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Clubhouse announces new collaboration tool and free version of its project management platform

By Arman Tabatabai

Clubhouse — the software project management platform focused on team collaboration, workflow transparency and ease of integration — is taking another big step towards its goal of democratizing efficient software development.

Traditionally, legacy project management programs in software development can often appear like an engineer feeding frenzy around a clunky stack of to-dos. Engineers have limited clarity into the work being done by other members of their team or into project tasks that fall outside of their own silo.

Clubhouse has long been focused on easing the headaches of software development workflows by providing full visibility into the status of specific tasks, the work being done by all team members across a project, as well as higher-level project plans and goals. Clubhouse also offers easy integration with other development tools as well as its own API to better support the cross-functionality a new user may want.

Today, Clubhouse released a free version of its project management platform, that offers teams of up to 10 people unlimited access to the product’s full suite of features, as well as unlimited app integrations.

The company also announced it will be launching an engineer focused collaboration and documentation tool later this year, that will be fully integrated with the Clubhouse project management product. The new product dubbed “Clubhouse Write” is currently in beta, but will allow development teams to collaborate, organize and comment on project documentation in real-time, enabling further inter-team communication and a more open workflow.

The broader mission behind the Clubhouse Write tool and the core product’s free plan is to support more key functions in the development process for more people, ultimately making it easier for anyone to start dynamic and distributed software teams and ideate on projects.

write screenshot

“Clubhouse Write” Beta Version. Image via Clubhouse

In an interview with TechCrunch, Clubhouse also discussed how the offerings will provide key competitive positioning against larger incumbents in the software project management space. Clubhouse has long competed with Atlassian’s project management tool “Jira”, but now the company is doubling down by launching Clubhouse Write which will compete head-on with Atlassian’s team collaboration product Confluence.

According to recent Atlassian investor presentations, Jira and Confluence make up the lion’s share of the Atlassian’s business and revenues. And with Atlassian’s market capitalization of ~$30 billion, Clubhouse has its sights set on what it views as a significant market share opportunity.

According to Clubhouse, the company believes it’s in pole position to capture a serious chunk of Atlassian’s foothold given it designed its two products to have tighter integration than the legacy platforms, and since Clubhouse is essentially providing free versions of what many are already paying for to date.

And while Atlassian is far from the only competitor in the cluttered project management space, few if any competing platforms are offering a full project tool kit for free, according to the company. Clubhouse is also encouraged by the strong support it has received from the engineering community to date. In a previous interview with TechCrunch’s Danny Crichton, the company told TechCrunch it had reached at least 700 enterprise customers using the platform before hiring any sales reps, and users of the platform already include Nubank, Dataiku, and Atrium amongst thousands of others.

Clubhouse has ambitious plans to further expand its footprint, having raised $16 million to date through its Series A according to Crunchbase, with investments from a long list of Silicon Valley mainstays including Battery Ventures, Resolute Ventures, Lerer Hippeau, RRE Ventures, BoxGroup, and others.

A former CTO himself, Clubhouse cofounder and CEO Kurt Schrader is intimately familiar with the opacity in product development that frustrates engineers and complicates release schedules. Schrader and Clubhouse CMO Mitch Wainer believe Clubhouse can maintain its organic growth by that staying hyperfocused on designing for project managers and creating simple workflows that keep engineers happy. According to Schrader, the company ultimately wants to be the “default [destination] for modern software teams to plan and build software.”

“Clubhouse is the best software project management app in the world,” he said. “We want all teams to have access to a world-class tool from day one whether it’s a 5 or 5,000 person team.”

Jack Ma officially retires as Alibaba’s chairman

By Catherine Shu

Jack Ma stepped down as Alibaba’s chairman today, handing the role over to the company’s current CEO Daniel Zhang. The transition was announced a year ago.

Ma will continue serving on Alibaba’s board until its annual general shareholders’ meeting next year. He also remains a lifetime partner of Alibaba Partnership, a group drawn from the senior management ranks of Alibaba Group companies and affiliates that has the right to nominate (and in some situations, appoint) up to simple majority of its board.

Ma said in last year’s announcement that he plans for his departure from Alibaba Group to be very gradual: “The one thing I can promise everyone is this: Alibaba was never about Jack Ma, but Jack Ma will forever belong to Alibaba.”

Ma left Alibaba’s CEO position in 2013 and was succeeded first by Jonathan Lu. In 2015 Lu was replaced by Zhang, the company’s former COO. As its CEO and now its chairman, Zhang has taken Alibaba’s reins as it copes with a slowdown in China’s e-commerce market after a decade of explosive growth. The online retail landscape also now includes new players like Pinduoduo, which have gained an advantage by focusing on smaller cities, important growth markets for Internet companies.

One interesting fact about the day Ma chose for his retirement as chairman is that it is Teachers’ Day in China. Ma is a former English teacher who is still nicknamed “Teacher Ma” and has said that he plans to devote time to education philanthropy.

Paytm’s annual loss doubles to $549M

By Manish Singh

Running a payments business in India is not cheap. Just ask Paytm . One of India’s largest payment companies reported a net loss of Rs 3959 crore ($549 million) for the financial year that ended in March, up 165% over 1490 crore ($206 million) in the same period last year.

During the same period, the company’s revenue rose to Rs 3232 crore ($448 million), compared to Rs 3052 crore ($423 million) in the year before. The firm’s debt also surged to Rs 695 crore ($96 million), One97 Communications, the parent firm of Paytm, told investors in its annual report.

One97 Communications also runs an e-commerce business, which recently raised money from eBay, and Paytm Money, that runs mutual funds business. On a consolidated basis, the 9-year-old firm reported an annual loss of Rs 4217.20 crore ($584 million), up from Rs 1604.34 crore ($222 million) from the year before.

Indian news outlet BloombergQuint first reported (paywalled) the financial performance of Paytm.

The loss should worry Paytm, whose CEO Vijay Shekhar Sharma said in a conference last week that the firm would begin to work on going public in the next 22 to 24 months. The level of competition that Paytm faces today is only about to increase in the coming future, and unlike earlier, the Indian firm is not facing off financially weaker local rivals.

Paytm, which has raised over $2 billion to date from a range of investors including SoftBank, Alibaba, and Berkshire Hathaway, continues to be the largest mobile wallet app provider in India, but increasingly users are moving to government-backed UPI payments infrastructure. In UPI land, Paytm competes with Flipkart’s PhonePe and Google Pay, both of which are heavily-backed.

As of July, both PhonePe and Google Pay commanded a bigger market share across UPI apps than Paytm.

Also in UPI land, you don’t make money on each transaction. So lately, every payments firm in India, including Paytm, has expanded it offering to include financial services such as a credit card, or loan, or insurance.

In many ways, this has created a level playing field for payment firms that did not dominate the wallet business.

In a statement, Paytm said it has been investing $1 billion per year for the last two years to “expand payments ecosystem in our country.” The company plans to invest a further $3 billion in the next two years.

“We believe India is at the inflection point of digital payments and Paytm’s sole focus is towards solving the merchant payments and offering them financial services. We will invest Rs 20,000 crore ($2.7 billion) in the next two years towards achieving this,” a company spokesperson said.

The biggest challenge for Paytm and other UPI payment apps has yet to emerge. Before the end of this year, WhatsApp, which has over 400 million users in India, plans to offer UPI payment option to all its years in the coming month.

Troubles keep mounting for the We Company as Softbank reportedly calls for shelving the IPO

By Jonathan Shieber

The troubles for We Company and its main business WeWork are mounting as the Financial Times is reporting that the company’s main backer, Softbank, is pushing for the company to put its troubled public offering on hold.

Citing sources familiar with the company and its main investor, the Financial Times said that the cool reception We Company has received from public market investors.

The company needs to raise at least $3 billion in the public offering to trigger a $6 billion in debt financing from the very bankers architecting its IPO. If it fails to cross that $3 billion threshold and not have access to that debt, it would be a significant roadblock to the We Company’s global expansion plans. And those plans are vital to the company’s success, since it’s the growth story that the company is selling to public market investors.

Over the weekend, the Wall Street Journal reported that the company was thinking about reducing the amount it would seek in a public offering below the $20 billion figure that had been previously reported.

The We Company had last raised money at a valuation of over $47 billion and the constant reductions in the company’s value may create a self-fulfilling prophecy that pushes the share price down even further should the company go ahead with a public offering.

The company has even taken steps to roll back some of the more egregious financial arrangements that made investors look at the company askance. It added a woman to its board of directors after much public outcry over the board composition and unwound a nearly $6 million agreement the company had made with its chief executive Adam Neumann over the licensing rights to the brand “We”.

Still, Neumann’s control over the company and the mounting losses of the core business sub-leasing long term commercial rental space to short term tenants have made public investors balky on the We Company’s longterm prospects.

Volkswagen reveals its mass-market ID.3, an electric car with up to 341 miles of range

By Kirsten Korosec

Volkswagen introduced Monday the ID.3, the first model in its new all-electric ID brand and the beginning of the automaker’s ambitious plan to sell 1 million EVs annually by 2025.

The ID.3 debut, which is ahead of the IAA International Motor Show in Frankfurt, is an important milestone for Volkswagen. The company upended its entire business strategy in the wake of the diesel emissions cheating scandal that erupted in September 2015. Now, four years later, VW is starting to show more than just concept vehicles for its newly imagined electric, connected and carbon-neutral brand.

Information about the ID.3, which was unveiled alongside a new VW logo and brand design, has trickled out for months now. Monday’s reveal finally fills in some much-needed details on the interior, battery, infotainment and driver assistance systems.

Screen Shot 2019 09 09 at 11.35.06 AM

The upshot: Everything about the ID.3, from its size and styling to its battery range and pricing, is aiming for the mass-market category.

The electric hatchback is similar in size to the VW Golf. But this is no VW Golf. The aim here, and one Volkswagen just might have achieved, was to signal the beginning of a new brand.

Numerous details in the special edition version of the ID.3, including a panorama tilting glass roof edged in black and interactive LED headlights that have “eyelids” that flutter when the driver approaches the parked vehicle, help drive the future-is-here point home.

The ID.3 will only be sold in Europe and have a starting price under €30,000 (about $33,000). North America’s first chance at an all-electric VW will be the ID Crozz, which is coming to the U.S. at the end of 2020.

ID.3 details

The four-door, five-seater hatchback is as long as a Golf, but thanks to its shorter overhangs, its wheelbase is larger than that of any other vehicle in its category, according to the company. This gives the ID.3 a roomier interior.

The company is starting with the ID.3 1ST, a special edition version that will come with a 58 kWh-battery pack with a range of up to 420 kilometers, or about 260 miles, and come with three equipment variants. The ID.3 1ST will start under €40,000 ($44,200).

Screen Shot 2019 09 09 at 11.32.00 AM

The ID.3 1ST will have fast-charging capability that will allow it (when using a DC fast charger) to add 180 miles to its battery in 30 minutes, a longer range than had previously been possible in the compact vehicle segment, VW said Monday.

Buyers of the special edition will be offered free charging for one year up to 2,000 kWh. This free-charging deal only applies to stations linked to WeCharge, which includes the Ionity network of more than 100,000 charging points throughout Europe.

Volkswagen, which owns a stake in the joint venture Ionity, aims by 2020 to install along main European routes 400 ultra-fast charging stations that use 100% renewable energy.

All 30,000 special edition ID.3 vehicles have been reserved. The first ID.3 vehicles will be delivered to customers in Germany in spring 2020.

Series production

The series production version of the ID.3 will have two additional battery options, including a 45 kWh-pack that has a range of 205 miles and a 77 kWh-pack that can travel 341 miles on a single charge, in accordance with WLTP. The WLTP, or Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure, is the European standard to measure energy consumption and emissions, and tends to be more generous than the U.S. EPA estimates.

The ID.3 will come with an advanced driver assistance system-supported multifunction camera mounted on the windshield. This camera will be able to identify road signs.

Volkswagen ID.3 Large 10139

The ADAS will include an emergency braking system, pedestrian monitoring, multi-collision brake feature, lane-keeping and lane change systems, and a parking assist that uses a rearview camera. There also will be a keyless access system featuring illuminated door handles.

A park distance control feature is designed to prevent impending collisions or to reduce the severity of collisions by triggering an emergency braking maneuver at the latest possible point.

Inside the ID.3, customers will find a 10-inch touch display. A feature called ID. Light will display an LED strip during navigation that can signal drivers to take actions, such as prompting them to brake.

VW is also offering an optional augmented reality head-up display that will project relevant information directly onto the windshield. All controls are operated using touch functions featuring touch-sensitive buttons. Only the electric windows and hazard warning lights are still operated using tactile switches, the company said.

The ID.3 comes equipped with intelligent natural voice control. Drivers or front passengers can speak to the ID.3, simply by saying “hello ID.” Visually, ID. Light signals to whom the ID.3 is currently responding.

More to come

The ID.3 along with others that will join its eventual portfolio of more than 20 full-electric models are built on VW’s flexible MEB platform.

The MEB, which was introduced in 2016, is a flexible modular system — really a matrix of common parts — for producing electric vehicles that VW says make it more efficient and cost-effective.

The first vehicles to use this MEB platform will be under the ID brand, although this platform can and will be used for electric vehicles under other VW Group brands such as Skoda and Seat. (The MEB won’t be used by VW brands Audi or Porsche, which are developing their own platform for electric vehicles.)

VW Group to pay $96.5M to settle inflated fuel economy lawsuit

By Kirsten Korosec

VW Group of America said Friday it has reached an agreement with thousands of U.S. customers over alleged inflated fuel economy information on about 98,000 gas-powered vehicles from its four brands, Audi, Bentley, Porsche and Volkswagen.

The agreement involves alleged misinformation about fuel economy on 98,000 vehicles, or about 3.5% of the model year 2013-2017 VW Group vehicles sold or leased in the United States. The fuel economy will be restated to reflect a discrepancy of one mile per gallon, when rounded according to the U.S.-specific “Monroney” label requirements, according to the EPA.

Most of the vehicles affected by the overstatement of fuel economy were from Audi, Bentley and Porsche, including the 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 Audi A8L, RS7 and S8 vehicles. Other affected models include variants of the Porsche Cayenne such as the Cayenne S and Cayenne Turbo.

Volkswagen does not admit wrongdoing under the terms of the settlement.

Eligible customers will receive payments ranging from $5.40 to $24.30 for each month the vehicle is owned or leased. The total value of the settlement, which is subject to court approval, is $96.5 million, according to VW.

Volkswagen Group of America will also adjust its Greenhouse Gas credits to account for any excess credits associated with the fuel economy discrepancy.

Potential claimants will have to submit a claim to receive compensation. However, owners do not need to take any action at this time. Individual class members will receive information about their rights and options (including the option to “opt out” of the settlement agreement) if the court grants preliminary approval of the proposed agreement, according to VW.

Porsche Taycan sets fastest 4-door electric car record at Nürburgring Nordschleife

By Kirsten Korosec

Porsche’s upcoming all-electric Taycan has set a narrow, yet notable record lap time at the famous Nürburgring Nordschleife test track in Germany.

The company said Monday the Porsche Taycan, which will debut September 4, completed the 12.8-mile course in 7 minutes and 42 seconds. This is the fastest lap for a four-door electric vehicle. The record time was set in a pre-series Taycan driven by Lars Kern.

But it’s not the fastest lap for any electric vehicle. That honor goes to Volkswagen’s ID R electric race car, which completed the course in 6:05.336 minutes. The previous record was set in 2017 by Peter Dumbreck, who was driving a Nio electric vehicle.

Still, it’s a zippy time for any vehicle. Porsche has set out to show the speed and endurance of its first electric vehicle ahead of its debut. Porsche says its record run at Nürburgring Nordschleife and an endurance test at the Nardò high-speed track show the Taycan can do both.

Earlier this year, Porsche tested the Taycan’s ability to do successive acceleration runs from zero to 62 miles per hour. A video shows 26 successive starts without losses in performance. The average acceleration figure from the timed runs was less than 10 seconds, according to Porsche. The difference between the fastest and slowest acceleration runs was 0.8 seconds, the company said.

The German automaker also drove 2,128 miles at speeds between 128 and 133 mph within 24 hours, only stopping to charge the battery and change drivers, at the Nardò track in Italy.

At Nürburgring Nordschleife, development engineers started driving a Taycan around in a simulator to test and evaluate its performance on a virtual race track. Porsche said one of the main goals was determining electric energy with thermal management, which form an important contribution to achieving the lap time.

Porsche is aiming to prove to its existing customers, many of whom have never driven or owned an electric vehicle, that the Taycan will meet the same performance standards as its gas-powered cars and SUVs. It also hopes to attract new customers to the Porsche brand.

It appears the company is on the right track, if the thousands of reservations for the Taycan convert into actual purchases.

Driving Volkswagen’s all-electric ID Buggy concept

By Kirsten Korosec

The VW electric ID Buggy concept is delightful and bright, stout and smiling. It’s a vehicle fit for the sunshine and sand dunes, or perhaps a less committing slow roll along the beach.

And so my first drive in a prototype of the all-electric buggy — along the coast near Spanish Bay in Monterey, Calif., — was tinged with sadness. After all, the ID Buggy is just a concept. It’s not meant for this world. At least not right now.

There is still a chance that the ID Buggy will make it to production. VW is already in talks with “at least one company” to bring the buggy into production, TechCrunch confirmed.

The global debut of the ID Buggy concept at the 89th Geneva International Motor Show in March was meant to showcase VW’s electric future and demonstrate the versatility of its modular electric drive toolkit chassis, or MEB. The MEB, which was introduced in 2016, is a flexible modular system — really a matrix of common parts — for producing electric vehicles that VW says make it more efficient and cost-effective.

The first vehicles to use this MEB platform will be under the ID brand, although this platform can and will be used for electric vehicles under other VW Group brands such as Skoda and Seat. (The MEB won’t be used by VW brands Audi or Porsche, which are developing their own platform for electric vehicles.)

VW has shown off several ID concepts. Some of these, like the ID Crozz and ID Buzz are going into production. A production version of the Crozz is coming to the U.S. at the end of 2020. Others, like this buggy, are not currently on the production track.

kirstenbuggy

Driving the ID Buggy Drive

The ID Buggy is simple, and that’s exactly what it should be. No clutter or whiz-bang creature comforts. Instead, this leisure vehicle inspired by the 1960s era Meyers Manx has no roof or doors — although a tarpaulin can be stretched between the windscreen frame and the Targa bar as a sun sail or light weather protection. Without doors, the driver climbs in, and with relative ease, depending on one’s general fitness and flexibility.

The ID Buggy towers over its inspiration — the iconic Meyers Manx buggy that became popular among the California beach-and-surf culture of the 1960s.

The ID Buggy was also a quieter, smoother ride than the Meyers Manx. I also spent some time in a classic bright red buggy with a four-speed manual transmission and gas engine that might have been a touch carbureted. While the Manx roared as I shifted into first and peeled away, the electric ID Buggy was silent and smooth as it rolled out of the sandy parking lot.

vw id buggy wheel

The main detail inside the ID Buggy is the lack of features and do-dads. The hexagonal steering wheel, shown above, isn’t littered with toggles; there are just a couple of controls on the crossbar. A small integrated stock to the right side of the steering wheel allows the driver to move the vehicle into drive, reverse and park. A digital instrument cluster provides the basic information like speed.

Even the brake and accelerator pedals continue this stripped-down design story. 

The dashboard and the passenger area are just as void of features. This lack of “stuff” is more about function than form, although the matte green and textured grey blue at the bottom does make a visual statement. The ID Buggy is meant to be driven in the elements, rain or shine. And so designers made the interior waterproof.

vw buggy dash

Under the ID Buggy’s body is where the good stuff lives.

The rear-wheel drive buggy is outfitted with an electric motor that produces 201 horsepower and a maximum torque of 228 pound-feet. It has a 62-kilowatt-hour battery that can travel 155 miles (under the WLTP standard) on a single charge. There is not an EPA estimate for the range. It can accelerate from a standstill to 62 miles per hour in 7.2 seconds.

Unfortunately, this prototype had a kill-the-thrill speed limiter on it, scuttling my plans for a zippy ride along the coast.

Still, the ID Buggy offered a fun and easy, breezy ride. It handled the curves of the roads with ease and its wide body and higher rear end provided a sense of security even while driving amid other much larger passenger cars.

vw buggy id front

Building the ID Buggy

It’s unclear what company, or companies, are in talks to produce the buggy. VW wouldn’t give names; not even the ocean breeze and cloudless sky or the endless supercar eye candy were enough to loosen the lips of VW employees during Monterey Car Week.

It’s possible that this unnamed company is e.Go Mobile. VW announced in March that e.Go Mobile would be its first external partner to use its MEB electric platform to launch other EVs in addition to Volkswagen’s model range. A dedicated vehicle project is already being planned, VW said at the time.

A VW spokesperson told TechCrunch there’s no decision about which car will be produced under this partnership with e.Go Mobile. It could be the buggy; it could also be some other vehicle.

And then there’s Ford. Earlier this year, the two automakers announced a partnership that includes Ford producing electric cars based on the MEB developed by Volkswagen.

The VW folks on the ground in Monterey did express hope that a third party does build the buggy, or a modified version of it. As one spokesperson later told TechCrunch, “As the drive in Monterey showed, the Buggy is a great ambassador for Volkswagen and for e-mobility. I am sure it would find a lot of customers.”

In the end, the ID Buggy is a sleek cruiser rather than a beach bomber like the 1960s original. It successfully demonstrates the versatility around VW’s electric platform. After all, Volkswagen foresees critical parts in the ID Buggy used to power multiple consumer electric vehicles in the near future. And it’s a fair assumption the ID Buggy’s production cousins will have a bit more gadgets, including silly things like doors.

Tumblr’s next step forward with Automattic CEO Matt Mullenweg

By Brian Heater

After months of rumors, Verizon finally sold off Tumblr for a reported $3 million — a fraction of what Yahoo paid for the once might blogging service back in 2013.

The media conglomerate (which also owns TechCrunch) was clearly never quite sure what to do with the property after gobbling it up as part of its 2016 Yahoo acquisition. All parties has since come to the conclusion that Tumblr simply wasn’t a good fit under either the Verizon or Yahoo umbrella, amounting to a $1.1 billion mistake.

For Tumblr, however, the story may still have a happy ending. By all accounts, its new home at Automattic is far better fit. The service joins a portfolio that includes popular blogging service WordPress.com, spam filtering service Akismet and long-form storytelling platform, Longreads.

In an interview, this week, Automattic founder and CEO Matt Mullenweg discussed Tumblr’s history and the impact of the poorly received adult content restrictions. He also shed some light on where Tumblr goes from here, including a potential increased focused on multimedia such as podcasting.

Brian Heater: I’m curious how [your meetings with Tumblr staff] went. What’s the feeling on the team right now? What are the concerns? How are people feeling about the transition?

The CareVoice raises $10 million to develop better tech for insurance providers in Asia

By Catherine Shu

The CareVoice, a Shanghai-based health insurance software startup with ambitions to expand throughout Asia, announced today that it has raised about $10 million in Series A funding.

The investment was led by LUN Partners Group and an undisclosed global investment manager that specializes in financial services, with participation from DNA Capital and returning investors SOSV and Artesian Capital. It will be used on research and development and to grow The CareVoice’s business in Hong Kong, which it entered last year. After that, the company plans to expand into other markets in Asia.

The CareVoice appFounded in 2014, The CareVoice started as an app that let patients leave reviews about medical providers before focusing on software like its flagship product, an SaaS solution that makes healthcare and insurance products more accessible to customers on mobile, with the goal of increasing sales and retention. There are several other startups in China focused on simplifying the process of buying health insurance, like Instony, Datebao, eBaoTech and Bowtie, but a representative for The CareVoice says it focuses less on sales tools and is instead building an end-to-end platform for insurers that can integrate with their existing solutions.

The startup is currently used by 15 insurance providers in China and Hong Kong, including Ping An and AXA. While The CareVoice’s focus has been on improving the enrollment process, customer experience and how claims are processed, it is currently developing 10 new insurance products with health insurance partners, essentially rebranding traditional insurance policies and making them easier to access.

The CareVoice also recently released a platform for insurers called CareVoiceOS, designed to enable insurers to create more customized plans and connect to other online healthcare services, and launched a new unit called StartupCare that allows startups to give founders and employees health benefits.

The Bugatti Centodieci is an $8.9 million homage to the early 90s EB110 supercar

By Kirsten Korosec

The Bugatti Centodieci is the French automaker’s most powerful supercar yet — coming in a skosh above the Chiron at 1,600 horsepower. But it’s not just the power — or the $8.9 million price tag — that makes the Centodieci stand out.

The angular supercar, still dotted with the signature Bugatti design elements, tips its hat to the mid-engine EB110 supercar that debuted in 1991 when the company was owned by Romano Artioli.

One look at the Bugatti Centodieci, which had its world debut at the Quail Gathering during Monterey Car Week, and it’s clear that the early 1990s supercar was an inspiration.

bugatti front

The Bugatti Centodieci

But the Centodieci isn’t a copycat of the wedge-shaped, seemingly two-dimensional EB110. Instead, Bugatti designers aimed to bring the EB110 into the modern era.

“Transporting this classic look into the new millennium without copying it was technically complex, to say the least,” Bugatti head designer Achim Anscheidt said in a statement. “We had to create a new way of combining the complex aerothermal requirements of the underlying Chiron technology with a completely different aesthetic appearance.” 

The Centodieci, which means 110 in Italian to commemorate the 110th anniversary of the company’s founding, has a newly developed, deep-seated front spoiler along with three-section air intakes. The iconic Bugatti horseshoe is smaller than its counterparts — a decision made to fit in with the car’s the low-dropping front. The Centodieci also has new, very narrow headlamps with integrated LED daytime running lights and five round air inserts to ensure sufficient air intake for its 16-cylinder engine.

bugatti centodieci

The nod to the 1990s ends inside the Centodieci. In here, it’s all modern-day engineering. The 8.0-liter W16 engine produces 1,600 horsepower and can accelerate from 0 to 62 miles per hour in 2.4 seconds. The top speed has been electronically limited to 236 mph.

Here’s a 360-degree view of the vehicle.

Bugatti will only produce 10 of the Centodieci and they’re already sold, Pierre Rommelfanger, Bugatti’s head of exterior and structure development confirmed to TechCrunch. Typically, supercars such as these can be highly customized to meet the desires of their owners.

And the Bugatti Centodieci will be no different — to a point. “There are limits in order to reduce complexity,” Rommelfanger said.

Deliveries to the first Centodieci customers will begin in 2022. Bugatti has other orders to fill besides the Centodieci. The company is also producing 40 of the Bugatti Divo and just one La Voiture Noire, which is the world’s most expensive new car ever sold at $18.68 million. The company also plans to produce 500 Bugatti Chiron cars.

If president Stephan Winkelmann sticks to his plan to introduce two new products each year, more Bugatti models will soon join the Centodieci, Chiron, Divo and La Voiture Noire.

SoftBank reportedly plans to lend employees as much as $20 billion to invest in its VC fund

By Darrell Etherington

SoftBank has a plant to loan up to $20 billion to its employees, including CEO Masayoshi Son, for the purposes of having that capital re-invested in SoftBank’s own Vision venture fund, according to a new report from the Wall Street Journal. That’s a highly unusual move that could be risky in terms of how much exposure SoftBank Group has on the whole in terms of its startup bets, but the upside is that it can potentially fill out as much as a fifth of its newly announced second Vision Fund’s total target raise of $108 billion from a highly aligned investor pool.

SoftBank revealed its plans for its second Vision Fund last month, including $38 billion from SoftBank itself, as well as commitments from Apple, Microsoft and more. The company also took a similar approach to its original Vision Fund, WSJ reports, with stakes from employees provided with loans totalling $8 billion of that $100 billion commitment.

The potential pay-off is big, provided the fund has some solid winners that achieve liquidation events that provide big returns that employees can then use to pay off the original loans, walking away with profit. That’s definitely a risk, however, especially in the current global economic client. As WSJ notes, the Uber shares that Vision Fund I acquired are now worth less than what SoftBank originally paid for them according to sources, and SoftBank bet WeWork looks poised to be another company whose IPO might not make that much, if any, money for later stage investors.

Corey Weiner is taking over as CEO of mobile ad company Jun Group

By Anthony Ha

After 18 years at the helm, Mitchell Reichgut is stepping down as CEO of Jun Group, with COO and President Corey Weiner taking over as chief executive.

The news comes just about a year after Jun Group was acquired by Advantage Solutions, but Reichgut said the acquisition was a “non-factor” in his decision.

“I think it is the right time for the company to have a leadership change,” he said. “I have been stepping back more and more, so it’s a natural progression, with a bunch of managers here taking on larger roles as I move on.”

In addition to Weiner (who’s been at Jun Group since 2003), other Jun Group executives taking on new roles include Mishel Alon becoming COO, Leslie Bargmann becoming vice president of client services and Jeremy Ellison becoming vice president of technology.

Reichgut, meanwhile, said he’s “stepping back entirely to focus on artwork and writing and community service after a long, long career.”

Looking ahead, Weiner he plans to double down on Jun Group’s approach to advertising, where it builds custom audience segments by polling users in its network, then shows video ads and branded content to interested viewers.

“Our primary motivation is to evangelize that format,” he said. “As you know, most advertising is interruptive and consumers don’t like that kind of advertising very much — in some cases, they’re annoyed by it . This value exchange flips the advertising paradigm on its head. By choosing to engage with advertising, they are getting something amazing in return.”

How a Swedish saxophonist built Kobalt, the world’s next music unicorn

By Eric Peckham

You may not have heard of Kobalt before, but you probably engage with the music it oversees every day, if not almost every hour. Combining a technology platform to better track ownership rights and royalties of songs with a new approach to representing musicians in their careers, Kobalt has risen from the ashes of the 2000 dot-com bubble to become a major player in the streaming music era. It is the leading alternative to incumbent music publishers (who represent songwriters) and is building a new model record label for the growing “middle class’ of musicians around the world who are stars within niche audiences.

Having predicted music’s digital upheaval early, Kobalt has taken off as streaming music has gone mainstream across the US, Europe, and East Asia. In the final quarter of last year, it represented the artists behind 38 of the top 100 songs on U.S. radio.

Along the way, it has secured more than $200 million in venture funding from investors like GV, Balderton, and Michael Dell, and its valuation was last pegged at $800 million. It confirmed in April that it is raising another $100 million to boot. Kobalt Music Group now employs over 700 people in 14 offices, and GV partner Avid Larizadeh Duggan even left her firm to become Kobalt’s COO.

How did a Swedish saxophonist from the 1980s transform into a leading entrepreneur in music’s digital transformation? Why are top technology VCs pouring money into a company that represents a roster of musicians? And how has the rise of music streaming created an opening for Kobalt to architect a new approach to the way the industry works?

Gaining an understanding of Kobalt and its future prospects is a vehicle for understanding the massive change underway across the global music industry right now and the opportunities that is and isn’t creating for entrepreneurs.

This article is Part 1 of the Kobalt EC-1, focused on the company’s origin story and growth. Part 2 will look at the company’s journey to create a new model for representing songwriters and tracking their ownership interests through the complex world of music royalties. Part 3 will look at Kobalt’s thesis about the rise of a massive new middle class of popular musicians and the record label alternative it is scaling to serve them.

Table of Contents

Early lessons on the tough road of entrepreneurship

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Image via Kobalt Music

It’s tough to imagine a worse year to launch a music company than 2000. Willard Ahdritz, a Swede living in London, left his corporate consulting job and sold his home for £200,000 to fully commit to his idea of a startup collecting royalties for musicians. In hindsight, his timing was less than impeccable: he launched Kobalt just as Napster and music piracy exploded onto the mainstream and mere months before the dot-com crash would wipe out much of the technology industry.

The situation was dire, and even his main seed investor told him he was doomed once the market crashed. “Eating an egg and ham sandwich…have you heard this saying? The chicken is contributing but the pig is committed,” Ahdritz said when we first spoke this past April (he has an endless supply of sayings). “I believe in that — to lose is not an option.”

Entrepreneurial hardship though is something that Ahdritz had early experience with. Born in Örebro, a city of 100,000 people in the middle of Sweden, Ahdritz spent a lot of time as a kid playing in the woods, which also holding dual interests in music and engineering. The intersection of those two converged in the synthesizer revolution of early electronic music, and he was fascinated by bands like Kraftwerk.

Keith Rabois, BoxGroup back New York-based Brex competitor

By Kate Clark

Considering its unparalleled success, it was only a matter of time before a Brex copycat emerged.

Ramp Financial, a new startup led by Capital One-acquired Paribus founders Eric Glyman and Karim Atiyeh (pictured), has raised $7 million, TechCrunch has learned. The capital came from Keith Rabois of Founders Fund, BoxGroup’s Adam Rothenberg and Coatue Management, a hedge fund that recently launched a $700 million early-stage investment vehicle.

Ramp Financial, Founders Fund, BoxGroup and Coatue Management declined to comment.

Ramp Financial is in the very early stages of product development, though we’re told, “It’s the same as Brex .” Other details available on the new startup, which raised on a pre-money valuation of $25 million, according to sources, are slim. Even its name may be subject to change.

Brex, founded in 2017 by a pair of now 23-year-olds, created a corporate charge card tailored for startups. The Y Combinator graduate doesn’t require cardholders to submit Social Security numbers or credit scores, granting entrepreneurs a new avenue to credit and method of protecting their credit scores. Brex’s software also expedites the time-consuming expense management, and accounting and budgeting processes for employees. Quickly, it has become essential to the company-building process in Silicon Valley.

It helps that VCs are wild for Brex. The startup has raised more than $300 million in VC funding in only two years. Most recently, it closed a $100 million round led by Kleiner Perkins at a valuation of $2.6 billion.

Given Brex’s rapid growth and the uptick in venture capital investment in challenger banks, or new financial services competing with incumbent financiers, we’re guessing Ramp Financial didn’t have a tough time pitching VCs. Plus, its founders Glyman and Atiyeh have a clear track record of success.

The duo previously built Paribus, a startup acquired by Capital One roughly one year after launching onstage at TechCrunch Disrupt New York 2015. Paribus, which raised just over $2 million from Slow Ventures, General Catalyst, Greylock and others before the M&A transaction, helps online shoppers get money back when prices drop on items they’ve purchased. Terms of Capital One’s acquisition were not disclosed.

Paribus is also a graduate of Y Combinator, completing the startup accelerator in the summer of 2015.

Aside from both completing Y Combinator, the founders of Brex and Ramp Financial share connections to the PayPal mafia. Rabois, a general partner at Founders Fund, was an executive at the business in the early 2000s. PayPal co-founders Peter Thiel and Max Levchin are Brex investors.

Sperm storage startups are raising millions

By Kate Clark

A number of startups are bringing technology and innovation to the fertility industry, with a growing few focused specifically on male fertility.

“Society at large doesn’t understand the subject of fertility,” Tom Smith, the co-founder and chief executive officer of men’s sperm storage startup Dadi tells TechCrunch. “People see it as a female issue.”

Dadi has raised a $5 million seed extension led by The Chernin Group, a private equity fund that typically invests in media, with existing investors including London seed-fund Firstminute Capital and New York’s Third Kind Venture Capital also participating. The company, which sends at-home fertility tests and sperm storage kits, closed a $2 million seed round earlier this year.

Dadi’s funding event comes shortly after another men’s fertility business, Legacy, raised a $1.5 million round for its sperm testing and freezing service. Both companies hope to leverage venture capital funding to become the dominant men’s fertility brand.

Bain Capital Ventures -backed Legacy, which won TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield competition at Disrupt Berlin 2018, allows men to get their sperm tested and frozen without visiting a clinic or meeting with a doctor. Founder and chief executive officer Khaled Kteily said the company, which is based out of the Harvard Innovation Labs in Boston, planned to use the capital to expand its sperm analysis and cryogenic storage services.

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Sarah Steinle, head of marketing, Khaled Kteily, founder and CEO, and Daniel Madero, head of clinic partnerships at Legacy .

Like many startups today, Dadi and Legacy are capitalizing on the direct-to-consumer business model to educate men about their fertility. Customers of both Dadi and Legacy simply order a DIY sperm collection kit online, collect a sperm sample and send it back to the company for a full fertility report. Both companies offer sperm storage services too. Dadi charges a total of $199.98 for its sperm testing kit and one year of sperm storage, while Legacy asks for $350 for clinical fertility analysis and lifestyle recommendations. To store your sperm in Legacy’s cryogenic storage facilities, it’s an additional $20 per month.

One in six couples struggles to get pregnant after one year of trying. According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, one-third of the infertility cases amongst those couples are caused by fertility problems in men, another one-third of issues are connected to women and the remaining cases are a result of a combination of male and female fertility issues. By making sperm storage more accessible, startups hope to encourage a conversation around family planning and fertility among young men.

“Men also have a biological clock,” Smith said. “From your late 20s and onward, your overall sperm count absolutely declines and, more importantly, the number of mutations that can be passed on to that potential child grows.”

Dadi, a New York-based company, plans to use its latest bout of funding to continue developing a number of yet-to-be-announced products, as well as offer new support services to customers who’ve taken Dadi’s fertility tests: “If we are going to live up to our overall objective of being this encompassing business helping men through the fertility stack, the next step for us is investing in next-step support,” Smith explains.

Dadi’s founding team lacks experience in the healthcare sector, which is likely to pose problems as the company expands and forges partnerships in the greater healthcare field. Smith previously led a custom emoji business, Imoji, which was acquired by Giphy in 2017. Dadi co-founder Mackey Saturday, for his part, was previously a graphic designer responsible for creating Instagram’s logo.

Aiming to make up for its lack of expertise, Dadi has formed a Science and Technology Advisory Board with participation from Dr. Michael Eisenberg, associate professor of urology at Stanford’s Medical Center, and Dr. Jacques Cohen, the laboratory director at ART Institute of Washington at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

Legacy’s Kteily previously worked as a consultant focused on health & life sciences before serving as a senior manager at the World Economic Forum. Daniel Madero and Sarah Steinle, also Legacy co-founders, previously worked at Medifertil, a Colombian fertility clinic, and Extend Fertility, respectively.

In addition to Dadi and Legacy, other companies close to the space have recently secured notable investments including Hims, the provider of direct-to-consumer erectile dysfunction (ED) and hair loss medication, which raised a $100 million this year. Another seller of ED meds, Ro, has raised a total of $91 million. And Manual, an educational portal and treatment platform for men’s issues, raised a £5 million seed round in January from Felix Capital, Cherry Ventures and Cassius Capital.

Japan’s mobile payments app PayPay reaches 10 million users

By Manish Singh

Paytm, India’s biggest mobile payments firm, now has 10 million customers in Japan, the company said as it pushes to expand its reach in international markets.
Paytm entered Japan last October after forming a joint venture with SoftBank and Yahoo Japan called PayPay.

In addition to 10 million users, PayPay is now supported by 1 million local stores in Japan, Vijay Shekhar Sharma, founder and CEO of Paytm said Thursday. The mobile payment services has clocked 100 million transactions to date, he claimed.

“Thank you India 🇮🇳 for your inspiration and giving us chance to build world class tech,” he posted in a tweet.

More to follow…

Cybereason raises $200 million for its enterprise security platform

By Jonathan Shieber

Cybereason, which uses machine learning to increase the number of endpoints a single analyst can manage across a network of distributed resources, has raised $200 million in new financing from SoftBank Group and its affiliates. 

It’s a sign of the belief that SoftBank has in the technology, since the Japanese investment firm is basically doubling down on commitments it made to the Boston-based company four years ago.

The company first came to our attention five years ago when it raised a $25 million financing from investors including CRV, Spark Capital and Lockheed Martin.

Cybereason’s technology processes and analyzes data in real-time across an organization’s daily operations and relationships. It looks for anomalies in behavior across nodes on networks and uses those anomalies to flag suspicious activity.

The company also provides reporting tools to inform customers of the root cause, the timeline, the person involved in the breach or breaches, what tools they use and what information was being disseminated within and outside of the organization.

For founder Lior Div, Cybereason’s work is the continuation of the six years of training and service he spent working with the Israeli army’s 8200 Unit, the military incubator for half of the security startups pitching their wares today. After his time in the military, Div worked for the Israei government as a private contractor reverse engineering hacking operations.

Over the last two years, Cybereason has expanded the scope of its service to a network that spans 6 million endpoints tracked by 500 employees with offices in Boston, Tel Aviv, Tokyo and London.

“Cybereason’s big data analytics approach to mitigating cyber risk has fueled explosive expansion at the leading edge of the EDR domain, disrupting the EPP market. We are leading the wave, becoming the world’s most reliable and effective endpoint prevention and detection solution because of our technology, our people and our partners,” said Div, in a statement. “We help all security teams prevent more attacks, sooner, in ways that enable understanding and taking decisive action faster.”

The company said it will use the new funding to accelerate its sales and marketing efforts across all geographies and push further ahead with research and development to make more of its security operations autonomous.

“Today, there is a shortage of more than three million level 1-3 analysts,” said Yonatan Striem-Amit, chief technology officer and Co-founder, Cybereason, in a statement. “The new autonomous SOC enables SOC teams of the future to harness technology where manual work is being relied on today and it will elevate  L1 analysts to spend time on higher value tasks and accelerate the advanced analysis L3 analysts do.”

Most recently the company was behind the discovery of Operation SoftCell, the largest nation-state cyber espionage attack on telecommunications companies. 

That attack, which was either conducted by Chinese-backed actors or made to look like it was conducted by Chinese-backed actors, according to Cybereason targeted a select group of users in an effort to acquire cell phone records.

As we wrote at the time:

… hackers have systematically broken in to more than 10 cell networks around the world to date over the past seven years to obtain massive amounts of call records — including times and dates of calls, and their cell-based locations — on at least 20 individuals.

Researchers at Boston-based Cybereason, who discovered the operationand shared their findings with TechCrunch, said the hackers could track the physical location of any customer of the hacked telcos — including spies and politicians — using the call records.

Lior Div, Cybereason’s co-founder and chief executive, told TechCrunch it’s “massive-scale” espionage.

Call detail records — or CDRs — are the crown jewels of any intelligence agency’s collection efforts. These call records are highly detailed metadata logs generated by a phone provider to connect calls and messages from one person to another. Although they don’t include the recordings of calls or the contents of messages, they can offer detailed insight into a person’s life. The National Security Agency  has for years controversially collected the call records of Americans from cell providers like AT&T and Verizon (which owns TechCrunch), despite the questionable legality.

It’s not the first time that Cybereason has uncovered major security threats.

Back when it had just raised capital from CRV and Spark, Cybereason’s chief executive was touting its work with a defense contractor who’d been hacked. Again, the suspected culprit was the Chinese government.

As we reported, during one of the early product demos for a private defense contractor, Cybereason identified a full-blown attack by the Chinese — ten thousand usernames and passwords were leaked, and the attackers had access to nearly half of the organization on a daily basis.

The security breach was too sensitive to be shared with the press, but Div says that the FBI was involved and that the company had no indication that they were being hacked until Cybereason detected it.

Financial services marketplace CompareAsiaGroup raises $20 million in new funding led by Experian

By Catherine Shu

Experian, one of the largest credit reporting bureaus in the United States, announced today that it has invested in CompareAsiaGroup, the financial services marketplace. Experian led the initial closing of a $20 million B1 round.

In addition to new funding, the investment also gives Hong Kong-based CompareAsiaGroup access to Experian’s technology, including Experian One, a cloud-based credit scoring and risk assessment platform. CompareAsiaGroup recently opened a research and development center in Singapore to develop more tech tools and its partnership with Experian will enable it to launch new open banking services in Hong Kong that can also be adapted for other markets.

The platform currently claims 60 million users in Asian countries including Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand who use it to comparison shop for bank accounts, personal loans, insurance, credit cards and other financial products.

This is the latest investment Experian has made in Asian fintech startups (the others include Jirnexu in Malaysia, C88 Financial Technologies Group, and India’s BankBazaar). It is also participated in Grab’s Series H, announced earlier this summer.

Ben Elliot, the CEO of Experian in Asia Pacific, tells TechCrunch that Experian focuses on investments that gives more people access to financial services. “Obviously we benefit from that, but I think this really shows our commitment to Southeast Asia in particular, and also in this case Hong Kong and Taiwan,” he said about the new funding in CompareAsiaGroup. “My view is that overtime we’ll see our capabilities and CompareAsiaGroup really improving the experience of customers while they are borrowing.”

CompareAsiaGroup has now raised more than $90 million to date since it was founded in 2014. Its other investors include World Bank Group member IFC, Goldman Sachs Investment Partners, ACE and Company, Jardines, Alibaba Entrepreneurs Fund, SBI Group and H&Q Utrust.

Automotive marketplace Carro acquires Indonesia’s Jualo, extends Series B to $90M

By Manish Singh

Carro, an automotive marketplace and car financing startup based in Singapore, said it has raised $30 million to extend and close its $90 million Series B financing round and acquired Indonesia-based marketplace Jualo as it looks to further scale its business in Southeast Asia.

The Series B round, for which Carro raised $60 million last year, was funded by SoftBank Ventures Asia, government-linked global investor EDBI, Dietrich Foundation, and NCORE Ventures.

Hanwha Asset Management as well as existing investors including Insignia Ventures, Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin’s B Capital Group, Singtel Innov8, Golden Gate Ventures, and Alpha JWC also participated in the round. The three-year-old startup has raised over US$100 million from investors.

“There was an overflow of interest in our Series B round, which we initially closed towards the end of last year. We had a lot of quality strategic investors coming to the and therefore decided to extend the round. The round is now officially closed,” Aaron Tan, founder and CEO of Carro, told TechCrunch.

As part of the announcement, Carro said it had acquired Jualo.com, one of Indonesia’s fastest-growing marketplaces where sellers trade new and used goods in over 300 categories including cars, motorcycles, property, fashion, and electronics. Jualo has amassed 4 million monthly active users and facilitated transactions worth $1 billion last year.

Carro, which operates in Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia, said more than $500 million worth of vehicles were sold last year on its platform, up from $250 million in 2017 and $120 million the year before.

Carro has already expanded in terms of services. Initially a vehicle marketplace, it launched Genie Finance and has also forayed into insurance brokerage and road-side assistance. Last year, it introduced a service that completes vehicle sales in 60 minutes — Carro Express. In March this year, Carro launched its first subscription-based car service in Singapore to offer consumers additional flexibility.

Tan said that Jualo, which operates in several more categories than Carro, will continue to operate under its original branding.  “Our aim with Jualo.com is to double down and grow the Jualo.com business; with a strong focus and emphasis on the automotive sector,” he said.

Carro, which sees more than 70% of its transactions come from outside home Singapore, will reveal expansion plans to new markets and more acquisition deals later this year, Tan said. The subscription service will also be extended, he added.

Carro is rivaled by a number of startups, including BeliMobilGue in Indonesia, Carsome, iCar Asia and Rocket Internet’s Carmudi, although with its new raise in the bank Carro is the best-funded by some margin.

iCar Asia, which is managed by Malaysian venture builder Catcha, raised $19 million in late 2017. Last year, Carsome — which covers Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand — raised a $19 million Series B, BeliMobilGue — Indonesia-only — raised $3.7 million and Carmudi landed $10 million.

In the case of Carmudi, the business has retrenched itself. At its peak it covered over 20 markets worldwide across Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America, but today its focus is on Indonesia, the Philippines and Sri Lanka.

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