FreshRSS

🔒
❌ About FreshRSS
There are new available articles, click to refresh the page.
Before yesterdayYour RSS feeds

Apple’s dangerous path

By Lucas Matney

Hello friends, and welcome back to Week in Review.

Last week, we dove into the truly bizarre machinations of the NFT market. This week, we’re talking about something that’s a little bit more impactful on the current state of the web — Apple’s NeuralHash kerfuffle.

If you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny


the big thing

In the past month, Apple did something it generally has done an exceptional job avoiding — the company made what seemed to be an entirely unforced error.

In early August — seemingly out of nowhere** — the company announced that by the end of the year they would be rolling out a technology called NeuralHash that actively scanned the libraries of all iCloud Photos users, seeking out image hashes that matched known images of child sexual abuse material (CSAM). For obvious reasons, the on-device scanning could not be opted out of.

This announcement was not coordinated with other major consumer tech giants, Apple pushed forward on the announcement alone.

Researchers and advocacy groups had almost unilaterally negative feedback for the effort, raising concerns that this could create new abuse channels for actors like governments to detect on-device information that they regarded as objectionable. As my colleague Zach noted in a recent story, “The Electronic Frontier Foundation said this week it had amassed more than 25,000 signatures from consumers. On top of that, close to 100 policy and rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, also called on Apple to abandon plans to roll out the technology.”

(The announcement also reportedly generated some controversy inside of Apple.)

The issue — of course — wasn’t that Apple was looking at find ways that prevented the proliferation of CSAM while making as few device security concessions as possible. The issue was that Apple was unilaterally making a massive choice that would affect billions of customers (while likely pushing competitors towards similar solutions), and was doing so without external public input about possible ramifications or necessary safeguards.

A long story short, over the past month researchers discovered Apple’s NeuralHash wasn’t as air tight as hoped and the company announced Friday that it was delaying the rollout “to take additional time over the coming months to collect input and make improvements before releasing these critically important child safety features.”

Having spent several years in the tech media, I will say that the only reason to release news on a Friday morning ahead of a long weekend is to ensure that the announcement is read and seen by as few people as possible, and it’s clear why they’d want that. It’s a major embarrassment for Apple, and as with any delayed rollout like this, it’s a sign that their internal teams weren’t adequately prepared and lacked the ideological diversity to gauge the scope of the issue that they were tackling. This isn’t really a dig at Apple’s team building this so much as it’s a dig on Apple trying to solve a problem like this inside the Apple Park vacuum while adhering to its annual iOS release schedule.

illustration of key over cloud icon

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch /

Apple is increasingly looking to make privacy a key selling point for the iOS ecosystem, and as a result of this productization, has pushed development of privacy-centric features towards the same secrecy its surface-level design changes command. In June, Apple announced iCloud+ and raised some eyebrows when they shared that certain new privacy-centric features would only be available to iPhone users who paid for additional subscription services.

You obviously can’t tap public opinion for every product update, but perhaps wide-ranging and trail-blazing security and privacy features should be treated a bit differently than the average product update. Apple’s lack of engagement with research and advocacy groups on NeuralHash was pretty egregious and certainly raises some questions about whether the company fully respects how the choices they make for iOS affect the broader internet.

Delaying the feature’s rollout is a good thing, but let’s all hope they take that time to reflect more broadly as well.

** Though the announcement was a surprise to many, Apple’s development of this feature wasn’t coming completely out of nowhere. Those at the top of Apple likely felt that the winds of global tech regulation might be shifting towards outright bans of some methods of encryption in some of its biggest markets.

Back in October of 2020, then United States AG Bill Barr joined representatives from the UK, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, India and Japan in signing a letter raising major concerns about how implementations of encryption tech posed “significant challenges to public safety, including to highly vulnerable members of our societies like sexually exploited children.” The letter effectively called on tech industry companies to get creative in how they tackled this problem.


other things

Here are the TechCrunch news stories that especially caught my eye this week:

LinkedIn kills Stories
You may be shocked to hear that LinkedIn even had a Stories-like product on their platform, but if you did already know that they were testing Stories, you likely won’t be so surprised to hear that the test didn’t pan out too well. The company announced this week that they’ll be suspending the feature at the end of the month. RIP.

FAA grounds Virgin Galactic over questions about Branson flight
While all appeared to go swimmingly for Richard Branson’s trip to space last month, the FAA has some questions regarding why the flight seemed to unexpectedly veer so far off the cleared route. The FAA is preventing the company from further launches until they find out what the deal is.

Apple buys a classical music streaming service
While Spotify makes news every month or two for spending a massive amount acquiring a popular podcast, Apple seems to have eyes on a different market for Apple Music, announcing this week that they’re bringing the classical music streaming service Primephonic onto the Apple Music team.

TikTok parent company buys a VR startup
It isn’t a huge secret that ByteDance and Facebook have been trying to copy each other’s success at times, but many probably weren’t expecting TikTok’s parent company to wander into the virtual reality game. The Chinese company bought the startup Pico which makes consumer VR headsets for China and enterprise VR products for North American customers.

Twitter tests an anti-abuse ‘Safety Mode’
The same features that make Twitter an incredibly cool product for some users can also make the experience awful for others, a realization that Twitter has seemingly been very slow to make. Their latest solution is more individual user controls, which Twitter is testing out with a new “safety mode” which pairs algorithmic intelligence with new user inputs.


extra things

Some of my favorite reads from our Extra Crunch subscription service this week:

Our favorite startups from YC’s Demo Day, Part 1 
“Y Combinator kicked off its fourth-ever virtual Demo Day today, revealing the first half of its nearly 400-company batch. The presentation, YC’s biggest yet, offers a snapshot into where innovation is heading, from not-so-simple seaweed to a Clearco for creators….”

…Part 2
“…Yesterday, the TechCrunch team covered the first half of this batch, as well as the startups with one-minute pitches that stood out to us. We even podcasted about it! Today, we’re doing it all over again. Here’s our full list of all startups that presented on the record today, and below, you’ll find our votes for the best Y Combinator pitches of Day Two. The ones that, as people who sift through a few hundred pitches a day, made us go ‘oh wait, what’s this?’

All the reasons why you should launch a credit card
“… if your company somehow hasn’t yet found its way to launch a debit or credit card, we have good news: It’s easier than ever to do so and there’s actual money to be made. Just know that if you do, you’ve got plenty of competition and that actual customer usage will probably depend on how sticky your service is and how valuable the rewards are that you offer to your most active users….”


Thanks for reading, and again, if you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny

Lucas Matney

What 377 Y Combinator pitches will teach you about startups

By Natasha Mascarenhas

Along with a cadre of other TechCrunch folks, I spent this week extremely focused on one event: Y Combinator. The elite accelerator announced a staggering 377 startups as its Summer 2021 cohort. We covered every single on-the-record startup that presented and plucked out some favorites:

There’s something quite earnest and magical about spending literally hours hearing founder after founder pitch their ideas, with one minute, a single slide and a whole lot of optimism. It’s why I like covering demo days: I get tunnel vision into where innovation is going next, what behemoths are ripe for disruption and what founders think is a witty competitive edge versus a simple baseline.

That said, I will share one caveat. While YC is an ambitious snapshot, it’s not entirely illustrative of the next wave of decision-makers and leaders within startups — from a diversity perspective. The accelerator posted small gains in the number of women and LatinX founders in its batch, but dropped in the number of Black founders participating. The need for more diverse accelerators has never been more obvious, and as some in the tech community argue, is Y Combinator’s biggest blind spot.

This in mind, I want to leave you with a few takeaways I had after listening to hundreds of pitches. Here’s what 377 Y Combinator pitches taught me about startups:

  1. Instacart walked so YC startups could stroll. Instacart, last valued at $39 billion, is one of Y Combinator’s most successful graduates — which makes it even more spicier that a number of startups within this summer’s batch want to take on the behemoth. Instead of going after the obvious — speed — startups are looking to enhance the grocery delivery experience through premium produce, local recipes and even ugly vegetables. It suggests that there may be a new chapter in grocery delivery, one in which ease isn’t the only competitive advantage.
  2. Crypto’s pre-seed world is quieter than fintech. YC feels more like a fintech accelerator than ever before, but when it comes to crypto, there weren’t as many moonshots as I’d expect. We discussed this a bit in the Equity podcast, but if anyone has theories as to why, I’m game to hear ‘em.
  3. Edtech wants to disrupt artsy subjects. It’s common to see edtech founders flock to subjects like science and mathematics when it comes to disruption. Why? Well, from a pure pedagogical perspective, it’s easier to scale a service that answers questions that only have one right answer. While math may fit into a box that works for a tech-powered AI tutoring bot, arts, on the other hand, may require a little bit more human touch. This is why I was excited to see a number of edtech startups, from Spark Studio to Litnerd, focusing on humanities in their pitches. As shocking as it sounds, to rethink how a bookclub is read is definitely a refreshing milestone for edtech.
  4. Sometimes, the best pitch is no pitch at all. One pitch stood out simply because it addressed the elephant in the room: We’re all stressed. Jupe sells glamping-in-a-box and the profitable business likely benefited from COVID-19. I remember that because the founder used a portion of his pitch to tell investors to breathe, because it’s been a long two days. Being human, and more importantly, speaking like one, is what it takes to stand out these days.

On that note, exhale. Let’s move on to the rest of this newsletter, which includes nostalgic nods to Wall Street, public filings and my favorite new podcast. As always, you can find and support me on Twitter @nmasc_ or send me tips at natasha.m@techcrunch.com.

A return to old school Wall Street

With so many new funds, solo-GPs and alternative capital sources on the market these days, founders are confused. Funding may have moved away from three dudes on Sand Hill Road, but it’s also become more fragmented, which means entrepreneurs need to be even more sophisticated in how they fill up their cap tables. This week, I interviewed one recently venture-backed startup that proposed a solution: a return to old school Wall Street. 

Here’s what to know: Hum Capital wants to help investors allocate their resources to ambitious businesses, perfectly. The startup seeks to emulate the world of old school Wall Street, which helped ambitious business owners find the best financing option for their goal, instead of today’s dance of startups trying to prove worthiness for one type of capital. In my story, I explained more about the business.

At this stage, Hum Capital’s product is easy to explain:

It uses artificial intelligence and data to connect businesses to the available funders on the platform. The startup connects with a capital-hungry startup, ingests financial data from over 100 SaaS systems, including QuickBooks, NetSuite and Google Analytics, and then translates them to the some 250 institutional investors on its platform.

From Hum to mmhmm:       

IPO filings & other hubbub

Image Credits: ansonmiao / Getty Images

When the pandemic began to impact startups, Toast was top of the list. The restaurant tech startup had a series of deep layoffs as many of its clients in the hospitality industry had to shut down. Months later, Toast reentered headlines with a dramatically different message: It’s going public, and here’s all of our financial data.

Here’s what you need to know: This week, Toast published its S-1, offering a portrait into how the startup was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and answering questions on why it’s going public now. After ripping apart the Warby Parker S-1, Alex had five takeaways from the Toast S-1. My favorite excerpt? Toast was smart to diversify beyond its hardware, hand-held payment processors:

Toast’s two largest revenue sources — software and fintech incomes — have posted constant growth on a quarter-over-quarter basis. Hardware revenues have proved slightly less consistent, although they are also moving in a positive direction this year and set what appears to be an all-time record result in Q2 2021.

Toast would have had a much worse second quarter last year if it didn’t have software revenues. And since then, its growth would not have been as impressive without payments revenues (its fintech line item, speaking loosely). The broad revenue mix that Toast built has proved to limit downside while opening lots of room for growth.

Butter or jam:

Around TC

You already bought your tickets to Disrupt right? If not, here’s the link, with a fancy discount from yours truly.

Now that that’s out of the way, I want you to listen to Found, TechCrunch’s newest podcast that focuses on talking to early-stage founders about building and launching their companies. Recent episodes include:

Across the week

Seen on TechCrunch

Seen on Extra Crunch

Talk next week,

N

From passion to hobby to startup

By Richard Dal Porto

Welcome back to The TechCrunch Exchange, a weekly startups-and-markets newsletter. It’s inspired by what the weekday Exchange column digs into, but free, and made for your weekend reading. Want it in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here.

Hey team! Alex here. I am off next week. Anna, my regular co-pilot on the weekday column, will be handling next week’s newsletter. It will be beyond good. Enjoy!

A few weeks back we took a look at some startup results, with a focus on growth. Today we’re narrowing our focus to a single company from the collection of startups that wrote in: Water Cooler Trivia.

Many startups begin life as a solution to a problem. A developer finds a flaw in their workflow, codes up a solution for it and later builds that hack into a product that scales. That sort of thing.

Collin Waldoch did something different, turning a hobby of his into a business.

Coming from a family of six kids in what he called a competitive family, Waldoch hosted bar trivia during college, and later sent around weekly trivia questions at his workplace after he completed his schooling. He kept the habit up during his early career, which included a stint at Lyft.

It was during his corporate life that Waldoch realized that companies were willing to spend heavily on team activities. Like a soccer team that he joined during one job that his employer spent a few grand on, but which struggled to find enough regular players. If companies would drop that much money on a group sport that few of its denizens wanted, he thought, perhaps there was some budget he could attack with a trivia product.

So Waldoch started Water Cooler Trivia, building it as a corporate product that he and some friends scaled to around $20,000 in ARR as a side project. The founder described its level of success at the time as pretty good beer money. Helping the project bring in revenue was a super-low churn rate, something that helped Waldoch decide to quit his day job at Lyft and take his side project full time.

Today Water Cooler Trivia has reached $300,000 worth of ARR and sports a collection of workers around the globe that help it run. Companies can select difficulty levels for their weekly trivia questions and track employee scores with longitudinal leaderboards.

Part of the idea’s success in Waldoch’s view is that it is built for the end user — employees — instead of HR. Which means that it’s actually fun. Today the company has experienced some churn, but still sports net retention rates of just under 100%. That’s great for a product that doesn’t feature enterprise-SaaS level upsells.

And the service is cheap. Probably too cheap frankly. At $100 per month for 100 seats, Water Cooler could likely boost what it charges and push its revenues higher in short order. Waldoch said that his company might start raising its rates in Q4 of this year. But even without that, Water Cooler thinks that it has a huge amount of growth open to it from its core product.

I dig it. Long live software making life a bit more fun.

Drift, Xometry, Carrot

It was a busy week with infinite IPO filings and eight billion YC startups pitching, but other things did happen that we need to talk about:

I’m curious about Drift’s sale to private equity: Boston’s Drift sold the majority of its shares to Vista Equity Partners, it announced this week. I’ve been to the Drift offices, as the company once lent us a room to record a podcast in. The folks there were nice. But with the company reporting 70% ARR growth in 2020, I am dead curious why Drift didn’t just raise more capital and keep growing. The company was able to raise lots of private money in the past, including, say, a $60 million round back in 2018. Exiting the bulk of the company early feels a little weird, similar to how the Gainsight sale to PE was a bit of a head scratcher. For Boston, the exit is good news as it may help mint new angel investors. But it still feels like an exit for which we’re missing a key detail.

Xometry: This one has been in the notes folder for too long, and since I’m off next week we’re including it here. I spoke with Xometry CEO Randy Altschuler after his company reported earnings a few weeks back. Recall that Xometry went public earlier this year. Altschuler reported generally bullish views on the process of going public during the COVID-19 era, calling his company’s Zoom roadshow efficient in a manner that allowed his company to chat to more folks while also saving on travel-related exhaustion.

Xometry, continued: But past the standard post-IPO chit chat, Altschuler had a few notes that stood out in my memory. The first being that inflation can impact technology businesses. Rising costs are impacting companies like Root, who have to deal with used car prices impacting claims costs. Inflation also crops up in Xometry’s business connecting manufacturing demand with manufacturing supply. It’s a good reminder that macro market conditions really do matter in the technology world, just not in ways that we can always easily see.

Xometry, even more: Altschuler also said that he thinks that a carbon tax at some point is inevitable. This came up in our discussion of onshoring manufacturing in the United States over time. Shipping stuff is expensive today and would prove even more costly if we added in the price of carbon emissions via a tax. That could make local manufacturing more competitive, notably. Perhaps that will prove a boon to folks in favor of more industrial production in post-industrial societies. For tech companies that deal with physical-world goods, it’s something to keep in mind.

And, finally, Carrot: Another entry from the notes archive, let’s talk about Carrot. The startup raised a $75 million round a few weeks back, so I asked the company about its growth history and a few other things. Carrot sells a product to employers so that they can offer their workers fertility benefits. Given falling human fertility rates, coverage of this sort is, in my view, likely to become more popular over time.

Other factors are at work, of course, but the last 18 months have proved accelerative for Carrot’s business. Per the company, it has seen “nearly 5x overall growth” in the last six quarters. The startup expects to reach 450 customers by the end of 2021, which will add up to around one million covered folks.

Carrot declined to share a valuation differential from its Series B to its Series C. Happily PitchBook has data on the matter, so we can report that per its dataset, Carrot’s valuation rose from around $66 million (post-money) following its $21 million Series B to around $260 million after its Series C. That’s a good markup for the company’s employees and founders.

My general bullishness around rising needs for fertility support matches the company’s ethos, which it described in an email by saying that it thinks fertility and “family-forming care could and should be the fourth pillar of employee benefits and health care more broadly, much like medical or dental or vision.” A hard yes to that one.

OK, that’s all from me for a few weeks. Stay safe, get vaccinated, and let’s be kind to one another. — Alex

Daily Crunch: Fintech startup Jeeves snags $500M valuation after $57M Series B

By Richard Dal Porto

To get a roundup of TechCrunch’s biggest and most important stories delivered to your inbox every day at 3 p.m. PDT, subscribe here.

Hello and welcome to Daily Crunch for September 3, 2021. As noted yesterday, most of TechCrunch has the day off so today’s newsletter is a little bit different than usual.

Up top let’s chat early-stage startups. The TechCrunch team spent an age this week cataloging a host of startups from Y Combinator’s marathon demo day, with our notes covering all presentations from day one and day two. We also yanked our favorites in two batches, in case you wanted to avoid the full download and want to skip straight to the highlights.

But that’s not all. We also dug into trends from the group and hopped on Twitter Spaces to chat about what we saw. Of course, Y Combinator is a single accelerator, but given its mammoth cohort sizes we pay extra attention to the trends that its startups detail.

That behind us, let’s take a moment to highlight some great stuff from newer TechCrunch reporters:

Finally, Disrupt is coming up. So make sure that you have a ticket. As it’s a virtual event they are cheaper than they have been in years past, despite the event having perhaps its strongest content lineup ever. We’re excited!

With that, let’s head into the weekend — a long one here in the United States — and get some rest. What a week in the world at large and in our startup-focused niche. I’ll be taking all next week off, but I will leave the Daily Crunch in the very capable hands of one Greg Kumparak. — Alex

Use cohort analysis to drive smarter startup growth

Cohort analysis is a basic tool for startups that need to better understand customer behavior, but many early-stage companies let it slide.

Grouping users into “buckets” is common practice at most startups, but robust cohort analysis uncovers trends and missed opportunities that young companies can pounce on.

Don’t wait to hire a senior marketing person or a consultant to start this critical work: In a guest column, Jonathan Metrick, chief growth officer at Sagard & Portage Ventures, offers a detailed example explaining the value of this type of analysis.

If you have questions after reading this comprehensive step-by-step, please join us for a Twitter Spaces chat with Metrick on Tuesday, September 7, at 3 p.m. PDT/6 p.m. EDT. For details and a reminder, follow @TechCrunch on Twitter.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

TechCrunch Experts: Growth Marketing

Illustration montage based on education and knowledge in blue

Image Credits: SEAN GLADWELL (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

TechCrunch wants to help startups find the right expert for their needs. To do this, we’re building a shortlist of the top growth marketers. We’ve received great recommendations for growth marketers in the startup industry since we launched our survey.

We’re excited to read more responses as they come in! Fill out the survey here.

Community

Jonathan Metrick

Image Credits: Jonathan Metrick

Join Danny Crichton and Mary Ann Azevedo Tuesday, September 7, at 3 p.m. PDT/6 p.m. EDT on Twitter Spaces as they talk with Jonathan Metrick about fintech and growth marketing.

Daily Crunch: 8 Indian banks launch Account Aggregator to centralize consumers’ financial data

By Richard Dal Porto

To get a roundup of TechCrunch’s biggest and most important stories delivered to your inbox every day at 3 p.m. PDT, subscribe here.

Hello and welcome to Daily Crunch for Thursday, September 2, 2021. TechCrunch is largely off tomorrow thanks to a pan-Yahoo corporate reprieve. But don’t worry, all systems will continue to function while we recharge ahead of the next chapter of TechCrunch’s varied history of corporate ownership. — Alex

The TechCrunch Top 3

  • China is hacking U.S.-based Uyghurs: The campaign by China’s government to erase Uyghur culture and undermine the Uyghur population inside its borders doesn’t stop there. The Chinese state has been hacking Uyghurs while traveling, for example. And the FBI reports today that the Chinese Communist Party is doing the same thing inside the United States’ borders.
  • SEO is far from dead: A new $55 million funding round into startup Botify underscores how the era of search engine optimization is hardly behind us. The company said that despite seeing “more and more sections of the search results coming from first-party or paid results,” organic traffic is still growing. And everyone wants a piece of that clickstream.
  • Europe, where net neutrality lives on: Europe’s top court has dealt another blow to “zero rating,” TechCrunch reports. Zero rating is the practice by which internet providers don’t count certain content against bandwidth limits, giving certain materials — often their own — a leg up. It’s a practice frowned on by open-internet advocates, and the EU is apparently unwilling to bend on the matter.

Startups/VC

We’ll have a huge digest of our Y Combinator coverage so that you can peruse a few hundred different startups tomorrow in Daily Crunch. But we could not resist adding in a teaser. How’s this for a headline: “Fintech startup Jeeves raises $57M, goes from YC to $500M valuation in one year.” Even in 2021 that’s rapid valuation creation for an early-stage startup.

  • Yet more capital for neobanks: Challenger bank Point has put together a $46.5 million Series B, pouring more fuel into the startup’s goal of building a debit card that offers credit-card-level perks. Point’s service isn’t free, but for folks who don’t want to use revolving consumer credit accounts that often come with high interest rates, its model could be a neat way forward.
  • Shepherd raises $6.2M for construction insurance: TechCrunch is tracking a number of B2B neoinsurance companies today, including Shepherd. The startup is working to offer excess liability insurance to construction companies, building technology usage data into its underwriting models. It’s a neat idea. Procore put capital into the funding round.
  • HomeLight raises $100M: The real estate technology upstart wants to connect buyers and sellers, and also provides title and escrow services. And after its latest funding event, it’s worth $1.6 billion. HomeLight managed such a large round after projecting that its revenues will “triple to over $300 million in 2021.” So, when’s the IPO?
  • Edtech’s boom is not done: That’s our takeaway from news that General Atlantic has helped pour $60 million into Panorama Education, which has built a “a K-12 education software platform,” per TechCrunch reporting. Edtech startups got a huge boost in 2020 when schools around the world went remote. It appears that that wave has yet to crest.

All the reasons why you should launch a credit or debit card

The ongoing fintech revolution continues to level the playing field where legacy companies historically dominated startups.

To compete with retail banks, many startups are offering customers credit and debit cards; developer-friendly APIs make issuance relatively easy, and tools for managing processes like KYC are available off the shelf.

To learn more about the low barriers to entry — and the inherent challenges of creating a unique card offering — reporter Ryan Lawler interviewed:

  • Michael Spelfogel, founder, Cardless
  • Anu Muralidharan, COO, Expensify
  • Peter Hazlehurst, founder and CEO, Synctera
  • Salman Syed, SVP and GM of North America, Marqeta

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Big Tech Inc.

  • All hail the Googlebot: Alphabet has built an exoskeleton, our own Brian Heater reports in his Actuator series. It frankly looks rad. At times it’s easy to forget that Alphabet retains a large skunkworks effort despite being best known today for its Android mobile software, ad technology and online document editing services.
  • Virgin Galactic’s first commercial flight coming soon: After sending some folks to either space, or near-space the other month, Virgin Galactic is getting ready for commercial work. Per the company, that mission could come later this month, or in early October. For the company’s shareholders, it’s good news. Scratch that! After we wrote that blurb, news broke that the next Virgin flight is off after the FAA grounded the company. More here.
  • Today in Tesla: Two things from Elon-world today. First, Tesla has been told to share Autopilot data with the United States’ traffic safety agency. And Tesla’s hyper-quick Roadster car might not come until 2023. Follow-up question: When will the Cybertruck roll out?
  • And, finally, news from India: Eight banks in the country are soon rolling out “a system called Account Aggregator to enable consumers to consolidate all their financial data in one place.” India’s banking industry has a history of banding together to create products for consumers, including the “interoperable UPI rails” that many fintech companies in the country depend on, TechCrunch reports.

TechCrunch Experts: Growth Marketing

Illustration montage based on education and knowledge in blue

Image Credits: SEAN GLADWELL (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

TechCrunch wants to help startups find the right expert for their needs. To do this, we’re building a shortlist of the top growth marketers. We’ve received great recommendations for growth marketers in the startup industry since we launched our survey.

We’re excited to read more responses as they come in! Fill out the survey here.

Community

Jonathan Metrick

Image Credits: Jonathan Metrick

Join Danny Crichton and Mary Ann Azevedo Tuesday, September 7, at 3 p.m. PDT/6 p.m. EDT on Twitter Spaces as they talk with Jonathan Metrick about fintech and growth marketing.

Tracking startup focus in the latest Y Combinator cohort

By Anna Heim

First, some housekeeping: Thanks to our new corporate parents, TechCrunch has the day off tomorrow, so consider this the last chapter of The Exchange for this week. (The newsletter will go out Saturday as always.) Also, Alex is off next week. Anna is taking on next week’s newsletter and may have a column or two on deck as well.

But before we slow down for a few days, let’s chat about the most recent Y Combinator Demo Day in thematic detail.

If you caught the last few Equity episodes, some of this will be familiar, but we wanted to put a flag in the ground for later reference as we cover startups for the rest of the year.


The Exchange explores startups, markets and money.

Read it every morning on Extra Crunch or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.


What follows is a roundup of trends among Y Combinator startups and how they squared with our expectations.

A big thanks to the TechCrunch crew who covered the startup deluge live, and Natasha and Christine for helping build out our notes during our last few Twitter Spaces. Let’s talk trends!

More than expected

In a group of nearly 400 startups, you might think it’d be hard to find a category that felt overrepresented, but we’ve managed.

To start, we were surprised by the sheer number of startups in the cohort that were pursuing software models that incorporated no-code and low-code techniques. We expected some, surely, but not the nearly 20 that we compiled this morning.

Startups in the YC batch are building no-code and low-code tools to help developers build faster internal workflows (Tantl), build branded real estate portals (Noloco), sync data between other no-code tools (Whalesync), automate HR (Zazos), and more. Also in the mix were BrightReps, Beau, Alchemy, Hyperseed, Enso, HitPay, Whaly, Muse, Abstra, Lago, Inai and Breadcrumbs.io.

At least 18 companies in the group name-dropped no- and low-code in their pitches. They are taking on a host of industries, from finance and real estate to sales and HR. In short, no- and low-code tools are cropping up in what feels like every sector. It appears that the startup world has decided that helping non-developers build their own tools, workflows and apps is a trend here to stay.

AON3D closes $11.5M Series A, partners with Astrobotic to send 3D-printed parts to the moon

By Aria Alamalhodaei

3D printing has garnered a lot of hype, much of it for good reason: the technology has unlocked new kinds of object shapes and geometries, and it uses materials that tend to be much lighter weight than their traditionally manufactured counterparts. But there remain high barriers to entry for many companies that either don’t have training in additive manufacturing, or that need to use materials that aren’t suitable for a traditional 3D printer.

3D printing startup AON3D wants to remove both of those barriers by increasing automation and, crucially, making more materials 3D-printable, and it has raised a $11.5 million Series A to get there.

The company manufactures industrial 3D printers for thermoplastics. What distinguishes AON3D’s platform is that it’s materials-agnostic, co-founder Kevin Han explained, meaning the printers are able to accept the more than 70,000 commercially available thermoplastic composites or even a custom blend. That’s the company’s real breakthrough, according to its founders: the ability to turn existing materials already used by clients, 3D-printing ready.

“The real big innovation beyond just the hardware cost is on the material side,” co-founder Randeep Singh explained to TechCrunch in a recent interview. “We can take in a new material from a big company […] we take that material that a customer may need to use for a specific reason, run a bunch of tests and turn it into a 3d printable process.”

By doing so, AON3D says it also opens up additive manufacturing to many more companies, who may want to pursue 3D printing but are unable to fundamentally change their materials to get there. With AON3D’s process, they don’t have to, Han explained.

The company was founded by Han, Singh, and Andrew Walker, who met while studying materials engineering at Montreal’s McGill University. AON3D was largely born out of what the trio saw as a gap in the market between 3D printers that are very expensive — up to hundreds of thousands per machine — and more consumer-geared printers that aren’t much more than a couple of hundred bucks.

They started off operating 3D printers as a service, before launching a Kickstarter campaign in 2015 that ultimately garnered CAN $89,643 ($71,064) to bring the company’s debut 3D printer, the AON, to backers. Six years later, they’ve raised a total of $14.2 million in funding. This latest round was led by SineWave Ventures with participation from AlleyCorp and Y Combinator Continuity. BDC, EDC, Panache Ventures, MANA Ventures, Josh Richards & Griffin Johnson, and SV angels also participated.

Beyond selling printers and customized materials, AON3D also works with companies on an ongoing basis, giving training in additive manufacturing and ensure their printer parameters are adequate for the parts they want to make.

The company has found a number of clients in the aerospace industry, in part because of the advantages in weight — crucial for space companies, where the economics largely come down to payload size — as well as cost, time and the ability to use geometries that aren’t possible through injection molding or traditional manufacturing processes.

That includes Astrobotic Technology, a lunar exploration startup that is aiming to send a lander to the moon on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in 2022. Onboard the mission will be hundreds of parts printed using AON3D’s AON M2+ high-temperature printer, which will likely be the first additively manufactured parts to touch the lunar surface. These include bracketry components, including critical parts in the avionics boxes.

Image Credits: Astrobotic

“This [partnership] is giving Astrobotic the ability to use materials that they want to use very quickly,” Singh said. “Otherwise, they have really long lead time to get like material to work in a different process.” Injection molding using high-performance polymers, for example, can have a lead time of many months, he added, versus in a day or two using 3D printing.

Looking to the future, the company will be using the capital from this financing round to build a dedicated full-scale materials lab and to grow its team. The company also wants to fully automate the 3D printing process, using data coming out of the materials lab, so that any business can start using additive manufacturing for their products.

Daily Crunch: Researchers claim Fortress S03 home security system can be remotely disabled

By Richard Dal Porto

To get a roundup of TechCrunch’s biggest and most important stories delivered to your inbox every day at 3 p.m. PDT, subscribe here.

Hello and welcome to Daily Crunch for September 1, 2021. It’s a big day in TechCrunch history in that we’ve been shuffled to a new parent company. More on that in a moment. First, Disrupt attendees, you can now hit up CrunchMatch to meet other cool folks. See you there! — Alex

The TechCrunch Top 3

  • Hello, Apollo! TechCrunch is no longer part of Verizon Media Group, a somewhat forgotten subsidiary of the U.S. telco. Instead, we are now part of Yahoo, which is owned, in turn, by Apollo, a large investing company that is publicly traded. Cue the parade. Jokes aside, the long-announced deal has finally been completed. We’ll have more notes on our new overlords as soon as we meet them.
  • Inside Amplitude’s IPO filing: TechCrunch’s coverage of the accelerating IPO market continued today with notes on Amplitude’s product-analytics-focused debut. For more on Toast and Freshworks’ filings, head here or here. Oh, and Warby Parker here, if D2C is your jam.
  • Sticking to the big-dollar news today, Vista Equity is buying a majority stake in Drift. Based in Boston, Drift focuses on what it calls “conversational” sales tools. The two parties were being coy to a silly level by not disclosing the price paid for Drift, other than that the majority sale of the company values the former startup at more than $1 billion. Why Drift sold to Vista instead of going public is not clear, but we do feel cheated out of its S-1 filing.

Startups/VC

As we write to you today, the TechCrunch team is busy writing thousands of words about the second day of startup pitches from Y Combinator’s Demo Day. You can read about every startup that pitched yesterday.

Now, to today’s news. First, Berlin Brands, which buys and hopes to scale brands that sell on Amazon, is now worth north of $1 billion after raising a $700 million equity-and-debt round. There is apparently infinite capital available to finance the purchase of smaller e-commerce brands.

So much so that Forum Brands also announced new capital for the activity today. Its $100 million in debt financing may sound small compared to what Berlin Brands just secured, but it’s still nine figures of dry powder.

Our favorite startups from YC’s Summer 21 Demo Day, Part 1

Twice each year, we turn our attention to Y Combinator’s latest class of aspiring startups as they hold their public debuts.

For YC Summer 2021 Demo Day, the accelerator’s fourth virtual gathering, Natasha Mascarenhas, Alex Wilhelm, Devin Coldewey, Lucas Matney and Greg Kumparak selected 14 favorites from the first day of one of the world’s top pitch competitions.

Read their analysis, then come back later today for their rundown of Day Two.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Big Tech Inc.

Today’s Big Tech news is mostly focused on feature upgrades. Enjoy!

TechCrunch Experts: Growth Marketing

Illustration montage based on education and knowledge in blue

Image Credits: SEAN GLADWELL (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

In case you didn’t catch it yesterday: We’re giving away one free ticket to Disrupt through the Experts survey. Check out the schedule for Disrupt, and read on to learn about the giveaway details.

  • Have you already submitted a recommendation? That’s great — we’re counting all previous survey submissions as an entry for the Disrupt ticket.
  • We’ll also enter the next 100 survey submissions into the giveaway.
  • Do you want to submit 10 recommendations to increase your chance at winning? We love the enthusiasm, but we ask that you only submit one recommendation for each marketer that you’ve worked with.
  • Don’t know what to say in your recommendation? Start with what traits they had, what they did to help your company, how their work affected your business and go from there!
  • We manually go through all entries, so please don’t copy and paste the same response multiple times.
  • Have a question about the giveaway? Send us an email at ec_editors@techcrunch.com.

Community

Jonathan Metrick

Image Credits: Jonathan Metrick

Join Danny Crichton and Mary Ann Azevedo Tuesday, September 7, at 3 p.m. PDT/6 p.m. EDT on Twitter Spaces as they talk with Jonathan Metrick about fintech and growth marketing.

Ubco 2X2 Adventure Bike review: Utility that shreds

By Rebecca Bellan

A recent move to Auckland, New Zealand — a city with lackluster public transit and hills that can turn a quick bike ride to the store into a sweaty workout — piqued my interest in e-bikes. 

Strong demand and skyrocketing prices, however, made it difficult to access these coveted e-bikes here in the Land of the Long White Cloud. That changed after learning about Ubco, the New Zealand-based electric utility bike startup that recently raised $10 million from investors. 

The company provided me with the Ubco 2X2 Adventure Bike for nearly a month, which gave me plenty of time to put it to the test. 

I may not be Ubco’s target audience, although I did my best to use the bike as its design suggests, and packed it up with bags of books and other heavy things that might simulate the weight of delivered garlic bread, mail and other packages. The Ubco 2X2 Adventure Bike is made for city utility riding, with the option of going off-road, which I would later try with gusto.

The company’s flagship is the Ubco 2X2 Work Bike, an electric dirt bike that was originally designed to help farmers. The fresh capital the company raised in June will be used to expand into existing verticals like food delivery, postal service and last-mile logistics, scale a commercial subscription business and target sales growth in the United States. 

Domino’s drivers in Auckland, and I hear in the U.K., can be seen delivering hot pizzas on Ubco bikes, and the company has a range of other national clients, like the New Zealand Post, the Defense Force, the Department of Conservation, and Pāmu, or Landcorp Farming Limited, as well as other local restaurants and stores.

Image Credits: Rebecca Bellan

The handoff

CEO and co-founder Timothy Allan drove out from the company headquarters in Tauranga to hand off the bike personally. It was a sunny day in my neighborhood, and I listened impatiently as he described the various bits and bobs, how to work the machine and how to charge it.

Allan helped me download the Ubco app to pair my phone with the bike, which, among other functionalities, allowed me to select beginner mode, which would cap the vehicle speed at around 20 miles per hour. I made a mental note so that I could write about it here, but was determined to reach the top speed of 30 miles per hour right away. 

I did, and it was … pretty sick. I’m not supposed to gush, but man! It’s a sweet ride. Here’s why:

Appearance

The Adventure Bike comes standard in white and sits on 17X2.75-inch multi-use tires with aluminum rims, both of which are DOT compliant. My version also had Maori decals on the frame, in a nod to the indigenous people of New Zealand.  

The bike’s height is about 41 inches and the seat comes to 32 inches. From wheel to wheel, it’s about 72 inches. The payload, including the rider, is about 330 pounds, so both my partner (6’2” man) and I (5’7” female) rode this bike with ease, needing only to adjust the wide rearview mirrors sticking out of the handlebars. And no, we didn’t ride it together. This bike is designed as a one-seater. 

Image Credits: Rebecca Bellan

That said, there’s a little cargo rack above the back wheel, which holds the license plate (apparently these are classified as mopeds, which require registration in many places) and any other cargo one might carry. I didn’t try, but I reckon it could hold at least five pizza boxes tied down with a bungee cord. The bike rack also allows for saddlebags to be strapped on. Ubco sells what it calls the Pannier Back Pack, a weather-resistant roll-top cargo bag, for $189 that slots in very nicely and is actually a quality bag with 5.28-gallon capacity. 

Accessories aside, the alloy frame is lightweight and step-through, which I love in a bike — it lets me start to shift myself off before I fully park and I feel super agile and swift. Speaking of parking, the rules are different everywhere, I assume, but here, you park it on the street or in parking spaces, not on the sidewalk. It’s got a kickstand to hold it in place, and you can lock the front wheel so no one can just wheel it away. They could, however, probably chuck it into the back of their pickup truck if they so chose, since it’s only 145 pounds. 

The appearance of the bike stood out, and not just to me. During my multi-week test drive, numerous tradesmen and bike folks went out of their way to compliment its design, the exact demographic that Ubco is aiming for. 

Rideability

The lightness of the bike means that it’s easy to take off and find your balance. The battery is also in the middle of the frame, just near where your feet sit, which anchors the bike and gives you a stable center of gravity.

The lightweight nature of the bike is a blessing and a curse. Cutting a turn is easy, but on a windy day and an open road, there were moments I worried that I’d be knocked off it — but maybe that had more to do with riding next to a 10-wheeler on the street. Because it’s so light, it did feel a bit strange to me to be in the street lane with the other bigger, meaner cars rather than in the bike lanes.

The bike accelerates quickly via the fully electronic throttle control, even up steep hills, due to the high torque geared drivetrain. The drivetrain has two 1kw Flux2 motors with sealed bearings, active heat management and active venting for residual moisture — a necessity in this moistest of cities.

The acceleration sound, which mimics those of a gas-powered dirt bike but with a softer electronic tone, was a surprising plus. I didn’t realize how much I relied on my sense of sound to tell how fast I was going until I rode the Ubco. 

The braking system was a bit touchy. It felt very sensitive to me, probably because hydraulic and regenerative brakes are operating together on the vehicle. There’s also a passive regenerative braking system, which I gather is what put the brakes on for me when I was just trying to coast down one of those mammoth hills.

Image Credits: Rebecca Bellan

Both the front suspension, 130 mm, and rear suspension, 120 mm, have a coil spring with a hydraulic dampener and have preload and rebound adjustment. In other words, the shocks are awesome. Even when I actively drove myself off sidewalks and over speed bumps, I could barely feel a thing. 

To test its off-road capabilities, I took the bike to Cornwall Park, where I ran it at full speed on the grass, swerving between trees, flying over roots and rocks, doing doughnuts in the field. It was good fun and I felt completely in control of the vehicle. I can imagine why farmers have turned to the Work Bike.

When it was time to test out its use as a delivery bike, I packed the two saddlebags with books and groceries and took it for a spin. Still a great ride, although I was a little wobbly turning corners until I got the hang of it.

Value

Since the Ubco Adventure Bike doesn’t neatly fit into a specific bike category, it’s not a simple price comparison. An electric moped, like a Lexmoto Yadea or a Vespa Elettrica, could set you back anywhere from $2,400 or $7,000, respectively. Electric dirt bikes could cost anywhere from $6,000 to $11,000 for something like a KTM or Alta Motors. 

With that in mind, the Ubco Adventure Bike costs $6,999 with a 2.1 kW power supply and $7,499 for a 3.1 kW power supply. Depending on what you want it for, I’d say it’s somewhere around mid-range for a bike like this. Since you’d probably use it for work-related activities, it could get a tax write-off. Plus, you want quality in a bike that’s down to do some heavy lifting, and Ubco has plenty of that. It’s not only a handy utility bike, but it’s also got some excellent tech under the proverbial hood, which we’ll get to later. 

Ubco estimates a 10- to 15-year life expectancy, depending on use. Over-the-air software updates, replacing parts and full refurbishments can help keep the bike going for longer. The company encourages riders to send back the dead bikes because it’s committed to full product stewardship.

That said, if you wanted to buy a bike now, it’d be a preorder (unless your local Ubco dealer had some in stock). Ordering now could get you an Ubco by September if you live in the States. The company says it’s still feeling the effects of COVID, with high demand and a stretched supply chain causing delays. The preorder requires a $1,000 deposit. 

Ubco also has a subscription model, which is mainly available for enterprise customers at the moment and priced on a case-by-case basis. However, it’s piloting subscriptions for individuals in Auckland and Tauranga before rolling the program out globally. Subscriptions will start at around NZD $300 per month for a 36-month term.

Range

The Adventure Bike comes with either the 2.1 kWh battery pack, which has around 40 to 54 miles of range, or the 3.1 kWh, with 60 to 80 miles.

The battery is run off a management system, called “Scotty,” to monitor real-time performance and safety. The battery, which is sealed with alloy and vented during use, is made with 18650 lithium-ion cells, which means it’s a powerful battery that can handle up to 500 charging cycles. Ubco says its batteries are designed to be disassembled at the end of life.

Image Credits: Rebecca Bellan

The 10amp alloy fast charger can fuel the battery fully within four to six hours. You can charge it while it’s still in the vehicle by just connecting it to a power outlet, or you can unlock the battery and yank it out (it’s a little heavy) and charge it inside. Note: Charging is loud. Not sure if this is standard, but probably is. 

I charged it every two to three days, but that will depend on use and where you are. It’s winter in Auckland, so a bit cold, which affects battery life, and the hills are brutal, which also use up a lot of battery life.

I’d ride it downtown and around my neighborhood every day, but I’d wager a delivery driver would need to charge it nightly. As I mentioned earlier, the battery can be removed for charging, so if you take it to work, you can always take it up to the office or wherever to charge while you’re doing other things. 

Tech features

Vehicle management system

The vehicle runs off what Ubco calls its Cerebro vehicle management system, which integrates all electronic and electrical functions of the vehicles and provides control and updates via Bluetooth. Ubco builds with end of life in mind, so the CAN bus is isolated so future CAN devices can be easily integrated. 

Now, one of my first questions, given the heftiness of this bike and the likelihood of gig economy workers who would ride it for work living in urban dwellings, was this: How can I ensure no one will steal this thing when it’s on the street, because there’s no way I’m lugging it up to my fifth-floor walkup?

Like I said, you can lock the wheel in place, which would make it far more difficult for someone to wheel it off. If someone did decide to capture the whole cumbersome vehicle, Ubco would be able to track it for you. Each Ubco bike has telemetry, aka a SIM card, hardwired inside, and that can help provide data that can be used for location, servicing, theft, safety, route planning, etc. 

This VMS architecture is made for handling fleets via Ubco’s enterprise subscription vehicles, but it obviously has other uses, like providing peace of mind (personally, I’d still lock it up with chains, but I’m a New Yorker and trust no one). Obviously, if you think this telemetry is creepy, you can opt out, but it does come standard with subscriptions, allowing subscribers to track their bike’s location on the app.

Display

Image Credits: Rebecca Bellan

Mounted on the handlebar is an LCD display that shows speed, power levels and more. Also on the handlebars are switch controls for high or low beams, indicators and a horn. I found the indicators to be a bit sticky and sometimes I would slip and hit the horn. What I wish the handlebars also had was a mount for your phone so you could follow directions. I had my headphones in and was listening to Google Maps tell me how to get around, but that felt less safe and efficient. 

Turning it on

You can turn the power on with a keyless fob by either clicking the button on the fob or the button on the handlebars. I will note that the keyless fob button is weirdly sensitive. At multiple points, I had it in my pocket with my phone or other pocket inhabitants and it must have knocked into the button, turning the vehicle off while I was riding it. Thankfully, that never happened anywhere busy, but that’s something to be wary about. 

App

As I mentioned earlier, you could pair your phone, as well as other users’ phones, to the bike using the app. The app allows you to choose learner mode or restricted mode, which controls ride settings; turn the bike and lights on and off; change the metrics; and check the status of things like battery life, speed and motor temperature. It’s basically all the info on the dash, but on an app. I didn’t really feel the need to use it.

Lights

The LED headlights are on at all times when the vehicle is turned on, but there’s also a high and low beam, as well as peripheral parking lights, all of which are designed for disassembly at the end of life. There are also LED rear, brake and number plate lights, as well as DOT-approved indicator lights.

Other stuff

Among the features that don’t fit neatly into the other categories, there’s the field kit, which is fastened to the lift-up seat and contains a user manual and tools to set up and maintain the 2X2, which is really handy. Usually, when people buy an Ubco bike, it comes in a box and there are “a few simple steps to follow to get it ready to ride.” There’s also an UBCO University course that shows how to set it up. If you buy from one of Ubco’s dealers, they’ll unpack it and set it up when you come to collect it. 

Maintenance

Maintenance comes with the cost of a monthly subscription. Ubco has a network of technicians placed wherever the company sells its bikes if they’re in need of fixing. If there’s no authorized mechanic nearby, Ubco’s head office will work with customers to help them fix the bike. Ubco did not respond to information about how many authorized mechanics are in its network.

Again, being from New York, I’ve seen probably thousands of delivery riders on bikes and mopeds, oven mitts covered in a plastic bag taped onto the handlebars so drivers can keep their hands warm during the colder months. This bike can handle a hefty load for delivering goods, it’s quick and agile for weaving in and out of traffic, and it’s easy to ride and use.

The subscription offering, especially for enterprise, makes this a great city utility bike that can probably handle a range of weather conditions. I already know it can handle rain and mud, so all signs point to success in the sloshy, icy hell of a Northern city winter. And for the adventurer — the person who just wants to ride something sweet on- and off-road, out of the city and into the wilderness — this is also a great consumer ride that will last you quite a while.

What Amplitude’s choice to direct list says about its products, growth and value

By Alex Wilhelm

Amplitude is going public in a direct listing that will see its shares trade on the Nasdaq under the ticker symbol “AMPL.” The company first announced its intention to direct list in July and filed its S-1 document in August.

The San Francisco-based startup lists major shareholders Battery, Benchmark, IVP, Sequoia and Jasmine Ventures in its S-1 filing. Each of those investors owns at least 5% of the company.


The Exchange explores startups, markets and money.

Read it every morning on Extra Crunch or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.


Following our digs through recent IPO filings from Freshworks and Toast, this morning we’re taking a spade to Amplitude’s document.

We’re curious why the company is direct listing instead of raising capital in its debut. We also want to understand how the company sees the future, because its product thesis is essentially a roadmap to its long-term growth; how investors value the company will in part hinge on whether Wall Street agrees with where Amplitude sees technology heading.

And we’ll do our usual work to understand the company’s revenue mix and quality, wrapping with some noodling on what it may be worth. Sound fun? Good. Let’s get into it.

Amplitude’s core product thesis

Most S-1 filings are full of corporate babble that I don’t drag you through. After all, we don’t really need to chat about how a particular vertical SaaS company thinks that its chosen niche is a great market. You already know what the debuting concern thinks. But with Amplitude, I want to do a bit more.

Amplitude sells what it calls “digital optimization” software. In practice, that means its software helps other companies design better software.

The company thinks that the way that digital products are built has changed. Gone are the days, in its view, of trusting intuition when it comes to digital design choices. Instead, Amplitude expects that companies with digital products will instead lean on data-driven decision-making. Or as it phrased it in its filing, digital product design is leaving the “Mad Men” phase for a more “Moneyball” era.

Data is at the core of how Amplitude sees companies designing future products. But in its view, many companies currently rely on a collection of disparate software tools to collect data on their digital footprint. Amplitude thinks it has a better method of collecting digital user data — and learning from it.

Cox Automotive acquires battery health company Spiers as ‘EVs take center stage’

By Aria Alamalhodaei

Cox Automotive is getting into the electric vehicle battery lifecycle business.

The company said Wednesday it acquired Oklahoma City-based Spiers New Technologies (SNT), a business that provides repair, remanufacturing, refurbishing and repurposing services for EV battery packs.

The two companies did not disclose the terms of the deal. Cox said the acquisition will help it establish its battery servicing offerings, particularly as “EVs take center stage.” It added that electric vehicles have completely difference service profiles than their internal combustion engine vehicle counterparts, and much of that comes down to the battery. EV battery support is particularly critical as the battery pack itself can comprise as much as 40% of the vehicle’s cost.

Even as federal investment in electric vehicles grow, and more automakers announce billions to build out their EV businesses, public skepticism remains. Eight out of 10 people not considering purchasing an EV are skeptical about the value of the battery and its useful life, according to research conducted by Cox.

This is not Cox’s only foray into EV battery management; the company also build a battery health diagnostic tool with SNT that uses Spiers’ software platform, Alfred. Cox said it would use the diagnostic tool to push greater confidence in electric vehicles, likening it to the way that Kelley Blue Book has provided greater transparency about ICE vehicles’ condition for consumers.

The acquisition will also give Cox a stake in the battery repurposing business. Spiers is one of a few companies that specializes giving EV batteries a “second life” after they are no longer fit in a vehicle. Around 80% to 90% of the batteries SNT receives are from OEMs, with the rest from auto dismantlers, the company told TechCrunch in an interview earlier this year. It’s a business segment that is likely only to grow as more EVs come off the roads, so the transaction is likely giving Cox a stake in end-of-life purposes as well.

Google appeals ‘disproportionate’ French copyright, talks fine

By Natasha Lomas

Google is appealing the more than half a billion-dollar fine it got slapped with by France’s competition authority in July.

The penalty relates to the adtech giant’s approach toward paying news publishers for content reuse.

In a statement today, Sebastien Missoffe, a Google France VP and country manager, characterized the fine as “disproportionate” — claiming that the $592 million penalty is not justified in light of Google’s “efforts” to cut a deal with news publishers and comply with updated copyright rules. Which reads like fairly weak sauce, as defence statements go.

“We are appealing the French Competition Authority’s decision which relates to our negotiations between April and August 2020. We disagree with a number of legal elements, and believe that the fine is disproportionate to our efforts to reach an agreement and comply with the new law,” wrote Missoffe, adding: “Irrespective of this, we recognize neighboring rights and we continue to work hard to resolve this case and put deals in place. This includes expanding offers to 1,200 publishers, clarifying aspects of our contracts, and we are sharing more data as requested by the French Competition Authority in their July Decision.”

Back in 2019, the European Union agreed on an update to digital copyright rules which extended cover to the ledes of news stories — snippets of which aggregators such as Google News had for years routinely scraped and displayed.

Individual EU Member States then needed to transpose the updated pan-EU reforms into their national laws — with France leading the pack to do so.

The country’s competition watchdog has also been leading the charge in enforcing updated rules against Google — ordering the tech giant to negotiate with publishers last year and following that up with a whopping fine when publishers complained to it about how Google was treating those talks.

Announcing the penalty this summer, the Autorité de la Concurrence accused the tech giant of attempting to unilaterally impose a global news licensing product it operates upon local publishers in a bid to avoid having to put a separate financial value on neighbouring rights remuneration — where there is a legal requirement (under EU and French law) upon it to negotiate with said publishers…

The watchdog’s full list of grievances against Google’s modus operandi was very long — check out our earlier report here — so it’s not clear how much of a placeholder action this appeal by Google is.

Per Reuters, the Autorité has said the appeal will not hold up the penalty nor impede the timeline of the order it already issued — which, in mid July, gave Google a two month timeframe to revise its offer and provide publishers with all the required info, with the threat of daily fines (of €900,000) if it failed to meet all its requirements by then. So there are now only a couple of weeks to go before that deadline.

Google may thus be hoping that by announcing an appeal now it will help ‘concentrate’ publishers’ minds — and encourage them to accept — whatever tweaked offer it comes up with, hence its statement noting an ‘expanded’ offer (now covering 1,200 publishers), and talk of “clarifying aspects of our contracts” and “sharing more data”, all of which were areas where Google got roundly spanked by the Autorité. 

What It'll Take to Get Power Back in New Orleans After Ida

By Lily Hay Newman
It could take weeks to get the lights on in parts of Louisiana, but the playbook on how to do it is clear.

Daily Crunch: Databricks reaches $38B billion valuation with $1.6B Series H

By Richard Dal Porto

To get a roundup of TechCrunch’s biggest and most important stories delivered to your inbox every day at 3 p.m. PDT, subscribe here.

Hello and welcome to Daily Crunch for August 31, 2021. Today the TechCrunch machine was busy covering the first day of Y Combinator’s Demo Day event, so expect to see all sorts of coverage on the site after this hits your inbox. We’ll bring you a recap in tomorrow’s edition, though we do have a first taste down below.

In Disrupt news, TechCrunch is bringing an AI investor and a science-fiction author together and will have lots on deck for startups currently raising external capital. — Alex

The TechCrunch Top 3

  • Databricks is now worth $38B: Data and AI unicorn Databricks confirmed its previously reported financing event today, raising $1.6 billion at a $38 billion valuation. TechCrunch spoke with the company’s CEO about what the money’s for, and we dug a bit more deeply into its revenue results. The late-stage market has been busy, but this Databricks round is big even by today’s venture standards.
  • More African startups than ever in YC batch: As we write, Demo Day is ongoing, so most of our first-day coverage will be finished too late to include. But we got a look at the African startups in the summer batch, and there are more than ever. Given how active the African startup market is proving this year, we’re not surprised.
  • Apna could be India’s next unicorn: Focusing on upskilling Indian consumers, Apna could become a unicorn if a Tiger Global-led round comes to fruition. TechCrunch reports that the round could be worth $100 million at a valuation of more than $1 billion. Edtech in India remains one of the key startup narratives in recent years.

Startups/VC

Because this is the last day of August, we presume that the summer lull in funding events has come and gone. Not that we really noticed a downtick in volume, frankly, but all the same, expect things to get even crazier in the coming weeks. Here’s a sampling of the rounds that we covered today:

  • $200M more to roll-up Amazon merchants: Beyond Indian edtech companies, another trend that has raised nigh-infinite funds this year is startups raising capital to buy up smaller e-commerce merchants, often with a focus on those selling on Amazon. Heroes is the latest to raise capital for the concept, with the U.K.-based startup adding a few hundred million to its accounts in a single go.
  • Whoop, the Peloton of Apple Watches, raises $200M: If you are a fitness-wearable user, you may be familiar with Whoop. The company’s athlete-focused wristband has helped Whoop raise more than $400 million, now valuing the company at $3.6 billion. That’s many duckets for a fitness wearable. But as Whoop has a software fee bundled into its hardware — hence our Peloton analogy — it is not simply another hardware company.
  • Synthetic coffee is coming: Maricel Saenz, the founder and CEO of Compound Foods, wants to create and sell coffee sans beans. Why? Well, climate change is making growing coffee beans harder, and the process is hard on the environment to boot. So why not just synthesize your morning java? I am willing to try this out, with the caveat that coffee is delicious so it’s going to take a little convincing for me to change my routines.
  • Borzo wants to bring on-demand to more markets: Delivery service Dostavista is rebranding to Borzo, bringing its multicountry business under a single brand. The startup, per TechCrunch, was founded in 2012 and has a customer base of 2 million.
  • Former TechCrunch Disrupt Startup Alley company Quip raises $100M: Quip is best known as a toothbrush company, but it hit profitability last year, expanded its product line and landed nine figures in new capital. The company today offers a host of oral cleaning products as well as invisible teeth aligners.
  • To close out our startup coverage today, Peak has raised $75 million to help non-tech companies build AI apps. The Manchester, England-based Peak wants to help companies that lack in-house AI talent apply the software technique to their own businesses. SoftBank Vision Fund 2 led the latest investment, which the company intends to use to scale its staff and hit up new markets.

6 tips for establishing your startup’s global supply chain

The barrier to entry for launching hardware startups has fallen; if you can pull off a successful crowdfunding campaign, you’re likely savvy enough to find a factory overseas that can build your widgets to spec.

But global supply chains are fragile: No one expected an off-course container ship to block the Suez Canal for six days. Due to the pandemic, importers are paying almost $18,000 for shipping containers from China today that cost $3,300 a year ago.

After spending a career spinning up supply chains on three continents, Liteboxer CEO Jeff Morin authored a guide for Extra Crunch for hardware founders.

“If you’re clear-eyed about the challenges and apply some rigor and forethought to the process, the end result can be hard to match,” Morin says.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Big Tech Inc.

  • TikTok wants to help match influencers and brands: That’s the takeaway from our story today that TikTok’s “new Creator Marketplace API lets influencer marketing companies tap into first-party data.” Given how much we’ve read about astroturfing influencers, the concept makes sense. And TikTok wants its leading creators to make lots of money on its platform so they stick around. Expect to see more of this from other platforms in time.
  • Windows 11 launches October 5: As a Windows fan (and a macOS fan, for the record), I am somewhat hyped to try out the latest Windows build, though I worry if my CPU is sufficiently new. Regardless, the new code drops in early October, so the wait is nearly over.
  • Now you can troll your friends on Spotify with your musical tastes: Love music? Have friends that love music? And do you enjoy different music than your friends? Good news! Now you can create blended playlists with your team, so that you wind up with a playlist that pleases precisely no one.

TechCrunch Experts: Growth Marketing

Illustration montage based on education and knowledge in blue

Image Credits: SEAN GLADWELL (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

TechCrunch Disrupt is in less than a month, and we’re excited to share that we’re giving away one free ticket through the Experts survey. Check out the schedule for Disrupt, and read on to learn about the giveaway details:

  • Have you already submitted a recommendation? That’s great — we’re counting all previous survey submissions as an entry for the Disrupt ticket.
  • We’ll also enter the next 100 survey submissions into the giveaway.
  • Do you want to submit 10 recommendations to increase your chance at winning? We love the enthusiasm, but we ask that you only submit one recommendation for each marketer that you’ve worked with.
  • Don’t know what to say in your recommendation? Start with what traits they had, what they did to help your company, how their work affected your business and go from there!
  • We manually go through all entries, so please don’t copy and paste the same response multiple times.
  • Have a question about the giveaway? Send us an email at ec_editors@techcrunch.com.

UK-based Heroes raises $200M to buy up more Amazon merchants for its roll-up play

By Ingrid Lunden

Heroes, one of the new wave of startups aiming to build big e-commerce businesses by buying up smaller third-party merchants on Amazon’s Marketplace, has raised another big round of funding to double down on that strategy. The London startup has picked up $200 million, money that it will mainly be using to snap up more merchants. Existing brands in its portfolio cover categories like babies, pets, sports, personal health and home and garden categories — some of them, like PremiumCare dog chews, the Onco baby car mirror, gardening tool brand Davaon and wooden foot massager roller Theraflow, category best-sellers — and the plan is to continue building up all of these verticals.

Crayhill Capital Management, a fund based out of New York, is providing the funding, and Riccardo Bruni — who co-founded the company with twin brother Alessio and third brother Giancarlo — said that the bulk of it will be going toward making acquisitions, and is therefore coming in the form of debt.

Raising debt rather than equity at this point is pretty standard for companies like Heroes. Heroes itself is pretty young: it launched less than a year ago, in November 2020, with $65 million in funding, a round comprised of both equity and debt. Other investors in the startup include 360 Capital, Fuel Ventures and Upper 90.

Heroes is playing in what is rapidly becoming a very crowded field. Not only are there tens of thousands of businesses leveraging Amazon’s extensive fulfillment network to sell goods on the e-commerce giant’s marketplace, but some days it seems we are also rapidly approaching a state of nearly as many startups launching to consolidate these third-party sellers.

Many a roll-up play follows a similar playbook, which goes like this: Amazon provides the marketplace to sell goods to consumers, and the infrastructure to fulfill those orders, by way of Fulfillment By Amazon and its Prime service. Meanwhile, the roll-up business — in this case Heroes — buys up a number of the stronger companies leveraging FBA and the marketplace. Then, by consolidating them into a single tech platform that they have built, Heroes creates better economies of scale around better and more efficient supply chains, sharper machine learning and marketing and data analytics technology, and new growth strategies. 

What is notable about Heroes, though — apart from the fact that it’s the first roll-up player to come out of the U.K., and continues to be one of the bigger players in Europe — is that it doesn’t believe that the technology plays as important a role as having a solid relationship with the companies it’s targeting, key given that now the top marketplace sellers are likely being feted by a number of companies as acquisition targets.

“The tech is very important,” said Alessio in an interview. “It helps us build robust processes that tie all the systems together across multiple brands and marketplaces. But what we have is very different from a SaaS business. We are not building an app, and tech is not the core of what we do. From the acquisitions side, we believe that human interactions ultimately win. We don’t think tech can replace a strong acquisition process.”

Image Credits: Heroes

Heroes’ three founder-brothers (two of them, Riccardo and Alessio, pictured above) have worked across a number of investment, finance and operational roles (the CVs include Merrill Lynch, EQT Ventures, Perella Weinberg Partners, Lazada, Nomura and Liberty Global) and they say there have been strong signs so far of its strategy working: of the brands that it has acquired since launching in November, they claim business (sales) has grown five-fold.

Collectively, the roll-up startups are raising hundreds of millions of dollars to fuel these efforts. Other recent hopefuls that have announced funding this year include Suma Brands ($150 million); Elevate Brands ($250 million); Perch ($775 million); factory14 ($200 million); Thrasio (currently probably the biggest of them all in terms of reach and money raised and ambitions), HeydayThe Razor GroupBrandedSellerXBerlin Brands Group (X2), Benitago, Latin America’s Valoreo and Rainforest and Una Brands out of Asia. 

The picture that is emerging across many of these operations is that many of these companies, Heroes included, do not try to make their particular approaches particularly more distinctive than those of their competitors, simply because — with nearly 10 million third-party sellers today on Amazon globally — the opportunity is likely big enough for all of them, and more, not least because of current market dynamics.

“It’s no secret that we were inspired by Thrasio and others,” Riccardo said. “Combined with COVID-19, there has been a massive acceleration of e-commerce across the continent.” It was that, plus the realization that the three brothers had the right e-commerce, fundraising and investment skills between them, that made them see what was a ‘perfect storm’ to tackle the opportunity, he continued. “So that is why we jumped into it.”

In the case of Heroes, while the majority of the funding will be used for acquisitions, it’s also planning to double headcount from its current 70 employees before the end of this year with a focus on operational experts to help run their acquired businesses. 

California Man Stole 620,000 iCloud Photos in Search of Nudes

By Brian Barrett
Plus: The T-Mobile hacker, another big bad Microsoft bug, and more of the week’s top security news.

Want to be a more holistic healthcare company? Add some Ginger 

By Natasha Mascarenhas

When Headspace merged with on-demand mental healthcare platform Ginger, I was surprised. After all, Ginger raised $100 million in Series E funding just a few months ago — and last time I spoke to CEO Russell Glass, he stressed the importance of integrating into employer-paid health plans. To me, Headspace’s meditation app is about as direct to consumer as one could go, so what business did Ginger have to get into literal business with it? Fragmentation, much?

Turns out, there’s precedent, and, per a slew of health tech investors and techies, there is more consolidation and commodification to come in behavioral health. I love learning things!

As we discussed during a Twitter Spaces about the merger, Headspace has been pursuing clinical validation for mindfulness for quite a while. That validation could help it pitch its somewhat-fresh employee benefit program and compete with its closest rival, Calm. By merging with an on-demand mental healthcare platform such as Ginger, Headspace can now offer a more holistic approach to mental health. Ginger, for those who don’t know, specializes in helping people access care when they need it, ranging from text-based support to escalation to trainers in real time.

But beyond the news, what does this mean? There are a few main takeaways I had after the Spaces. First, in the best-case scenario, Headspace and Ginger’s merger could show us what a holistic and integrative approach to mental health could look like. As Omers Ventures’ Chrissy Farr said, some patients could use a combination of approaches that vary over time. The industry is evolving so that users have more options when it comes to mental health care; from meditation to texts to Zoom therapy sessions. Second, and this came up throughout the chat, parts of behavioral health are going to get commoditized as the sector grows. Now, it’s no longer enough to just connect a user to a specialist. How do platforms more thoughtfully connect nuanced patients to nuanced options? It’s more than holistic, it’s integrative, says Lux Capital’s Deena Shakir.

Finally, 2021 is all about consolidation — and that includes digital health. 7WireVenture’s Alyssa Jaffe noted that 80% of the cost and complexity in mental health is with severe mental illnesses, but 80% of startups begin with lower acuity care. The new combined entity could become more acquisitive in what it aspires to address, now, beyond non-acute conditions.

In the rest of the newsletter, we’ll get into fintech’s friendly foes, edtech turning into SaaS and a must-read LatAm deep dive. As always, you can support me by following me on Twitter @nmasc_, where I post all my work throughout the week.

For the love of fintech

Image of a businessman blowing up a green balloon with a dollar sign on it to represent investment.

Image Credits: Malte Mueller (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

On Equity this week, we spoke about how fintech startups Ramp and Brex are growing into their massive valuations. The conversation bubbled up because Ramp raised money at a $3.9 billion valuation, while Brex announced the launch of a $150 million debt venture business within days of each other.

Here’s what to know: Ryan Lawler and Alex Wilhelm dug into Brex and Ramp’s diverging M&A strategies for deeper insight on how to differentiate in the corporate management space.

From the story:

While Ramp seems primarily interested in providing customers a detailed view into company finances with an eye toward cost control, many of Brex’s big announcements and initiatives lately have focused on helping provide small businesses — particularly e-commerce sellers — faster access to cash flows through instant payouts.

Personal finance for startups: 

 Hiring is (still) hard 

Image Credits: alashi (opens in a new window) / Getty Images (Image has been modified)

I wrote two stories this week that underscore two realities about the hiring landscape today. First, I reported that tech bootcamp Flockjay cut at least half of its workforce as it pivoted away from its original job placement focus. Second, Workstream raised $48 million for its text-based recruitment platform for hourly workers.

Here’s what to know: Flockjay’s entire premise was helping non-tech workers break into tech through sales jobs. Its recent pivot to a B2B SaaS tool tells us how hard of a business job placement may be, even in high-demand roles such as sales operations. A day later, Workstream raised money for its recruitment software for the hourly worker. The $48 million Series B is a note on how employers facing high turnover are willing to spend money on recruitment tools that meet candidates where they are, which may be their cell phones.

While one story tells us hiring is a hard business to do at scale, another shows that existing gaps still need focused attention.

Dear Seedlings, take note: 

Around TC

TechCrunch Disrupt is less than a month away. And I’m shook.

Use “Mascarenhas20” for a sweet, sweet discount code when you buy your ticket. It’s a stacked line up of candid speakers and no-BS questions. But, in case you need more convincing on why it’s worth attending, check this out:

Newsroom top picks

Favorites from TechCrunch

Favorites from Extra Crunch

To end, a friendly reminder that it’s still hard for most people to raise capital these days. The boom, my friends, is uneven.

Till next week,

N

The remote work argument has already been won by startups

By Richard Dal Porto

Welcome back to The TechCrunch Exchange, a weekly startups-and-markets newsletter. It’s inspired by what the weekday Exchange column digs into, but free, and made for your weekend reading. Want it in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here

The debate over remote work, office culture, how to manage teams of distributed staff and the like continues. With the delta variant of COVID-19 pushing back office return dates for many companies, there’s still a healthy argument over what the future of work will look like.

But while large companies hem and haw their way through the present, it’s my view that the debate is largely over and that startups have won it.

I’ve been on a huge number of calls with startup founders since the onset of COVID-19, and in the last few quarters, it seems that nearly every time I talk to an early-stage company they have a remote, distributed team. Some of these startups were literally founded during the COVID era, so it makes sense. But the trend is broader than just those firms.

Thinking only about the startup market for a moment, I think that in time it will be just as weird a concept for startups to raise equity capital to spend on rent as it would be for a startup today to raise equity capital to buy a rack of servers and pay co-location fees. We have AWS and Azure for that now. And regarding offices, we have remote work now. Why shell out shares for square footage?

We’re being simplistic to some degree, but spending seed or Series A money on rent makes early office space some of the most expensive real estate in the world. For successful startups, at least. The savvy will avoid the tax.

There’s more to this: The talent market is incredibly tight for many key roles today. Ask anyone trying to hire machine learning talent. Or senior dev roles. Or marketing team leads. The list goes on. The sort of talent that startups are on the hunt for is scarce, and ‘spensive.

Even worse for upstart tech companies, Big Tech companies have never been more wealthy. So what’s a young company to do? Offer what the big guns appear loath to offer, namely remote-friendly work. This will also help startups poach talent from the bigger tech companies. Talent that they don’t want to shed.

In time, I suspect that softer retention numbers for HR staffs will lead to more workplace flexibility everywhere. And many startups that are remote today will scale while sticking to the model, becoming the big companies of tomorrow with fully remote teams. So the conversation about remote work or returning to high-priced office space is still happening, but it feels more like doomed-cruiseliner deckchair-shuffling than real debate.

Are you going to go back to commuting by car, or a mixture of car and public transit, so that you can put on headphones and try to focus in the office? I doubt it. I’m not.

More on Boston

The Exchange is spending time digging into the various startup hubs of the world, with a focus on some U.S. markets that are worth giving more time to. We’ve looked at Chicago, for example, and most recently Boston.

After that Boston piece went live, a few more sets of comments came in. Let’s chew on their key bits.

Glasswing Ventures’ Rudina Seseri provided us with a look at what is ahead for Boston in the coming quarters, saying that “the number of companies coming to market and raising new rounds is high and they are operationally strong. So unless there is a market correction — which would extend far beyond Boston­­ — the funding appetite will remain.”

And if market conditions persist, startup venture activity could get even more heated in Boston. Seseri told The Exchange via email that “the number of pre-seed and seed-stage companies are increasing dramatically. In fact, we have seen 2x growth [year over year] in the number that are highly qualified for funding.”

In her view, the volume of neat startups that Boston is creating is “a testament to the entrepreneurial spirit in early tech and the market opportunities that COVID-19 has initiated and accelerated.”

Finally, Ari Glantz of the New England Venture Capital Association said that after “a slowdown in H1 2020, both founders and funders have seen a historic flow of capital as new needs and opportunities emerged due to pandemic-era shifts,” and that with “companies and their backers continuing to adapt, the prospects remain bright.”

I included that final quote as it applies to, well, nearly everywhere. Startups have never had it so good!

More next week.

Alex

You Should Have Waited for the Official 'Spider-Man: No Way Home' Trailer

By Angela Watercutter
Also: The latest Matrix sequel has a title, and that’s all I want to know about it.

Daily Crunch: In latest tech crackdown, China plans severe algorithm restrictions

By Richard Dal Porto

To get a roundup of TechCrunch’s biggest and most important stories delivered to your inbox every day at 3 p.m. PDT, subscribe here.

Hello and welcome to Daily Crunch for Friday, August 27, 2021. What a week! In the last 24 hours we’ve had big news from around the world, including China’s latest regulatory push, Apple making modest concessions regarding the App Store and, of course, startup news aplenty.

Oh, and Canva CEO Melanie Perkins is coming to Disrupt. — Alex

The TechCrunch Top 3

  • China to crack down on algorithms: The push to more closely regulate and control China’s domestic technology market continued Friday with a government body announcing a draft set of rules for algorithms. The new rules come as China seeks to limit corporate data collection and more. Irony, of course, is dead.
  • Corporations can’t get enough startup equity: That’s our takeaway from digging into the recent, record results from the corporate venture capital (CVC) world. CVCs are taking part in more, bigger startup funding rounds. We dug into the why and the how of the latest data.
  • Apple makes smallest App Store concession: Per a settlement today, TechCrunch reports that Apple will now allow apps to “share information on how to pay for purchases outside of their iOS app or the App Store.” Apple called the change a clarification, which was interesting. Apple’s grip on the App Store is still tight, but we may be seeing indicators that its hold is slipping modestly.

Startups/VC

Up top, let’s talk about a16z, the venture capital conglomerate. Sure, it has crypto funds and main funds and other funds aplenty. But today the group announced a $400 million capital pool just for seed deals. The fund size indicates that a16z is either expecting to pay lots for seed equity or that it is going to make a host of bets. We’ll see.

  • Rivian files to go public: In case you were looking for yet another EV company to add to your personal investments, good news! Rivian has filed privately to go public! Frankly, we’re excited by this deal; Lordstown this is not. The company recently closed $2.5 billion in external capital, bringing it to more than $10 billion in total. We want to know what all that funding has bought the firm in terms of results.
  • Forbes is also going public: Via a SPAC, we should note, but yes, Forbes the media-and-magazine company is taking advantage of the boom in blank-check combinations to take itself public. We dug into its deck to see what the company has coming up and how heavily COVID-19 impacted its results.
  • Toast is also going public, but your humble servant failed to get a post up on the matter by the time it was newsletter o’clock. More to come on TechCrunch.com.
  • Payroll API startup Zeal raises Series A: The embedded fintech space is busy, and competitive, which makes what Zeal is building rather interesting. Is there a big enough market for just a payroll API product? A few years ago I would have quibbled, but if the OKR startup world has taught me anything, it’s to not underestimate how much demand there is in the world for software.
  • Sitenna wants to help telcos place 5G antennas: Coming in the next batch of Y Combinator-backed startups, Sitenna is looking for a piece of the capital wave that will push 5G mobile connectivity into our lives. The startup is neat, so read the post, but also keep in mind that demo day for YC is next week, so we’re heading into a very heavy news cycle over the next few days.
  • Sastrify raises $7M: Based in Cologne, Sastrify wants to help companies buy and manage their SaaS spend. Why does the world need this? Well, now that all software is a subscription fee, not overpaying and generally knowing what one is paying for is a big deal. And big deals plus some founder work equals a startup. Notably, Sastrify is already cash-flow-positive despite its youth.

The pre-pitch: 7 ways to build relationships with VCs

Many founders must overcome a few emotional hurdles before they’re comfortable pitching a potential investor face-to-face.

To alleviate that pressure, Unicorn Capital founder Evan Fisher recommends that entrepreneurs use pre-pitch meetings to build and strengthen relationships before asking for a check:

This is the ‘we actually aren’t looking for money; we just want to be friends for now’ pitch that gets you on an investor’s radar so that when it’s time to raise your next round, they’ll be far more likely to answer the phone because they actually know who you are.

Pre-pitches are good for more than curing the jitters: These conversations help founders get a better sense of how VCs think and sometimes lead to serendipitous outcomes.

“Investors are opportunists by necessity,” says Fisher, “so if they like the cut of your business’s jib, you never know — the FOMO might start kicking hard.”

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Big Tech Inc.

  • Peloton’s bad week: What happens when you have a lackluster earnings report — by Wall Street’s standards — and then get “subpoenaed by both the U.S. Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security”? Well, your share price goes down, and you hope that Monday will wind up much better than how Friday went.
  • Tesla wants to sell power: This is a fun one. Per an application, the world learned that Tesla wants to sell power in Texas under the rubric of being a retail electric provider, meaning that it may “purchase wholesale electricity from power generators and sell it to customers,” per TechCrunch.
  • Twitter tried to bring back the old times: By having its service stutter and go down for folks today. Remember the good old times, when Twitter broke all the time? Personally, I miss the Fail Whale. Twitter, we reckon, does not.
  • To close us out, Venky Adivi from Canonical has some thoughts on open source software and the U.S. government. Spoiler: The news is mostly good.

TechCrunch Experts: Growth Marketing

Illustration montage based on education and knowledge in blue

Image Credits: SEAN GLADWELL (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

We’re reaching out to startup founders to tell us who they turn to when they want the most up-to-date growth marketing practices. Fill out the survey here.

Read one of the testimonials we’ve received below!

Marketer: Natalia Bandach, Hypertry

Recommended by: Jean-Noel Saunier, Growth Hacking Course

Testimonial: “Natalia is someone with an out-of-the-box approach to growth drivers and experimentation, full of creative solutions and many ideas that she quickly tests through experimentation. Rather than focusing on one area, she tries to verify what makes the most sense to a business and designs experiments that are crucial not only [in the short term] but also [in the long run]. She is an ethical growth manager, likes to know that the business brings real value, and is ready to pivot in every direction, [which] she does fast — however, with a focus on the team’s well-being, professional growth and always avoiding burnout.”

Community

Image Credits: Diversion Books

Join Danny Crichton on Twitter Spaces on Tuesday, August 31st at 1 p.m. PDT/4 p.m. EDT as he talks with Azeem Azhar about his upcoming book, “The Exponential Age: How Accelerating Technology is Transforming Business, Politics and Society,” which will be released on September 7, 2021.

❌