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VMware acquires Carbon Black for $2.1B and Pivotal for $2.7 billion

By Frederic Lardinois

VMware today announced that it is acquiring Carbon Black, a publicly traded security company that focuses on securing modern cloud-native workloads. The price of the acquisition is about $2.1 billion.

In addition, VMware also confirmed the acquisition of Pivotal, which will have a value of about $2.7 billion. VMware’s revenue for the last quarter was $2.44 billion. That’s a big day for VMware.

“Building on another solid quarter, we are thrilled about announcing our intent to acquire Pivotal and Carbon Black,” said VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger in today’s announcement. “These acquisitions address two critical technology VMware, Inc. priorities of all businesses today — building modern, enterprise-grade applications and protecting enterprise workloads and clients. With these actions we meaningfully accelerate our subscription and SaaS offerings and expand our ability to enable our customers’ digital transformation.”

Indeed, these are two very different companies, but both Carbon Black and Pivotal focus on modern workloads. Pivotal focuses on building modern applications, thanks to its Cloud Foundry heritage and recently added support for Kubernetes, while Carbon Black provides the security features necessary to secure modern applications and infrastructures.

The two moves follow the company’s acquisition of Bitnami earlier this year, completing this triquetra of acquisitions that all aim to bring VMware’s technology into a future where VMs are only part of the equation.

Carbon Black was founded in 2002 and went public in early 2018. At the time of the IPO, it’s valuation was about $1.25 billion. Its stock traded as low as under $13 earlier this year, but it has since recovered to over $21. VMware will pay $26 per share in cash for the company and expects the deal to close by the end of January 2020.

“Today marks an exciting milestone for Carbon Black, VMware and the entire cybersecurity industry,” said Patrick Morley, CEO, Carbon Black, in the announcement. “We now have the opportunity to seamlessly integrate Carbon Black’s cloud-native endpoint protection platform into all of VMware’s control points. This type of bold move is exactly what the IT and security industries have been looking to see for a very long time. We look forward to working with the VMware team to continue delivering a modern security cloud platform to customers around the world. Additionally, we’re pleased that today’s transaction provides Carbon Black’s shareholders with immediate and substantial value.”

Updating…

Baidu beats estimates on strong video streaming growth

By Manish Singh

Chinese search giant Baidu on Monday posted a revenue of 26.33 billion yuan ($3.73 billion) for the quarter that ended in June, beating analysts’ estimates of 25.77 billion yuan ($3.65 billion) as its video streaming service iQIYI continues to see strong growth. The 19-year-old firm’s shares were up over 9% in extended trading.

The company, which is often called Google of China, said revenue of its core businesses grew 12% from the same period last year “despite the weak macro environment, our self-directed healthcare initiative, industry-specific policy changes and large influx of ad inventory.” Net income for the second quarter dropped to 2.41 billion yuan ($344 million).

“With Baidu traffic growing robustly and our mobile ecosystem continuing to expand, we are in a good position to focus on capitalizing monetization and ROI improvement opportunities to deliver shareholder value,” Herman Yu, CFO of Baidu, said in a statement.

Today’s results for Baidu, which has been struggling of late, should help calm investors’ worries. In recent years, as users move from desktop to mobile and rivals such as ByteDance win hundreds of millions of users through their mobile apps, many have cast doubt on Baidu’s ability to maintain its momentum and hold onto its advertising business. (On desktop, Baidu continues to command over three quarters of the Chinese market share.)

In the quarter that ended in March this year, Baidu posted its first quarterly loss since 2015, the year it went public.

Robin Li, Baidu co-founder and CEO, said Baidu app was being used by 188 million users everyday, up 27% from the same period last year. “In-app search queries grew over 20% year over year and smart mini program MAUs reached 270 million, up 49% sequentially,” said.

Baidu’s video streaming service iQIYI has now amassed over 100.5 million subscribers, up 50% year over year, the company said. Revenue from iQIYI stood at 7.11 billion yuan ($1.01 billion), up 15% since last year.

“On Baidu’s AI businesses, DuerOS voice assistant continues to experience strong momentum with installed base surpassing 400 million devices, up 4.5 fold year over year, and monthly voice queries surpassing 3.6 billion, up 7.5 fold year over year, in June. As mobile internet penetration in China slows, we are excited about the huge opportunity to provide content and service providers a cross-platform distribution channel beyond mobile, into smart homes and automobiles,” he added.

Revenue from online marketing services, which makes a significant contribution to overall sales, fell about 9% to 19.2 billion yuan ($2.72 billion).

‘Breaking Into Startups’: Torch CEO and Well Clinic founder Cameron Yarbrough on mental health & coaching

By Arman Tabatabai
Chad M. Crabtree Contributor
Chad M. Crabtree is the editor-in-Chief at Career KarmaCareer Karma, covering the Future of Work, Tech Education, and Startups.

There has long been a stigma associated with therapy and mental health coaching, a stigma that is even more pronounced in the business world, despite considerable evidence of the efficacy of these services. One of the organizations that has set out to change this negative association is Torch, a startup that combines the therapeutic benefits of executive coaching with data-driven analytics to track outcomes.

Yet, as Torch co-founder and CEO Cameron Yarbrough explains in this Breaking Into Startups episode, the startup wasn’t initially a tech-oriented enterprise. At first, Yarbrough drew on his years of experience as a marriage and family counselor as he made the transition into executive coaching, even referring to the early iterations of Torch as little more than “a matchmaking service between coaches and professionals.”

In time, Yarbrough identified a virtually untapped market for executive coaching — one that, by his estimate, could amount to a $15 billion industry. To demonstrate to investors the great potential of this growing market, he first built up a clientele that provided Torch with sufficient recurring revenue and low churn rate.

Only then was Yarbrough able to raise a $2.4 million seed round from Initialized Capital, Y Combinator, and other investors, convincing them that data analytics software could enhance the coaching process — as well as coach recruitment — enough to effectively “productize feedback,” as he puts it.

For Yarbrough and Torch, “productizing feedback” involves certain well-known business strategies that complement traditional coaching methods. For instance, Torch’s coaching procedure includes a “360 review,” a performance review system that incorporates feedback from all angles, including an employee’s manager, peers, and other people within an organization who have knowledge of the employee’s work.

The 360 review is coupled with an OKR platform, which provides HR departments and other interested parties with the metrics and analytics to track employee progress through the program. This combination is designed to promote the development of soft skills, which in turn drive leadership.

Torch has achieved considerable success, landing several influential clients in the tech sector through its B2B approach. But Yarbrough is clear that his goal with the company is to “democratize” access to professional coaching, in hopes of providing the same kind of mental health counseling and support to employees in all levels of an organization.

In this episode, Yarbrough discusses the history and trajectory of Torch, his experience scaling a company many considered unscalable, and the methods he uses to manage his own emotional and mental health as the CEO of an expanding startup. Yarbrough offers insights into the feelings of anxiety and dread common among entrepreneurs and provides a close look at how he has found business and personal success with Torch.


Breaking Into Startups: There’s a difference between a mentor and a coach. Today, I want to talk about that difference and in addition to the intersection between business and psychology, What Cameron Yarbrough, CEO of Torch and Founder of Well Clinic.

If you’re someone that is looking for a mentor or a coach as you break into tech, or if you just want to be surrounded by peers, make sure you download the Career Karma app by going to www.breakingintostartups.com/download.

On today’s episode, you’re going to understand the importance of therapy, mental health and coaches, as well as how historically, it has been inaccessible to people and how Cameron is using his background to democratize this for the world.

If this is your first time listening to the Breaking Startups Podcast, make sure you leave a review on iTunes and tell your friends. Listen to it on Soundcloud and talk about it on Spotify. If you have any feedback for us, positive or negative, please let us know. Without further ado, let’s break-in.

Cameron Yarbrough is the CEO of Torch. He’s one of the best executive coaches in the world. Not only are we going to be talking about coaching and mentoring for executives, but we’ll also be talking about coaching in general for everyone. We’re going to go into how he created his company.

The five great reasons to attend TechCrunch’s Enterprise show Sept. 5 in SF

By Robert Frawley

The vast enterprise tech category is Silicon Valley’s richest, and today it’s poised to change faster than ever before. That’s probably the biggest reason to come to TechCrunch’s first-ever show focused entirely on enterprise. But here are five more reasons to commit to joining TechCrunch’s editors on September 5 at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for an outstanding day (agenda here) addressing the tech tsunami sweeping through enterprise. 

#1 Artificial Intelligence.
At once the most consequential and most hyped technology, no one doubts that AI will change business software and increase productivity like few if any, technologies before it. To peek ahead  into that future, TechCrunch will interview Andrew Ng, arguably the world’s most experienced AI practitioner at huge companies (Baidu, Google) as well as at startups. AI will be a theme across every session, but we’ll address again it head-on in a panel with investor Jocelyn Goldfein (Zetta), founder Bindu Reddy (Reality Engines) and executive John Ball (Salesforce / Einstein). 

#2. Data, The Cloud and Kubernetes.
If AI is at the dawn of tomorrow, cloud transformation is the high noon of today.  90% of the world’s data was created in the past two years, and no enterprise can keep its data hoard on-prem forever. Azure’s CTO
Mark Russinovitch (CTO) will discuss Microsft’s vision for the cloud. Leaders in the open-source Kubernetes revolution, Joe Beda (VMWare) and Aparna Sinha (Google) and others will dig into what Kubernetes means to companies making the move to cloud. And last, there is the question of how to find signal in all the data – which will bring three visionary founders to the stage: Benoit Dageville (Snowflake), Ali Ghodsi (Databricks), Murli Thirumale (Portworx). 

#3 Everything else on the main stage!
Let’s start with a fireside chat with
SAP CEO Bill McDermott and Qualtrics Chief Experience Officer Julie Larson-Green.  We have top investors talking where they are making their bets, and security experts talking data and privacy. And then there is quantum,  the technology revolution waiting on the other side of AI: Jay Gambetta, the principal theoretical scientist behind IBM’s quantum computing effort,  Jim Clarke, the director of quantum hardware at Intel Labs, and Krysta Svore, style="font-weight: 400;"> who leads the Microsoft’s quantum effort.

All told, there are 21 programming sessions.

#4 Network and get your questions answered.
There will be two Q&A breakout sessions with top enterprise investors for founders (and anyone else) to query investors directly. Plus, TechCrunch’s unbeatable CrunchMatch app makes it really easy to set up meetings with the other attendees, an
incredible array of folks, plus the  20 early-stage startups exhibiting on the expo floor.

#5 SAP
Enterprise giant SAP is our sponsor for the show, and they are not only bringing a squad of top executives, they are producing four parallel track sessions featuring key SAP Chief Innovation Officer
Max Wessel,  SAP Chief Designer and Futurist  Martin Wezowski and SAP.IO’s managing director Ram Jambunathan (SAP.iO) in sessions including, how to scale-up an enterprise startup, how startups win large enterprise customers, and what the enterprise future looks like.

Check out the complete agenda. Don’t miss this show! This line-up is a view into the future like none other. 

Grab your $349 tickets today, and don’t wait till the day of to book because prices go up at the door!

We still have 2 Startup Demo Tables left. Each table comes with 4 tickets and a prime location to demo your startup on the expo floor. Book your demo table now before they’re all gone!

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

By Darrell Etherington

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

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

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

Every TC Sessions: Enterprise 2019 ticket includes a free pass to Disrupt SF

By Emma Comeau

Shout out to all the savvy enterprise software startuppers. Here’s a quick, two-part money-saving reminder. Part one: TC Sessions: Enterprise 2019 is right around the corner on September 5, and you have only two days left to buy an early-bird ticket and save yourself $100. Part two: for every Session ticket you buy, you get one free Expo-only pass to TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2019.

Save money and increase your ROI by completing one simple task: buy your early-bird ticket today.

About 1,000 members of enterprise software’s powerhouse community will join us for a full day dedicated to exploring the current and future state of enterprise software. It’s certainly tech’s 800-pound gorilla — a $500 billion industry. Some of the biggest names and brightest minds will be on hand to discuss critical issues all players face — from early-stage startups to multinational conglomerates.

The day’s agenda features panel discussions, main-stage talks, break-out sessions and speaker Q&As on hot topics including intelligent marketing automation, the cloud, data security, AI and quantum computing, just to name a few. You’ll hear from people like SAP CEO Bill McDermott; Aaron Levie, Box co-founder; Jim Clarke, director of Quantum Hardware at Intel and many, many more.

Customer experience is always a hot topic, so be sure to catch this main-stage panel discussion with Amit Ahuja (Adobe), Julie Larson-Green (Qualtrics) and Peter Reinhardt (Segment):

The Trials and Tribulations of Experience Management: As companies gather more data about their customers and employees, it should theoretically improve their experience, but myriad challenges face companies as they try to pull together information from a variety of vendors across disparate systems, both in the cloud and on prem. How do you pull together a coherent picture of your customers, while respecting their privacy and overcoming the technical challenges?

TC Sessions: Enterprise 2019 takes place in San Francisco on September 5. Take advantage of this two-part money-saving opportunity. Buy your early-bird ticket by August 16 at 11:59 p.m. (PT) to save $100. And score a free Expo-only pass to TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2019 for every ticket you buy. We can’t wait to see you in September!

Interested in sponsoring TC Sessions: Enterprise? Fill out this form and a member of our sales team will contact you.

SpaceX details launch and landing plans for Starship and Super Heavy in new document

By Darrell Etherington

SpaceX has prepared a draft environmental assessment around its plans for the new Starship and Super Heavy spacecraft launches it intends to begin, in a test capacity, very soon. Preparing and finalizing this environmental assessment is a key ingredient in actually launching both Super Heavy, the first stage for SpaceX’s forthcoming fully reusable, high-capacity launch system, and Starship, the second stage spacecraft component of said system.

Already, SpaceX is working towards getting a prototype of Starship in the air, with planned launches coming in just “2 to 3 months,” if SpaceX CEO Elon Musk manages to meet his optimistic timeline. It completed an untethered ‘hop’ low-altitude test flight of StarHopper, a sub-scale demonstration version of the Starship design meant to help it test that craft’s Raptor engine. But SpaceX must also show that it has fully considered the potential consequences that its planned launch operations will have on the surrounding environment.

Starship and Super Heavy will launch from Florida, with the current plan to build a second launch mount at its current LC-39A launch pad at Kennedy Space Center, which it leases from NASA and currently uses for Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launches. After launching from LC-39A, the current plan is to have Starship return back to Landing Zone 1 (LZ-1), which is SpaceX’s current landing area for Falcon first-stage boosters at nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Super Heavy would land downrange, aboard a drone barge ship, like the twin ‘Of Course I Still Love You’ and ‘Just Read The Instructions’ ships that SpaceX uses now depending on mission conditions on both its East and West coast launches.

Eventually, SpaceX hopes to also be able to build a landing zone within the existing confines of its LC-39A launch pad area, with the intent of landing Starship back much closer to where it launches – this will require more study to determine its viability and impact, however, so SpaceX has left that consideration for future investigation for now.

SpaceX says in the draft assessment that it also considered potentially launching and landing Starship and Super Heavy from its SLC-40 and SLC-4 launch sites, which are at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Vandenberg Air Force Base respectively, but these would not offer enough space in the case of SLC-40, or would require too long a trip back to the launch site in the case of SLC-4 (which would be an overland cross-country U.S. road trip for a huge rocket).

Finally, SpaceX also notes that it may, in future, “develop and launch the Starship/Super Heavy from its facility in Cameron County, TX.” A Texas-based launch site would have benefits in terms of proximity to one of SpaceX’s key rocket/engine development facilities, and if it’s successful in making its reusable launch and landing system extremely consistent in performance, the downsides of not being near a large body of water could be mitigated. These plans, however, will also merit separate consideration, so don’t expect full-scale launches for Starship from Texas in the near future.

Africa Roundup: Canal+ acquires ROK, Flutterwave and Alipay partner, OPay raises $50M

By Jake Bright

in July, French television company Canal+ acquired the ROK film studio from VOD company IROKOtv.

Canal+ would not disclose the acquisition price, but confirmed there was a cash component of the deal.

Founded by Jason Njoku  in 2010 — and backed by $45 million  in VC — IROKOtv boasts the world’s largest online catalog of Nollywood: a Nigerian movie genre that has become Africa’s de facto film industry and one of the largest globally (by production volume).

Based in Lagos, ROK film studios was incubated to create original content for IROKOtv, which can be accessed digitally anywhere in the world.

ROK studio founder and producer Mary Njoku  will stay on as director general under the Canal+ acquisition.

With the ROK deal, Canal+ looks to bring the Nollywood production ethos to other African countries and regions. The new organization plans to send Nigerian production teams to French speaking African countries starting this year.

The ability to reach a larger advertising network of African consumers on the continent and internationally was a big acquisition play for Canal+.

San Francisco and Lagos-based fintech  startup Flutterwave  partnered with Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba’s Alipay to offer digital payments between Africa and China.

Flutterwave is a Nigerian-founded B2B payments service (primarily) for companies in Africa to pay other companies on the continent and abroad.

Alipay is Alibaba’s digital wallet and payments platform. In 2013, Alipay surpassed PayPal in payments volume and currently claims a global network of more than 1 billion active users, per Alibaba’s latest earnings report.

A large portion of Alipay’s network is in China, which makes the Flutterwave integration significant to capturing payments activity around the estimated $200 billion in China-Africa trade.

Flutterwave will earn revenue from the partnership by charging its standard 3.8% on international transactions. The company currently has more than 60,000 merchants on its platform, according to CEO Olugbenga Agboola.

In a recent Extra Crunch feature, TechCrunch tracked Flutterwave as one of several Africa-focused fintech companies that have established headquarters in San Francisco and operations in Africa to tap the best of both worlds in VC, developers, clients and digital finance.

Flutterwave’s Alipay collaboration also tracks a trend of increased presence of Chinese companies in African tech. July saw Chinese owned Opera raise $50 million in venture spending to support its growing West African digital commercial network, which includes browser, payments and ride-hail services. The funds are predominately for OPay, an Opera owned, Africa-focused mobile payments startup.

Lead investors included Sequoia China, IDG Capital  and Source Code Capital. Opera  also joined the round in the payments venture it created.

OPay will use the capital (which wasn’t given a stage designation) primarily to grow its digital finance business in Nigeria — Africa’s most populous nation and largest economy.

OPay will also support Opera’s growing commercial network in Nigeria, which includes motorcycle ride-hail app ORide and OFood delivery service.

Opera founded OPay in 2018 on the popularity of its internet search engine. Opera’s web-browser has ranked No. 2 in usage in Africa, after Chrome, the last four years.

July also saw transit tech news in East Africa. Global ride-hail startup InDriver launched its app-based service in Kampala (Uganda), bringing its Africa operating countries to four: Kenya,  Uganda, South Africa and Tanzania. InDriver’s mobile app allows passengers to name their own fare for nearby drivers to accept, decline or counter.

Nairobi-based internet hardware and service startup BRCK and Egyptian ride-hail venture Swvl are partnering to bring Wi-Fi and online entertainment to on-demand bus service in Kenya.

Swvl BRCK Moja KenyaBRCK is installing its routers on Swvl vehicles in Kenya  to run its Moja service, which offers free public Wi-Fi — internet, music and entertainment — subsidized by commercial partners.

Founded in Cairo in 2017, Swvl is a mass transit service that has positioned itself as an Uber  for shared buses.

The company raised a $42 million Series B round in June, with intent to expand in Africa, Swvl CEO Mostafa Kandil said in an interview.

BRCK and Swvl wouldn’t confirm plans on expanding their mobile internet partnership to additional countries outside of Kenya .

Africa’s ride-hail markets are becoming a multi-wheeled and global affair making the continent home to a number of fresh mobility use cases, including the BRCK and Swvl Wi-Fi partnership.

More Africa-related stories @TechCrunch

African tech around the ‘net

Crowdfunded LightSail 2 spacecraft succeeds in flying on sunlight alone

By Darrell Etherington

Space exploration non-profit The Planetary Society is celebrating a stack of wins today, after announcing that its LightSail 2 spacecraft, which was funded in part through a crowdfunding campaign, has managed to successfully fly on the power of sunlight alone. It’s raised its orbit after initially being put into position by a Falcon Heavy launch and its own conventional thrusters, climbing by about two kilometres (about 1.2 miles) from its initial orbit using on the force exerted by photos from the sun bouncing off the surface of its mylar sail.

This is a huge achievement, which successfully demonstrates that the idea of flying CubeSats, or small satellites, in orbit with altitude adjustments powered by light alone is indeed a viable option. LightSail 2 is the first spacecraft to show that solar sailing works in EArth’s orbit, and only the second solar sail spacecraft flown ever, after 2010’s Ikaros which was operated by Japan’s Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) on a very different mission.

This is indeed primary mission success, but LightSail 2’s voyage isn’t over – it’ll now continue to raise its orbit using the solar sail, with a goal of raising the overall apogee (or high point) of the spacecraft’s orbit over time. It’ll also seek to improve overall performance of solar sailing, by optimizing a required process called “desaturation” that temporarily takes the craft out of its target solar sailing orientation in order to bleed off accumulated momentum.

20190731 cam2 deploy grid 3 rows f840

In around a year from now, LightSail 2 will perform its planned deorbit and entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, at which point it’ll burn up.

This a also a big achievement for crowdfunded space exploration – around 50,000 people contributed to the LightSail funding campaign, from acrosss 100 countries, and contributed along with various foundations and corporate sponsor to raise the $7 million used to fund the spacecraft development project and launch.

“For me, it’s very romantic to be sailing on sunbeams,” said Planetary Society CEO Bill Nye at an event on Wednesday to announce the achievement.

Data collected from LightSail 2 will be shared with other organizations including NASA, which intends to launch its own solar sail-powered small satellite on a mission to explore a near-Earth asteroid sometime in the near future.

Direct-to-consumer lingerie brand Lively acquired for $85M

By Kate Clark

Lively, a lingerie business founded and led by former Victoria’s Secret executive Michelle Cordeiro Grant, has sold to intimate apparel brand Wacoal for $85 million.

The deal includes up to an additional $55 million in performance-based payouts.

Lively, headquartered in New York, had raised $15 million in venture capital funding, including a $6.5 million Series A investment from GGV Capital, NF Ventures and former Nautica CEO Harvey Sanders announced late last year. The Series valued the startup at $101 million, according to PitchBook.

The deal brings Wacoal’s parent company, Wacoal International Corporation, a team of highly-skilled e-commerce marketers, who’ve successfully managed to tap into the millennial customer sect.

Lively, founded in 2016, sells bras and intimates online and in two brick-and-mortar locations in Chicago and New York. It competes with a number of other direct-to-consumer lingerie and activewear upstarts, including ThirdLove, AdoreMe, TomboyX and Outdoor Voices .

“We built Lively to inspire women to live life passionately, purposefully, and confidently,” Grant wrote in a statement. “We invest in our community and customers to empower them to celebrate their individuality and enable them with products to look and feel their best. Wacoal’s core values have a beautiful synergy with Lively’s, enabling us to come together, not just to take market share, but to also create market share.”

How retailers can survive the Amazon era

By Jonathan Shieber
Simon Wu Contributor
Simon is a Director with Cathay Innovation, an early growth venture capital firm based in San Francisco, Paris, and Shanghai; and previously worked at VMware as a Manager in the Strategy & Corporate Development team.

While Amazon’s 2019 Prime Day was riddled with complications from worker protests to antitrust investigations, the tech giant once again broke records with 175M items sold, surpassing both Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined. In just twenty years, Amazon revolutionized the logistics industry by fulfilling orders directly and offering its fulfillment services to third parties selling on the Amazon marketplace.

This year, more than half of US households will be Prime members. As Amazon continuously pushes delivery costs and times down, consumer expectations keep rising higher. But what does this mean for other retailers?

To survive in the post-Amazon era, the way companies have been storing and delivering physical goods to their final destination will need to change profoundly in the next decade.  Below are some of the key challenges facing the logistics landscape and three predictions for what we can expect to see next. 

The challenge 

Beating Amazon is difficult due to its sheer size, breadth and depth of its warehousing and fulfillment infrastructure and cutting-edge automation. Meanwhile, the typical logistics supply chain has become increasingly complex from transportation of physical goods from manufacturing facilities to last mile delivery to consumers. Further, legacy technology struggles to provide actionable insights due to low transparency, inefficient information flow, and limited automation. 

The gap between shipper’s expectations and logistics providers’ capabilities continues to widen as more of the supply chain lands in the hands of 3PLs—increasing capacity and capabilities but decreasing the shipper’s visibility and control on the process.

Now, also take into account other factors such as the industry wide shortage of blue collar workers and the net effect is that innovation in delivery and warehousing operations is becoming a pressing need.

GettyImages 1161005963

TURIN, ITALY – JULY 09: Amazon boxes of Amazon Logistic Center on July 09, 2019 in Turin, Italy. (Photo by Stefano Guidi/Getty Images)

What’s next for logistics?

Shippers will increasingly need to reinvent their logistics value chain and upgrade various functions, from storage to distribution, as well as leverage new partners that bring innovative technologies and expertise.  

The technology startups that are well-positioned to build lean and effective solutions for the entire industry are those that focus on solving specific pain points including improving, visibility across the logistics chain; speed of delivery; and cost effectiveness of storage and fulfillment.

  •  24/7 tracking becomes table stakes

Over the last few years, the “consumerization of IT” wave hit the logistics industry, meaning business professionals expect enterprise software to look and feel like the consumer apps they use every day – simple, fast, and easy-to-use. 

 Most companies’ legacy infrastructure has challenges with easy tracking or visibility into existing inventory. A new wave of venture backed tech-enabled solutions that marries both technology and execution has emerged to address these issues. 

 Take Shipwell (freight), Stord (warehousing), and Shipbob (fulfillment) for example — these solutions can provide end to end digitized offerings with the speed, reliability, and affordability that are vital to shipping operation teams. 

 While there is still no clear next-gen inventory or warehouse management winner in the US, early signs indicate capacity providers are moving in this direction by offering more solutions such as additional workflow and dashboard tools to their service offerings.

  • Same day shipping will be the norm

 Amazon’s recent one-day shipping announcement is a precursor to where the industry is being pushed. According to Invesp, over 65% of retailers surveyed expect to offer same-day delivery within the next two years.

Many are trying to solve for end-to-end fulfillment solutions to e-commerce players, including warehousing, packaging, fulfillment, transportation, and reverse logistics services. Startups like Deliverr, Shipmonk and Darkstore offer competitive or better solutions in terms of cost and speed, usually controlling supply of storage directly and outsourcing or crowdsourcing delivery. 

Others have gone vertical, such as Cathay Innovation portfolio company and delivery app Glovo, who recently launched their version of a darkstore which is the size of a garage with limited inventory inside cities— but with a goal of guaranteeing 15 minute delivery. According to Glovo’s CEO Oscar Pierre, “Dark stores are a major priority for us, and we plan to open further stores in Barcelona, Lisbon, Milan and Tbilisi within the next year. Being able to deliver within 20 minutes has a massive influence on the customer’s decision. When the delivery time is short and the pricing sensitivity is low, that’s what makes people decide between going to their local convenience store or ordering from the app.”

Delivery speed expectation is experiencing its own “Moore’s law” and is an area we see a great amount of opportunity given the conflux of change needed from physical retail meeting digital expectations.

  • The cost-effectiveness of storage and fulfillment will rapidly improve 

Just as Spotify and Netflix have conditioned consumers to around a $10 price point, retailers and last mile delivery players are doing the same with shipping. This limits the ability for shippers to pass the costs onto consumers, thus forcing vendors to look elsewhere to cut costs.

Several startups are emerging to solve the problem that legacy companies are ill-equipped to solve: enabling retailers to compete with Amazon, respond faster to market needs and contain rising costs.

Flexible, on-demand warehousing has become a good option to save costs and expand footprint, AWS-style. Companies like FLEXE and Flowspace are connecting unused warehouse space and fulfillment capacity with clients that have dynamic warehousing and fulfillment needs, creating a more liquid and efficient market while also increasing visibility into their assets. On the trucking side, companies such as Convoy and Ontruck, (my firm’s investment) are also making sure trucks are being better utilized by matching capacity to empty trucks.

As many shippers (even behemoth’s like Walmart) grapple with creating a profitable e-commerce operation, areas including storage, distribution and fulfillment will be key areas to watch in the coming years.

Parting thoughts

Several technological innovations, from IoT sensors and machine learning models to autonomous robots, are transforming the logistics supply chain. Startups not only have the opportunity to survive the post-Amazon era but help the booming e-commerce industry deliver on its innovation potential.

NakedPoppy launches curated beauty marketplace for wellness junkies

By Kate Clark

NakedPoppy co-founders Jaleh Bisharat and Kimberly Shenk are an impressive duo. Bisharat, the startup’s chief executive officer, is a commanding presence and a bona fide marketing savant. The perfect compliment to Shenk, a reticent and data-focused chief product officer.

Together they’re building a cosmetics startup, NakedPoppy, where people can purchase high-quality “clean” makeup, or sustainable, ethically-made and cruelty-free products produced without harmful chemicals. It launches today with $4 million in venture capital backing from top investors, including Cowboy Ventures (the seed-stage fund led by Aileen Lee), Felicis Ventures, Khosla Ventures, Maveron, Polaris Ventures and Slow Ventures.

“Conventional makeup is considered hazardous waste by the EPA,” Bisharat tells TechCrunch. “You can look better and go clean.”

But NakedPoppy isn’t just another website for buying makeup. Like all companies today, it’s a tech company. NakedPoppy’s patent-pending personalization algorithm helps customers quickly find makeup that matches or complements their skin tone. To do this, customers are asked to complete a three-minute assessment and submit a photo of their wrist, which is used to pinpoint their base skin color.

NakedPoppy assessment

“I’m not the person that is up to trends or is keeping up with the YouTube stars,”  NakedPoppy’s product chief Shenk tells TechCrunch. “When I walk into Sephora my stomach drops … I am the kind of woman that wants to set it and forget it. Just give me the right thing and let’s move on.”

Bisharat adds that NakedPoppy targets the busy woman: “The one for whom it’s not entertainment to go shopping for makeup.”

The NakedPoppy team hopes its algorithm expedites the makeup shopping process for those who view the task as a chore not a hobby. Accounting for skin type, skin color, skin undertone, age, eye color, hair color, allergies, sensitivities and more, the startup presents each customer a filtered and tailored list of the 400 items its carries, ranging from lipsticks to foundation to blush and more. Cosmetic chemists screen all NakedPoppy products to ensure they were made with only clean ingredients.

Alongside its official launch, NakedPoppy is announcing its debut original product: Liquid eyeliner. The product was screened and tested by a number of clean beauty experts and even a VC: “This is a hero product, no doubt about it,” BBG Ventures’ managing partner Susan Lyne said in a statement. Lyne, of course, is a NakedPoppy angel investor. “Most eyeliners start drying out after a few weeks and get harder to apply. This one is still as supple as the day I got it. It looks natural, lasts all day and washes off easily with soap. It’s pretty perfect.”

For the record, I tried out the NakedPoppy eyeliner too and can attest to its greatness.

NakedPoppy founders

NakedPoppy co-founders Jaleh Bisharat (CEO, left) and Kimberly Shenk (CPO, right).

The women behind NakedPoppy, as I alluded to earlier, know what they’re doing. In fact, I’d go as far as to say they could’ve paired their marketing and data science expertise to build just about anything. Makeup, however, was their shared passion.

“For us, it’s a personal passion and an area of information asymmetry, like most people know that with the food you eat, you should try to eat organic or as healthy as you can, but you’d be surprised how few women — they just assume the FDA protects them,” Bisharat said. “The idea is to educate the world and help women move toward new solutions.”

Bisharat got her start in marketing two decades ago. Shortly after the e-commerce giant went public, she served as the vice president of marketing at Amazon . A career peak for many, Bisharat went on to lead marketing efforts at OpenTable, Jawbone, UpWork and, most recently, Eventbrite, where she met Shenk.

Before moving into the private sector, Shenk got her start as a data scientist in the U.S. Air Force, ultimately ending up as the director of data science at the now-public ticketing and events business, Eventbrite .

10 NakedPoppy Pouch

Bisharat and Shenk remained mum on what marketing tactics they’ll deploy to capture the attention of potential customers. Will they partner with social media influencers to spread the word? Double down on Instagram ads? Open brick-and-mortar shops? They wouldn’t say. Additional original products are definitely in the works, though, as is a foray into skincare and ultimately, a full-fledged dive into all self-care products.

The hope is to making buying clean makeup easy. Historically, the big makeup brands have been owned and operated by one of a dozen or so large companies dominating the space. Increasingly, however, direct-to-consumer brands and startups, most notably Glossier, have attracted customers that prioritize ease-of-access.

As the beauty industry adjusts, an influx of digital-first upstarts, NakedPoppy included, will be poised to steal market share from the long-reigning giants. Perhaps NakedPoppy’s push toward transparency in ingredients and production will encourage the big brands to do the same.

Monday.com raises $150M more, now at $1.9B valuation, for workplace collaboration tools

By Ingrid Lunden

Workplace collaboration platforms have become a crucial cornerstone of the modern office: workers’ lives are guided by software and what we do on our computers, and collaboration tools provide a way for us to let each other know what we’re working on, and how we’re doing it, in a format that’s (at best) easy to use without too much distraction from the work itself.

Now, Monday.com, one of the faster growing of these platforms, is announcing a $150 million round of equity funding — a whopping raise that points both to its success so far, and the opportunity ahead for the wider collaboration space, specifically around better team communication and team management.

The Series D funding — led by Sapphire Ventures, with Hamilton Lane, HarbourVest Partners, ION Crossover Partners and Vintage Investment Partners also participating — is coming in at what reliable sources tell me is a valuation of $1.9 billion, or nearly four times Monday.com’s valuation when it last raised money a year ago.

The big bump is in part to the company’s rapid expansion: it now has 80,000 organizations as customers, up from a mere 35,000 a year ago, with the number of actual employees within those organizations numbering as high as 4,000 employees, or as little as two, spanning some 200 industry verticals, including a fair number of companies that are non-technical in their nature (but still rely on using software and computers to get their work done). The client list includes Carlsberg, Discovery Channel, Phillips, Hulu and WeWork and a number of Fortune 500 companies.

“We have built flexibility into the platform,” Roy Mann, the CEO who co-founded the company with Eran Zinman, which is one reason he believes why it’s found a lot of stickiness among the wider field of knowledge workers looking for products that work not unlike the apps that they use as average consumers.

All those figures are also helping to put Monday.com on track for an IPO in the near future, said Roy Mann, the CEO who co-founded the company with Eran Zinman.

“An IPO is something that we are considering for the future, he said in an interview. “We are just at 1% of our potential, and we’re in a position for huge growth.” In terms of when that might happen, he and Zinman would not specify a timeline, but Mann added that this potentially could be the last round before a public listing.

On the other hand, there are some big plans up ahead for the startup, including adding in a free usage tier (to date, the only free on Monday.com is a free trial, all usage tiers have been otherwise paid), expanding geographically and into more languages, and continuing to develop the integration and automation technology that underpins the product. The aim is to have 200 applications working with Monday.com by the end of this year.

While the company is already generating cash and it has just raised a significant round, in the current market, that has definitely not kept venture-backed startups from raising more. (Monday.com, which first started life as Dapulse in 2014, has raised $234.1 million to date.)

Monday.com’s rise and growth are coming at an interesting moment for productivity software. There have been software platforms on the market for years aimed at helping workers communicate with each other, as well as to better track how projects and other activity are progressing. Despite being a relatively late entrant, Slack, the now-public workplace chat platform, has arguably defined the space. (It has even entered the modern work lexicon, where people now Slack each other, as a verb.)

That speaks to the opportunity to build products even when it looks like the market is established, but also — potentially — competition. Mann and Zinman are clear to point out that they definitely do not see Slack as a rival, though. “We even use Slack ourselves in the office,” Zinman noted.

The closer rivals, they note, are the likes of Airtable (now valued at $1.1 billion) and Notion (which we’ve confirmed with the company was raising and has now officially closed a round of $10 million on an equally outsized valuation of $800 million), as well as the wider field of project management tools like Jira, Wrike and Asana — although as Mann playfully pointed out, all of those could also feasibly be integrated into Monday.com and they would work better…

The market is still so nascent for collaboration tools that even with this crowded field, Mann said he believes that there is room for everyone and the differentiations that each platform currently offers: Notion, he noted as an example, feels geared towards more personal workspace management, while Airtable is more about taking on spreadsheets.

Within that, Monday.com hopes to position itself as the ever-powerful and smart go-to place to get an overview of everything that’s happening, with low-chat noise and no need for technical knowledge to gain understanding.

“Monday.com is revolutionizing the workplace software market and we’re delighted to be partnering with Roy, Eran, and the rest of the team in their mission to transform the way people work,” said Rajeev Dham, managing partner at Sapphire Ventures, in a statement. “Monday.com delivers the quality and ease of use typically reserved for consumer products to the enterprise, which we think unlocks significant value for workers and organizations alike.”

Why this Nigerian fintech startup is volunteering audited financials

By Jake Bright

Nigerian fintech firm Carbon — an early stage financial services startup based in Lagos — has posted financials audited by KPMG on its website.

This comes four months after the company obtained a credit rating as a pre-IPO venture. Carbon — which recently rebranded its OneFi holding company and PayLater product titles into one name  — plans to continue releasing its financial results on an annual basis, co-Founder and CEO Chijioke Dozie told TechCrunch.

This may not be totally unheard of in other global tech markets, but for startups in Africa’s big tech hubs — such as Nigeria — it’s a rarity.

One of the first glimpses into startup financials in Nigeria came when Jumia shareholder, Rocket Internet, went public in 2014, which required it to include limited Jumia data in its annual report. The accompanying prospectus to Jumia’s listing this year on the New York Stock Exchange offered the most expansive financial data to date on a tech venture operating in Africa.

Prior to this — and still for the most part — companies in the continent’s (mostly) pre-public  (earlier stage) startup hubs — such as Nigeria — provide little to no financial performance info.

“Typically, in the local market, we have not seen a lot of voluntary transparency or the availability of data,” said Lexi Novitske — a Lagos based VC investor at Acuity Venture Partners.

“Most startups are concerned such disclosure could expose losses, give market intel to competitors, or attract unwanted attention from regulators. It could also lead to negative negotiation leverage if partners saw that they were making good returns.”

So why’d Carbon go to the trouble of putting its pre-public accounting out in the open for anyone to see?

Clients and recruiting were two reasons. “From a customer perspective, we are trying to get people to trust us with their financial services…so they can see this is the institution I’m dealing with and this is their financial position,” explained Carbon’s Dozie.

Carbon has evolved from its original focus as an online lender, to offer a broader array of mobile-based financial services — including payments, investment products, credit reports, and business banking services. In March, the company acquired Nigerian payment solutions company Amplify for an undisclosed amount.

By stats offered by Briter Bridges and a 2018 WeeTracker survey, fintech now receives the bulk of VC capital and deal-flow to African startups, many of which are attempting to reach the continent’s large unbanked and underbanked populations.

Carbon fits into that category and its CEO believes being up front about the startup’s financial position will attract top talent. “From a recruitment perspective, we want recruits to know we have good prospects — that this is a company that’s doing well and wants to keep doing well,” said Dozie.

That impression is buoyed by Carbon’s initial results, which were fairly positive for a Series A stage startup. The company had revenues in 2018 of $10 million, according to its online annual report, and turned a profit of around $500,000.

It’s helped with recruiting interest, according to Dozie, who said he’d marked an increase in candidates inquiring about open positions since the results were posted.

Carbon Financial Results 2018 Nigeria Fintech II

The other reasons to volunteer financial data is to reassure investors (current and potential), shake off stereotypes for Nigeria, and better position Carbon globally.

“When you look at some of these challenger banks in the West, and you look at their numbers and our numbers, we could easily fit in with Monzo, N26, or Atom,” said Dozie.

“But we don’t get considered because investors don’t really think that you can get the results or this performance in the markets that we’re in,” he added —  noting that Carbon has operations in Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa and is considering expansion in Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, DRC, and Egypt.

Investor Lexi Novitske thinks Carbon offering financial performance data is a good thing for Africa’s tech ecosystem. “The move builds trust from clients, partners, or investors in a market where there is not a lot of openness,” she said. “I am encouraged to see how other companies will react. My hope is that more will openly report their own metrics…”

Carbon CEO Chijioke Dozie says the company will continue to post audited financials on an annual basis, even if they show losses. If the startup continues to expand, attract capital, talent, and grow revenues, other Nigerian fintech firms may follow suit.

 

 

 

SoftBank pumps $2B into Indonesia through Grab investment, putting it head to head with Gojek

By Ingrid Lunden

Grab — the on-demand transportation app worth $14 billion that is the Uber of Southeast Asia — today announced how it would be using some of the $7 billion or so that it has raised to date: $2 billion provided by SoftBank is being earmarked Grab’s operations in Indonesia — the biggest economy in Southeast Asia — over the next five years, to help it go head-to-head with local rival Gojek.

Specifically, Grab said it and SoftBank met with Indonesian government officials and have agreed to use the money to help modernise the country’s transportation infrastructure and economy with the development of an electronic vehicle “ecosystem”, new geo-mapping solutions, and the establishment of a second headquarters for Grab in Jakarta focused on R&D for Indonesia and the wider region, to sit alongside its existing HQ in Singapore.

Grab has confirmed that this investment news does not affect the company’s valuation as it’s not fresh funding — although it looks like it might lead to another, new SoftBank injection in Grab, too.

“I’d like to invest more… We would invest (in) Grab more, and also encourage to invest more in other companies,” SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son said in a press conference earlier today. “We will create a second headquarters of Grab in Indonesia, and become 5th unicorn and also invest $2b through Grab. On top of that, we will invest more.”

Grab last raised money just four weeks ago, $300 million from Invesco as part of a larger, ongoing Series H that it wants to use in part for acquisitions. That round is already at around $4.5 billion, with SoftBank having already put in just under $1.5 billion. This $2 billion is on top of that previous round, the company said today.

The company’s last reported valuation from a couple of months ago was around $14 billion, a figure that we have been able to confirm remains the same today.

“With our presence in 224 cities, Indonesia is our largest market and we are committed to long-term sustainable development of the country,” said Anthony Tan, CEO of Grab, in a statement. “We are delighted to facilitate this SoftBank investment, as we believe by investing in digitizing critical services and infrastructure, we hope to accelerate Indonesia’s ambition to become the largest digital economy in the region and improve the livelihoods of millions in the country.” Indonesia accounts for the lion’s share of Grab’s business in terms of total footprint: its in 338 countries overall, meaning this country accounts for two-thirds of the whole list.

The news puts Grab head to head with another big on-demand transportation startup Gojek: the two were already rivals in the region, but GoJek is based out of Jakarta and has been the dominant player in that specific market up to now.

Indeed, the deal is notable not just for the amount, but for how it casts both Grab and SoftBank as allies of the government, not just accepted as businesses but endorsed as key players in helping improve the Indonesian economy and how the country is able to deliver critical services like healthcare and transportation, as well as give more services to drive the growth of “micro-entrepreneurs” by way of Grab-Kudo, the payments startup in the country that Grab acquired in 2017 for less than $100 million.

Given the track record that companies like Uber have had in locking horns with regulators, this puts Grab immediately into a strong position in terms of introducing and running with new services in the future. Its restaurant delivery business, GrabFood, is already the largest in the region, it claimed today.

Grab said the financial commitment was the result of a meeting between Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo, Masayoshi Son, Chairman & CEO of SoftBank Group, Anthony Tan, CEO of Grab and Ridzki Kramadibrata, President of Grab Indonesia, at the Merdeka Palace in Jakarta.

“Indonesia’s technology sector has huge potential,” said Son in a statement. “I’m very happy to be investing $2 billion into the future of Indonesia through Grab.”

Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs Luhut Binsar Panjaitan also had words supporting the deal: “Supported by the growing economy, Indonesia has a good investment climate where we are working together to boost the ease of investment in Indonesia,” he said. “This investment is evidence that Indonesia has been on the radar of investors, especially in the technology sector. We look forward to working with Grab, the fifth unicorn in Indonesia, and SoftBank to empower SMEs, accelerate tourism, and improving health services.”

This deal is a win on a couple of levels for Grab.

Most obviously, it’s giving the company a huge injection of capital to continue expanding its business aggressively in what is the biggest economy in Southeast Asia, with GDP of around $1 trillion annually.

A well-worn strategy by on-demand transportation companies — typified by others like Uber, Lyft and Didi — is to go big and go fast in order to establish a market presence among drivers and passengers, which can be used as a foothold to expand into other areas like food or package delivery and to then increase prices to improve margins.

Given that Indonesia is Gojek’s home country, and given that Indonesia is one of the biggest markets in the region, this makes it one of the most important territories for Grab to — err — grab.

“Grab is an Indonesia-focused company,” said Ridzki Kramadibrata, president of Grab Indonesia, in a statement today. “Having our second headquarters in Jakarta will allow us to better serve the needs of all Indonesians and those from emerging economies in the region. As a technology decacorn, Grab very well understands the needs and challenges we have here. We are also well positioned to support more high tech industries and infrastructure companies originating from Indonesia.”

On another front, this is an important strategy for the company on the regulatory and government front.

In a climate where it’s not unusual to see companies banned from operating in markets where they have run afoul of officials and the public, Grab is essentially buying its way into working with the state, and actually taking a commercial role in building its infrastructure. This — offering help with building infrastructure and simply passing on some of its experience and learnings — is a route that Didi has also been taking to make its way into new markets.

Grab said that it has invested $1 billion to date in Indonesia before now, and it said that its contribution to the economy in 2018 was $3.5 billion (48.9 trillion Indonesian rupiahs).

Updated to clarify that this is NOT a new infusion of capital, but a specification of how existing investments will be used. Meanwhile, Grab is still raising money and SoftBank said it wants to invest more.

Hit indie game Cuphead is headed to Tesla vehicles in August

By Darrell Etherington

Tesla’s games library is getting bigger, and the latest announced title is probably a familiar one to gaming fans: Cuphead. This indie game was released in 2017 for Xbox One and Windows after making a big debut in 2013, attracting a lot of attention thanks to its hand-drawn, retro Disney-esque animation style.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk revealed that Cuphead would be getting a Tesla port sometime in August, replying to a post in which Tesla announced its latest addition to the in-car arcade library: Chess. The game will run at 60fps on the in-car display, Musk added, noting that while 4K isn’t supported for Tesla’s screens, the game “doesn’t need” that high resolution.

Cuphead for Tesla coming out in August

— e^👁🥧 (@elonmusk) July 27, 2019

Cuphead has since been released for both macOS and Nintendo Switch, and has gained critical acclaim for its challenging gameplay in addition to its unique graphic style. The game works with one or two players (which Tesla cars also now support via gamepad controllers for some other titles) and basically involves side-scrolling run-and-gun action punctuated by frequent boss fights.

Musk continued on Twitter regarding the Cuphead port that it will use a Unity port for Tesla’s in-car OS, which is already done, and currently they’re in the process of refining the controls. A limit of available onboard storage will be solved by allowing added game storage via USB, so that Tesla owners will be able to add flash drives to hold more downloaded games.

Earlier this month, Netflix announced that it would be developing an animated series based on Cuphead, and the game has sold over 4 million copies world-wide so far. Tesla launched Tesla Arcade last month as a dedicated in-car app to host the growing collection of games it’s brought to the car – and it’s worth noting that you can only access these games while in park.

 

Startups Weekly: SoftBank’s second act

By Kate Clark

Hello and welcome back to Startups Weekly, a weekend newsletter that dives into the week’s noteworthy startups and venture capital news. Before I jump into today’s topic, let’s catch up a bit. Last week, I noted some challenges plaguing mental health tech startups. Before that, I wrote about Zoom and Superhuman’s PR disasters.

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

Anyway, onto the subject on everyone’s mind this week: SoftBank’s second Vision Fund.

Well into the evening on Thursday, SoftBank announced a target of $108 billion for the Vision Fund 2. Yes, you read that correctly, $108 billion. SoftBank indeed plans to raise even more capital for its sophomore vehicle than it did for the record-breaking debut vision fund of $98 billion, which was majority-backed by the government funds of Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi, as well as Apple, Foxconn and several other limited partners.

Its upcoming fund, to which SoftBank itself has committed $38 billion, has attracted investment from the National Investment Corporation of National Bank of Kazakhstan, Apple, Foxconn, Goldman Sachs, Microsoft and more. Microsoft, a new LP for SoftBank, reportedly hopped on board with the Japanese telecom giant as part of a grand scheme to convince the massive fund’s portfolio companies to transition to Microsoft Azure, the company’s cloud platform that competes with Amazon Web Services . Here’s more on that and some analysis from TechCrunch editor Jonathan Shieber.

News of the second Vision Fund comes as somewhat of a surprise. We’d heard SoftBank was having some trouble landing commitments for the effort. Why? Well, because SoftBank’s investments have included a wide-range of upstarts, including some uncertain bets. Brandless, a company into which SoftBank injected a lot of money, has struggled in recent months, for example. Wag is said to be going downhill fast. And WeWork, backed with billions from SoftBank, still has a lot to prove.

Here’s everything else we know about The Vision Fund 2:

  • It’s focused on the “AI revolution through investment in market-leading, tech-enabled growth companies.”
  • The full list of investors also includes seven Japanese financial institutions: Mizuho Bank, Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation, MUFG Bank, The Dai-ichi Life Insurance Company, Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Bank, SMBC Nikko Securities and Daiwa Securities Group. Also, international banking services provider Standard Chartered Bank, as well as “major participants from Taiwan.”
  • The $108 billion figure is based on memoranda of understandings (MOUs), or agreements for future investment from the aforementioned entities. That means SoftBank hasn’t yet collected all this capital, aside from the $38 billion it plans to invest itself in the new Vision Fund.
  • Saudi and Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth funds are not listed as investors in the new fund.
  • SoftBank is expected to begin deploying capital fund from Fund 2 immediately, and a first close is expected in two months, per The Financial Times.
  • We’ll keep you updated on the Vision Fund 2’s investments, fundraising efforts and more as we learn about them.

On to other news…

iHeartMedia And WeWork's "Work Radio" Launch Party

IPO Corner

WeWork is planning a September listing

The company made headlines again this week after word slipped it was accelerating its IPO plans and targeting a September listing. We don’t know much about its IPO plans yet as we are still waiting on the co-working business to unveil its S-1 filing. Whether WeWork can match or exceed its current private market valuation of $47 billion is unlikely. I expect it will pull an Uber and struggle, for quite some time, to earn a market cap larger than what VCs imagined it was worth months earlier.

Robinhood had a wild week

The consumer financial app made headlines twice this week. The first time because it raised a whopping $323 million at a $7.6 billion valuation. That is a whole lot of money for a business that just raised a similarly sized monster round one year ago. In fact, it left us wondering, why the hell is Robinhood worth $7.6 billion? Then, in a major security faux pas, the company revealed it has been storing user passwords in plaintext. So, go change your Robinhood password and don’t trust any business to value your security. Sigh.

Another day, another huge fintech round

While we’re on the subject on fintech, TechCrunch editor Danny Crichton noted this week the rise of mega-rounds in the fintech space. This week, it was personalized banking app MoneyLion, which raised $100 million at a near unicorn valuation. Last week, it was N26, which raised another $170 million on top of its $300 million round earlier this yearBrex raised another $100 million last month on top of its $125 million Series C from late last year. Meanwhile, companies like payments platform Stripesavings and investment platform Raisintraveler lender Uplift, mortgage backers Blend and Better and savings depositor Acorns have also raised massive new rounds this year. Naturally, VC investment in fintech is poised to reach record levels this year, according to PitchBook.

Uber’s changing board

Arianna Huffington, the CEO of Thrive Global, stepped down from Uber’s board of directors this week, a team she had been apart of since 2016. She addressed the news in a tweet, explaining that there were no disagreements between her and the company, rather, she was busy and had other things to focus on. Fair. Benchmark’s Matt Cohler also stepped down from the board this week, which leads us to believe the ride-hailing giant’s advisors are in a period of transition. If you remember, Uber’s first employee and longtime board member Ryan Graves stepped down from the board in May, just after the company’s IPO. 

Today I told my fellow @Uber board members that given @Thrive's growth, I will no longer be able to give my board duties the attention they deserve, so I will be stepping down. I look forward to watching Uber go from strength to strength! Here is the email I sent to the board: pic.twitter.com/sck0CPLwAV

— Arianna Huffington (@ariannahuff) July 24, 2019

Startup Capital

Unity, now valued at $6B, raising up to $525M
Bird is raising a Sequoia-led Series D at $2.5B valuation
SMB payroll startup Gusto raises $200M Series D
Elon Musk’s Boring Company snags $120M
a16z values camping business HipCamp at $127M
An inside look at the startup behind Ashton Kutcher’s weird tweets
Dataplor raises $2M to digitize small businesses in Latin America

Extra Crunch

While we’re on the subject of amazing TechCrunch #content, it’s probably time for a reminder for all of you to sign up for Extra Crunch. For a low price, you can learn more about the startups and venture capital ecosystem through exclusive deep dives, Q&As, newsletters, resources and recommendations and fundamental startup how-to guides. Here are some of my current favorite EC posts:

  1. What types of startups are the most profitable?
  2. The roles tools play in employee engagement
  3. What to watch for in a VC term sheet

#Equitypod

If you enjoy this newsletter, be sure to check out TechCrunch’s venture-focused podcast, Equity. In this week’s episode, available here, Equity co-host Alex Wilhelm, TechCrunch editor Danny Crichton and I unpack Robinhood’s valuation and argue about scooter startups. Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercast and Spotify.

That’s all, folks.

SpaceX succeeds with first untethered StarHopper low altitude ‘hop’ test

By Darrell Etherington

SpaceX is racking up wins this week, after a successful second launch attempt for its CRS-18 mission earlier this evening, and now with a first short-hop free flight for its StarHopper prototype spacecraft on Thursday night, again on its second try after a scrub earlier this week.

This test involved flying StarHopper to the relatively modest height of just 20 meters (around 65 feet, which is roughly how tall it is to begin with), where it moved around only very slightly, guiding itself under its own navigation. The StarHopper then returned to Earth as planned, so all indications are that this was a good test that went exactly as intended by the SpaceX crew.

Starhopper flight successful. Water towers *can* fly haha!!

— e^👁🥧 (@elonmusk) July 26, 2019

 

StarHopper is a scaled down test vehicle designed to help SpaceX run crucial preparation trials for the new Raptor engine ahead of building its full-scale Starship reusable spacecraft. Starship is the next launch vehicle SpaceX is developing, which is intended to be fully reusable (its current rockets are only partially able to be refurbished and reflow) and which SpaceX CEO Elon Musk envisions eventually being able to take over all mission activity for the company, including transfer of crew and cargo to Mars. Once ready, it’ll be paired with SpaceX’s future ‘Super Heavy’ launch rocket for extra-orbital launch capabilities.

An untethered hop is a key milestone in SpaceX’s planned development, and it’s been trying to get this done for a couple of weeks now. Musk has already said that he anticipates flying the full-scale Starship prototype. Mark 1 and Mark II of which are both in simultaneous development at both Boca Chica in Texas, and at SpaceX’s Florida facility.

Google Cloud’s run rate is now over $8B

By Frederic Lardinois

It’s been a while since Google last shared any fundamental financial data about its cloud business. In today’s earnings call, though, Google CEO Sundar Pichai, who recently installed former SAP exec Thomas Kurian as the new head of Google Cloud, announced that this business unit now has an $8 billion annual revenue run rate. That’s up from the $4 billion the company reported in early 2018.

While Google often felt like an also-ran in the cloud wars, it’s clearly starting to make up some ground. “Other cloud providers would have you believe that no one is using Google, which is not true,” Kurian told me when I talked to him earlier this year. Now he can put some numbers behind this claim.

To put that into perspective, AWSs run rate topped $30 billion last quarter while Microsoft Azure is somewhere around $11 billion, though concrete numbers are hard to come by.

“Q2 was another strong quarter for Google Cloud, which reached an annual revenue run rate of over $8 billion and continues to grow at a significant pace,” Pichai said. “Customers are choosing Google Cloud for a variety of reasons: reliability and uptime are critical. Retailers like Lowes are leveraging the cloud as one of the important tools to transform their customer experience and supply chain.”

Pichai also noted that customers want the flexibility to move to the cloud in their own way, something that some of Google’s competitors — and especially Microsoft — focused on before Google got to this point. With Anthos and other initiatives, the company is now catching up, though.

Unsurprisingly, Pichai also stressed Google’s role in pushing AI forward at a time when enterprises are starting to look at how they can make use of this technology.

Google says it doubled Pixel sales year-over-year

By Frederic Lardinois

It looks like the mid-range Pixel 3a is the hit Google surely hoped it would be.

Alphabet reported some pretty good earnings today, but the company’s report tends to be pretty generic, given that it doesn’t provide details for its different business units inside of Google and its other segments. That’s not to say there isn’t good news there for Google. On today’s call, Google CEO Sundar Pichai shared some new stats for the company’s phone line.

“With the launch of Pixel 3a in May, overall Pixel unit sales in Q2 grew more than 2x year over year,” Pichai announced. Part of this growth, he noted, is due to Google greatly expanded its distribution network beyond its own store and Verizon to also include T Mobile, Sprint, US Cellular, Spectrum Mobile and others. He also stressed that the Pixel 3a received Google’s highest Net Promotor Score rating yet.

It surely helps that the Pixel 3a is relatively affordable and compares well to flagship phones without any major tradeoffs. When it launched, reviews were generally very positive, too, which surely helped as well. Unlike previous Pixel launches, the first batch Pixel 3a phones also didn’t face any major hardware problems, something that regularly plagued Google’s earlier efforts.

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