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Platform as a service startup Porter aims to become go-to for deploying, managing cloud-based apps

By Christine Hall

By the time Porter co-founders Trevor Shim and Justin Rhee decided to build a company around DevOps, the pair were well versed in doing remote development on Kubernetes. And like other users, they were consistently getting burnt by the technology.

They realized that for all of the benefits, the technology was there, but users were having to manage the complexity of hosting solutions as well as incurring the costs associated with a big DevOps team, Rhee told TechCrunch.

They decided to build a solution externally and went through Y Combinator’s Summer 2020 batch, where they found other startup companies trying to do the same.

Today, Porter announced $1.5 million in seed funding from Venrock, Translink Capital, Soma Capital and several angel investors. Its goal is to build a platform as a service that any team can use to manage applications in its own cloud, essentially delivering the full flexibility of Kubernetes through a Heroku-like experience.

Why Heroku? It is the hosting platform that developers are used to, and not just small companies, but also later-stage companies. When they want to move to Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud or DigitalOcean, Porter will be that bridge, Shim said.

However, while Heroku is still popular, the pair said companies are thinking the platform is getting outdated because it is standing still technology-wise. Each year, companies move on from the platform due to technical limitations and cost, Rhee said.

A big part of the bet Porter is taking is not charging users for hosting, and its cost is a pure SaaS product, he said. They aren’t looking to be resellers, so companies can use their own cloud, but Porter will provide the automation and users can pay with their AWS and GCP credits, which gives them flexibility.

A common pattern is a move into Kubernetes, but “the zinger we talk about” is if Heroku was built in 2021, it would have been built on Kubernetes, Shim added.

“So we see ourselves as a successor’s successor,” he said.

To be that bridge, the company will use the new funding to increase its engineering bandwidth with the goal of “becoming the de facto standard for all startups.” Shim said.

Porter’s platform went live in February, and in six months became the sixth-fastest growing open-source platform download on GitHub, said Ethan Batraski, partner at Venrock. He met the company through YC and was “super impressed with Rhee’s and Shim’s vision.

“Heroku has 100,000 developers, but I believe it has stagnated,” Batraski added. “Porter already has 100 startups on its platform. The growth they’ve seen — four or five times — is what you want to see at this stage.”

His firm has long focused on data infrastructure and is seeing the stack get more complex, saying “at the same time, more developers are wanting to build out an app over a week, and scale it to millions of users, but that takes people resources. With Kubernetes it can turn everyone into an expert developer without them knowing it.”

Uber will offer free Rosetta Stone language courses to drivers

By Darrell Etherington
Jon Fingas Contributor
Jon Fingas is a contributing writer at Engadget.

Uber wants to overcome the language barriers you’ll sometimes encounter when hailing a ride. The Verge says Uber has partnered with Rosetta Stone to offer free language lessons through its Driver app. Both Uber and Uber Eats drivers can use the feature to learn any of Rosetta Stone’s 24 languages. They’ll even get material tailored to common ridesharing scenarios.

Drivers will need to have reached Gold, Platinum or Diamond status through the Uber Pro program in a qualifying country (including large parts of the Americas, the UK, India and Spain).

The courses arrive alongside another career initiative. Drivers in some countries (including many of those from the Rosetta program) can request an achievements letter that will help them with job applications.

Uber wasn’t shy about the official rationale for both moves. Many of its drivers are either immigrants (and less likely to be familiar with local languages) or see languages and rideshare work as key to expanding their opportunities. Uber is aware that driving for the company might just be a “temporary stop” on a career path — this gives workers a better chance to move upward.

There are practical incentives for Uber. The more languages its drivers speak, the more likely those drivers are to get favorable ratings and encourage repeat business. The career incentives could also encourage more drivers to sign up for Uber in the first place, even if they ultimately spend less time in the role.

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on Engadget.

Why I make everyone in my company be the CEO for a day

By Ram Iyer
Ville Houttu Contributor
Ville Houttu is the founder and CEO of Vincit USA.

Leaders become great not because of their power, but because of their ability to empower others.

It’s no secret that most tech companies tout their culture as “unique” or “open,” but when you take a closer look, it’s often merely surface level. Yes, you may be dog-friendly or offer unlimited beer on tap, but how are you helping your employees become the best versions of themselves? We’re at our best when our employees are at their best, so we do everything in our power to make that a reality.

We’re at our best when our employees are at their best, so we do everything in our power to make that a reality.

After successfully running Vincit in Finland and Switzerland, in 2016 we made the jump to the United States, setting up an office in California. Although we had moved over 5,000 miles to a new country, it was important that our two main KPIs remain the same: Employee happiness and customer satisfaction. We believe that happy employees make clients happy, and happy clients refer you to others. Therefore, it was essential that this positive and prosperous workplace environment followed us to the United States.

So beyond traditional benefits, like full medical coverage, 401k matching and standard office amenities, we tapped into our Finnish roots to build and provide our employees with an uninhibited, supportive workplace. We keep our company culture as transparent as possible and fully believe in the power of empowering our employees. We have no managers and no real role hierarchy. Employees do not have to go through an approval process on anything they are working on.

We encourage our employees to make a trip to Finland to visit our headquarters. Instead of “Lunch & Learn” meetings, we host “Fail & Learn” meetings where employees get to share something that didn’t work and what they learned from it. And once a month, we let an employee become the CEO for a day.

Unsurprisingly, the “CEO of the Day” program is one of our most popular initiatives. The program gives our employee the reins for 24 hours with an unlimited budget. The only requirement? The CEO must make one lasting decision that will help improve the working experience of Vincit employees. Whatever the CEO of the Day decides, the company sticks with. They can purchase something for the company, change a policy, update a tool we use … Really, anything that they come up with can be done.

Last-mile delivery in Latin America is ready to take off

By Ram Iyer
Bob Ma Contributor
Bob Ma is an investor at WIND Ventures, where he invests in energy, retail and mobility startups. Prior to joining WIND, he was an investor at Soma Capital, where he invested venture capital globally across the consumer and enterprise sectors.

In the United States, same-day and next-day Amazon Prime deliveries have become the de facto standard in e-commerce. People want convenience and instant gratification, evidenced by the fact that an astonishing ~45% of U.S. consumers are Amazon Prime members.

Most major retailers are scrambling to catch up to Amazon by partnering with last-mile delivery startups. Walmart has become a major investor in Cruise for autonomous-vehicle deliveries, and Target acquired Shipt and Deliv last-mile delivery startups to increase its delivery speed. Costco partnered with Instacart for same-day deliveries, and even Domino’s Pizza has jumped in by partnering with Nuro for last-mile delivery using autonomous vehicles.

E-commerce in LatAm has taken off at a compound annual industry growth rate of 16% over the past five years.

The holdout: Latin America

Venture capitalists have been investing heavily in last-mile delivery over the past five years on a global scale, but Latin America (LatAm) has lagged behind. Over $11 billion has been invested globally in last-mile logistics over the past decade, but Latin America only saw about $1 billion over the same period (Source: PitchBook and WIND Ventures research).

Within this, only about $300 million was in Spanish-speaking Latin America — a surprisingly small amount for a region that has 110 million more consumers than in the U.S.

Brazil-based Loggi accounts for about 60% of last-mile VC investment in Latin America, but it only operates in Brazil. That leaves major Spanish countries like Mexico, Colombia, Chile and Argentina without a leading independent last-mile logistics company.

In these countries, about 60% of the last-mile delivery market is dominated by small, informal companies or independent drivers using their own trucks. This results in inefficiencies due to a lack of technologies such as route optimization as well as a lack of operating scale. These issues are quickly becoming more pronounced as e-commerce in LatAm has taken off at a compound annual industry growth rate of 16% over the past five years.

Retailers are missing an opportunity to give customers what they want. Customers today expect free, reliable same- or next-day delivery — on-time, all the time, and without damage or theft. All of these are challenging in LatAm. Theft, in particular, is a significant problem, because unprofessional drivers often steal products out for delivery and then sell them for a profit. Cost is a problem, too, because free same- and next-day deliveries are simply not available in many places.

Operational and technological roadblocks abound

Why does Latin America lag when it comes to the last mile? First, traditional LatAm e-commerce delivery involves multiple time-consuming steps: Products are picked up from the retailer, delivered to a cross-dock, distributed to a warehouse, delivered to a second cross-dock, and then finally delivered to the customer.

By comparison, modern delivery operations are much simpler. Products are picked up from the retailer, delivered to a cross-dock, and then delivered directly to the customer. There’s no need for warehousing and an extra pre-warehouse cross-dock.

And those are just the operational challenges. Lack of technology also plays a significant role. Most delivery coordination and routing in LatAm are still done via a spreadsheet or pen and paper.

Dispatchers have to manually pick up a phone to call drivers and dispatch them. In the U.S., computerized optimization algorithms dramatically cut both delivery cost and time by automatically finding the most efficient route (e.g., packing the most deliveries possible on a truck along the route) and automatically dispatching the driver that can most efficiently complete the route based on current location, capacity and experience with the route. These algorithms are almost unheard of in the Latin America retail logistics sector.

Major retail brands are the last-mile catalyst

Uber Freight acquires Transplace for $2.25B

By Kirsten Korosec

Uber Freight, the logistics business spun out of Uber in 2018, has acquired Transplace for about $2.25 billion from private equity group TPG Capital, according to regulatory filings. The deal announced Thursday will involve $750 million in Uber stock with the remainder in cash.

The acquisition of Transplace marks a ramping up of Uber Freight’s business as it aims to carve out market share in its existing markets and an expansion in Mexico. Uber Freight also sees the acquisition as a means to accelerate the company’s path to profitability and help the segment to break even on an Adjusted EBITDA basis by the end of 2022, according to the company.

The union will fold one of the largest managed transportation and logistics networks into Uber Freight’s platform, which connects truck drivers with shippers that need cargo delivered. Uber Freight’s brokerage will continue to operate independently from Transplace’s services, the company said.

“This is a significant step forward, not just for Uber Freight but for the entire logistics ecosystem,” Lior Ron, head of Uber Freight, said in a statement. “This is an opportunity to bring together complementary best-in-class technology solutions and operational excellence from two premier companies to create an industry-first shipper-to-carrier platform that will transform shippers’ entire supply chains, delivering operational resilience and reducing costs at a time when it matters most.”

Transplace CEO Frank McGuigan said as a result, the combined company expects shippers will see greater efficiency and transparency. “All in all, we expect to significantly reduce shipper and carrier empty miles to the benefit of highway and road infrastructures and the environment,” he said.

Uber Freight launched in 2017. In August 2018, it was spun off into a separate business unit, a move that simultaneously allowed it to gain momentum and burn more cash. After spinning off of Uber, the freight company underwent an expansion. Uber Freight redesigned its app, an improvement that included adding new navigation features to make searching for and filtering loads easier to customize.

The company expanded to Canada and Europe. Uber Freight also established a headquarters in Chicago as part of its parent company’s broader plan to invest more than $200 million annually in the region, including hiring hundreds of workers. Uber said in September 2019 it would hire 2,000 new employees in the region over the next three years; most would be dedicated to Uber Freight.

Uber sold a stake in the freight business last year when investor group led by New York-based investment firm Greenbriar Equity Group committed to invest $500 million in a Series A preferred stock financing for the business. The deal valued the unit at $3.3 billion on a post-money basis.

Uber maintained majority ownership in Uber Freight and used the funds gained from Greenbriar to continue to scale its logistics platform, which helps truck drivers connect with shipping companies.

Uber expands its grocery delivery service to more than 400 US cities and towns

By Darrell Etherington
Kris Holt Contributor
Kris Holt is a contributing writer at Engadget.

Uber has announced the first major expansion of its grocery delivery service in the US. The company is more than doubling the number of service areas this week to north of 400 cities and towns. It now serves several major markets through the Uber and Uber Eats apps, including San Francisco, New York City and Washington DC.

The rapid expansion was partly fueled by a partnership with Albertsons Companies and its 1,200 grocery stores across the country. Albertsons owns brands including Safeway, Jewel-Osco, Acme, Tom Thumb and Randalls. Uber also offers delivery from regional chains such as Southeastern Grocers and New York’s Red Apple Group. Uber Pass and Eats Pass subscribers don’t need to pay delivery fees on grocery orders over $30.

Grocery delivery became an important component of Uber’s business during the toughest parts of the COVID-19 pandemic, because the number of rides people were taking dropped significantly. The company is also dealing with a driver shortage that led to higher prices for rides. Uber bought several delivery startups over the last couple of years to fuel its growth in that sector, such as Cornershop, Postmates and Drizly.

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on Engadget.

The end of open source?

By Annie Siebert
Shaun O’Meara Contributor
Shaun O’Meara, global field CTO at Mirantis, has worked with customers designing and building enterprise IT infrastructure for 20 years.

Several weeks ago, the Linux community was rocked by the disturbing news that University of Minnesota researchers had developed (but, as it turned out, not fully executed) a method for introducing what they called “hypocrite commits” to the Linux kernel — the idea being to distribute hard-to-detect behaviors, meaningless in themselves, that could later be aligned by attackers to manifest vulnerabilities.

This was quickly followed by the — in some senses, equally disturbing — announcement that the university had been banned, at least temporarily, from contributing to kernel development. A public apology from the researchers followed.

Though exploit development and disclosure is often messy, running technically complex “red team” programs against the world’s biggest and most important open-source project feels a little extra. It’s hard to imagine researchers and institutions so naive or derelict as not to understand the potentially huge blast radius of such behavior.

Equally certain, maintainers and project governance are duty bound to enforce policy and avoid having their time wasted. Common sense suggests (and users demand) they strive to produce kernel releases that don’t contain exploits. But killing the messenger seems to miss at least some of the point — that this was research rather than pure malice, and that it casts light on a kind of software (and organizational) vulnerability that begs for technical and systemic mitigation.

Projects of the scale and utter criticality of the Linux kernel aren’t prepared to contend with game-changing, hyperscale threat models.

I think the “hypocrite commits” contretemps is symptomatic, on every side, of related trends that threaten the entire extended open-source ecosystem and its users. That ecosystem has long wrestled with problems of scale, complexity and free and open-source software’s (FOSS) increasingly critical importance to every kind of human undertaking. Let’s look at that complex of problems:

  • The biggest open-source projects now present big targets.
  • Their complexity and pace have grown beyond the scale where traditional “commons” approaches or even more evolved governance models can cope.
  • They are evolving to commodify each other. For example, it’s becoming increasingly hard to state, categorically, whether “Linux” or “Kubernetes” should be treated as the “operating system” for distributed applications. For-profit organizations have taken note of this and have begun reorganizing around “full-stack” portfolios and narratives.
  • In so doing, some for-profit organizations have begun distorting traditional patterns of FOSS participation. Many experiments are underway. Meanwhile, funding, headcount commitments to FOSS and other metrics seem in decline.
  • OSS projects and ecosystems are adapting in diverse ways, sometimes making it difficult for for-profit organizations to feel at home or see benefit from participation.

Meanwhile, the threat landscape keeps evolving:

  • Attackers are bigger, smarter, faster and more patient, leading to long games, supply-chain subversion and so on.
  • Attacks are more financially, economically and politically profitable than ever.
  • Users are more vulnerable, exposed to more vectors than ever before.
  • The increasing use of public clouds creates new layers of technical and organizational monocultures that may enable and justify attacks.
  • Complex commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) solutions assembled partly or wholly from open-source software create elaborate attack surfaces whose components (and interactions) are accessible and well understood by bad actors.
  • Software componentization enables new kinds of supply-chain attacks.
  • Meanwhile, all this is happening as organizations seek to shed nonstrategic expertise, shift capital expenditures to operating expenses and evolve to depend on cloud vendors and other entities to do the hard work of security.

The net result is that projects of the scale and utter criticality of the Linux kernel aren’t prepared to contend with game-changing, hyperscale threat models. In the specific case we’re examining here, the researchers were able to target candidate incursion sites with relatively low effort (using static analysis tools to assess units of code already identified as requiring contributor attention), propose “fixes” informally via email, and leverage many factors, including their own established reputation as reliable and frequent contributors, to bring exploit code to the verge of being committed.

This was a serious betrayal, effectively by “insiders” of a trust system that’s historically worked very well to produce robust and secure kernel releases. The abuse of trust itself changes the game, and the implied follow-on requirement — to bolster mutual human trust with systematic mitigations — looms large.

But how do you contend with threats like this? Formal verification is effectively impossible in most cases. Static analysis may not reveal cleverly engineered incursions. Project paces must be maintained (there are known bugs to fix, after all). And the threat is asymmetrical: As the classic line goes — blue team needs to protect against everything, red team only needs to succeed once.

I see a few opportunities for remediation:

  • Limit the spread of monocultures. Stuff like Alva Linux and AWS’ Open Distribution of ElasticSearch are good, partly because they keep widely used FOSS solutions free and open source, but also because they inject technical diversity.
  • Reevaluate project governance, organization and funding with an eye toward mitigating complete reliance on the human factor, as well as incentivizing for-profit companies to contribute their expertise and other resources. Most for-profit companies would be happy to contribute to open source because of its openness, and not despite it, but within many communities, this may require a culture change for existing contributors.
  • Accelerate commodification by simplifying the stack and verifying the components. Push appropriate responsibility for security up into the application layers.

Basically, what I’m advocating here is that orchestrators like Kubernetes should matter less, and Linux should have less impact. Finally, we should proceed as fast as we can toward formalizing the use of things like unikernels.

Regardless, we need to ensure that both companies and individuals provide the resources open source needs to continue.

Construct Capital’s Dayna Grayson will be a Startup Battlefield Judge at Disrupt 2021

By Jordan Crook

Dayna Grayson has been in venture capital for more than a decade and was one of the first VCs to build a portfolio around the transformation of industrial sectors of our economy.

At NEA, where she was a partner for eight years, she led investments in and sat on the boards of companies including Desktop Metal, Onshape, Framebridge, Tulip, Formlabs and Guideline. She left NEA to start her own fund, Construct Capital, that focuses exclusively on early-stage startups, with a portfolio that includes Copia, ChargeLab, Tradeswell and Hadrian.

It should come as no surprise, then, that we’re absolutely thrilled to have Grayson join us at TechCrunch Disrupt 2021 in September.

Grayson has more than proven that she has a keen eye for transformational technology. Desktop Metal went public in 2020 — she still sits on the board as chair of the compensation committee. Onshape, another NEA-era investment, was acquired by PTC in 2019 for a whopping $525 million. Framebridge was also acquired by Graham Holdings in 2020.

Grayson saw an opportunity to develop a venture brand more hyperfocused on the types of deals she was doing at NEA, which centered around manufacturing and digitizing industrial verticals. That’s where Construct Capital came in. It’s a $140 million fund helmed by Grayson and former Uber exec Rachel Holt.

At Disrupt, Grayson will serve as a Startup Battlefield judge. The Battlefield is one of the world’s most prestigious and exciting startup competitions. Twenty+ early-stage startups hop on our stage and present their wares to a panel of expert VC judges, who then grill the founders on everything about the business, from the revenue model to the go-to-market strategy to the team to the technology itself.

The winner walks away with $100,000 in prize money and the glory of being a Battlefield winner. Households names in tech have gotten their start in the Battlefield, from Dropbox to Mint.

Grayson joins plenty of other seasoned investors on the Battlefield stage, including Camille Samuels, Deena Shakir, Terri Burns, Shauntel Garvey and Alexa Von Tobel.

Disrupt 2021 goes down from September 21 to 23 and is virtual. Snag a ticket here starting under $100 for a limited time!

Whisper Aero emerges from stealth to quiet drones and air taxis

By Aria Alamalhodaei

The skies are on the cusp of getting busier — and louder — as drone delivery and electric vertical take-off and landing passenger aircraft startups move from moonshot to commercialization. One former NASA engineer and ex-director of Uber’s air taxi division is developing tech to ensure that more air traffic doesn’t equal more noise.

Mark Moore, who was most recently director of engineering at Uber Elevate until its acquisition by Joby Aviation, has a launched his own company called Whisper Aero. The startup, which came out of stealth this week, is aiming to designing an electric thruster it says will blend noise emitted from delivery drones and eVTOLs alike into background levels, making them nearly imperceptible to the human ear.

It’s a formidable challenge. Solving the noise problem comes down to more than simply cranking down the volume. Noise profiles are also characterized by other variables, like frequency. For example, helicopters have a main rotor and tail rotor that generate two separate frequencies, which makes them much more irritating to the human ear than if they were at a single frequency, Moore told TechCrunch in a recent interview.

Complicating the picture even further is that eVTOL companies are designing entirely new types of aircraft, ones that may generate different acoustic profiles than other rotorcraft (like helicopters). The U.S. Army recently undertook a research study confirming that eVTOL rotors generate more of a type of noise referred to as broadband, rather than tonal noise which is generated by helicopters. And as each eVTOL company is developing its own design, not all of the electric aircraft will generate the same level or kind of noise.

Whisper is designing its scalable product to be adoptable across the board.

Moore said the idea for the company had been fomenting for years. He and Whisper COO Ian Villa, who headed strategy and simulation at Elevate, realized years ago that noise (that is, less of it) was key to air taxis taking off.

“The thing that was abundantly clear was, noise matters most,” Villa said. “It is the hardest barrier to break through. And not enough of these developers were spending the time, the resources, the mindshare to really unlock that.”

Whisper CEO Mark Moore. Image Credits: Whisper Aero (opens in a new window)

Helicopters have mostly been able to get away with their terrible noise profile because they are used so infrequently. But eVTOL companies like Joby Aviation are envisioning far higher ride volumes. Moore is quick to point out that companies like Joby (which purchased Elevate at the end of 2020) are already developing aircraft that are many times quieter than helicopter, and are “a step in the right direction.”

“The question is, ‘is it enough of a step to get to significant adoption?’ And that’s what we’re focused on.”

Whisper is staying mum on the details of its thruster design. It has managed to attract around $7.5 million investment from firms like Lux Capital, Abstract Ventures, Menlo Ventures, Kindred Ventures and Robert Downey Jr.’s FootPrint Coalition Ventures. It’s also aiming to convert its provisional patents with the United States Patent and Trademark Office sometime next year.

From there, the startup envisions launching in the small drone market around 2023, before scaling progressively up to air taxis. Moore said the goal is to get the thrusters manufactured and in vehicles by the end of the decade. Should the first generation of eVTOL go to market in 2024 (as Archer Aviation and Joby have proposed), Whisper’s product could potentially appear in second generation eVTOL.

In the meantime, Whisper will continue testing and working out remaining technical challenges – least among which is how to manufacture the end product at a reasonable cost. Whisper is also preparing to conduct dynamic testing in a wind tunnel, in addition to the static tests it has undertaken at its Tennessee headquarters, some in partnership with the U.S. Air Force.

“It’s got to be quiet enough to blend into the background noise,” Moore said. “We know this and that’s the technology we’re developing.”

Temasek, Warburg Pincus, and Bhavish Aggarwal invest $500 million in Ola

By Manish Singh

Temasek and an affiliate of Warburg Pincus are investing $500 million in Indian ride-hailing giant Ola, the Bangalore-headquartered startup said in a short statement Friday. Ola co-founder and chief executive Bhavish Aggarwal is also participating in the new investment, the startup said.

This is the first time SoftBank-backed Ola, which leads the market in India, has raised money since its Series J financing round two years ago, according to records on insight platform Tracxn. Ola said in a statement that the investment comes “ahead of IPO” — but didn’t elaborate.

Ola, Temasek, and Warburg Pincus didn’t share how the new investment valued the ride-hailing startup, which competes with Uber in India.

EV business Ola Electric, which span out of Ola in 2019, is also in the market to raise money, TechCrunch reported earlier this week. Ola Electric will soon start the production of its electric scooters, Aggarwal, who also oversees Ola Electric, said recently.

Mobility firms are among the worst hit by the coronavirus pandemic. But in recent months, they have started to pick up pace again as more Indian states relax lockdown restrictions. Ola had about 32 million monthly active users on Android in India in June, up from about 26 million in May, according to mobile insight firm App Annie. Uber had about 22 million users in June on Android in India, up from 18 million in May.

“Over the last 12 months we’ve made our ride hailing business more robust, resilient and efficient. With strong recovery post lockdown and a shift in consumer preference away from public transportation, we are well positioned to capitalize on the various urban mobility needs of our customers. I welcome Warburg Pincus and Temasek to Ola and look forward to collaborating with them in our next phase of growth,” said Aggarwal in a statement.

In the past decade, Ola also expanded to several international markets including Australia, New Zealand, and the UK.

“We look forward to collaborating with Bhavish and the team in the next phase of Ola’s growth,” said Vishal Mahadevia, MD and head of India business at Warburg Pincus, in a statement.

This is a developing story. More to follow…

Why is Didi worth so much less than Uber?

By Alex Wilhelm

Years ago, U.S. ride-hailing giant Uber and its Chinese rival Didi were locked in an expensive rivalry in the Asian nation. After a financially bruising competition, Uber sold its China-based business to Didi, focusing instead on other markets.

The two companies are coming head-to-head again, however, as Didi looks to list in the United States. The company’s IPO filing was big news for the SoftBank Vision Fund, Tencent and Uber, thanks to its stake in Didi from its earlier transaction.

Uber is more diversified both geographically and in terms of its revenue mix. Didi is larger, more profitable and more concentrated.

But Didi appears set to be valued at a discount to Uber. By several tens of billions of dollars, it turns out. And we can’t quite figure out why.

This week, Didi indicated that it will target a $13 to $14 per-share IPO price, with each share on the U.S. markets worth one-fourth of a Class A share in the company. In more technical language, each ADR is 25% of a Class A ordinary share in Didi, if you prefer it put like that.

With 288 million shares to be sold in its U.S. IPO, Didi could raise as much as $4.03 billion, a huge sum.

What’s Didi worth at $13 to $14 per ADR? Using a nondiluted share count, Didi is valued between $62.3 billion and $67.1 billion. Inclusive of shares that may be issued thanks to vested options and the like, Didi could be worth as much as $70 billion; Renaissance Capital calculates the company’s midpoint valuation using a fully diluted share count at $67.5 billion.

Regardless of which number you prefer, Didi is not set to challenge Uber’s own valuation. Yahoo Finance pegged Uber at $95.2 billion as of this morning.

Why is the Chinese company worth less than its erstwhile rival? Let’s dig around in their numbers and find out.

Didi versus Uber

As a reminder, Uber’s Q1 2021 included adjusted revenues of $3.5 billion, a gain of 8% compared to the year-ago quarter. Uber’s adjusted EBITDA came in for the period at -$359 million.

Zero trust unicorn Illumio closes $225M Series F led by Thoma Bravo

By Carly Page

Illumio, a self-styled zero trust unicorn, has closed a $225 million Series F funding round at a $2.75 billion valuation. 

The round was led by Thoma Bravo, which recently bought cybersecurity vendor Proofpoint by $12.3 billion, and supported by Franklin Templeton, Hamilton Lane, and Blue Owl Capital. 

The round lands more than two years after Illumio’s Series E funding round in which it raised $65 million, and fueled speculation of an impending IPO. The company’s founder, Andrew Rubin, still isn’t ready to be pressed on whether the company plans to go public, though he told TechCrunch: “If we do our job right, and if we make our customers successful, I’d like to think that would be part of our journey.”

Illumio’s latest funding round is well-timed. Not only does it come amid a huge rise in successful cyberattacks which show that some of the more traditional cybersecurity measures are no longer working, from the SolarWinds hack in early 2020 to the more recent attack on Colonial Pipeline, but it also comes just weeks after President Joe Biden issued an executive order pushing federal agencies to implement significant cybersecurity initiatives, including a zero trust architecture. 

“And just a couple of weeks ago, Anne Neuberger [deputy national security adviser for cybersecurity] put out a memo on White House stationary to all of corporate America saying we’re living through a ransomware pandemic, and here’s six things that we’re imploring you to do,” Rubin says. “One of them was to segment your network.”

Illumio focuses on protecting data centers and cloud networks through something it calls micro-segmentation, which it claims makes it easier to manage and guard against potential breaches, as well as to contain a breach if one occurs. This zero trust approach to security — a concept centered on the belief that businesses should not automatically trust anything inside or outside its perimeters — has never been more important for organizations, according to Illumio. 

“Cyber events are no longer constrained to cyber space,” says Rubin. “That’s why people are finally saying that, after 30 years of relying solely on detection to keep us safe, we cannot rely on it 100% of the time. Zero trust is now becoming the mantra.”

Illumio tells TechCrunch it will use the newly raised funds to make a “huge” investment in its field operations and channel partner network, and to invest in innovation, engineering and its product. 

The late-stage startup, which was founded in 2013 and is based in California, says more than 10% of Fortune 100 companies — including Morgan Stanley, BNP Paribas SA and Salesforce — now use its technology to protect their data centers, networks and other applications. It saw 100% international growth during the pandemic, and says it’s also broadening its customer base across more industries. 

The company has raised more now raised more $550 million from investors include Andreessen Horowitz, General Catalyst and Formation 8.

Snackpass gobbles up $70M at a $400M+ valuation as its social food ordering platform crosses 500K users

By Ingrid Lunden

While every food delivery company is trying to get an edge on its rivals with discount codes, faster service, and a turn into the realm of spooky with ghost kitchens and dark stores, a startup built on a lighter, social concept — letting people see what their friends are chomping on, making it possible to order food and drinks for each other and group order, with buyers picking it all up for themselves — has just raised a substantial Series B and says that it is already profitable in a number of markets.

Snackpass, which describes itself as a “food meets friends” — essentially a social commerce platform for ordering from restaurants, with “snack,” the CEO tells me, of having a double meaning of eating (of course), and a flirtatious reference to a cutie pie — has picked up a $70 million, a super-sized Series B that it will be using to continue expanding to more markets in the U.S.

Conceived four years ago while Kevin Tan, the CEO who co-founded the company with Jamie Marshall, was still a student at Yale studying physics, Snackpass has grown by remaining true to its higher-ed roots. The startup now has 500,000 users across 13 college towns, and has seen its growth explode 7x in the last three months alone. This round values the startup at over $400 million.

This latest tranche of funding is coming from an interesting group of investors. Led by Craft Ventures, it also includes Andreessen Horowitz (which led its $21 million Series A), General Catalyst, Y Combinator, and a long list of individual backers that speaks to the attention Snackpass is getting and the place it’s carving out for itself as a go-to food platform for millennials and younger users.

That list includes AirAngels, the Airbnb alumni investor syndicate; Bastian Lehmann of the Uber-acquired delivery giant Postmates (et tu, Bastian?); David Grutman, a hospitality entrepreneur; Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors; Gaingels; HartBeat Ventures, Kevin Hart’s venture fund; musician celebs the Jonas Brothers; Shrug Capital (the VC that says it’s interested in consumer startups that are actually interesting to “non-tech” audiences); Pags Group, the family office of the Boston Celtics co-owner Stephen Pagliuca; hip DJ Steve Aoki; Turner Novak of Banana Capital; William Barnes of Moving Capital; and the Uber alumni investor syndicate.

The vast majority of food-ordering platforms these days are focused on delivery and, in many cases, ways of getting an edge over other platforms in executing on that — a push that often comes at the expense of margins than are thinner than a Roman pizza. Snackpass’s big breakthrough, if you could call it that, was to simply dial back from that one-upmanship, moving away from that premise altogether, aiming to disrupt something much more mundane: the queue.

Tan said Snackpass asked its users what they would do if they weren’t using the app, and they said, “Oh, I just stand in line to order,” he told me in an interview.

“The market share right now is owned by people standing in line at the register, and placing their order. Our vision is that in five years that will no longer exist, like, there will be no more registers. We don’t think it makes any sense.”

He notes that for those who really want delivery, people can opt for that, too — Snackpass integrates with delivery services like UberEats to fulfill that — but 90% of the orders on Snackpass are pickup, meaning that not only does the company then not have to deal with its own fleets of delivery people, and the infrastructure of that, but the operating costs to provide that are also not there.

It turns out that actually a lot of young people seem happy to pop out to get something nice to eat. It means they get to socialise, and take a selfie with their food or drink (boba tea figures strongly) at the venue where it’s being bought. It becomes an experience.

It’s also where the market is in another sense. “What people don’t realize is delivery is only 8% of the restaurant industry,” Tan told me. “And while it’s very much competed for by like big companies, and it’s a huge market, the restaurant industry, is like, much bigger, it’s $800 billion. And 90% of that purchasing is still offline,” he continued, referring to the many people who just queue up, order, buy, and leave. “It’s anonymous, and it’s on the verge of disruption. And we’re focused on that much bigger blue ocean.”

Its formula seems to be working with its target users. Tan said that the service has 80% penetration with students in the markets where it has launched. The average customer orders four and a half times a month, with some customers ordering every day. “You can actually see that it’s like, five to ten times more engagement than the delivery platforms, like UberEats.”

The company’s commissions vary and start at 7% and it’s current suite includes online ordering, self-service kiosks, digital menus, marketing services, and a customer referral program. It’s already profitable (in certain markets) but as it continues to grow (and maybe extend to other demographics) you can imagine it adding and expanding on all of these.

There is something about Snackpass that reminds me a lot of Snapchat, not just that the names have a similar ring to them, and not just that they have resonated with college-aged users (and not just that they both squarely target them). It’s something of the whimsy of the app, and how it takes a light touch in its approach to do something that might otherwise feel cumbersome, or mundane, or what, basically, older people do.

Right now, there isn’t much of a social “user graph” per se on Snackpass, nor does it integrate particularly deeply with any specific social apps, but you could imagine a partnership there down the line, especially considering that Snap is getting a whole lot more involved with commerce now.

“In building a social experience around food through shared rewards, gifting, and a social activity feed, Snackpass has created a dynamic and attractive restaurant ordering system,” says Bryan Rosenblatt, partner, Craft Ventures, in a statement. “The growth of its marketplace and virality of the product coupled with Snackpass’ outstanding  team and vision, make it the ultimate solution for consumers and businesses alike. We are thrilled to help take Snackpass to the next level with this latest round of funding.”

Updated to clarify that Snackpass is profitable in some but not all markets; to correct the spelling and names of some of the investors; and to note that Snackpass currently does not work with DoorDash.

Uber to become the sole owner of grocery delivery startup Cornershop

By Aria Alamalhodaei

Uber has reached a deal to become the sole owner of Latin American delivery startup Cornershop, just one year after acquiring a majority stake in the company. The ride-hailing giant said in a regulatory filing Monday that it will purchase the remaining 47% interest in Cornershop in exchange for 29 million shares. The transaction is expected to close in July.

Uber announced in 2019 plans to take a majority ownership in Cornershop. That transaction wasn’t completed until the third quarter of 2020 other than in Mexico, which closed in January 2021. This latest agreement, which was reached June 18 and reported Monday, will make Cornershop a wholly owned subsidiary of Uber. The deal is a logical next-step in the Uber-Cornershop relationship, a source familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

The deal suggests Uber’s bullishness in delivery hasn’t waned. With Cornershop as wholly owned subsidiary, Uber can beef up its grocery delivery options, a service made popular during the pandemic. The company started offering grocery delivery in select cities across Latin America, Canada and the U.S. last summer after it acquired Postmates in a deal valued at $2.65 billion. Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said in a statement that the company’s grocery and new verticals business has exceeded a $3 billion annual bookings run rate for this year.

“That’s why we’re excited to deepen our commitment to the team at Cornershop and to support their vision as they scale globally,” he added. “Together, we will double down on the strategy of bringing same-day grocery delivery to the Uber platform worldwide.”

Cornershop, which is headquartered in Chile, was founded in 2015 by Oskar Hjertonsson, Daniel Undurraga and Juan Pablo Cuevas. The company expanded its operations to eight countries up and down the Americas, including Chile, Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Peru, the U.S. and Canada. The company raised $31.7 million over four rounds of funding from investors that include Accel and Jackson Square Ventures.

Uber wasn’t the only grocery service with its eyes on Cornershop; the startup was supposed to be acquired by Walmart in a $225 million deal, but it ultimately fell through after Mexican antitrust regulators blocked the deal from moving forward. It is unclear whether this deal will be subject to the same risks.

Uber faces stiff competition from grocery retailers themselves, many of whom offer delivery through partnering with startups like DoorDash or Favor Fleet.

TechCrunch has reached out to Cornershop for comment. We will update the story if they respond.

The story has been updated to include Uber’s comments.

Uberall raises $115M, acquires MomentFeed to scale up its location marketing services

By Ingrid Lunden

Location-based services may have had their day as a salient category for hot apps or innovative tech leveraging the arrival of smartphones, but that’s largely because they are now part of the unspoken fabric of how we interact with digital services every day: We rely on location-specific information when we are on search engines, when we are using maps or weather apps, when we are taking and posting photos and more.

Still, there remain a lot of gaps in how location information links up with accurate information, and so today a company that’s made it its business to address that is announcing some funding as it scales up its service.

Uberall, which works with retailers and other brick-and-mortar operators to help them update and provide more accurate information about themselves across the plethora of apps and other services that consumers use to discover them, is announcing $115 million in funding. Alongside that, the Berlin startup is making an acquisition: it’s buying MomentFeed, a location marketing company based out of Los Angeles, to continue scaling its business.

The funding is being led by London-based investor Bregal Milestone, with Level Equity, United Internet and Uberall management also participating. From what we understand from sources, the funding values Uberall at around $500 million, and the deal for MomentFeed was made for between $50 million and $60 million.

The business combination is building way more scale into the platform: Uberall said that together they will manage the online presence for 1.35 million business locations, making the company the biggest in the field, with customers including the gas station operator BP, KFC, clothes and food chain Marks and Spencer, McDonald’s and Pizza Hut.

Florian Hübner, the CEO and co-founder of Uberall, noted in an interview that the companies have quite a lot of overlap, and in fact prior to the deal being made the companies worked together closely in the U.S. market, but all the same, MomentFeed has built some specific technology that will enrich the wider platform, such as a particularly strong tool for measuring sentiment analysis.

“Managing the online presence” is not a company’s website, nor is it its apps, but may nevertheless be its most common digital touchpoints when it comes to actually engaging with consumers online. It includes how those companies appear on local listings services like Yelp or TripAdvisor, or mapping apps like Google’s — which provide not just listings information like addresses and opening hours but also customer reviews — or social apps or location-based advertising. Altogether, when you are considering a company with multiple locations and the multiple touchpoints a consumer might use, it ends up being a complicated mess of places that need to be managed and kept up to date.

“We are the catalyst for this huge ecosystem where we enable the brands to use everything that the other tech platforms are offering in the best possible way,” Hübner told me. The tech platforms, meanwhile, are willing to work with middleware companies like Uberall to make the information on their services more accurate and complete by connecting with businesses when they have not managed to do so directly on their own. (And if you’ve ever been caught out by the wrong opening times on a Google Maps entry, or any other entry or piece of information elsewhere, you know this is an issue.)

And of course expecting any company with potentially hundreds of locations to provide the right details without a tool is also a nonstarter. “Casually updating 100,000 profiles is super hard,” Hübner said.

It also provides services to update information about vaccine and COVID-19 testing clinics, as well as other essential services that also have to contend with the same variations in location, opening hours and customer feedback as any other business on a site like Google Maps.

Altogether, Uberall has built out a platform that essentially connects up all of those end points, so that an Uberall customer can use a dashboard to provide updates that populate automatically everywhere, and also to read and respond to reviews.

Conversely, Uberall also can look out for instances where a company is being unofficially represented, or misrepresented, and locks those down. Alongside those, it has built a location-based marketing service that also serves ads for its customers. It is somewhat akin to social media management tools, which let you manage social media accounts and social media marketing campaigns, except that it’s covering a much more fragmented and disparate set of places where a company might appear online.

The bigger picture here is that just as location-based marketing is a fragmented business, so is the business of providing services to manage it. This move reduces down that field a little more and improves the efficiency of scaling such services.

“As we saw the market trending towards consolidation, we considered several potential companies to merge with. Uberall was by far our most preferred,” said MomentFeed CEO Nick Hedges in a statement. “This combination makes enormous strategic sense for our customers, who represent the who’s-who of leading U.S. omni channel brands. It helps accelerate our already rapid pace of innovation, giving customers an even greater edge in the hyper-competitive world of ’Near Me’ Marketing.” After the deal closes, Hedges will become Uberall’s chief strategy officer and EVP for North America.

“We are thrilled to partner with the Uberall team for this next phase of growth. Our strategic investment will significantly accelerate Uberall’s ambition to become the leading ‘Near Me’ Customer Experience platform worldwide. Uberall’s differentiated full-suite solution is unsurpassed by competition in terms of integration and functionality, providing customers with a real edge to reach, interact with, and convert online customers. We look forward to supporting Florian, Nick and their talented team to deliver on their exciting innovation and expansion roadmap,” said Cyrus Shey, managing partner of Bregal Milestone, in a statement.

AI pioneer Raquel Urtasun launches self-driving technology startup with backing from Khosla, Uber and Aurora

By Kirsten Korosec

One of the lingering mysteries from Uber’s sale of its Uber ATG self-driving unit to Aurora has been solved.

Raquel Urtasun, the AI pioneer who was the chief scientist at Uber ATG, has launched a new startup called Waabi that is taking what she describes as an “AI-first approach” to speed up the commercial deployment of autonomous vehicles, starting with long-haul trucks. Urtasun, who is the sole founder and CEO, already has a long list of high-profile backers, including separate investments from Uber and Aurora. Waabi has raised $83.5 million in a Series A round led by Khosla Ventures with additional participation from Uber, 8VC, Radical Ventures, OMERS Ventures, BDC, Aurora Innovation as well as leading AI researchers Geoffrey Hinton, Fei-Fei Li, Pieter Abbeel, Sanja Fidler and others.

Urtasun described Waabi, which currently employs 40 people and operates in Toronto and California, as the culmination of her life’s work to bring commercially viable self-driving technology to society. The name of the company —  Waabi means “she has vision” in Ojibwe and “simple” in Japanese —  hints at her approach and ambitions.

Autonomous vehicle startups that exist today use a combination of artificial intelligence algorithms and sensors to handle the tasks of driving that humans do such as detecting and understanding objects and making decisions based on that information to safely navigate a lonely road or a crowded highway. Beyond those basics are a variety of approaches, including within AI.

Most self-driving vehicle developers use a traditional form of AI. However, the traditional approach limits the power of AI, Urtasun said, adding that developers must manually tune the software stack, a complex and time-consuming task. The upshot, Urtasun says: Autonomous vehicle development has slowed and the limited commercial deployments that do exist operate in small and simple operational domains because scaling is so costly and technically challenging.

“Working in this field for so many years and, in particular, the industry for the past four years, it became more and more clear along the way that there is a need for a new approach that is different from the traditional approach that most companies are taking today,” said Urtasun, who is also a professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Toronto and a co-founder of the Vector Institute for AI.

Some developers do use deep neural nets, a sophisticated form of artificial intelligence algorithms that allows a computer to learn by using a series of connected networks to identify patterns in data. However, developers typically wall off the deep nets to handle a specific problem and use a machine learning and rules-based algorithms to tie into the broader system.

Deep nets have their own set of problems. A long-standing argument is that can’t be used with any reliability in autonomous vehicles in part because of the “black box” effect, in which the how and the why the AI solved a particular task is not clear. That is a problem for any self-driving startup that wants to be able verify and validate its system. It is also difficult to incorporate any prior knowledge about the task that the developer is trying to solve, like say driving. Finally, deep nets require an immense amount of data to learn.

Urtasun says she solved these lingering problems around deep nets by combining them with probabilistic inference and complex optimization, which she describes as a family of algorithms. When combined, the developer can trace back the decision process of the AI system and incorporate prior knowledge so they don’t have to teach the AI system everything from scratch. The final piece is a closed loop simulator that will allow the Waabi team to test at scale common driving scenarios and safety-critical edge cases.

Waabi will still have a physical fleet of vehicles to test on public roads. However, the simulator will allow the company to rely less on this form of testing. “We can even prepare for new geographies before we even drive there,” Urtasun said. “That’s a huge benefit in terms of the scaling curve.”

Urtasun’s vision and intent isn’t to take this approach and disrupt the ecosystem of OEMs, hardware and compute suppliers, but to be a player within it. That might explain the backing of Aurora, a startup that is developing its own self-driving stack that it hopes to first deploy in logistics such as long-haul trucking.

“This was the moment to really do something different,” Urtasun said. “The field is in need of a diverse set of approaches to solve this and it became very clear that this was the way to go.”

4 women in engineering discuss harassment, isolation and perseverence

By Ron Miller

Women engineers often face workplace and career challenges that their male colleagues don’t because they remain a minority in the profession: Depending on how you count, women make up just 13% to 25% of engineering jobs. That inequity leads to a power imbalance, which can lead to toxic working environments.

One of the more infamous and egregious examples is Susan Fowler’s experience at Uber. In a blog post in February 2017, she described her boss coming on to her in a company chat channel on her first day on the job. She later wrote a book, “Whistleblower,” that described her time at the company in detail.

Fowler’s ordeal cast a spotlight on the harassment women engineers have to deal with in the workplace. In a profession that tends to be male-dominated, behavior ranges from blatant examples, like what happened to Fowler, to ongoing daily microaggressions.

Four female engineers spoke with me about their challenges:

  • Tammy Butow, principal software reliability engineer (SRE) at Gremlin
  • Rona Chong, software engineer at Grove Collaborative
  • Ana Medina, senior chaos engineer at Gremlin
  • Yury Roa, SRE technical program manager at ADL Digital Labs in Bogota, Colombia

It’s worth noting that Fowler was also an SRE who worked on the same team as Medina (who was later part of a $10 million discrimination lawsuit against Uber). It shows just how small of a world we are talking about. While not everyone faced that level of harassment, they each described daily challenges, some of which wore them down. But they also showed a strong determination to overcome whatever obstacles came their way.

Feeling isolated

One of the primary issues these women faced throughout their careers is a feeling of isolation due to their underrepresentation. They say that can sometimes lead to self-doubt and an inkling that you don’t belong that can be difficult to overcome. Medina says that there have been times when, intentionally or not, male engineers made her feel unwelcome.

“One part that was really hard for me was those microaggressions on a daily basis, and that affects your work ethic, wanting to show up, wanting to try your best. And not only does that damage your own self-esteem, but your esteem [in terms of] growing as an engineer,” Medina explained.

Roa says that isolation can lead to impostor syndrome. That’s why it’s so important to have more women in these roles: to serve as mentors, role models and peers.

“One barrier for us related to being the only woman in the room is that [it can lead to] impostor syndrome because it is common when you are the only woman or one of few, it can be really challenging for us. So we need to gain confidence, and in these cases, it is very important to have role models and leadership that includes women,” Roa said.

Chong agrees it is essential to know that others have been in the same position — and found a way through.

“The fact that people talk authentically about their own jobs and challenges and how they’ve overcome that, that’s been really helpful for me to continue seeing myself in the tech industry,” she said. “There have been points where I’ve questioned whether I should Ieave, but then having that support around you to have people to talk to you personally and see as examples, I think it has really helped me.”

Butow described being interviewed for an article early in her career after she won an award for a mobile application she wrote.  When the article was published, she was aghast to discover it had been headlined, “Not just another pretty face…”

“I was like, that’s the title?! I was so excited to share the article with my mom, and then I wasn’t. I spent so much time writing the code and obviously my face had nothing to do with it. … So there’s just little things like that where people call it a paper cut or something like that, but it’s just lots of little microaggressions.”

Pushing through

In spite of all that, a common thread among these women was a strong desire to show that they have the technical skill to get past these moments of doubt to thrive in their professions.

Butow said she has been battling these kinds of misperceptions since she was a teenager but never let it stop her. “I just tried to not let it bother me, but mostly because I also have a background in skateboarding. It’s the same thing, right? You go to a skate park and people would say, ‘Oh, can you even do a trick?’ and I was like, ‘Watch me.’ You know, I [would] just do it. … So a lot of that happens in lots of different types of places in the world and you just have to, I don’t know, I just always push through, like I’m just going to do it anyway.”

Chong says she doesn’t give in to discouraging feelings, adding that having other women to talk to helped push her through those times.

“As much as I like to persevere and I don’t like giving up, actually there have been points where I considered quitting, but having visibility into other people’s experiences, knowing that you’re not the only one who’s experienced that, and seeing that they’ve found better environments for themselves and that they eventually worked through it, and having those people tell you that they believe in you, that probably stopped me from leaving when I [might] have otherwise,” she said.

Women helping women

Chong’s experience is not unique, but the more diverse your teams are, the more people who come from underrepresented groups can support one another. Butow recruited her at one point, and she says that was a huge moment for her.

“I think that there is a network effect where we know other women and we try to bring them in and we expand on that. So we can kind of create the change or we feel the change we want to see, and we get to make our situation more comfortable,” Chong said.

Medina says that she is motivated to help bring Latinx and Black people into tech, with a focus on attracting girls and young women. She has worked with a group called Technolachicas, which produced a series of commercials with the Televisa Foundation. They filmed six videos, three in English and three in Spanish, with the goal of showing young girls how to pursue a STEM career.

“Each commercial talks about how we got our career started with an audience persona of a girl younger than 18, an adult influencer and a parent — people that are really crucial to the development of anyone under 18,” she said. “How is it that these people can actually empower someone to look at STEM and to pursue a career in STEM?”

Butow says it’s about lifting people up. “What we’re trying to do is sharing our story and hoping to inspire other women. It’s super important to have those role models. There’s a lot of research that shows that that’s actually the most important thing is just visibility of role models that you can relate to,” she said.

The ultimate goal? Having enough support in the workplace that they’re able to concentrate on being the best engineers they can be — without all of the obstruction.

See what’s new from Wejo, CMC, iMerit, Plus, oVice & Michigan at TechCrunch’s mobility event

By Alexandra Ames

We’re in the final run-up to TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 on June 9, and the great stuff just keeps on coming. We’ve stacked the one-day agenda with plenty of programming to keep you engaged, informed and on track to build a stronger business. You’ll always find amazing speakers — some of the most innovative minds out there — on the main stage and in breakout sessions.

Dramatic pause for a pro tip: Don’t have a pass yet? Buy one here now for $125, before prices go up at the door.

“I enjoyed the big marquee speakers from companies like Uber, but it was the individual presentations where you really started to get into the meat of the conversation and see how these mobile partnerships come to life.” — Karin Maake, senior director of communications at FlashParking.

We have another exciting bit of news. We’re hosting pitch session for early-stage startup founders who exhibit in the expo at TC Sessions: Mobility. Each startup gets 1 minute to pitch to attendees in a breakout session. Remember, this conference has a global reach — talk about visibility! Want to pitch? Buy an Early Stage Startup Exhibitor Package as we only have 2 packages left.

Alrighty then…let’s look at some of the breakout & main stage sessions waiting for you at TC Sessions: Mobility 20201.

Innovating Future Mobility for Global Scale

Wednesday, June 9, 10:00 am -10:50 am PDT

Learn how the CMC’s model of bringing their Clients’ new technologies to market is new and innovative, going beyond a typical demonstration or pilot program, to the point of product launch and sustaining market viability. Hear from an expert panel about how the CMC’s programming is unique, innovative, and game-changing.

  • Neal Best, Director of Client Services, California Mobility Center (CMC)
  • Bill Brandt, Business Development Advisor, Zeus Electric Chassis
  • Mark Rawson, Chief Operating Officer, California Mobility Center (CMC)
  • Scott Ungerer, Founder and Managing Director, EnerTech Capital

Public-Private Partnerships: Advancing the Future of Mobility and Electrification

Wednesday, June 9, 10:45 am -11:05 am PDT

The future of mobility starts with the next generation of transportation solutions. Attendees will hear from some of the most innovative names on opportunities that await when public and private entities team up to revolutionize the way we think about technology. Trevor Pawl, Michigan’s Chief Mobility Officer, will be joined by Nina Grooms Lee, Chief Product Officer of May Mobility.

  • Nina Grooms Lee, Chief Product Officer, May Mobility
  • Trevor Pawl, Chief Mobility Officer, State of Michigan

Delivering Supervised Autonomous Trucks Globally

Wednesday, June 9, 12:40pm – 1:00pm PDT

Plus is applying autonomous driving technology to launch supervised autonomous trucks today in order to dramatically improve safety, efficiency and driver comfort, while addressing critical challenges in long-haul trucking — driver shortage and high turnover, rising fuel costs, and reaching sustainability goals. Mass production of our supervised autonomous driving solution, PlusDrive, starts this summer. In the next few years, tens of thousands of heavy trucks powered by PlusDrive will be on the road. Plus’s COO and Co-Founder Shawn Kerrigan will introduce PlusDrive and our progress of deploying this driver-in solution globally. He will also share our learnings from working together with world-leading OEMs and fleet partners to develop and deploy autonomous trucks at scale.

  • Shawn Kerrigan, COO and Co-Founder, Plus

How Edge Cases and Data Will Enable Autonomous Transportation in Cities Across the U.S.

Wednesday, June 9, 11:00 am – 11:50am

Data will play a vital role in solving the critical edge cases required to gain city approval and deploy autonomous transportation at scale. Pilot projects are underway across the U.S. and cities such as Las Vegas are leading the way for progressive policies, testing and adoption. But, how do these projects involving a limited number of vehicles gain city approval, expand to larger geographic areas, include more use cases and service more people? Join our expert panel discussion as we examine the progress, challenges and road ahead in harnessing data to enable multiple modes of autonomous transportation in major cities across the U.S.

  • Chris Barker, Founder & CEO, CBC
  • Radha Basu, Founder & CEO, iMerit
  • Michael Sherwood, CIO, City of Las Vegas

Making Mobility Data Accessible to Governmental Agencies to Meet New Transportation Demands

Wednesday, June 9, 1:45pm – 2:05pm

Wejo provides accurate and unbiased unique journey data, curated from millions of connected cars, to help local, state, province and federal government agencies visualize traffic and congestion conditions. Unlock a deeper understanding of mobility trends, to make better decisions, support policy development and solve problems more effectively for your towns and cities.

  • Brett Scott, VP of Partnerships

Will Remote Work Push Japan’s Rural Mobility Forward?

Wednesday, June 9, 1:45pm – 2:05pm

With remote work becoming the new normal and the mass movement from the city to the Japanese countryside, the trend of private car ownership is growing day by day. During this session, we’ll be hearing from Sae Hyung Jung, serial entrepreneur, founder and CEO of oVice. oVice is an agile communication tool that facilitates hybrid remote and virtual meetups. Most notably, a hope that can trigger a sudden expansion in the Japanese mobility and vehicle infrastructure.

  • Sae Hyung Jung, Founder & CEO, oVice

Styra, the startup behind Open Policy Agent, nabs $40M to expand its cloud-native authorization tools

By Ingrid Lunden

As cloud-native apps continue to become increasingly central to how organizations operate, a startup founded by the creators of a popular open-source tool to manage authorization for cloud-native application environments is announcing some funding to expand its efforts at commercializing the opportunity.

Styra, the startup behind Open Policy Agent, has picked up $40 million in a Series B round of funding led by Battery Ventures. Also participating are previous backers A. Capital, Unusual Ventures and Accel; and new backers CapitalOne Ventures, Citi Ventures and Cisco Investments. Styra has disclosed CapitalOne is also one of its customers, along with e-commerce site Zalando and the European Patent Office.

Styra is sitting on the classic opportunity of open source technology: scale and demand.

OPA — which can be used across Kubernetes, containerized and other environments — now has racked up some 75 million downloads and is adding some 1 million downloads weekly, with Netflix, Capital One, Atlassian and Pinterest among those that are using OPA for internal authorization purposes. The fact that OPA is open source is also important:

“Developers are at the top of the food chain right now,” CEO Bill Mann said in an interview, “They choose which technology on which to build the framework, and they want what satisfies their requirements, and that is open source. It’s a foundational change: if it isn’t open source it won’t pass the test.”

But while some of those adopting OPA have hefty engineering teams of their own to customize how OPA is used, the sheer number of downloads (and potential active users stemming from that) speak to the opportunity for a company to build tools to help manage that and customize it for specific use cases in cases where those wanting to use OPA may lack the resources (or appetite) to build and scale custom implementations themselves.

As with many of the enterprise startups getting funded at the moment, Styra has proven itself in particular over the last year, with the switch to remote work, workloads being managed across a number of environments, and the ever-persistent need for better security around what people can and should not be using. Authorization is a particularly acute issue when considering the many access points that need to be monitored: as networks continue to grow across multiple hubs and applications, having a single authorization tool for the whole stack becomes even more important.

Styra said that some of the funding will be used to continue evolving its product, specifically by creating better and more efficient ways to apply authorization policies by way of code; and by bringing in more partners to expand the scope of what can be covered by its technology.

“We are extremely impressed with the Styra team and the progress they’ve made in this dynamic market to date,” said Dharmesh Thakker, a general partner at Battery Ventures. “Everyone who is moving to cloud, and adopting containerized applications, needs Styra for authorization—and in the light of today’s new, remote-first work environment, every enterprise is now moving to the cloud.” Thakker is joining the board with this round.

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