,” Abelson said in an email to TechCrunch. “We are in the process of fitting out microfactories in the UK and the US to fulfill orders, with more in the pipeline.”

Going public via a SPAC will give Arrival the access to capital to achieve its “vision of reimagining the auto industry and accelerating the transition to zero emissions,” he said, noting that the company is now focused on executive and ramping up full production of vehicles with production of its buses starting in the fourth quarter 2021 and its vans in 2022.

“The capital raised from this transaction will go towards delivering on these plans and supercharging the business so we can continue to scale and fulfill the market potential,” Ableson said.

Arrival, which was founded and led by Denis Sverdlov, already has a considerable footprint and order book. Arrival says it has received $1.2 billion in orders. The company employs more than 1,200 people and has five engineering facilities and two microfactories, including its first U.S. location in Rock Hill, South Carolina.

What was the summer of the SPAC — a bevy of companies announcing mergers with publicly traded shell companies between June and mid-September — has extended into the fall. Dozens of companies, including those that have yet to generate revenue or launch a commercial product, have announced SPAC deals in the past few months. A growing number of them are companies in the capitally intensive transportation sector.

EV startups Canoo,  Fisker Inc., Lordstown Motors and Nikola Corp., eschewed the traditional path of becoming a public company.  ChargePoint as well as lidar companies Luminar and Velodyne have also merged, or in the process of merging, with SPACs. Even troubled electric automaker Faraday Future is seeking a SPAC deal.

Arrival, like its EV SPAC brethren, is keen to take advantage of the shift towards electrification. Arrival is homing in on the commercial vehicle market, which is quickening its pace of EV adoption thanks to increasingly strict emissions regulations and other public policy changes.

“Arrival believes that it is well positioned to capitalize on this market opportunity with its technology driven approach to a traditionally underserved market,” Abelson said.

The newly combined company will be listed on the Nasdaq under the new ticker symbol “ARVL.” The combined company will add Peter Cuneo, CIIG’s Chairman and CEO, as the non-executive chairman of Arrival’s board of directors.

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