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Today — July 3rd 2020TechCrunch

Lime puts Jump bikes back on London streets

By Kirsten Korosec

Jump bikes are returning to London — this time through its new owner Lime .

London is the first city in Europe to see Jump bikes return since Uber offloaded the company to Lime in a complex deal that unfolded in May. Lime raised $170 million in a funding round led by Uber, along with other existing investors Alphabet, Bain Capital Ventures and GV. As part of the deal, Lime acquired Jump, the electric bike and scooter division that Uber acquired in 2018 for around $200 million.

When the deal closed with Lime, thousands of Jump bikes were scrapped in the United States and the entire Jump team — some 400 employees — lost their jobs. Lime closed the acquisition of Jump in Europe several weeks after the transaction closed in the U.S. Until now, it was unclear if the Jump bikes in Europe would suffer the same fate as their counterparts in the United States.

Thousands of Jump bikes were pulled off the streets in European cities such as Berlin, Brussels, Lisbon, London, Madrid, Malaga, Munich, Paris, Rome and Rotterdam. It’s unlikely that Lime will put Jump bikes back in all of these cities. Sources have said Lime plans to redeploy Jump scooters and bikes in London, Paris, Rome and Barcelona. Today’s announcement appears to be the first step.

For now, the Jump bikes will be available in the Uber app in London. The Jump bikes will be added to the Lime app at a later date as a result of ongoing systems integration, the company said. The fleet size will start at around 100 e-bikes and will grow based on demand. Pricing will be £1 unlock and 15p per minute thereafter. Bikes will be deployed in Camden and Islington, Lime said.

Demand for bikes appears to have prompted Lime to bring Jump back into service. The company said that since lockdown restrictions have eased, Lime’s e-bike rental service has seen record usage. The micromobility company said users are taking longer journeys and the bikes are being used more frequently. Lime also recorded its highest-ever usage in a single day over a weekend in mid-June with more than 4,000 new users. Lime said its e-bike network has now facilitated over 1.5 million journeys across London.

The reintroduction of Jump bikes in London is part of a broader plan by Lime to increase its presence in the city. Earlier this week, the UK announced that an e-scooter pilot program would begin Saturday. Lime said it has partnered with global insurance giant Allianz to provide coverage for Lime e-scooter riders in the UK. Lime said it co-designed a two-year safety campaign with Allianz that will run until March 2022.

Intel to invest $253.5 million in India’s Reliance Jio Platforms

By Manish Singh

Intel said on Friday it will invest $253.5 million in Jio Platforms, joining a roster of high-profile investors including Facebook and Silver Lake that have backed India’s top telecom operator at the height of a global pandemic.

The chipmaker’s investment arm said it is acquiring a 0.39% stake in Jio Platforms, giving the Indian firm a valuation of $65 billion. Intel is the 12th investor to buy a stake in Jio Platforms, which has raised nearly $15.5 billion by selling 25% stake since April this year.

“Jio Platforms’ focus on applying its impressive engineering capabilities to bring the power of low-cost digital services to India aligns with Intel’s purpose of delivering breakthrough technology that enriches lives. We believe digital access and data can transform business and society for the better. Through this investment, we are excited to help fuel digital transformation in India, where Intel maintains an important presence,” said Wendell Brooks, Intel Capital President, in a statement.

More to follow…

Yesterday — July 2nd 2020TechCrunch

Festo’s latest biomimetic robots are a flying feathered bird and ball-bottomed helper arm

By Devin Coldewey

You could be excused for thinking that German robotics company Festo does nothing but put together fabulous prototype robots built to resemble kangaroos, jellyfish, and other living things. They do in fact actually make real industrial robots, but it’s hard not to marvel at their biomimetic experiments; Case in point, the feathered BionicSwift and absurd BionicMobileAssistant motile arm.

Festo already has a flying bird robot — I wrote about it almost 10 years ago. They even made a flying bat as a follow-up. But the BionicSwift is more impressive than both because, in an effort to more closely resemble its avian inspiration, it flies using artificial feathers.

Image Credits: Festo

“The individual lamellae [i.e. feathers] are made of an ultralight, flexible but very robust foam and lie on top of each other like shingles. Connected to a carbon quill, they are attached to the actual hand and arm wings as in the natural model,” Festo writes in its description of the robot.

The articulating lamellae allow the wing to work like a bird’s, forming a powerful scoop on the downstroke to push against the air, but separating on the upstroke to produce less resistance. Everything is controlled on-board, including the indoor positioning system that the bird was ostensibly built to demonstrate. Flocks of BionicSwifts can fly in close quarters and avoid each other using an ultra wideband setup.

Festo’s BionicMobileAssistant seems like it would be more practical, and in a way it is, but not by much. The robot is basically an arm emerging from a wheeled base — or rather a balled one. The spherical bottom is driven by three “omniwheels,” letting it move easily in any direction while minimizing its footprint.

The hand is a showcase of modern robotic gripper design, with all kinds of state of the art tech packed in there — but the result is less than the sum of its parts. What makes a robotic hand good these days is less that it has a hundred sensors in the palm and fingers and huge motility for its thumb, but rather intelligence about what it is gripping. An unadorned pincer may be a better “hand” than one that looks like the real thing because of the software that backs it up.

Not to mention the spherical movement strategy makes for something of an unstable base. It’s telling that the robot is transporting scarves and not plates of food or parts.

Of course, it’s silly to criticize such a machine, which is aspirational rather than practical. But it’s important to understand that these fascinating creations from Festo are hints at a possible future more than anything.

Sprint 5G is no more, as T-Mobile focuses on its own network

By Brian Heater

A day after formally completing the sale of Boost, Virgin and other Sprint prepaid networks to Dish, T-Mobile is pulling the plug on Sprint 5G. The move is one in a long list of issues that need sorting out in the wake of April’s $26.5 billion merger. And like a number of other moves, it’s set to leave some customers in the lurch.

The end of Sprint’s 2.5 GHz 5G comes as T-Mobile opts to focus on its own network. T-Mobile already started the process in New York City, a few weeks after the merger and has since completed it in a handful of other cities, including Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Washington, D.C.

As CNET notes, while most existing Sprint 5G customers won’t be able to make the transition with their existing device, Samsung Galaxy S20 5G users are in the clear here. For everyone else, T-Mobile is offering up credits on leases for new 5G handsets.

T-Mobile told TechCrunch in a statement, “We are working to quickly re-deploy, optimize and test the 2.5GHz spectrum before lighting it up on the T-Mobile network.”

Along with the sale of Boost, 5G was a big selling point for T-Mobile’s Sprint acquisition. The carriers argued that the deal was necessary to keep them competitive with first and second place carriers AT&T and Verizon when it came to the next-generation wireless technology.

At the time FCC chairman Ajit Pai agreed stating, “This transaction will provide New T-Mobile with the scale and spectrum resources necessary to deploy a robust 5G network across the United States.”

Earlier this week, OpenSignal awarded T-Mobile the top spot in availability, noting, “In the U.S., T-Mobile won the 5G Availability award by a large margin with Sprint and AT&T trailing with scores of 14.1% and 10.3%, respectively.”

Uber adds another director to its board: Flex CEO Revathi Advaithi

By Connie Loizos

Uber has a new, independent board member, shows a new SEC filing: CEO Revathi Advaithi of 51-year-old Flex, which is among the world’s largest electronic manufacturers and competes against Taiwan’s Foxconn Technology.

Advaithi, a mechanical engineer who grew up in India with four sisters, was appointed to the top job in February of last year after spending roughly 10 years with the electronic manufacturing company Eaton, where she was COO and oversaw its global electrical business.

Before that, she spent six years as a VP at Honeywell.

Advaithi came to the job at a tough time. Specifically, Flex once counted among its biggest customers the Chinese company Huawei, for which it provided contract services for products like smartphones and 5G base stations. But the U.S. government last year banned U.S. firms — and non-U.S. firms with more than 25% American components in their products — from doing business with Huawei after it was deemed a national security risk.

Indeed, Flex, which today enjoys a market cap of $5 billion, saw its shares trading in the high teens in 2018, but they’d fallen to around $10 a share before Advaithi was brought aboard, and they have largely stay there since.

The coronavirus has also put pressure on Flex’s supply chains, even while the company has been diversifying its factories. (It noted to analysts earlier this year that it doesn’t have a factory in China’s Hubei province, which, at the time, was the epicenter of the virus.)

Advaithi is currently Uber’s third female director. In February, it announced that Mandy Ginsberg had been appointed to the board.  GInsberg was CEO of the dating app company Match Group until January of this year, reportedly stepping down from the role after a tornado hit her home in Dallas and she separately underwent surgery. (Publicly traded Match Group was already expected at the time to be spun away from its majority shareholder, IAC, a maneuver that was completed yesterday.)

In 2017, Uber also appointed then Nestlé executive Wan Ling Martello to its board. Martello left Nestlé in 2018.

Entrepreneur Arianna Huffington was the first woman brought into Uber’s boardroom back in 2016 by then CEO Travis Kalanick. She left her seat last year, citing the growth of her media company, Thrive Global, as the reason for her departure.

Advaithi began her career in the U.S. decades ago as a shop floor supervisor in Shawnee, Oklahoma. She took over as Flex CEO last year when its longtime chief, Michael McNamara, resigned to join the venture capital firm Eclipse.

‘Westworld’ creators are developing a ‘Fallout’ TV series for Amazon

By Anthony Ha

“Fallout,” the post-apocalyptic video game franchise published by Bethesda Softworks, is being turned into a TV series by Kilter Films, the production company of Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy.

The series, which began in 1997, takes place in an alternate future with a retro tone, after a nuclear war has turned most of the world into a wasteland. The games have continued in the two decades since, most recently with the release of “Fallout 76.”

The series — currently in development, with a series commitment from Amazon Studios — is part of Nolan and Joy’s overall deal with streaming service, which they signed last year for a reported $150 million.

The husband-and-wife team is best known for creating HBO’s new version of “Westworld” (based on a Michael Crichton film from the 1970s). They’re also working on an adaptation of William Gibson’s novel “The Peripheral.”

“Fallout is one of the greatest game series of all time,” Nolan and Joy said in a statement. “Each chapter of this insanely imaginative story has cost us countless hours we could have spent with family and friends. So we’re incredibly excited to partner with Todd Howard and the rest of the brilliant lunatics at Bethesda to bring this massive, subversive, and darkly funny universe to life with Amazon Studios.”

 

Police roll up crime networks in Europe after infiltrating popular encrypted chat app

By Devin Coldewey

Hundreds of alleged drug dealers and other criminals are in custody today after police in Europe infiltrated an encrypted chat system reportedly used by thousands to discuss illegal operations. The total failure of this ostensibly secure method of communication will likely have a chilling effect on the shadowy industry of crime-focused tech.

“Operation Venetic” was reported by various police agencies, major local news outlets, and by Motherboard in especially vibrant form, quoting extensively people apparently from within the groups affected.

The operation involved hundreds of officers working across numerous agencies in France, the Netherlands, the U.K., and other countries. It began in 2017, and culminated two months ago when a service called EncroChat was hacked and the messages of tens of thousands of users exposed to police scrutiny.

EncroChat is a step up in some ways from encrypted chat apps like Signal and WhatsApp. Rather like Blackberry once did, EncroChat provided customized hardware, a dedicated OS, and its own servers to users, providing an expensive service costing thousands per year rather than a one-time purchase or download.

Messages on the service were supposedly very secure and had deniability built in by letting conversations be edited later — so theoretically a user could claim after the fact they never said something. Motherboard’s Joseph Cox has been following the company for some time and has far more details on its claims and operations.

Image Credits: EncroChat /

Needless to say those claims were not entirely true, as at some point in early 2020 police managed to introduce malware into the EncroChat system that completely exposed the conversations and images of its users. Because of the trusted nature of the app, people would openly discuss drug deals, murders, and other crimes, making them sitting ducks for law enforcement.

Throughout the spring criminal operations were being cracked open with alarming (to them) regularity, but it wasn’t until May that users and EncroChat managed to put the pieces together. The company attempted to warn its users and issue an update, but the cat was out of the bag. Seeing that its operation was now exposed, the Operation Venetic teams struck.

Arrests across the several countries involved (there were numerous sub-operations but France and the Netherlands were the primary investigators) total near a thousand, but exact numbers are not clear. Dozens of guns, tons (metric, naturally) of drugs and the equivalent of tens of millions of dollars in cash were seized. More importantly, the chat logs seem to have provided access to people higher up the food chain than ordinary busts would have.

That the reportedly most popular of encrypted chat companies focused on illegal activities could be so completely subverted by international authorities will likely put a damper on its competition. But like other, more domestic challenges to encryption, such as the perennial complaints by the FBI, this event is more likely to strengthen the tools in the long run.

Velodyne becomes latest tech company to go public using a SPAC, eschewing the traditional IPO path

By Kirsten Korosec

Velodyne Lidar, the leading supplier of a sensor widely considered critical to the commercial deployment of autonomous vehicles, said Thursday it has struck a deal to merge with special-purpose acquisition company Graf Industrial Corp., with a market value of $1.8 billion.

The company said it able to raise $150 million in private investment in public equity, or PIPE, from new institutional investors as well as existing shareholders of Graf Industrial. Through the transaction, Velodyne will have about $192 million in cash on its balance sheet.

Velodyne’s founder David Hall along with backers Ford, Chinese search engine Baidu, Hyundai Mobis  and Nikon Corp. will keep an 80% stake in the combined company. Hall will become executive chairman and Anand Gopalan will keep his CEO position.

The merger is expected to close in the third quarter of 2020. The combined company will remain on the NYSE and trade under a new ticker symbol VLDR following the close of the business combination, Velodyne said.

The agreement marks the latest company to turn to SPACs in lieu of a traditional IPO process. Earlier this week, online used car marketplace startup Shift Technologies announced an agreement to merge with SPAC Insurance Acquisition Corp. The newly combined company will be listed on NASDAQ under a new ticker symbol. Nikola Motor also went public via a SPAC earlier this year.

Velodyne will become a publicly traded company amid a period of consolidation in the broader autonomous vehicle industry. Startups, automakers and tech giants have extended their timelines in the capitally intensive pursuit of developing and deploying AVs. Some startups have been swallowed up by larger companies, while others have become defunct. It has also prompted automakers in the past 18 months to shift more resources and attention towards advanced driver assistance systems in passenger cars, trucks and SUVs.

Lidar is perhaps one of the most crowded sub categories in the autonomous vehicle industry. Lidar is a sensor that measures distance using laser light to generate highly accurate 3D maps of the world around the car. The sensor is considered by most in the self-driving car industry a key piece of technology required to safely deploy robotaxis and other autonomous vehicles.

Velodyne is best known for its “KFC bucket” spinning-laser lidar. The design was inspired by sensor failures in vehicles competing in the DARPA Grand Challenge in 2004. Hall developed the spinning laser lidar and sold the sensors to teams competing in a future autonomous vehicle DARPA competition. The KFC buckets were the go-to lidar sensors for companies working on autonomous vehicles. Waymo, back when it was just the Google self-driving project, even used Velodyne LiDAR sensors until 2012.

However, Spinning lidar units are expensive and mechanically complex. It spurred a new generation of lidar startups to try new approaches. Today, there are dozens of lidar companies — some counts track upwards of 70 — trying to convince automakers and AV developers to use their sensors. And they’re all aiming for Velodyne.

This new generation of companies has prompted Velodyne to evolve as well. The company announced at CES 2020 in January new sensors, including a tiny $100 lidar unit called Velabit as well the VelaDome and a software product called Vella.

“There’s no argument about the market opportunity for lidar,” Gopalan told TechCrunch reporter Devin Coldewey back in January. “I think the right conversation is about what you want to do with it. Others are focused on level 2+ or 3 [autonomy, i.e. above simple driver assistance] — what we want to do is short-circuit that approach. The only reason it’s not being adopted at lower levels is price. If I say you can have lidar for a hundred dollars, of course you’re going to use it. Under a hundred dollars, you can’t even imagine the applications you open up: drones, home robotics, sidewalk robots.”

The company has spent the past several years focused on reducing the cost of its lidar as well as diversifying its portfolio. The Velabit is just one example of the company’s efforts to lock in customers outside of the AV industry. The small sensor doesn’t have the capabilities needed for autonomous vehicles. Instead, Velodyne sees an application for the sensor to be used on smaller industrial robots.

Project M acquires punk rock satire site The Hard Times

By Anthony Ha

Matt Saincome knows that compared to many of the startup acquisitions that we write about on TechCrunch, selling a website for a little over $1 million (mostly cash, with a little stock) isn’t a huge deal.

“But in the world of punk comedy media? Whoo boy!” he said.

Saincome is happy to poke fun at himself — he is the co-founder and CEO of a satirical punk news website, after all — but he also sounded genuinely proud of what he’s built with The Hard Times. He never raised outside funding, and while there have been acquisition offers in the past, he was always afraid that they might threaten the site’s voice.

“I had always been the financial backstop,” Saincome told me. Still, at a certain point, “That started to become irresponsible.”

So he’s happy that there will be a bit of a financial windfall (not to mention health care and benefits) for himself, his co-founder and editor in chief Bill Conway and their editorial staff, plus a pay bump for freelancers. He also suggested that the acquisition will allow The Hard Times to invest more seriously in its editorial strategy, for example by building out its podcast network.

“If you like The Hard Times, it’s just going to be The Hard Times on steroids,” he said. “It’s very much the same direction, but better and secured.”

The acquiring company is Project M Group, a digital media and e-commerce company founded in 2016 that has also acquired Revolver Magazine and Inked Magazine.

Here’s how founder and CEO Enrique Abeyta laid out the Project M model: “We go out and acquire existing media properties with an audience, and we reinvigorate or relaunch or put some capital behind them to grow those audiences. Then we tie that into a vertically integrated e-commerce platform.”

After all, it’s no secret that many online publishers have struggled to make the digital advertising model work. And given Revolver’s focus on heavy metal and rock, and Inked’s focus on tattoos, there are some natural commerce opportunities — for example, if you’re reading an article about Metallica, you might also want to buy a Metallica T-shirt.

At the same time, Abeyta emphasized the importance of authenticity in the publications that Project M acquires, and he said that post-acquisition, they don’t become any more corporate.

“I’m a tattooed, mohawked guy running this company out of my house in Cave Creek, Arizona,” he said. “We’re the least corporate thing on Planet Earth … Our whole vibe when we partner with these entrepreneurs is, we want to work with the entrepreneur and the brand.”

So the entire Hard Times team, including Saincome, will remain involved. At the same time, the site’s old parent company will continue to own and operate the related gaming and technology site Hard Drive.

Saincome said he’ll also continue running OutVoice, a separate startup building freelancer payment tools. In fact, one of the results of the deal is that all of Project M’s publications will be using OutVoice.

“My role at Hard Times is going to be the visionary, brand-builder sort of guy,” he said. That should free up a lot of his time and energy from worrying about day to day business concerns, and he promised, “I’m going to take that energy and pump it back right into OutVoice .”

Extra Crunch Live: Join Jason Green of Emergence Capital for a live Q&A on July 9 at 2 pm EDT/11 am PDT

By Ingrid Lunden

2020 may feel so far like the year of living dangerously, but for many of us it has also been the year of working remotely. Led by the stick of COVID-19 rather than the carrot of the benefits of more flexible work life, a lot of organizations, and the people who power them, have only relatively recently started to get to grips with this concept. But some have had their finger on the pulse of cloud computing and how that relates to enterprise productivity for years.

Come join us on Thursday, July 9, at Extra Crunch Live to hear from Jason Green of Emergence Capital, one of the leading investors (and VC firms) promoting and funding some of the biggest startups in this space.

Extra Crunch Live is open exclusively to Extra Crunch subscribers. If you’re not already an Extra Crunch member, you can join here.

For the uninitiated, the EC Live format is at once direct and wide-ranging, an hour-long conversation that not only covers some of the biggest issues in tech, building startups and investing today — and boy do we have a lot of issues right now — but gets to the heart of them, in a lighter format that’s actually fun to watch — as you can see from past talks with Sequoia’s Roelof Botha and Homebrew’s Hunter Walk.  (See the whole schedule of Extra Crunch Live talks here.)

July 9 should be an especially good one because, well, Green is full of beans.

That is to say, he’s been very outspoken in the last few months, leading the (reassuring? alarming?) charge for startups to just write off the last quarter and focus on the future.

Sounds flippant? Not really. Green has years of experience to draw on — a long track record backing some of the most game-changing and successful startups of the last decade+ in the areas of cloud computing, enterprise and enterprise productivity, and specifically in how they cross over. They include Box, SalesLoft, ServiceMax, SteelBrick, SuccessFactors, Gusto (formerly ZenPayroll) and Yammer, with Emergence itself also an early backer of Zoom, Salesforce, Crunchbase and Clearbanc.

For founders, other investors and anyone involved in any aspect of deal-making, especially for enterprise startups, it’s a must-watch.

Join Jason and me next week. We’re looking forward to it.

Extra Crunch Live is open exclusively to Extra Crunch subscribers, and so if you want to watch, join here. You can find the full details of the call below the jump!

Details:

Let’s stop COVID-19 from undoing diversity gains

By Walter Thompson
Rachel Sheppard Contributor
Rachel Sheppard is the director of global marketing at global pre-seed accelerator Founder Institute and co-founder of the Female Founder Initiative.

Any disaster will have its harshest repercussions on people who were already marginalized. It’s unsurprising, then, that when it comes to jobs and businesses, the COVID-19 lockdown is impacting women and ethnic minorities more than anyone else.

In April, unemployment shot up to 15.5% among women, 2.5% higher than for men. The rate was also higher among African Americans and Latinx people than for white people, with Latinx reaching a record 18.9% unemployment.

Women, especially from more disadvantaged backgrounds, are going to be taking the lion’s share of caregiving responsibilities at home during the pandemic, making them more vulnerable to job cuts. At the same time, underrepresented employees in general may feel more marginalized than ever as job security is put on the line.

It’s been hard to get to where we are on diversity and inclusion. Slowly but surely, diversity and inclusion have become a highly visible element of any company. But as COVID-19 turned up the pressure for businesses around the world, that progress came under threat as D&I initiatives took a back seat. The killing of George Floyd and the subsequent protests reignited D&I efforts in magnitude, but how can we ensure that, as time passes, those efforts are maintained with energy and determination?

This may be the shock to the system that will make business leaders realize that diversity is not an accessory or PR stunt — it is an integral part of the daily lives of each and every member of your team. Today’s consumers and your co-workers demand socially conscious companies, which is why D&I is vital to making any startup a well-rounded business. It’s also imperative for supporting economic recovery on a larger scale. Forgetting to preserve and improve D&I as we battle through COVID-19 will not only set us back years in terms of equality, it will worsen our collective chances of getting through this turbulence unscathed.

D&I matters to your business’ survival

It’s understandable that most startups today will be in survival mode. But D&I cannot be cast aside as a nonessential part of your business. It’s quite the opposite. More diversity is a known indicator for better economic performance and improves a business’ chances of thriving through a recession.

We often hear about how diversity means more innovation in a company. Consider just how important this is today. Facing a crisis with no precedent, weighing up a variety of insights and solutions is vital to finding an intelligent lockdown strategy. As business leaders, we need to know what the world around us looks like right now, and that means knowing what people of all backgrounds are experiencing.

We also can’t afford to not take into consideration the long-term effects of today’s actions. Survival can’t mean usurping what your company stands for. If you sacrifice diversity now, you might retain employees for the time being, because they’re scared of being jobless. But you will have undermined the trust that your workers place in you and you will be sure to lose them far more easily once the situation eases. This is very true for customers too — the crisis is driving the public to support purpose-driven and diverse businesses more than ever, and you will be left out if you don’t meet those values.

Even if you’re not hiring, work on diversity and inclusion

So how can a startup keep diversity a priority in this strange new world? Sure, you may not be hiring, but that’s not the only way to improve diversity. Take this time to revisit your internal culture. The virus is forcing us to see our business from different angles — we’re looking into the homes of our co-workers, hearing about the personal issues affecting their work lives and about the work issues affecting their personal lives. Let’s make sure your company culture is not part of the problem.

You need to be accessible. Are some of your employees scared to speak up about their issues? Is there a big morale problem that you haven’t been able to alleviate? If so, then you need to work on making your workspace more inclusive, open and friendly. This is more than building up team spirit with morning coffee Zoom get-togethers and after-work networking. It’s about weeding out any systems that bring repercussions to people who voice their concerns; it’s about encouraging them to do so; it’s about recognizing every member of a team and every person in a meeting, not just the executives present.

The lockdown has shown that many people can work remotely, effectively. Can you use this in future to give employees a greater chance of success — perhaps those who live far from the office, or who have children or elderly relatives to care for? Many HR departments are probably focusing efforts away from hiring at the moment and could instead be put in charge of employee success, which means identifying and addressing the unique concerns of each of your staff (you might even consider assigning a full-time staff member to this role).

This is key to making your company a welcoming place for underrepresented employees who are often more wary of their circumstances than their co-workers, both now and in the future. It will help them grow and want to stay in the company, as well as attract a more diverse employee pool in the future.

In case you are hiring, there are innovative solutions to help you attract more diverse applicants to your company. Joonko’s technology integrates to your applicant tracking system to boost the visibility of underrepresented potential hires. Pitch.Me aims to tackle bias by presenting candidate profiles anonymously, including only relevant information about experience and skills but with no information regarding gender, age or ethnic background. Services like DiTal help tech businesses connect with potential employees from diverse backgrounds.

Reassess what internal success looks like

Before COVID-19, the key performance indicators for your business might have been the number of sales per rep, or the number of leads generated in a week. Those quotas are now unrealistic, and more importantly, they’ll be tougher to reach for employees with less time on their hands. That means people with more caregiving responsibilities — often women — or with less disposable income, and statistics show that people from ethnic minorities are more likely to be affected by the virus.

You have to create a work environment in which people with less time and resources can still achieve their professional goals. We typically hear that 80% of the most valuable work takes up 20% of a team’s time; well, let’s make sure your staff is focusing most of their efforts on that 20% of valuable energy. Build a new business plan that reassesses what the company needs to achieve in the near future, and set new metrics that hyperfocus on that bottom line. Think about how important it is to each of your co-workers’ morale to be able to meet their goals day in day out, despite today’s challenges. Furthermore, being adaptable for the benefit of your staff is an admirable quality that will not easily be forgotten.

An important note — helping everyone reach success means giving everyone the resources to do so. No one in your company should be unequipped to this “new normal,” which means good laptops or devices and speedy internet. Don’t hesitate to invest in people who need it.

Prioritize career development

Career development is vital for underrepresented employees, for whom upward mobility is always harder. People from minority backgrounds tend to have less robust business networks, exactly because they are the minority in the business world. We can never stop fighting this vicious cycle.

So take a look at your team and think about who you can help ascend in their career. Prioritize underrepresented people now because they are more likely to get hit harder by the lockdown and have a tougher recovery. Even if you don’t see it from an altruistic perspective, including underrepresented employees in your leadership now will lead to better economic local recovery and improved outcomes for your company.

One option is sponsorship programs in which you or other senior leaders advocate on behalf of selected employees (as well as acting as their mentors). Think of it as equally distributing the networks and influence accumulated by business leaders among a more diverse pool of people.

Bring diversity into your brand

We’ve looked inward, now let’s look outward. How can you change how your industry looks, even in times of crisis. To reach the huge visible changes we’ve seen in, for example, branding in the fashion industry, took influential people making decisions at powerful tables. But it would be ironically easy to see things regress to a more heterogeneous state.

Stopping this from happening means making those big decisions yourself, and uniting others in joining you. Leverage your brand and bring your internal diversity to the forefront of everything you do — the mentors who give their time to startup organizations, the speakers you put forward for online events. Make a conscious push for your external marketing to display as much diversity as possible, especially amid fears that the advertising space will compromise its diversity standards in response to COVID-19.

Support other underrepresented founders

If you have the resources, help struggling founders get through the lockdown. There may be small or mid-sized women or minority-led companies within your community that need your support. If you’re sending employees care packages and gifts, make the extra effort to source them from underrepresented local businesses. It’s not hard to do — there are organizations that can help you connect to such companies around the United States, such as Women Owned’s business directory and Help Main Street.

Large companies can work with Hello Alice to directly fund smaller companies founded by every underrepresented group in the United States, from veterans to LGBTQ+. IFundWomen is a large network of women-founded businesses you can choose to fund — or join — and it has a wing specifically for businesses owned by women of color. As a business leader you can always be seeking out diverse founders to collaborate with; For example, check out this amazing list of Latinx founders catering to the United States’ enormous Latinx markets, as well as finding solutions to improve diversity in business.

The NAACP has fought for equal rights for people of color for over a century. You can support them and their ongoing work, which ranges from campaigning for crucial reforms to spotlighting emerging Black-owned businesses.

Now’s not the time to slack on diversity. As tempting as it might be to think of it as an accessory, it’s just as vital now for your business to get through the pandemic and to stop your entire industry from losing decades of hard-earned progress in building a more equal society.

India’s richest man takes on Zoom

By Manish Singh

India’s Reliance Jio Platforms, which recently concluded a $15.2 billion fundraise run, is ready to enter a new business: Video conferencing.

On Thursday evening, the firm — backed by Mukesh Ambani, India’s richest man — formally launched JioMeet, its video-conference service.

Like Zoom and Google Meet, JioMeet offers unlimited number of free calls in high definition (720p) to users and supports as many as 100 participants on a call. But interestingly, it’s not imposing a short time limit on a call’s duration. Jio Platforms says a call can be “up to 24 hours” long. The service currently has no paid plans and it’s unclear if Jio Platforms, which has a reputation of giving away services for free for years, plans to change that.

Jio Platforms, which began beta testing JioMeet in May this year, said the video conferencing service offers “enterprise-grade” host controls. These include: password protection on each call, multi-device login support (up to five devices), and ability to share screen and collaborate.

Other features include the ability to switch “seemingly” from one device to another, and a ‘Safe Driving Mode’ for when a participant is in commute. Hosts can also enable a ‘waiting room’ to ensure participants have to ask for permission to enter a call.

Reliance Jio Platforms is taking on Zoom with JioMeet, which looks a lot like Zoom

JioMeet is available for use through Chrome and Firefox browsers on desktop, as well as has standalone apps for macOS, Windows, iOS, and Android. It also has an Outlook plugin.

In a call with analysts earlier this year, Jio executives had described JioMeet as a platform that they think would some day have features to enable doctors to consult their patients, prescribe them medicine, and have a system in place to let them buy medicines online and get test results digitally. Similarly, they said JioMeet will allow teachers to host virtual classrooms for their students, with the ability to record sessions, assign and accept homework, and conduct tests digitally.

JioPlatforms, which is India’s top telecom operator with about 400 million customers, operates a number of digital services including JioMusic, a music streaming service; JioCinema, which offers thousands of TV shows and movies; and JioTV, which allows users to watch more than 500 TV channels. All of these services are available at no additional charge to Jio Platforms subscribers. It costs less than $2 a month to be a Jio subscriber.

The launch of JioMeet today comes as tens of millions of Indians are working from home and using video conferencing services for work and to stay in touch with friends.

Zoom app, currently the most popular video conference service in India, on Android had about 35 million monthly active users in the third week of July, up from about 4 million users during the same period in March, according to mobile insights firm App Annie, data of which an industry executive shared with TechCrunch. (Android powers nearly 99% of smartphones in India.)

Ford taps Disney Media Works to mark the return of the Bronco SUV

By Kirsten Korosec

Ford is teaming up with Disney Media Networks to mark the return of its iconic Bronco SUV through a series of short films that will be broadcast across a number of cable and digital properties including ABC, ESPN, National Geographic and Hulu.

The strategy — prompted by COVID-19 shutdowns — is a departure for Ford, which has traditionally revealed new vehicles at auto shows or other in-person media events. More than three years ago, Ford announced it was bringing back the Bronco after years of customer requests and speculation. The mid-size SUV that ended its 30-year production run in 1996 was supposed to debut in June at the revamped North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Ford was forced to come up with a new strategy after organizers cancelled the 2020 NAIAS due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Bronco will be revealed in 3-minute films that will air during the first commercial break in the 8 p.m. ET hour July 13 on ABC, ESPN and National Geographic. Ford will begin taking reservations for the Bronco as the films air. The automaker plans to share additional information about the upcoming Bronco models on its YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter channels.

The short films will be available on-demand via Hulu the following day.

Ford is collaborating with Disney CreativeWorks to create the reveal stories. Jimmy Chin, director, cinematographer, photographer and professional climber best known for the Academy Award-winning documentary Free Solo, was tapped for the project.

“Ford Bronco is an icon that has captured people’s imaginations and inspired them to explore the most remote corners of America and the world since the 1960s,” said Jim Farley, Ford’s chief operating officer. “As a new era for Bronco begins, we’re proud to tap the strengths of epic adventurers like Jimmy Chin and Disney storytellers to help bring Bronco to life and inspire millions of people to get out into the wild.”

The short films will be different for each channel. On ABC, the film will star country music singer Kip Moore and air during “CMA Best of Fest,” the Country Music Association’s three-hour concert experience. Professional climber Brooke Raboutou will be featured in a film that will air on ESPN during its SportsCenter show. hin highlight a new Bronco model during the National Parks: Yosemite episode on the National Geographic channel. Chin will judge a hashtag challenge contest and appear in an Instagram Story featuring the Bronco on NatGeo’s Instagram account, Ford said.

Apple launches an online portal for Apple Card account holders

By Sarah Perez

Apple today has launched an online portal for its Apple Card credit card, allowing account holders to manage their balance, view statements, schedule payments and more. The portal, card.apple.com, will be particularly useful in the case that you lose or misplace your iPhone and need to manage your card or pay your bill. In the past, you would have had to contact Goldman Sachs directly to do so.

The new site also offers an easy way to pay your balance when you’re at your desktop or laptop working on your monthly budgeting and bills, instead of having to go get your iPhone.

To use the site, cardholders will log in via their Apple ID. You can then view your card balance, available credit, next payment due date and amount on the homescreen. The main page also offers quick access to set up scheduled payments — a feature some cardholders may have not realized existed, as it was buried under the three-dot “more” menu when viewing their Apple Card in the Wallet app.

From the left-side navigation, you can browse your past statements or download them as PDFs.

And from the other settings, you can link or remove connected bank accounts, contact support, read the card terms, and more. What’s missing, however, is a way to remotely lock the card or request a replacement, in the event the card has been lost or stolen. Those features are still only available with the Wallet app, which is also where you can mange your Express Transit settings and your push notifications.

The lack of a website for card management had been one of the few quirks about Apple’s modern credit card. Though it’s convenient to have a built-in way to manage the card and pay the bill right from your iPhone, credit card holders still expect to be able to access their card through the web, as well.

The launch of the online portal shortly follows Apple’s debut of Path to Apple Card, a four-month credit worthiness improvement program focused on getting more consumers qualified.

Lemonade and Accolade open sharply higher as public markets rally

By Alex Wilhelm

Despite today’s bucket of plus-and-minus economic data, stocks are heading higher in regular trading. And among the shares rising the most are today’s two venture-backed IPOs: Lemonade and Accolade.

TechCrunch wrote this morning that the firms’ aggressive IPO pricing arcs boded well for the IPO market itself, that investors were willing to price growth-y shares of unprofitable companies with vigor, which could help other companies looking at the public markets get off the sidelines.

Then the two companies opened sharply higher, and at the current moment stand as follows (Data via Yahoo Finance):

  • Lemonade: $61.62 per share, up $32.62 or 112.48%
  • Accolade: $34.39 per share, up $12.39 or 56.32%

Yep those are big numbers.

Expect the regular round of complaints that the firms were mispriced (maybe) and could have charged more from their equity in their public debuts (again, maybe). But for the two companies, it’s still a lovely day. Pricing above range and then seeing public investors frantically bid your equity higher is much better than the alternatives.

How the companies will fare when they report earnings (Q3 is upon us, making Q2’s earnings cycle just around the bend) will help settle their real valuations. But, for today at least, Lemonade and Accolade have done their yet-private brethren a solid by going up and not down.

The great stink in software pipelines

By Walter Thompson
Greg Law Contributor
Greg Law is the co-founder and CTO at Undo.io, a software failure replay platform provider.

It’s the summer of 1858. London. The River Thames is overflowing with the smell of human and industrial waste. The exceptionally hot summer months have exacerbated the problem. But this did not just happen overnight. Failure to upkeep an aging sewer system and a growing population that used it contributed to a powder keg of effluent, bringing about cholera outbreaks and shrouding the city in a smell that would not go away.

To this day, Londoners still speak of the Great Stink. Recurring cholera infections led to the dawn of the field of epidemiology, a subject in which we have all recently become amateur enthusiasts.

Fast forward to 2020 and you’ll see that modern software pipelines face a similar “Great Stink” due, in no small part, to the vast adoption of continuous integration (CI), the practice of merging all developers’ working copies into a shared mainline several times a day, and continuous delivery (CD), the ability to get changes of all types — including new features, configuration changes, bug fixes and experiments — into production, or into the hands of users, safely and quickly in a sustainable way.

While contemporary software failures won’t spread disease or emit the rancid smells of the past, they certainly reek of devastation, rendering billions of dollars lost and millions of developer hours wasted each year.

This kind of waste is antithetical to the intent of CI/CD. Everyone is employing CI/CD to accelerate software delivery; yet the ever-growing backlog of intermittent and sporadic test failures is doing the exact opposite. It’s become a growing sludge that is constantly being fed with failures faster than can be resolved. This backlog must be cleared to get CI/CD pipelines back to their full capabilities.

What value is there in a system that, in an effort to accelerate software delivery, knowingly leaves a backlog of bugs that does the exact opposite? We did not arrive at these practices by accident, and its practitioners are neither lazy nor incompetent so; how did we get here and what can we do to temper modern software development’s Great Stink?

Ticking time bombs

Berkeley’s Innovative Genomics Institute is rolling out a spit test for COVID-19 testing

By Jonathan Shieber

Scientists from the University of California, Berkeley, have begun trials of a new spit test for COVID-19 infections developed by the university’s Innovative Genomics Institute.

Since the disease was first identified on U.S. shores, the Berkeley research institute led by the trailblazing CRISPR researcher Jennifer Doudna has worked tirelessly to bring innovative methods to diagnose and process viral samples and develop potential treatments for the disease to production.

The new saliva-based samples that the university is trialing would obviate the need for trained medical staff wearing personal protective equipment to conduct tests to determine whether an individual is infected.

If the study proves that the new testing method can work as well as nasal swabs, then the Berkeley campus will be able to increase testing of students, faculty and staff ahead of the beginning of the school’s fall semester in late August, according to a statement from the University.

Jennifer Doudna, wearing mask, outside kiosk

Jennifer Doudna talks with Alex Ehrenberg, a graduate student in integrative biology who is helping organize the FAST trial of saliva tests for COVID-19. (UC Berkeley photo by Irene Yi)

“At Berkeley, we hope to bring at least some of our undergraduate students back to campus safely in the fall, and one way to do that is to provide them with asymptomatic regular testing, so that we can be monitoring their health and insuring that they are not transmitting the virus,” said Jennifer Doudna, who spearheaded the pop-up diagnostics lab and the saliva testing, in a statement.

Doudna thinks the tests could be conducted in as little as five or six minutes. The study is already open to faculty, staff and students who can sign up to participate in the Free Asymptomatic Saliva Testing study on the institute’s website.

“As opposed to swab testing, saliva testing is a lot simpler and allows people to literally spit into a tube,” Doudna said. “We think it will take about five or six minutes as they pass through our testing center here, so we hope to make this very painless, easy and simple for people to come by and get tested.”

Graduate students, faculty and staff who are authorized to work on campus can sign up to participate in the Free Asymptomatic Saliva Testing (FAST) study on the IGI website.

The tests rely on polymerase chain reactions which have already received Emergency Use Authorization for at-home testing from the Food and Drug Administration.

Using the CRISPR-Cas proteins, whose application for genetic engineering was pioneered by Doudna and her fellow researchers, the IGI is working on a less expensive, point-of-care home test that could give people results in minutes without the need for a laboratory analysis.

The Innovative Genomics Institute was founded by Doudna in 2014 and by Berkeley and the University of California San Francisco to advance CRISPR-based genome editing.

Earlier in June, the institute brought a new robotic handling system to accelerate testing capacity for the disease to 1,000 tests per day, according to a statement from the University. 

“When the pandemic hit, we asked ourselves, ‘What do we as scientists do to address the COVID-19 health emergency?’” Doudna said, in a statement. “That effort has focused on testing. We set up a clinical laboratory, we are now getting asymptomatic saliva testing going for the UC Berkeley campus. We hope that if it works well here, we can help disseminate this strategy elsewhere.”

Pioneering CRISPR researcher Jennifer Doudna is coming to Disrupt

By Jonathan Shieber

Jennifer Doudna, a woman whose work has triggered the explosion in innovation in the field of synthetic biology and has given researchers around the world a way to program and reprogram the living world, will be speaking at Disrupt in September.

From her positions as the Chancellor’s Chair Professor in the University of California, Berkeley’s Chemistry and Molecular and Cell Biology Departments and a senior investigator at the Gladstone Institutes and professor at the University of California, San Francisco, Doudna has been at the forefront of research into CRISPR gene editing technology.

It was only eight years ago that Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier first proposed that CRISPR-Cas9 enzymes (which direct immune responses in microbes) could be used to edit genomes. That discovery would prove to be one of the most significant advancements in the history of the human understanding of biology, and it has the potential to reshape the world.

Doudna describes her own journey into the field of biochemistry beginning back in Hawaii with the discovery of James Watson’s book “The Double Helix” on her father’s bookshelf. From an early age growing up in Hawaii as the daughter of a literature professor, Doudna knew she wanted to pursue a career in science. But it was Watson’s famous book that opened her eyes to the human side of science.

Now her scientific research and startup endeavors have the potential to open humanity’s eyes to the potential benefits of this revolutionary field of science. Because in addition to her research work, Doudna is also a co-founder of a number of companies including: Mammoth Biosciences, Caribou Biosciences, Intellia Therapeutics and Editas Medicine.

These companies are tackling some of the biggest challenges that the world faces. Mammoth is working on a new type of COVID-19 test, Caribou is pursuing novel cancer therapies, and publicly traded Editas is pursuing treatments for ocular, neurodegenerative, and blood diseases as well as cancer therapies.

There’s almost no industry where gene editing hasn’t had some sort of effect. From material science to food science and agriculture to medicine, CRISPR technology is creating opportunities to remake entire industries.

Genetically modified organisms are already making Impossible Foods meat replacements taste meaty; they’re used in Solugen’s bio-based chemicals; and CRISPR edited cells have been proven safe in early trials to treat certain kinds of cancer.

Given the breadth of applications and the questions that the technology’s application raises about how and what limitations researchers should put on the technology, there will be plenty for Doudna to discuss on the Disrupt stage.

Disrupt is all virtual in 2020 and runs September 14 to September 18, and we have several Digital Pass options to be part of the action or to exhibit virtually, which you can check out here.

Doudna joins an incredible line-up of Disrupt speakers including Sequoia’s Roelof Botha and Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes. We’ll be announcing even more speakers over the coming weeks, so stay tuned.

(Editor’s Note: We’re watching the developing situation around the novel coronavirus very closely and will adapt as we go. You can find out the latest on our event schedule plans here.)

Are virtual concerts here to stay?

By Eric Peckham

The COVID-19 pandemic pushed the music industry to experiment seriously with virtual concerts.

Historically, musicians and their managers have been careful about challenging the traditional concert model that became their main source of income as revenue from album sales disappeared.

Is the current surge of virtual concerts here to stay or will it be abandoned as soon as large in-person gatherings are permitted again and the novelty of concerts in Fortnite wears off?

For the middle tier of recording artists, virtual concerts are shaping up to be a worthwhile part of their business portfolio, generating healthy income and engaging a geographically dispersed base of core fans. For the top tier of artists — those who perform in stadiums and arenas — the opportunity cost of virtual concerts doesn’t make financial sense to do very often once in-person concerts return. That said, a couple such performances each year can unlock a lot of the untapped potential revenue from fans who can’t attend their normal concerts.

Virtual concerts are having their moment

There’s no opportunity cost to trying a virtual concert during a pandemic. Artists aren’t performing, touring, shooting videos or even doing in-person sessions with songwriters. With everyone stuck at home, fans will forgive a disappointing attempt at performing online and artists have time to experiment. Live Nation, the dominant concert promotion and venue management company, has even converted its site to curating a schedule of virtual performances.

Virtual concerts have been growing in three formats: video streaming platforms, within the virtual worlds of video games and virtual reality.

Concerts via video

Daily Crunch: Apple and Google block banned apps in India

By Anthony Ha

Banned Chinese apps are beginning to disappear from India’s app stores, Palantir is raising more funding and Venmo starts testing Business Profiles.

Here’s your Daily Crunch for July 2, 2020.

1. Apple and Google block dozens of Chinese apps in India

Two days after India blocked 59 apps developed by Chinese firms, Google and Apple have started to comply with the government’s order and are preventing users in the world’s second-largest internet market from accessing those apps.

UC Browser, Shareit, Club Factory and other apps are no longer listed on Apple’s App Store and Google Play Store. In a statement, a Google spokesperson said that the company had “temporarily blocked access to the apps”on Google Play Store as it reviews the order.

2. SEC filing indicates big data provider Palantir is raising $961M, $550M of it already secured

Palantir, the controversial and secretive big data and analytics provider, has reportedly been eyeing up a public listing this autumn. But in the meantime it’s also continuing to push ahead in the private markets.

3. Venmo begins piloting ‘Business Profiles’ for small sellers

Business Profiles offer small sellers and other sole proprietors the opportunity to have a more professional profile page on its platform. Sellers can share key business details like address, phone number, email, website and more.

4. Tesla delivered 90,650 vehicles in second quarter, a smaller than expected decline

Tesla said Thursday that it delivered 90,650 vehicles in the second quarter, a 4.8% decline from the same period last year, prompted by challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic — like suspending production for weeks at its main U.S. factory. But the company still managed to beat expectations despite the headwinds.

5. Top LA investors discuss the city’s post-COVID-19 prospects

From larger fund investors like Mark Suster and Kara Nortman at Upfront Ventures to Dana Settle at Greycroft Partners; to early-stage investors like Will Hsu at Mucker Capital; TX Zhuo at Fika Ventures, the responses were generally upbeat about the future opportunities for Los Angeles startups. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

6. Dish closes Boost Mobile purchase, following T-Mobile/Sprint merger

T-Mobile today announced that it has closed a deal that divests Sprint’s pre-paid businesses, including Boost and Virgin Mobile. The whole thing was a key part of T-Mobile’s bid to merge with Sprint.

7. AR 1.0 is dead: Here’s what it got wrong

Many AR startups made huge promises and raised huge amounts of capital before flaring out in a similarly dramatic fashion. Lucas Matney argues that a key error was thinking that an AR glasses company should be hardware-first, when the reality is that the missing value is almost entirely centered on first-party software experiences. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

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