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MediaLab acquires messaging app Kik, expanding its app portfolio

By Jonathan Shieber

Popular messaging app Kik is, indeed, “here to stay” following an acquisition by the Los Angeles-based multimedia holding company, MediaLab.

It echoes the same message from Kik’s chief executive Tim Livingston last week when he rebuffed earlier reports that the company would shut down amid an ongoing battle with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Livingston had tweeted that Kik had signed a letter-of-intent with a “great company,” but that it was “not a done deal.”

Now we know the the company: MediaLab. In a post on Kik’s blog on Friday the MediaLab said that it has “finalized an agreement” to acquire Kik Messenger.

Kik is one of those amazing places that brings us back to those early aspirations,” the blog post read. “Whether it be a passion for an obscure manga or your favorite football team, Kik has shown an incredible ability to provide a platform for new friendships to be forged through your mobile phone.”

MediaLab is a holding company that owns several other mobile properties, including anonymous social network Whisper and mixtape app DatPiff. In acquiring Kik, the holding company is expanding its mobile app portfolio.

MediaLab said it has “some ideas” for developing Kik going forwards, including making the app faster and reducing the amount of unwanted messages and spam bots. The company said it will introduce ads “over the coming weeks” in order to “cover our expenses” of running the platform.

Buying the Kik messaging platform adds another social media weapon to the arsenal for MediaLab and its chief executive, Michael Heyward .

Heyward was an early star of the budding Los Angeles startup community with the launch of the anonymous messaging service, Whisper nearly 8 years ago. At the time, the company was one of a clutch of anonymous apps — including Secret and YikYak — that raised tens of millions of dollars to offer online iterations of the confessional journal, the burn book, and the bathroom wall (respectively).

In 2017, TechCrunch reported that Whisper underwent significant layoffs to stave off collapse and put the company on a path to profitability.

At the time Whisper had roughly 20 million monthly active users across its app and website, which the company was looking to monetize through programmatic advertising, rather than brand-sponsored campaigns that had provided some of the company’s revenue in the past. Through widgets, the company had an additional 10 million viewers of its content per-month using various widgets and a reach of around 250 million through Facebook and other social networks on which it published posts.

People familiar with the company said at the time that it was seeing gross revenues of roughly $1 million and was going to hit $12.5 million in revenue for that calendar year. By 2018 that revenue was expected to top $30 million, according to sources at the time.

The flagship Whisper app let people post short bits of anonymous text and images that other folks could like or comment about. Heyward intended it to be a way for people to share more personal and intimate details —  to be a social network for confessions and support rather than harassment.

The idea caught on with investors and Whisper managed to raise $61 million from investors including Sequoia, Lightspeed Venture Partners, and Shasta Ventures . Whisper’s last round was a $36 million Series C back in 2014.

Fast forward to 2018 when Secret had been shut down for three years while YikYak also went bust — selling off its engineering team to Square for around $1 million. Whisper, meanwhile, seemingly set up MediaLab as a holding company for its app and additional assets that Heyward would look to roll up. The company filed registration documents in California in June 2018.

According to the filings, Susan Stone, a partner with the investment firm Sierra Wasatch Capital, is listed as a director for the company.

Heyward did not respond to a request for comment.

Zack Whittaker contributed reporting for this article. 

Mercedes-Benz app glitch exposed car owners’ information to other users

By Zack Whittaker

Mercedes-Benz car owners have said that the app they used to remotely locate, unlock and start their cars was displaying other people’s account and vehicle information.

TechCrunch spoke to two customers who said the Mercedes-Benz’ connected car app was pulling in information from other accounts and not their own, allowing them to see other car owners’ names, recent activity, phone numbers, and more.

The apparent security lapse happened late-Friday before the app went offline “due to site maintenance” a few hours later.

It’s not uncommon for modern vehicles these days to come with an accompanying phone app. These apps connect to your car and let you remotely locate them, lock or unlock them, and start or stop the engine. But as cars become internet-connected and hooked up to apps, security flaws have allowed researchers to remotely hijack or track vehicles.

One Seattle-based car owner told TechCrunch that their app pulled in information from several other accounts. He said that both he and a friend, who are both Mercedes owners, had the same car belonging to another customer, in their respective apps but every other account detail was different.

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Screenshots of the Mercedes-Benz app showing another person’s vehicle, and exposed data belonging to another car owner. (Image: supplied)

The car owners we spoke to said they were able to see the car’s recent activity, including the locations of where it had recently been, but they were unable to track the real-time location using the app’s feature.

When he contacted Mercedes-Benz, a customer service representative told him to “delete the app” until it was fixed, he said.

The other car owner we spoke to said he opened the app and found it also pulled in someone else’s profile.

“I got in contact with the person who owns the car that was showing up,” he told TechCrunch. “I could see the car was in Los Angeles, where he had been, and he was in fact there,” he added.

He said that he wasn’t sure if the app has exposed his private information to another customer.

“Pretty bad fuck up in my opinion,” he said.

The first customer reported that the “lock and unlock” and the engine “start and stop” features did not work on his app, somewhat limiting the impact of the security lapse. The other customer said they did not attempt to test either feature.

It’s not clear how the security lapse happened or how widespread the problem was. A spokesperson for Daimler, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz, did not respond to a request for comment on Saturday.

According to Google Play’s rankings, more than 100,000 customers have installed the app.

A similar security lapse hit Credit Karma’s mobile app in August. The credit monitoring company admitted that users were inadvertently shown other users’ account information, including details about credit card accounts and balances. But despite disclosing other people’s information, the company denied a data breach.

Via is launching an on-demand public transit network in the city of Cupertino

By Kirsten Korosec

Shuttle startup Via and the city of Cupertino are launching an on-demand public transportation network, the latest example of municipalities trying out alternatives to traditional buses.

The aim is for these on-demand shuttles, which will start with six vans branded with the city of Cupertino logo, to provide more efficient connections to CalTrain and increase access to public transit across the city.

The on-demand shuttle service, which begins October 29, will eventually grow to 10 vehicles and include a wheelchair accessible vehicle. Avis Budget Group, another partner in this service, is the fleet management service that will maintain the vehicles.

In Cupertino, residents and commuters can use the Via app or a phone reservation system to hail a shuttle. The network will span the entire 11-square-mile city with a satellite zone surrounding the Sunnyvale CalTrain station for commuters, Via said Monday. Cupertino Mayor Steven Scharf views the Via on-demand service as the next generation of “what public transportation can be, allowing us to increase mobility while taking a step toward our larger goal of reducing traffic congestion.”

The service, which will run from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays, will cost $5 a ride. Users can buy weekly and monthly passes for $17 and $60, respectively.

Via has two sides to its business. The company operates consumer-facing shuttles in Chicago, Washington, D.C. and New York.

Via also partners with cities and transportation authorities, giving clients access to their platform to deploy their own shuttles. The city of Cupertino, home to Apple, SeaGate Technologies and numerous other software and tech-related companies, is one example of this. Austin’s Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority also uses the Via platform to power the city’s Pickup service. And Via’s platform is  used by Arriva  Bus UK, a Deutsche Bahn Company, for a first- and last-mile service connecting commuters to a high-speed train station in Kent, U.K.

In January, Via announced it was partnering with Los Angeles as part of a pilot program that will give people rides to three busy public transit stations. Via claims it now has more than 80 launched and pending deployments in over 20 countries, providing more than 60 million rides to date.

While city leaders appear increasingly open to experimenting with on-demand shuttles, success in this niche business isn’t guaranteed. For instance, Chariot, which was acquired by Ford, shut down its operations in San Francisco, New York and the UK in early 2019.

Waymo is creating 3D maps of Los Angeles to better understand traffic congestion

By Kirsten Korosec

Waymo, the autonomous vehicle company under Alphabet, has started creating 3D maps in some heavily trafficked sections of Los Angeles to better understand congestion there and determine if its self-driving vehicles would be a good fit in the city.

For now, Waymo is bringing just three of its self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans to Los Angeles to map downtown and a section of Wilshire Boulevard known as Miracle Mile.

Waymo employees will initially drive the vehicles to create 3D maps of the city. These maps are unlike Google Maps or Waze. Instead, they include topographical features such as lane merges, shared turn lanes and curb heights, as well as road types and the distance and dimensions of the road itself, according to Waymo. That data is combined with traffic control information like signs, the lengths of crosswalks and the locations of traffic lights.

Starting this week, Angelenos might catch a glimpse of Waymo’s cars on the streets of LA! Our cars will be in town exploring how Waymo's tech might fit into LA’s dynamic transportation environment and complement the City’s innovative approach to transportation. pic.twitter.com/REHfxrxqdL

— Waymo (@Waymo) October 7, 2019

Waymo does have a permit to test autonomous vehicles in California and could theoretically deploy its fleet in Los Angeles. But for now, the company is in mapping and assessment mode. Waymo’s foray into Los Angeles is designed to give the company insight into driving conditions there and how its AV technology might someday be used.

The company said it doesn’t plan to launch a rider program like its Waymo One currently operating in the suburbs of Phoenix. Waymo One allows individuals to hail a ride in one of the self-driving cars, which have a human safety driver behind the wheel.

The self-driving car company began testing its autonomous vehicles in and around Mountain View, Calif., before branching out to other cities — and climates — including Novi, Mich., Kirkland, Wash., San Francisco and, more recently, in Florida. But the bulk of the company’s activities have been in the suburbs of Phoenix  and around Mountain View — two places with lots of sun, and even blowing dust, in the case of Phoenix.

Relativity, a new star in the space race, raises $140 million for its 3-D printed rockets

By Jonathan Shieber

With $140 million in new financing, Relativity Space is now one step closer to fulfilling its founders’ vision of making the first rockets on Mars.

Tagging along for the ride are a motley assortment of millionaires and billionaires, movie stars and media moguls that are providing the money the rocket launch services provider and manufacturer of large-scale, 3-D printers needs to achieve its goals.

The new financing will give Relativity the cash to fully build its “Stargate” factory, a semi-autonomous, full-scale production facility that will house the company’s massive 3-D printers and produce its first rocket, the Terran 1.

Using its proprietary printing technology, Relativity says it can slash the time it takes to develop a rocket from design to launch by up to two years. Manufacturing can be done within 60 days, according to the company’s claims, and its vehicles have a payload capacity of up to 1250 kilograms (SpaceX’s largest rockets will have roughly 100 times that payload capacity).

Space startups and established companies alike are now rocketing forward with plans to support the race to establish a foothold on the surface of the Moon as a first step toward getting humanity’s first footsteps on Mars.

Even as Relativity was finalizing the details of this new financing round, Elon Musk was unveiling new details . about his Starship, designed to carry heavy payloads to the Moon and Mars; and NASA began doling out cash to companies that would provide transportation, infrastructure, and support for future lunar missions.

For now, Relativity remains focused on the clear, near-term business opportunity of getting more satellites into the Earth’s orbit for telecommunications companies.

The financiers funding the company’s plans are a mix of Silicon Valley venture capital firms and members of Hollywood’s elite, which is only fitting for a company whose headquarters are in Los Angeles, but whose business takes it to the far flung research centers and launch facilities which support the U.S. space industry.

From Hollywood, Relativity has managed to coax cash from the founder of the Creative Artists Agency, Michael Ovitz, and the Academy Award-winning actor Jared Leto (whose venture capital portfolio is as impressive as it is diverse). Zillow co-founder Spencer Rascoff and Lee Fixel, the former superstar investor for Tiger Global, are also on board.

The two firms leading the deal are Bond Capital, a relatively new growth capital investment firm co-founded by the celebrated Wall Street financial analyst, Mary Meeker, and former private equity investor, Noah Knauf (after their stint running KPCB’s growth capital arm); and Tribe Capital, which was formed in the wake of the dissolution of Social Capital.

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Relativity Space chief technology officer Jordan Noone next to one of the company’s 3-D printers

If anything, the presence of a growth capital investment firm like Bond, which has not invested in companies operating in what some investors have considered to be frontier markets or technologies, speaks to the strength of the space industry as a whole.

“Our entire investment strategy is to invest at the inflection points where things cross over from froniter to mainstream investments,” says Knauf. “We’ve spoken to what amounts to billions of dollars in potential demand for the company over time… They need a faster, better, cheaper solution.”

Some of Bond’s fears are likely alleviated by the fact that Relativity has already signed a number of agreements with satellite companies looking to get their equipment into space. To date, Relativity has publicly announced contracts with four vendors including: Telesat and Mu Space for their low earth orbit constellations, and Spaceflight and Momentus, which provide ride-share and in-space shuttle positioning services for small and medium-sized satellites.

And, over the past year, the company has been steadily building out launch and manufacturing infrastructure to support its lofty ambitions and initial customers.

Relativity has already built fully printed first and second stage structures; assembled the second stage of the Terran 1;  completed its first turbopump tests; and conducted more than 200 engine hotfire tests at its facility in NASA’s Stennis Space Center. Relativity has also completed tests of its avionics architecture and hardware and conducted an analysis of the vehicle’s design and coupled loads.

Relativity’s launch, manufacturing and test facilities are spread among Cape Canaveral, NASA’s Stennis Space Center and the company’s Los Angeles headquarters. The company expects to secure a polar and Sun Synchronous Orbit (SSO) capable launch site by the end of 2019.

It also doesn’t hurt that the company has developed sophisticated manufacturing technologies that have terrestrial applications, if the rocket business fails to take off.

The fit here is perfect for rockets and perfect for aerospace categories,” Knauf says of the company’s proprietary 3-D printing technology. “These guys have built the world’s largest 3-D printer.” 

Those printers and the software-defined, flexible manufacturing capabilities that they enable have massive value on their own, but Relativity co-founders Tim Ellis (a former Blue Origin employee) and Jordan Noone (who worked at SpaceX previously) are focused on building and launching their own rockets — on Earth and eventually on Mars.

“We’re really really truly focused on the rockets for now,” says Ellis. “Being an application layer company is what’s more interesting … [and] we’re seeing so much demand for the rocket launches.”

Ellis also has his eyes fixed beyond the low Earth orbit launch services that the company currently provides. “We’re building the future of humanity space,” he says. “Everyone is on board with this vision of 3-D printing . on Mars.”

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Relativity Space co-founders Tim Ellis and Jordan Noone (Image courtesy of Relativity Space)

Upstart banking company Dave is now worth $1 billion, as Norwest puts in $50 million

By Jonathan Shieber

Two years after the Los Angeles-based fintech startup Dave launched with a suite of money management tools to save consumers from overdraft fees, the company is now worth $1 billion thanks to a nascent banking practice that had investors lining up.

The company used its overdraft protection service and money management display to shift customers’ focus away from the total balance that their account would show by giving them a sense of how much was actually left in their accounts once debits were included in their statements.

“What was cool about our financial management product was that we were trying to use Dave as a replacement for their current bank,” says Jason Wilk, Dave’s co-founder and chief executive.

Dave now counts over 4 million users for its financial management app and has roughly 800,000 people on the waiting list to use its banking services, Wilk says.

The company has taken a methodical approach to opening its doors as a digital bank, in part because it wants to have the necessary support infrastructure in place to service the demand that Wilk expects to see for its service.

“It’s one thing to help people with budgeting. It’s another to actually manage their money,” says Wilk.

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Dave will use the $50 million raised from Norwest to significantly expand its product and engineering team within the next 12 months, in order to double down on the core business and ensure the success of the banking product.

“We can prove that Dave can be helpful by showing how we can help you manage your current account, and then Dave banking is the marketing lever from there,” says Wilk.

For now, customers need to have the financial management app installed to be able to access the company’s banking service.  

Dave charges $1 per month for access to its financial management tools and that also gives customers the ability to use a cushion of between $50 to $75 to avoid being hit with overdraft fees from their current bank account. Dave asks for a tip every time a customer uses that cushion to cover expenses — something that Wilk says is still cheaper than having to worry about overdraft fees.

And, to add a bit of environmental spin, for every tip that Dave receives, the company plants a tree. “We plant millions and millions of trees,” says Wilk.

The company is FDIC insured through a partner bank, the Memphis-based Evolve Bank and Trust, which acts as a backstop for the company’s financial management activities.

“We already had a relationship with them for some payment processing stuff,” says Wilk. “We liked the team and liked the terms and went with them.”

Terms between financial services firms can vary, and, Wilk says, Evolve Bank was willing to give the company a good deal on splitting the interchange fee, which is a big source of revenue for upstart banks.

It’s possible that Dave could have received a bigger check at a potentially higher valuation, but Wilk says the startup is trying to stay lean.

“The company is growing so quickly, we didn’t want to get too diluted on this round,” he says. “We think the company is quite a bit more valuable than [$1 billion]. You don’t want to raise too much money too quickly if you really think the valuation is going to climb… Since we signed the term sheet the company has already grown another 40%.”

It was only four months ago that Dave was announcing a $110 million credit financing with Victory Park Capital and the launch of its banking product.

Dave’s products and services have a few advantages for customers that are just getting started on the path to financial security. The company monitors everyday monthly payments and reports them to credit agencies to improve customers’ credit ratings. The company also provides up to $100, interest-free, overdraft protection.

“Banks have failed their customers by building products that put their own interests ahead of the humans who use them. People don’t need predatory fees, they need tools that actually solve their challenges around credit building, finding work and getting access to their own money to cover immediate expenses. Dave is the banking product that works with its customers, not against them,” said Wilk, in a June statement announcing the funding and banking product launch.

While Dave is getting some hefty firepower and a generous valuation from Norwest, it’s also operating in a market where its core services that were a point of differentiation are quickly becoming table stakes.

Earlier in September, the new startup banking company Chime announced that it had hit 5 million banking customers and was offering its own overdraft protection service.

The San Francisco-based bank has also raised a lot more capital for a potential piggy bank to raid if it needs to acquire or spend on engineering talent to build out new products and services. Earlier this year, the company announced a $200 million round and said it had hit roughly 3 million customers. Clearly Chime is adding new banking customers at a torrid pace.

And they’re facing global competition as well. N26, the European startup bank with a $3.6 billion valuation and hundreds of millions in financing launched in the U.S. a few months ago as well.

The company sees a global opportunity to create new digital banking services in a world where large amounts of capital and an elite set of consumers move easily between international markets.

“We have an opportunity that we build a bank that has more than 50 million users around the globe. Today, we only have 3.5 million users but we’re accelerating,” said N26 chief executive, Valentin Self, in an interview with TechCrunch. “From a country perspective, we have agreed already that we go to Brazil. There’s no plan after Brazil yet. Now let’s focus on the U.S., then on Brazil, then next year we’ll find out what’s the feedback from these two markets.”

Startups Weekly: Upfront Ventures bets on a bus service

By Kate Clark

Hello and welcome back to Startups Weekly, a weekend newsletter that dives into the week’s noteworthy news pertaining to startups and venture capital. Before I jump into today’s topic, let’s catch up a bit. Last week, I profiled an e-commerce startup Part & Parcel. Before that, I wrote about Stripe’s grand plans.

Remember, you can send me tips, suggestions and feedback to kate.clark@techcrunch.com or on Twitter @KateClarkTweets. If you don’t subscribe to Startups Weekly yet, you can do that here.

Startup Spotlight: Landline

Some startups build space ships that will one day send us all to Mars, others put their time and energy into improving 350 year old infrastructure.

Landline, the operator of a bus network in the Midwest, is one of the latest companies to raise venture capital. The business has closed a $3.85 million round led by Los Angeles firm Upfront Ventures, with participation from Mucker Capital and Matchstick Ventures. The company is actually based out of LA, too, but has completed its initial launch in Minnesota, where there’s greater demand for short-term bus travel.

Landline isn’t just a few buses with startup branding. Founder and chief executive officer David Sunde tells TechCrunch a ride on Landline is booked through its partner airline Sun Country Airlines. A traveler pays Sun Country one fixed price to get them from the bus pick-up point to their final destination. The goal is to help those who live far distances from airports save money and to make the experience of busing more enjoyable.

“It’s all meant to be at the level of reliability that you would expect from an air carrier,” Sunde tells TechCrunch. “We don’t want people who get on the bus to be surprised or upset — we want it to be a seamless experience … The perception of bus travel in the U.S. is negative. A big part of our mission is to get people comfortable on buses again as a viable alternative to air travel in certain markets.”

For those of you wondering, have these people ever heard of Greyhound? Landline says they wont compete with Greyhound because of the more than 100-year-old transportation business’s focus on long-haul trips. Landline will specifically focus on connecting those in rural communities to airports, particularly regions where there aren’t already bus routes that conveniently access the airport. Can’t say I’m particularly bullish on this one but the startup is very early and transportation is a massive market ripe for disruption.

“Our vision is completely integrated multi-modal travel,” Sunde added.

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IPO Update

WeWork has delayed its IPO following questions surrounding its corporate governance and the ultimate value of the company. The co-working business says it expects to go public by the end of the year. Airbnb, for its part, filed a press release this week confirming its plans to go public in 2020. We don’t know much about the company’s plans, but we wouldn’t be too surprised to see the home-sharing decacorn pursue a direct listing.

Postmates, the popular food delivery service, raised another $225 million at a valuation of $2.4 billion in a round led by the private equity firm GPI Capital this week. The financing brings Postmates’ total funding to nearly $1 billion. The company filed privately with the SEC for an IPO earlier this year. Sources familiar with the company’s exit plans say the business intends to publicly unveil its IPO prospectus this month.

To discuss the company’s journey to the public markets and the challenges ahead in the increasingly crowded food delivery space, Postmates co-founder and chief executive officer Bastian Lehmann will join us onstage at TechCrunch Disrupt on Friday October 4th. Don’t miss it.

VC Deals

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Learn from top VCs at TechCrunch Disrupt

A whole lot of VCs will be joining us at TechCrunch Disrupt.

We’ll have a16z general partners Chris Dixon, Angela Strange and Andrew Chen for insight into the firm’s latest activity. Seed investor Charles Hudson of Precursor Ventures and Redpoint Ventures general partner Annie Kadavy will show up to give founders tips on how to raise VC. Y Combinator’s Michael Seibel and Ali Rowghani will join us with advice on how to get accepted to their respected accelerator.

Plus, GV’s David Krane, Sequoia general partner Jess Lee, Floodgate’s Ann Miura-Ko, Aspect Ventures’ Theresia Gouw, Bessemer Venture Partners’  Tess Hatch, Forerunner Ventures’ Eurie Kim, Mithril Capital’s Ajay Royan and SOSV’s Arvind Gupta will be on deck to comment on the respective fields.

Disrupt SF runs October 2-4 at the Moscone Center in the heart of San Francisco. Passes are available here.

#EquityPod

This week, the lovely Alex Wilhelm and I welcomed Kleiner Perkins’ Mamoon Hamid, known for his investments in Slack, Figma, Cameo and more, to riff on upcoming IPOs and debate the scalability of D2C brands. Listen to the episode here or watch us on YouTube.

Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify, and all the casts.

Impossible Foods will debut in SoCal grocery stores on Friday as first step in phased national rollout

By Jonathan Shieber

Congratulations Southern California Gelsons store shoppers, you’re getting Impossible Foods on your grocery shelves.

The meatless ground meat substitute will be appearing in stores across the Southern California as the first step in a phased nationwide rollout on Friday.

With the step into groceries, Impossible Foods moves into direct competition with its bigger, publicly traded rival Beyond Meat, which is already selling its patties and sausages in major stores nationwide.

Impossible Foods, which has had some supply chain hiccups as it began to increase its production in the wake of large deals with fast food chains, will be taking a phased approach to its national expansion. Expect it to begin appearing on store shelves in other parts of the country throughout the end of the year. Its next stop is going to be another store chain on the East Coast later this month, the company said.

To celebrate the debut, Impossible Foods has tapped Chrissy Teigen’s grandmother for a VIP event on Thursday night and will be handing out samples at a Los Angeles-area Gelsons on Friday.

“Our first step into retail is a watershed moment in Impossible Foods’ history,” said Impossible Foods’ Senior Vice President Nick Halla, who oversees the company’s retail expansion. “We’re thrilled and humbled that our launch partners for this limited release are homegrown, beloved grocery stores with cult followings in their regions.”

Gelsons and Los Angeles are something of a natural first stop for the company, given LA’s place in the nation’s food, environmental, and entertainment cultures.

Indeed, celebrities are some of the backers of Impossible Foods. In the company’s last, $300 million round, Jay-Z, Katy Perry, Serena Williams, Jaden Smith, Trevor Noah and Zedd all invested.

The Impossible Burger is made to have as much iron and protein as a traditional burger and contains 14 grams of total fat, 8 grams of saturated fat and comes in at 240 calories per 4-ounce servicing. It’s not better for a person than eating a traditional burger patty, but it is better for the environment. (The company says that a conventional 4-ounce patty has 80 milligrams of cholesterol, 23 grams of total fat, 9 grams of saturated fat and 290 calories.)

Founded in 2011 by chief executive officer and former Stanford biochemistry professor Pat Brown, Impossible Foods has raised nearly $700 million from investors including Bill Gates, Khosla Ventures, the slew of celebrities, the Singaporean government’s investment fund, and Hong Kong billionaire Li Kashing (along with his venture capital fund).

The company has set itself the goal of eliminating the need for animals in the food chain by 2035.

Already selling in White Castle, Burger King and Qdoba and is, according to a GrubHub survey, the  most popular . late-night delivery item in the U.S.

Kenshō, ‘the antithesis of Goop,’ launches a research-based guide to natural medicine

By Kate Clark

Goop is cashing in on pseudoscience and, in the process, giving natural health practices a bad name. Krista Berlincourt, the co-founder and chief executive officer of a new startup, Kenshō Health, hopes she can take back the narrative.

“We’re the antithesis of Goop,” Berlincourt, a fintech veteran who previously led marketing and product at Simple Finance, tells TechCrunch. “What we are creating is less of a consumer magazine. We are a holistic health platform that approaches things as more of a holistic health medical journal — everything is backed by science.”

Kenshō, launching today, is an invite-only subscription-based platform for holistic healthcare providers to list their services and share knowledge. The startup has also collected information to construct a research-backed guide to holistic health, something the team believes has been missing from the natural health sector.

Berlincourt and Kenshō co-founder Danny Steiner, who previously worked at NBC Universal, Conde Nast and Hulu before pivoting to health and wellness, have raised $1.3 million in seed funding from Crosscut, a Los Angeles-based venture capital firm, and Female Founders Fund. The pair, based in the LA area, have both suffered from chronic illnesses that had them in and out of doctor’s offices for years.

“I had two years of working with a team of incredible Western physicians and then I had a crash that landed me in the ER. That’s when I realized, OK, this isn’t working,” Berlincourt said. “When you’re caring for yourself or someone you love, there are standards. I am focused on elevating and creating those standards in a way that can be better advised.”

The global wellness economy represented a $4.2 trillion market in 2017, according to The Global Wellness Institute, as subcategories like personalized medicine, healthy eating and fitness/mind-body accelerate growth.

Kenshō, nestled in the personalized and complementary medicine category, says it ensures all of the care providers featured on its platform are 100% validated. Before being allowed to list their services, providers complete a background check and their provider credentials are verified. Kenshō then affirms the providers use research-backed methods and that they have vetted peer references and clients who can provide positive feedback.

Kenshō’s launch features providers from Stanford University, Harvard University, Columbia University and more.

“When you look at health as a whole today in the U.S., we only treat the physical,” Berlincourt explains. “The reason that is destructive is 70% of death is premature and lifestyle related. We are dying faster and people are dying more quickly, generally speaking, as the world turns.”

Many, of course, are skeptical of natural care practices because they can be untested or dependent on unscientific principles. Additionally, holistic care often forces patients to pay out-of-pocket. Nonetheless, patients across the globe are turning to non-traditional methods.

”There’s been a massive shift in the zeitgeist in the way people look at health,” she adds. “One in three people have paid for supplemental care out of pocket from a holistic health provider.”

Workout app Fitplan adds Alex Rodriguez as a trainer… and an investor

By Jonathan Shieber

Former New York Yankees all-star Alex Rodriguez is racking up quite an impressive batting average in his new career as an investor and has added Fitplan to his roster of portfolio companies.

The Los Angeles-based workout app launched by Landon Hamilton and Cam Speck has closed on $4.5 million led by A-Rod and Corazon Capital, and has added new celebrity athlete trainers — including Rodriguez — to cover the needs of would-be sports stars and interested amateurs alike.

“One of the things we’re doing as a company is moving into sports-specific training,” says Speck. It’s an initiative that Rodriguez helped to lead as the company recruited a number of marquee players, including Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey; the controversial swimming superstar Ryan Lochte; fitness model Hattie Boydl; celebrity trainer Corey Calliet; legal scholar and trainer Danni Bell; and fitness model Sommer Ray. 

“The thing that differentiates us [from other fitness apps] is the talent,” says Speck. “We have diverse training plans that fulfill and serve people who are just getting to the gym to people who are college students playing football helping them get to the next level.”

Much of the cash coming from Rodriguez will help recruit new trainers.

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Fitplan co-founders Cam Speck and Landon Hamilton (Image courtesy of Fitplan)

The Fitplan workout app costs $15.99 per month, or $83.99 per year, and includes step-by-step exercise demonstrations and training programs tailored to different sports. “Within those training programs we have everything laid out for a member. We’re defining what a workout plan is from the data we have on over 5 million workouts completed.”

An average Fitplan member is doing 2.7 workouts per week and the average workout time is 58 minutes per workout. Most of the company’s users are in the 18 to 35-year-old range and skews about 70% women, but Hamilton says they’re hoping the focused training regimens will help balance some of the gender disparity among the user base.

For the founders of Fitplan, bringing Rodriguez on board will allow them to move deeper into the tailored fitness vertical. The two men actually reached out to Rodriguez about the investment because they noticed him following fitness influencers specifically.

A bit of research into the portfolio of investments Rodriguez had amassed revealed that he hadn’t made a specific bet on a fitness app yet, so Hamilton reached out to a mutual friend and asked for a meeting.

The founders then spent the next two months in intermittent meetings with Rodriguez while the former Yankee dug into their app.

“He came into the platform and became a user himself,” says Speck.

Since its launch in 2016, Fitplan hadn’t taken any outside investment, relying on the money that Hamilton and Speck had accrued as nightlife entrepreneurs in Canada.

“You’re looking at an explosive media company, when you collectively have over a billion followers on social media,” between all of the trainers on the app, Rodriguez says.

“We are invested heavily in health and wellness brick and mortar companies,” he says. “It just drills in perfectly to our portfolio.”

Shell’s first Greenlots electric vehicle fast charger lands in Singapore

By Kirsten Korosec

Royal Dutch Shell, the energy giant known for its fossil fuel production and hundreds of Shell gas stations, is creeping into the electric vehicle-power business.

The company’s first DC fast charger from its newly acquired company Greenlots launched Monday at a Shell gas station in Singapore. Greenlots, an EV charging startup acquired by Shell in January, installed the charger. This is the first of 10 DC fast chargers that Greenlots plans to bring to Shell service stations in Singapore over the next several months.

The decision to target Singapore is part of Greenlots’ broader strategy to provide EV charging solutions across all applications throughout Asia and North America, the company said. Both Shell and Greenlots have a presence in Singapore. Greenlots, which is based in Los Angeles, was founded in Singapore; and Shell is one of Singapore’s largest foreign investors.

Singapore has been promoting the use of electric vehicles, particularly for car-sharing and ride-hailing platforms. The island city-state has been building up its EV infrastructure to meet anticipated demand as ride-hailing drivers and commercial fleets switch to electric vehicles.

Greenlots was backed by Energy Impact Partners, a cleantech investment firm, before it was acquired by Shell. The company, which combines its management software with the EV charging hardware, has landed some significant customers in recent years, notably Volkswagen. Greenlots is the sole software provider to Electrify America, the entity set up by Volkswagen as part of its settlement with U.S. regulators over its diesel emissions cheating scandal.

Clarification: Shell has other EV chargers. These are the first through its newly acquired company Greenlots.

Earbuds lets audiences stream the playlists of athletes, entertainers and each other

By Jonathan Shieber

Earbuds, a new startup from Austin founded by former Detroit Lions lineman Jason Fox, wants to bring the power of social media to your eardrums.

The company is one of a growing number of startups trying to rejuvenate the music streaming market by combining it with social networking so that audiences can listen to the playlists of their favorite athletes and entertainers… and their friends.

For Fox, the idea for Earbuds sprung from his experiences in the NFL, watching how other players interacted with crowds and hearing about the things fans wanted to know about their favorite players’ routines.

“We were playing Caroline in the first game of the season and Cam Newton was warming up right next to me,” Fox recalled. “He was jamming. Getting the crowd into it. And I was thinking there’re 85,000 people here and millions of more people watching at home…  And I thought… how many people would love to be in his headphones right now?”

Jason Fox TC

Earbuds founder Jason Fox

It wasn’t just Cam Newton who received attention. Fox said at every press conference one or two questions would be about what songs teammates played before games. On social media, players would take screenshots of their playlists and post them to platforms like Twitter or Instagram, Fox said.

The company has been out in the market in a beta version since February and has focused on lining up potential Earbuds devotees from among Fox’s friends in the NFL and entertainers from music and media.

“We made a decision to tweak something and make it very very heavily around influencers because that’s what’s really driving traffic for us,” Fox says. 

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Image courtesy of Earbuds

At its core, the app is just about making music more social, according to Fox. “There’s a social platform for everything, but in the days of terrestrial media distribution music has remain isolated,” he says. 

Logging on is easy. Users can create a login for the app or use their Google or Facebook accounts. One more step to link the Earbuds app with Spotify or Apple Music (the company offers one month free of the premium versions of either service to new users) and then a user can look for friends or browse popular playlists.

A leaderboard indicates which users on the app have streamed the most music and users can create their own streams by adding songs from their libraries to build in-app playlists.

Earbuds isn’t the first company to take a shot at socializing the music listening experience. The olds may remember services like Turntable.fm, which took a stab at making music social but shut down back in 2013. Newer services, like Playlist, are also combining social networking features with music streaming. That site focuses on connecting people with similar musical tastes.

Fox thinks that the ability to attract entertainers like Nelly (who’s on the app) and athletes could be transformative for listeners. Basically these artists and athletes can become their own online radio station, he says.

Fox spent nearly a year meeting with streaming services, music labels, athletes, artists and college students (the app’s initial target market) before even working with developers on a single line of code. The initial work was done out of Los Angeles, but after a year Fox moved the company down to Austin and rebuilt the app from the ground up to focus more on the user experience.

Early partnerships with Burton on an activation had snowboarders streaming their music as they rode a halfpipe proved that there was an audience, Fox said. Now the company is working on integrations across different sports and even esports.

Fox raised a small friends and family round of $630,000 before putting together a $1.5 million seed to get the app out into the market. Now the company is looking for $3 million to scale even more as it looks to integrations with sports teams and other streaming services like Twitch (to capture the gaming audience).

The company currently has seven employees.

Earbuds is available on iOS.

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PodcastOne is launching LaunchpadDM, a free hosting platform for independent podcasters

By Jonathan Shieber

PodcastOne, the celebrity podcasting network from the founder of radio powerhouse WestwoodOne, is launching a free hosting platform for podcasters.

The Los Angeles-based syndicated podcasting platform, which counts athletes, politicians, talk radio, and reality television stars like Adam Carolla, Shaquille O’Neal, Steve Austin, Kaitlyn Bristowe, Dan Patrick, Spencer and Heidi Pratt, Jim Harbaugh, Ladygang, Dr. Drew, Chael Sonnen, Rich Eisen, Barbara Boxer, is angling to get insight into potential new talent through the venture. 

We will see which podcasts are performing well and offer them the opportunity to partner and grow with PodcastOne, and provide them with all the resources the network offers, including production, talent booking, promotion, a dedicated sales team and more,” said PodcastOne chief executive, Peter Morris, in a statement. “As the leading ad-supported podcast network, we are embracing the over 700,000 podcasts out there, and are here to support the long-term growth of independent podcasters.”

How I Podcast

Called Launchpad Digital Media, the new hosting service is pitching podcasters a free platform including unlimited hosting; access to analytics including listenership, geography, and device data; total ownership of direct monetization channels for a podcast’s subscriber base, and complete control over how podcasts are distributed via Apple, Spotify or other services.

The company is also billing itself as a discovery platform, offering free promotion for the services various podcasts across its own network of popular podcasting talent.

“Over the years, people have shared with us how hard it can be out there in the desert of independent podcasting: you have to pay to host and get your podcast heard; you get no help in discoverability; you’re scared to leave and stop paying your hosting platform because you might lose your subscribers; and it’s virtually impossible to get noticed by a major podcast network who can help you take your hard work to the next level,” said Morris, in a statement. “Launchpad was built with the independent podcaster in mind. We wanted to help solve these problems… for free.”

Since nothing is actually free, and since PodcastOne wants to get paid, the catch is the company’s own ability to insert pre- and mid-roll advertising into podcasts that are hosted on the new service.

So podcasters can manage their direct advertising, but they give PodcastOne the ability to slot in ads that the company chooses across any of the podcasts that agree to be hosted on the service. It gives the company access to both marquee talent for high value, big spending advertisers, and a way to flood other podcasts with whatever ads the company wants.

Ads that LaunchpadDM inserts won’t be longer than two total minutes per episode and podcasters can determine the location of the midroll spot when uploading the episode.

In SF, tech crumbled the American dream — LA can do better

By David Riggs
Damian Bradfield Contributor
Damian Bradfield is the president, CMO and founding partner of WeTransfer, the company that designs tools for the creative process. His upcoming book, The Trust Manifesto, about trust in the era of big data, will be released on October 4th.

In the summer of 2018, parts of San Francisco’s public utilities turned gold. Manhole covers, drainpipes and gas line covers were gilded in protest by a pair of street artists, Erick Schmitt and Nick Bushman, and quickly became an obvious metaphor that  “the San Francisco Bay Area has become an enclave unattainable to all but the most privileged.”

In his 1990 book, City of Quartz, Mike Davis envisioned another enclave of exclusion and elitism: Fortress LA. With San Francisco gold-plated, who’s to say Los Angeles is far behind?

As someone in the tech industry now based in LA, I am acutely aware that my field is seen as part of the problem. When we set up shop, we quickly realized that we must keep our community top of mind. We’ve all got to learn the lessons of gold-plated San Francisco.

The most important differentiation for tech companies to make is that gentrification doesn’t necessarily mean revitalization. The difference is evident in some of LA’s quickly changing neighborhoods and has invoked fierce reactions. Anti-gentrification activists in Boyle Heights and downtown have succeeded in their efforts to close at least one art gallery. They’ve picketed businesses like Weird Wave Coffee. Detergent attacks during gallery openings, anti-gentrification graffiti and harassment via social media have put owners on edge.

Activists have a point. Local communities don’t often see the benefits of gentrification that newer, more privileged people do in those hip new wine shops. Too often, they’re taking the place of family businesses or driving up the cost of living beyond the point where locals can compete. What’s more, families displaced by rising costs of living are at a much higher risk of becoming homeless.

Research shows that homelessness in LA has risen by a staggering 75% since 2012, with elderly people and single-parent households most affected. The majority of this displacement is attributed directly to the surge in rental prices brought on by gentrification.

Los Angeles doesn’t need to become another San Francisco.

As opposed to gentrification, revitalization is a collaborative effort, where the city’s urban planning department, existing community members and business owners (incoming and long-standing) decide on improvements that can create more equitable change for all involved.

In 1994, author John Elkington proposed something called a “triple bottom line.” Corporations, he said, should add a second and third key performance indicator of success: their people and their impact on the environment. I agree.

Initiatives that begin in the brains of company boards or directors intended for the communities they inhabit often miss a crucial partner — the communities themselves. Businesses can be positive for a community; make sure to do it responsibly.

High-level community engagement

Businesses should work with communities to execute a project that will have a direct impact on their lives. Instead of coming to the community with a solution, engage the community to help ideate and problem solve together. Smaller commitments that can be sustained over the long term have more impact than grand gestures that disappear within a few months.

In the words of Gina Belafonte, co-director of Sankofa, the social justice organization based in New York and LA, “The process in which it’s executed is the problem. They don’t look to the community for the solution. They try to just bring up solutions to the community. You need to give them not just buy-in but the feeling that, ‘This is our park, this is not a park that was brought here for us. We designed this park, we were part of the team to work with the architects to design that building.’ ”

Employee engagement and education

A brand’s strongest ambassadors are the people who work for it. Many will be living in the neighborhoods struggling with changes. Incentivizing employees to get involved in community work or working with local schools can be a way of counteracting criticism.

We’ve all got to learn the lessons of gold-plated San Francisco.

One of the clearest opportunities, especially for tech companies moving into areas with low levels of science, tech, engineering and math levels (STEM), is in education where it’s badly lacking in public schools. The advantage here is twofold: the investment is designed to grow the talent pool from which your company can only benefit, and the positive impact is obvious to the community in the short and long term.

There are other opportunities for engagement: coding classes for public school students, scholarship opportunities for state and community college students and training programs for those interested in switching careers. Helping existing community members train for the kinds of jobs your company offers will allow locals to bridge the income gap so central to the destruction of existing communities.

Cultural preservation

Finally, one of the thorniest issues is gentrification’s role in disrupting local culture. The makeup of a place naturally changes when newer, more affluent residents move in, and, unfortunately, there are no easy solutions to this.

What’s at stake isn’t necessarily the loss of the community but the successful meshing of what came before with what is coming now. Drum circles, mariachi bands, block parties — these neighborhoods have histories, customs and rituals. Understanding what those are upon entering a new community is maybe the most important step a company and its new employees can take.

There are the surface solutions: investing in local galleries, sponsoring cultural programs and arts organizations. But then there are the less obvious opportunities, such as maintaining the architectural style of the neighborhood in the design of new office space, including the work of neighborhood artists in company projects or creative initiatives launched by your brand.

Ultimately, Los Angeles doesn’t need to become another San Francisco. This isn’t about finding comfortable ways of appeasing locals for the sake of positive PR. It’s about being more adept at stemming the turbulence that accompanies change and harnessing it in a way that benefits the community.

After all, empathy doesn’t simply apply to a company’s decision making, staff and customers. It applies to the communities we call home.

Mobile messaging financial advisory service Stackin’ adds banking features and raises cash

By Jonathan Shieber

When Stackin’ initially pitched itself as part of Techstars Los Angeles accelerator program two years ago, the company was a video platform for financial advice targeting a millennial audience too savvy for traditional advisory services.

Now, nearly two years later, the company has pivoted from video to text-based financial advice for its millennial audience and is offering a new spin on lead generation for digital banks.

The company has launched a new, no-fee, checking and savings account feature in partnership with Radius Bank, which offers users a 1% annual percentage yield on deposits.

And Stackin has raised $4 million in new cash from Experian Ventures, Dig Ventures and Cherry Tree Investments, along with supplemental commitments from new and previous investors including Social Leverage, Wavemaker Partners, and Mucker Capital.

“Stackin’ has a unique and highly effective approach to connect and communicate with an entire generation of younger consumers around finance,” said Ty Taylor, Group President of Global Consumer Services at Experian, in a statement.

Founded two years ago by Scott Grimes, the former founder of Uproxx Media, and Kyle Arbaugh, who served as a senior vice president at Uproxx, Stackin initially billed itself as the Uproxx of personal finance.

It turns out that consumers didn’t want another video platform.

“Stackin’ is fundamentally changing the shape and context of what a financial relationship means by creating a fun, inclusive and judgement free environment that empowers our users to learn and take action through messaging,” said Scott Grimes, CEO and co-founder of Stackin’, in a statement. “This funding allows us to build out new features around banking and investing that will enhance the relationship with our customers.”

Later this fall the company said it would launch a new investment feature that will encourage Stackin users to participate in the stock market. It’s likely that this feature will look something like the Acorns model, which encourages users to invest in diversified financial vehicles to get them acquainted with the stock market before enabling individual trades on stocks.

According to Grimes, the company made the switch from video to text in March 2018 and built a custom messaging platform on Twilio to service the company’s 500,000 users.

“In a short time, we have built a large customer base with a demographic that is typically hard to reach. Having financial institutions like Experian come on board as an investor is a testament that this model is working,” Grimes wrote in an email.

Ordermark, the online-delivery order management service for restaurants, raises $18 million

By Jonathan Shieber

Los Angeles-based Ordermark, the online delivery management service for restaurants founded by the scion of the famous, family-owned Canters Deli, said it has raised $18 million in a new round of funding.

The round was led by Boulder-based Foundry Group. All of Ordermark’s previous investors came back to provide additional capital for the company’s new funding, including: TenOneTen Ventures, Vertical Venture Partners, Mucker Capital, Act One Ventures, and Nosara Capital, which led the Series A funding.

“We created Ordermark to help my family’s restaurant adapt and thrive in the mobile delivery era, and then realized that as a company, we could help other restaurants experiencing the same challenges. We’ve been gratified to see positive results come in from our restaurant customers nationwide,” said Alex Canter, in a statement.

A fourth generation restauranteur, Canter built the technology on the back of his family deli’s own needs. The company has integrated with point of sale systems, kitchen displays, and accounting tools, and with last mile delivery companies.

As the company expands it’s looking to increase its sales among the virtual restaurants powered by cloud kitchens and delivery services like Uber Eats, Seamless/Grubhub and others, the company said in a statement.

Although the business isn’t profitable, Ordermark is now in over 3,000 restaurants. The company has integrations with over fifty ordering services.

Fortnite World Cup has handed out $30 million in prizes, and cemented its spot in the culture

By Jonathan Shieber

The Fortnite phenomenon — the wildly popular battle royale game from Epic Games — has manifested itself in concerned articles and cultural shoutouts, and now has sealed its place in the cultural firmament by wrapping up its first “World Cup,” which saw the company give away $30 million in prizes.

Congrats to all of our winners this weekend at the #FortniteWorldCup Finals

Solo Champion: @bugha
Duos Champions: @nyhrox @aquaa
ProAM: @Airwaks @RLGRIME
Creative: #FishFam @cizzorz @hiimtylerh @suezhoo @zandOfficial pic.twitter.com/ilBs7RTeTv

— Fortnite (@FortniteGame) July 28, 2019

The big winner in today’s solo challenge was 16-year-old Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf, who won $3 million for beating out the competition in the solo tournament. And, as sports writer Darren Rovell noted on Twitter, Giersdorf’s prize pool is only $850,000 smaller than the pot for the winner of the U.S. Open, which is set to begin in a few weeks at the same stadium.

Indeed, the esports prize pool is one of the biggest awards for a popular competitive event. Wimbledon winners took home less than $3 million and Tiger Woods won $2 million for besting the field of competitors at the Masters.

Fortnite’s big moment is also a big deal for competitive esports in the U.S. The biggest prize pool for an esports event in the U.S. was likely meant to plant a flag and show that competitive gaming is something that can capture the attention of a younger audience that has drifted away from watching more traditional pastimes and watching less sports, according to a McKinsey study.

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Courtesy of McKinsey

Giersdorf, who hails from Pennsylvania and plays professionally for the Los Angeles-based esports team, the Sentinels, became the inaugural Fortnite World Cup solo champion by putting in a dominant performance over the entire weekend of competition.

For folks who’ve never played the game (or had it explained to them), Fortnite involves dropping 100 players onto an island where they have to find weapons, build bases and try to eliminate the competition until only one player is left standing.

It’s a cartoon version of the Hunger Games, with no bloodshed, a lot of victory dances and hours of social networking.

The game has turned its publisher, Epic Games, into a multibillion-dollar business. Certainly, it’s one that can afford to front a $30 million prize purse for a few days of competition.

The tournament wasn’t just about solo play. The company had different rounds for the duos competition featuring two-player teams. That competition, which ended on Saturday, also featured a $3 million prize pool and was won by the European duo of Emil “Nyhrox” Bergquist Pedersen and David “Aqua” W.

Epic pulled out all the stops it could for the multi-day event at Arthur Ashe stadium. In addition to pulling in some of the top names in live streaming and competitive esports to participate in the event, the company also brought in the DJ Marshmello for a performance.

The tournament pulled in nearly 9 million viewers on YouTube alone for the final day of the competition. More than 40 million people tried out for a slot in the World Cup finals.

And while the prize pot takes a significant chunk out of the $100 million that Epic has committed to spend on competitions this year, the returns in terms of the social capital and cachet that Epic has given to the esports world can’t be underestimated.

It’s certainly going to change the life of its first World Cup champion, a fact that Giersdorf knows all too well himself.

“Emotionally, right now, I don’t feel too much, except I know that this could pretty much change my life forever,” Giersdorf said in an interview with ESPN. “It’s just absolutely unreal.”

Marcus Hutchins, malware researcher and ‘WannaCry hero,’ sentenced to supervised release

By Zack Whittaker

Marcus Hutchins, the malware researcher who became known as an “accidental hero” for stopping the WannaCry ransomware attack in 2017, has been sentenced to supervised release for one year on charges of making and selling the Kronos banking malware.

Presiding Judge J. P. Stadtmueller described Hutchins, 25, as a “talented” but “youthful offender” in remarks in court Friday.

The judge said Hutchins’ time had been served and will face no time in jail.

“It’s going to take the people like [Hutchins] with your skills to come up with solutions because that’s the only way we’re going to eliminate this entire subject of the woefully inadequate security protocols,” said Stadmueller.

The judge said he took into account Hutchins’ age at the time of the offenses, and gave him credit for “turning a corner” in his life before charges were brought.

Stadtmueller said his sentence is likely, however, to bar him from re-entering the United States.

In a statement, Hutchins said he made some “bad decisions” as a teenager. “I deeply regret my conduct and the harm that was caused,” he said.

“I have no desire to go back to that life,” he said, and apologized to the victims of the malware he created.

Hutchins, a British citizen who goes by the online handle @MalwareTech, was arrested in Las Vegas by federal marshals in August 2017 while boarding a flight back to the U.K. following the Def Con security conference. The government alleged in an indictment that he developed Kronos, a malware that steals banking credentials from the browsers of infected computers. The indictment also accused him of developing another malware known as the UPAS Kit. Hutchins was bailed on a $30,000 bond.

Since his indictment he has been living in Los Angeles.

Hutchins initially denied creating the malware. But after prosecutors filed a superseding indictment, he later pleaded guilty to the two primary counts of creating and selling the malware. Eight remaining charges were dropped following his change in plea.

Prosecutors said Hutchins faced up to 10 years in prison and a maximum $500,000 fine.

In a statement following his guilty plea, he said he regretted his actions and accepted “full responsibility for my mistakes.”

Prosecutors said although Hutchins and an accomplice had generated only a few thousand dollars from selling the malware, Kronos allowed others to financially benefit from using the malware.

Hutchins’ indictment came four months after he was hailed as a hero for registering a domain name that stopped the spread of the WannCry cyberattack, which knocked tens of thousands of computers offline with ransomware in a few hours.

The ransomware attack, later blamed on North Korean hackers, spread across Ukraine, Europe and the U.K., encrypting systems and knocking businesses and government departments offline. The U.K.’s National Health Service NHS was one of the biggest organizations hit, forcing doctors to turn patients away and emergency rooms to close. Hutchins, who at the time of the attack worked for Los Angeles-based Kryptos Logic from his home in the south of England, registered the domain in an effort to understand why the ransomware was spreading. It later transpired the domain acts as a “kill switch” and stopped it dead in its tracks.

In the week after, the kill switch became the target of powerful botnets hoping to knock the domain offline and spark another outbreak.

Hutchins told TechCrunch last month that the WannaCry attack was one of the most stressful and exhausting moments in his life.

Since the attack, however, Hutchins received additional acclaim for his malware research on new infections and botnet activities. He has been praised for live-streaming his work so others can learn how to reverse-engineer malware. Many in the security community — and further afield — have called on the court to grant Hutchins clemency for his recent concerted efforts to protect users from security threats.

Prosecutors acknowledged Hutchins’ reformed character in a sentencing memo filed this week, saying Hutchins has “since made a good decision to turn his talents toward more positive ends.”

When reached, a Justice Department spokesperson deferred comment to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, which did not immediately comment.

Ford-owned Spin is bringing a tougher electric scooter to dozens of cities

By Kirsten Korosec

Spin, the electric scooter company acquired by a Ford subsidiary for around $100 million, is launching a new electric scooter with a sturdier frame, improved braking system, bigger tires and longer-range battery.

In short, this third-generation product is built to handle the kind of abuse that a shared dockless scooter is subjected to on a daily basis. It’s also designed to be more secure. The company has added custom security screws that were developed to thwart vandalism and tampering.

The design improvements should improve the riding experience and, in theory, attract more customers. However, more customers is only one important piece of the scooter game. Gross profit margin is the other.

This third-generation is built to have a longer life, a key factor in improving the unit economics of the dockless scooter business.spin third gen side view

Spin launched a pilot program in June to test the new scooters in Baltimore. The pilot showed “promising results for increasing gross profit margin, while decreasing costs associated with theft and vandalism,” according to the company.

“In our testing of the next edition Spin scooter, we have seen a significant increase in utilization and our customers are taking more rides and traveling longer distances,” co-founder and COO Zaizhuang Cheng said in a statement.

The third-edition Spin scooter has 10-inch tires, a feature meant to better absorb shock from potholes and other rough road conditions. Other features include a wider and longer platform, a battery with 37.5 miles of range and and an upgraded authentication system. The company also revealed a new logo as part of a brand refresh across its scooters, app and website.

spin third gen brakes

 

Spin, which is housed under the automaker’s subsidiary Ford Smart Mobility LLC, will deploy the new scooter next month in Berkeley, Calif., Denver, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Memphis, Minneapolis and Washington, D.C. Other U.S. cities will be added in the future.

Spin has been ramping up across the U.S. The company is the exclusive operator in 11 markets and has more than quadrupled the number of dockless scooter markets in which it operates to 47 cities and college campuses.

Its aim is to be in 100 cities and college campuses by the end of the year.

Postmates’ self-driving delivery rover will see with Ouster’s lidar

By Kirsten Korosec

Postmates’ cooler-inspired autonomous delivery robot, which will roll out commercially in Los Angeles later this year, will rely on lidar sensors from Ouster, a burgeoning two-year-old startup that recently raised $60 million in equity and debt funding.

Postmates unveiled the first generation of its self-described “autonomous rover” — known as Serve — late last year. The vehicle uses cameras and light detection and ranging sensors called lidar to navigate sidewalks, as well as a backup human who remotely monitors the rover and can take control if needed.

A new second-generation version made its debut onstage earlier this month at Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech event. This newer version looks identical to the original version except a few minor details, including a change in lidar sensors. The previous version was outfitted with sensors from Velodyne, a company that has long dominated the lidar industry.

The supplier contract is notable for Ouster, a startup trying to carve out market share from the giant Velodyne and stand out from a global pack of lidar companies that now numbers close to 70. And it could prove substantial for the company if Postmates takes Serve to other cities as planned.

Lidar measures distance using laser light to generate highly accurate 3D maps of the world around the car. It’s considered by most in the self-driving car industry a key piece of technology required to safely deploy robotaxis and other autonomous vehicles.

Ouster’s strategy has been to cast a wider net for customers by selling its lidar sensors to other industries, including robotics, drones, mapping, defense, building security, mining and agriculture companies. It’s an approach that Waymo is also pursuing for its custom lidar sensors, which will be sold to companies outside of self-driving cars. Waymo will initially target robotics, security and agricultural technology.

Ouster’s business model, along with its tech, has helped it land 437 customers to date and raise a total of $90 million.

The contract with Postmates is its first major customer announcement. COAST Autonomous announced earlier this week that it was using Ouster sensors for its a low-speed autonomous shuttles. Self-driving truck companies Kodiak and Ike Robotics have also been using the sensors this year.

Ouster, which has 125 employees, uses complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) technology in its OS1 sensors, the same tech found in consumer digital cameras and smartphones. The company has announced four lidar sensors to date, with resolutions from 16 to 128 channels, and two product lines, the OS-1 and OS-2.

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