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Extra Crunch roundup: Unpacking BuzzFeed’s SPAC, curb your meeting enthusiasm, more

By Walter Thompson

Meetings should have a clear purpose, but instead, they’ve become a way to measure status and reinforce what is colloquially referred to as CYA culture.

There’s a kernel of truth in every joke, so whenever someone quips, “This meeting could have been an email!” you can bet that some small part of them meant it sincerely.

Few people know how to run meetings effectively and keep conversations on track. Making matters worse, attendees often don’t bother to prepare, which makes a boring session even less productive.

And then there’s the complication of workplace politics: How secure do you feel declining an invitation from a co-worker — or a manager?

“Every time a recurring meeting is added to a calendar, a kitten dies,” says Chuck Phillips, co-founder of MeetWell. “Very few employees decline meetings, even when it’s obvious that the meeting is going to be a doozy.”


Full Extra Crunch articles are only available to members.
Use discount code ECFriday to save 20% off a one- or two-year subscription.


Changing your meeting culture is difficult, but given that 26% of workers plan to look for a new job when the pandemic ends, startups need to do all they can to retain talent.

Aimed at managers, this post offers several testable strategies that will help you boost productivity and say goodbye to poorly run, lazily planned meetings.

“Declining a bad meeting should never be taboo, and you should reiterate your trust in the team and challenge them to spend their and others’ time with more intention,” Phillips says. “Help them feel empowered to decline a bad meeting.”

Thanks very much for reading Extra Crunch, and have a great weekend.

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist

Why Amazon should pay attention to Shein

Image Credits: Shein

In the last year, online apparel shopping app Shein grew active daily users by 130%, reports Apptopia.

Each day, thousands of new products arrive on the app’s virtual shelves. Items are rapidly designed and prototyped before Shein’s contractors put them into production in Guangzhou factories — two weeks later, those SKUs arrive in fulfillment centers around the globe.

TechCrunch reporter Rita Liao examined how the company’s agile supply chain has become hot talk among e-commerce experts, but beyond a strong logistics game and data-driven product development, Shein’s close relationships with suppliers are integral to its success.

She also tried to answer a question many are asking: Is Shein a Chinese company?

“It’s hard to pin down where Shein is from,” answered Richard Xu from Grand View Capital, a Chinese venture capital firm.

“It’s a company with operations and supply chains in China targeting the global market, with nearly no business in China.”

Inside GM’s startup incubator strategy

General Motors Chief Engineer Hybrid and Electric Powertrain Engineering Pam Fletcher with the 2014 Spark EV Tuesday, November 27, 2012 at a Chevrolet event on the eve of the Los Angeles International Auto Show in Los Angeles, California. When it goes on sale next summer, the Spark EV is expected to have among the best EV battery range in its segment and will be priced under $25,000 with tax incentives. (Chevrolet News Photo)

Image Credits: Chevrolet

GM Vice President of Innovation Pam Fletcher is in charge of the company’s startups that tackle “electrification, connectivity and even insurance — all part of the automaker’s aim to find value (and profits) beyond its traditional business of making, selling and financing vehicles,” Kirsten Korosec writes.

Fletcher joined TechCrunch at a virtual TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 event to discuss what it’s like to launch a slew of startups under the umbrella of a 113-year-old automaker.

Investor Marlon Nichols and Wonderschool’s Chris Bennett on getting to the point with a pitch deck

Image Credits: MaC Venture Capital / Wonderschool

MaC Venture Capital founding managing partner Marlon Nichols and Wonderschool CEO Chris Bennett joined Extra Crunch Live to tear down the company’s early deck.

“The first thing that jumped out at all of us was just how bare-bones the presentation is: white text on a blue background, largely made up of bullet points,” Brian Heater writes before noting the CEO admitted that “not much changed aesthetically between that first pitch and the Series A deck.”

“It aligned with what we were valuing at the time,” Bennett says. “We were really focused on getting the product-market fit and really trying to understand what our customers needed. And we’re really focused on building the team.”

Dear Sophie: What options would allow me to start something on my own?

lone figure at entrance to maze hedge that has an American flag at the center

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Dear Sophie,

I’ve been working on an H-1B in the U.S. for nearly two years.

While I’m grateful to have made it through the H-1B lottery and to be working, I’m feeling unhappy and frustrated with my job.

I really want to start something of my own and work on my own terms in the United States. Are there any immigration options that would allow me to do that?

— Seeking Satisfaction

Investors’ thirst for growth could bode well for SentinelOne’s IPO

Alex Wilhelm calls SentinelOne’s looming debut “fascinating.”

“Why? Because the company sports a combination of rapid growth and expanding losses that make it a good heat check for the IPO market,” he writes. “Its debut will allow us to answer whether public investors still value growth above all else.”

Alex delves into an early dataset from SentinelOne and why public market investors still appear to value growth above anything else.

Before an exit, founders must get their employment law ducks in a row

Rubber ducks in a line

Image Credits: Jenny Dettrick (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Guest columnist Rob Hudock, a litigator who focuses on helping companies recruit the best talent available while avoiding distracting workplace issues or lawsuits, lays out the importance of putting out any employment-related fires before an exit.

“Inattention to employment issues can have a significant impact on deals — from preventing closings and reducing the deal value to altering the deal terms or significantly limiting the pool of potential buyers,” he writes.

“Fortunately, such issues typically can be resolved well in advance with a little forethought and legal guidance.”

Practice agile, iterative change to refine products and build company culture

Building an excellent product and a standout company culture require the same process, Heap CEO Ken Fine writes in a guest column.

“At Heap, the analytics solution provider I lead, a defining principle is that good ideas should not be lost to top-down dictates and overrigid hierarchies,” he writes. “The best results come when you approach leadership like you would create a great product — you hypothesize, you test and iterate, and once you get it right, you grow it.”

Here, he lays out his method that argues in favor of iterative change, not “one-and-done decrees.”

a16z’s new $2.2B fund won’t just bet on the crypto future, it will defend it

The big news on Thursday was the announcement of Andreessen Horowitz’s new cryptocurrency-focused fund. Most focused on the eye-popping $2.2 billion figure, but Alex Wilhelm dug a bit deeper into the announcement to note that a16z isn’t just pumping a ton of money into the crypto space, it’s putting on gloves to fight for it.

Alex writes that “a16z intends to run defense for crypto in the American, and perhaps global, market. Crypto-focused startups are likely unable to tackle the regulation of their market on their own because they’re more focused on product work in a particular region of the larger crypto economy. The wealthy and connected investment firm that backs them will take on the task for its chosen champions.”

5 takeaways from BuzzFeed’s SPAC deck

Image Credits: Nicholas Kamm / AFP / Getty Images

Alex Wilhelm dives headfirst into BuzzFeed’s announcement that it plans to go public via a blank check company.

He looked at its historical and anticipated revenue growth (the latter is very sunny, which is not atypical for SPAC presentations), what makes up that revenue (more “commerce” as time goes on), its long-term profitability projections, as well as fun stuff, like the Pulitzer Prize-winning BuzzFeed News.

Admit it. You’re curious.

3 issues to resolve before switching to a subscription business model

Three issues leaders need to address before switching to a subscription business model

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

Moving from a pay-as-you-go model to a subscription service is more than just putting a monthly or yearly price tag on a product, CloudBlue’s Jess Warrington writes in a guest column.

“Executives cannot just layer a subscription model on top of an existing business,” Warrington writes. “They need to change the entire operation process, onboard all stakeholders, recalibrate their strategy and create a subscription culture.”

Warrington says that in his role at CloudBlue, companies often approach him for “help with solving technology challenges while shifting to a subscription business model, only to realize that they have not taken crucial organizational steps necessary to ensure a successful transition.”

Here’s how to avoid that situation.

Veo CEO Candice Xie has a plan for building a sustainable scooter company, and it’s working

An illustration of Veo founder Candie Xie

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin

Rebecca Bellan interviewed Veo CEO Candice Xie about the micromobility startup’s “old-fashioned way” of doing business.

“I understand people are eager to prove their unit economics, their scalability and also improve their matrix to the VC to raise another round,” Xie says. “I would say that’s OK in the consumer industry, like consumer electronics or SaaS.

“But we are in transportation. It is a different business, and transportation takes years of collaboration and building between private and public partners. … So I don’t see it happening from day one, turning over a billion-dollar company, while simultaneously having it all make sense for the cities and users.”

5 companies doing growth marketing right

Image of five round wooden balls moving up steps to represent growth.

Image Credits: jayk7 (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

All companies want more or less the same thing: growth. But how do you accomplish it?

Ideally, don’t start from scratch.

The race to grow faster is more pressing than ever before. … “[F]orward-thinking entrepreneurs and growth marketers simply must make time to study their competition, learn best practices and apply them to their own business growth,” Mark Spera, the head of growth marketing at Minted, writes in a guest column.

“Of course, you should still run your own experiments, but it’s just more capital-efficient to emulate than to trial-and-error from scratch. Here are five companies with growth strategies worth emulating — including the most important lessons you can begin applying to your business today.”

Musculoskeletal medical startups race to enter personalized health tech market

Human anatomy, hand, arm,muscular system on plain studio background.

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

With more than 50 million Americans suffering from chronic pain and musculoskeletal (MSK) medical problems, a number of startups are offering patients new products “that don’t resemble the cookie-cutter status quo,” reports Natasha Mascarenhas.

Startups hoping to enter this space have an uphill climb. Setting aside regulations that cover aspects like product packaging and marketing, they must compete with well-entrenched competition from Big Pharma as they try to partner with health insurance companies.

Natasha profiles three companies that are each taking a different approach to personalized health: Clear, Hinge Health and PeerWell.

Like the US, a two-tier venture capital market is emerging in Latin America

In the second part of an Exchange series looking at the global early-stage venture capital market, Alex Wilhelm and Anna Heim unpacked the scene in Latin America, discovering it looked a lot like the situation in the United States: slow Series A rounds, fast B rounds.

“Mega-rounds are no longer an exception in Latin America; in fact, they have become a trend, with ever-larger rounds being announced over the last few months,” they write.

Despite that, the funds aren’t being equitably distributed, and the region still lags behind its peers: Brazil has the most $1 billion startups in Latin America, with 12. The U.S., meanwhile, has 369, and China has 159.

But the Latin American market remains hot, if not quite as scorching as the U.S. and China.

Inside GM’s startup incubator strategy

By Kirsten Korosec

GM has launched a series of new subsidiaries in the past year tackling electrification, connectivity and even insurance — all part of the automaker’s aim to find value (and profits) beyond its traditional business of making, selling and financing vehicles. These startups, including numerous ones that will never make the cut, get their start under Vice President of Innovation Pam Fletcher’s watch.

Fletcher, who joined TechCrunch on June 9 at the virtual TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 event, runs a group of 170 people developing and launching startups with a total addressable market of about $1.3 trillion.

Today, about 19 companies are making their way through the incubator in hopes of joining recent GM startups like OnStar Guardian, OnStar Insurance, GM Defense and BrightDrop, the commercial electric vehicle delivery business that launched in January. Not everything will make it, Fletcher told the audience, noting “we add new things all the time.”

Launching any startup presents challenges. But launching multiple startups within a 113-year-old automaker that employs 155,000 people globally is another, more complex matter. The bar, which determines whether these startups are ever publicly launched, is specific and high. A GM startup has to be a new idea that can attract new customers and grow the total addressable market for the automaker, using existing assets and IP.

The Volt effect

The 2010 Chevrolet Volt is a noteworthy moment on the GM timeline. The vehicle marked the company’s first commercial push into electrification since the 1990s EV1 program. Fletcher, who was the chief engineer of the Chevy Volt propulsion system from 2008 to 2011, noted that the Volt was the beginning of a change within the automaker that eventually led to other commercial products including the all-electric Chevy Bolt, the hands-free driver assistance system Super Cruise and its current work on autonomous vehicle development with its subsidiary Cruise.

I don’t know that the Volt was a root exactly of what we’re seeing today. But I think it was definitely the start of a groundswell of really looking at, how do we inject technology that customers are excited about and care about quickly? How do we engage them deeply in the process? … Which we’ve always done … just, I think there was a climate there where the appetite was so strong with a certain group of customers for the technology that it allowed us to get really a front row seat with them, which was game changing for those of us on the frontlines. And obviously, there have been many programs that have had that in their own ways, but you really see that accelerating now with the advent of everything we’re doing in electrification and autonomous and a portfolio that is just emerging even to the notion of applying some of these great technologies to our new full size, truck and SUV programs. So it’s really broad, based across the company, which is exciting. (Timestamp: 4:56)

Fletcher explained how working to commercialize new technology changed how the company interacted with customers.

With new technologies, one, you get to a new customer base sometimes. So, really understanding what that customer is looking like and putting them at the center of everything. Also, different technologies have different development processes and timelines and pipelines for activity. So, it really allowed us to start to think about how to approach each step of our product development and customer engagement differently. And the Volt was an interesting time too, because that was the advent of new social media was really starting to become much more popular. And so we were very connected with those customers and a great customer base that gave us tremendous feedback very directly, you know, through at the time, what was a new channel. (Timestamp: 3:50)

I Treated My Unhealthy Gaming Obsession ... With More Games

By David Jesudason
The root issue had less to do with the hobby and more to do with me.

TezLab CEO Ben Schippers to discuss the Tesla effect and the next wave of EV startups at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021

By Kirsten Korosec

As Tesla sales have risen, interest in the company has exploded, prompting investment and interest in the automotive industry, as well as the startup world.

TezLab, a free app that’s like a Fitbit for a Tesla vehicle, is just one example of the numerous startups that have sprung up in the past few years as electric vehicles have started to make the tiniest of dents in global sales. Now, as Ford, GM, Volvo, Hyundai along with newcomers Rivian, Fisker and others launch electric vehicles into the marketplace, more startups are sure to follow.

Ben Schippers, the co-founder and CEO of TezLab, is one of two early-stage founders who will join us at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 to talk about their startups and the opportunities cropping up in this emerging age of EVs. The six-person team behind TezLab was born out of HappyFunCorp, a software engineering shop that builds apps for mobile, web, wearables and Internet of Things devices for clients that include Amazon, Facebook and Twitter, as well as an array of startups.

HFC’s engineers, including Schippers, who also co-founded HFC, were attracted to Tesla  because of its techcentric approach and one important detail: the Tesla API endpoints are accessible to outsiders. The Tesla API is technically private. But it exists allowing the Tesla’s app to communicate with the cars to do things like read battery charge status and lock doors. When reverse-engineered, it’s possible for a third-party app to communicate directly with the API.

Schippers’ experience extends beyond scaling up TezLab. Schippers consults and works with companies focused on technology and human interaction, with a sub-focus in EV.

The list of speakers at our 2021 event is growing by the day and includes Motional’s president and CEO Karl Iagnemma and Aurora co-founder and CEO Chris Urmson, who will discuss the past, present and future of AVs. On the electric front is Mate Rimac, the founder of Rimac Automobili, who will talk about scaling his startup from a one-man enterprise in a garage to more than 1,000 people and contracts with major automakers.

We also recently announced a panel dedicated to China’s robotaxi industry, featuring three female leaders from Chinese AV startups: AutoX’s COO Jewel Li, Huan Sun, general manager of Momenta Europe with Momenta, and WeRide’s VP of Finance Jennifer Li.

Other guests include, GM’s VP of Global Innovation Pam Fletcher, Scale AI CEO Alexandr Wang, Joby Aviation founder and CEO JoeBen Bevirt, investor and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman (whose special purpose acquisition company just merged with Joby), investors Clara Brenner of Urban Innovation Fund, Quin Garcia of Autotech Ventures and Rachel Holt of Construct Capital, and Zoox co-founder and CTO Jesse Levinson.

And we may even have one more surprise — a classic TechCrunch stealth company reveal to close the show.

Don’t wait to book your tickets to TC Sessions: Mobility as prices go up at our virtual door.

Opportunity knocks: Exhibit at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021

By Alexandra Ames

No matter what slice of the mobility market you’ve claimed as your own — AVs, EVs, data mining, AI, dockless scooters, robotics or the batteries that will charge and change the world — you won’t find a better place to showcase your extraordinary tech and talent than TC Sessions: Mobility 2021.

Buy a Startup Exhibitor Package and virtually plant your early-stage mobility startup in front of a global audience that’s focused exclusively on one of the most complex, rapidly evolving industries. TC Sessions: Mobility, which takes place on June 9, features the top minds and makers, draws thousands of attendees, fosters collaborative community and creates a networking environment ripe with opportunities.

Pro tip: This package is for pre-Series A, early-stage startups only.

The Startup Exhibitor Package costs $380, and it comes with four all-access passes to the event. But wait (insert infomercial voice here), there’s more!

Your virtual expo booth features lead-generation capabilities. You can highlight your pitch deck, run a video loop and/or host live demos. Network with CrunchMatch, our AI-powered platform, to find and connect with the people who can help move your business forward. CrunchMatch lets you host private video meetings — pitch investors, recruit new talent or grow your customer base.

You’ll have access to all the presentations, panel discussions and breakout sessions, too. And video-on-demand means you won’t miss out.

Here’s a peek at just some of the agenda’s great programming you and, thanks to those extra passes, your team can attend — or catch later with VOD:

  • EV Founders in Focus: We sit down with the founders poised to take advantage of the rise in electric vehicle sales. This time, we will chat with Kameale Terry, co-founder and CEO of ChargerHelp! a startup that enables on-demand repair of electric vehicle charging stations.
  • Will Venture Capital Drive the Future of Mobility? Clara Brenner, Quin Garcia and Rachel Holt will discuss how the pandemic changed their investment strategies, the hottest sectors within the mobility industry, the rise of SPACs as a financial instrument and where they plan to put their capital in 2021 and beyond.
  • Driving Innovation at General Motors: GM is in the midst of sweeping changes that will eventually turn it into an EV-only producer of cars, trucks and SUVs. But the auto giant’s push to electrify passenger vehicles is just one of many efforts to be a leader in innovation and the future of transportation. We’ll talk with Pam Fletcher, vice president of innovation at GM, one of the key people behind the 113-year-old automaker’s push to become a nimble, tech-centric company.

TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 takes place June 9. Buy a Startup Exhibitor Package and set yourself up for global exposure and networking success. Show us your extraordinary tech and talent!

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

China’s autonomous vehicle startups AutoX, Momenta and WeRide are coming to TC Sessions: Mobility 2021

By Rita Liao

As the autonomous vehicle industry in the United States marches toward consolidation, a funding spree continues to exhilarate China’s robotaxi industry. Momenta, Pony.ai, WeRide and Didi’s autonomous vehicle arm have all raised hundreds of millions of dollars over the past year. And 21-year-old search engine giant Baidu competes alongside the startups with a $1.5 billion fund launched in 2017 to help cars go driverless.

Their strategies are similar in some regards and diverge elsewhere. The biggest players have deployed small fleets of robotaxis, manned with safety drivers, onto certain urban roads and are diligently testing driverless vehicles inside pilot zones. Some companies embrace lidar to detect the cars’ surroundings, while others agree with Elon Musk on a vision-only future.

The industry is still years from being truly driverless and operational at scale, so some contestants are seeking easier cases to tackle and monetize first, putting self-driving software inside buses, trucks and tractors that roam inside industrial parks.

Will investors continue to back the lofty dreams and skyrocketing valuations of China’s robotaxi leaders? And how is China’s autonomous driving race playing out differently from that in the U.S.?

We hope to find out at the upcoming TC Sessions: Mobility 2021, where we speak to three female leaders from Chinese autonomous vehicle startups that have an overseas footprint: Jewel Li from AutoX, which is backed by Chinese state-owned automakers Dongfeng Motor and SAIC Motor; Huan Sun from Momenta, which attracted Bosch, Daimler and Toyota in its $500 million round closed in March; and Jennifer Li from WeRide, whose valuation jumped to $3 billion after a financing round in May.

We can’t wait to hear from this panel! Among the growing list of speakers at this year’s event are GM’s VP of Global Innovation Pam Fletcher, Scale AI CEO Alexandr Wang, Joby Aviation founder and CEO JoeBen Bevirt, investor and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman (whose special purpose acquisition company just merged with Joby), investors Clara Brenner of Urban Innovation Fund, Quin Garcia of Autotech Ventures and Rachel Holt of Construct Capital, Starship Technologies co-founder and CEO/CTO Ahti Heinla, Zoox co-founder and CTO Jesse Levinson, community organizer, transportation consultant and lawyer Tamika L. Butler, Remix co-founder and CEO Tiffany Chu and Revel co-founder and CEO Frank Reig.

Stay tuned for more announcements in these final weeks. Book your general admission pass for $125 today and join this year’s deep dive into the world of all things transportation at TC Sessions: Mobility.

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