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Today — February 25th 2020Your RSS feeds

Africa e-tailer Jumia reports first full-year results post NYSE IPO

By Jake Bright

Pan-African e-commerce company Jumia got into the black (by a small amount) on its gross profit vs. fulfillment expenses, expanded financial services and still posted losses.

The online sales company, with an operations center in China, also anticipates some negative impact on 2020 growth from the coronavirus outbreak, CEO Sacha Poigonnec said.

Those were highlights today for Jumia’s fourth-quarter and full-year results — 10 months after the company become the first vc-backed startup in Africa to go public on a major exchange.

The results

Jumia — with online goods and service verticals in 11 countries — posted 2019 revenue growth of 24% (€160 million) over 2018. The company increased its annual active customer base in the fourth-quarter by 54% (to 6.1 million) from 4.0 million for the same period last year.  

Jumia’s 2019 Gross Merchandise Value (GMV) — the total amount of goods sold over the period — contracted by 3% to €301 million in the fourth-quarter.

Poignonnec attributed the decline to “business mix re-balancing”, which entailed reducing expenditures on promotions. The company also saw a contraction in sales of phones and electronics, which impacted GMV.

The online retailer had a 49% increase in orders from 5.5 million in Q4 2018 to 8.3 million in Q4 2019.

Perhaps the brightest spot in Jumia’s 2019 performance was the company’s ability to reach a gross profit of €1.0 million after fulfillment expenses in Q4.

That obviously doesn’t get them to profitability over all the company’s other expenses, but fulfillment costs have been historically high for Jumia as an online-retailer in Africa.    

The overall pattern of growing revenues and customers YoY has been consistent for Jumia.

But so too have the company’s losses, which widened 34% in 2019 to €227.9 million, compared to €169.7 million. Negative EBITDA for Q4 increased 5% to €51.2 million from €48.6 over the same period in 2018.

CEO Sacha Poignonnec pointed to Jumia’s ability in Q4 to reach positive gross-profit over fulfillment expenses — one of the company’s largest costs — as a sign it could eventually get into the black overall. 

 “As we reach these milestones we’ll bring new milestones. This year we were profitable after fulfillment expenses and one day we’ll be profitable after marketing [expenses] and so on and so forth,” he said. 

What’s new

Jumia exited several countries in 2019 — suspending e-commerce operations in Tanzania, Cameroon, and Rwanda. “We believe those countries have…potential in the long-term but decided to allocate our resources to the countries that best support our long-term growth and path to profitability,” said Poignonnec. 

Jumia also saw lift in its JumiaPay digital finance product — and notably — is developing new financial services (including for SMEs) aided by its big financial investors, Mastercard and Axa. 

Jumia launched an Axa money market fund product in Nigeria in 2019 and some promotional programs on Mastercard’s network, as noted in page 10 of its investor presentation.

Total payment volume on JumiaPay increased 57% year-over-year to €45.6 million in 2019 and JumiaPay was used for 29% of Jumia e-commerce orders. 

This is significant, as the company has committed to generate more revenues from higher margin digital payment products and offer JumiaPay as a standalone service across Africa.

Since its founding in 2012, Jumia has been forced to adapt to slower digital payments integration in its core market Nigeria and allow cash-on-delivery payments, which are costly and more problematic than digital processing.

Poignonnec also acknowledged the company’s 2020 revenues could be negatively impacted by the coronavirus. “The recent…outbreak in China is likely to affect growth over the coming quarters, and here we are starting to face some challenges to fulfill our cross-border sales,” he said.

Share price

Surprisingly absent from Jumia’s earnings call (and the subsequent Q&A) was discussion of the company’s share price, which spiked then plummeted after its April 2019 NYSE listing. 

The online retailer gained investor confidence out of the gate, more than doubling its $14.50 opening share price post IPO.

That lasted until May, when Jumia’s stock came under attack from short-seller Andrew Left, whose firm Citron Research issued a report accusing the company of fraud — which sent the company’s share price plummeting — from $49 to $26

Then on its second-quarter earnings call in August, Jumia offered greater detail on the fraud perpetrated by some employees and agents of its JForce sales program. 

The company declared the matter closed, but Jumia’s stock price plummeted more after the August earnings call (and sales-fraud disclosure), and has lingered in single-digit value for several months.

That’s 50% below the company’s IPO opening in April and 80% below its high.

For the remainder of 2020, bringing back growth in GMV and more positive metrics, such as attining gross profit after fulfillment expenses, could revive investor confidence in Jumia and its share price.

It could also put the company in a better position to match competition — such as the Marketplace Africa e-commerce platform of MallforAfrica and DHL — and the possible entry in Africa of China’s Alibaba. 

Max Q: How to build a Starship

By Darrell Etherington

Max Q is a new weekly newsletter all about space. Sign up here to receive it weekly on Sundays in your inbox.

Busy week for SpaceX — across funding, space tourism and next-gen spacecraft. There’s also a space station resupply mission coming up that it’s getting ready for, and signs (this time literally) continue to suggest that its first human spaceflight mission is imminent.

Lots of other news, too, including our own: We announced this week that NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine is going to be our guest onstage at TC Sessions: Space coming up in June.

Farewell to a legend

Katherine Johnson, a mathematician who defied prejudice in the ’50s and ’60s to help NASA send the first men to the moon, has died at the age of 101. She was a pioneer, a role model and an instrumental part of America’s space program, and she will be dearly missed.

SpaceX plans to build Starships at a furious clip

Starship Mk1 night
SpaceX is serious about iteration — its strategy of building (and failing — and learning from its failures) fast is in full effect for its Starship development program. Elon Musk said on Twitter this week that the plan is to build them as frequently as possible with significant improvements between each successive spacecraft, with the aim of going through two or three iterations before flying an orbital mission later this year.

SpaceX seeking $250 million in new funding

The still-private SpaceX is going back to investors for more cash, likely to help it with the expensive proposition of building a bunch of Starships in rapid succession essentially by hand. It’s said to be seeking $250 million in a round that could close as early as mid-March, according to a CNBC report.

SpaceX finds an experienced partner for Crew Dragon space tourism

One side of SpaceX’s business that isn’t necessarily as obvious as its commercial cargo launch services is the space tourism angle. This week, the company announced a partnership with Space Adventures, the same firm that has arranged paid trips to the Space Station for private citizens aboard Soyuz capsules. The first of these trips, which won’t go to the ISS but instead will fly up to a higher orbit, take a trip around Earth and come back, is set to take off as early as next year. And if you have to ask about the price, you probably can’t afford it.

New platform headed to the ISS in March

The ISS gets a new platform next month that can support attached payloads — up to a dozen — from research partners, including academic institutions and private companies. It’ll go up aboard SpaceX’s next resupply mission for the station, which is currently targeting liftoff on March 2. Also, Adidas is sending up a machine that makes its BOOST shoe soles, just to see how it works in space.

Japan is going to get and return a soil sample from a Mars moon

Japan is sending a mission to Phobos and Deimos to study the two moons of Mars, using a probe that will orbit the Red Planet’s natural satellites loaded with sensors. It’ll also carry a small lander, that will itself deploy an even smaller rover, which will study the surface of Phobos directly. If all goes to plan, it’ll collect a sample and bring that back to Earth for further study here.

SpaceX talent is fueling the LA startup ecosystem

It turns out that SpaceX, not Snap, may be the most important young technology company for developing the Los Angeles startup ecosystem. Jon Shieber documents how SpaceX alum have gone forth and built a number of companies in the area that have gone on to raise big cash, as well as very young startups that have had a promising beginning. Extra Crunch subscription required.

Meanwhile, in Canada

Yes, LA has a bustling space tech ecosystem. But communications satellite startup Kepler calls Canada home, and it recently made the interesting decision to build its small satellites in-house — in its own facility in downtown Toronto. Founder and CEO Mina Mitry tells me why that’s the best choice for his company. Extra Crunch subscription required.

With cinnamon, fruit and mint-flavored nicotine gum, is LA’s Lucy Goods the next Juul?

By Jonathan Shieber

David Renteln, the Los Angeles-based co-founder of Soylent and the co-founder and chief executive of new nicotine gum manufacturer Lucy Goods, thinks there should be a better-tasting, less-medicinal offering for people looking to quit smoking.

That’s why he founded Lucy Goods, and that’s why investors, including RRE Ventures, Vice Ventures and FundRX joined previous investors YCombinator and Greycroft in backing the company with $10 million in new funding.

“We reformulated nicotine gum and the improvements that we made were to the taste, the texture and the nicotine release speed,” said Renteln.

These days, any startup that’s working on smoking cessation or working with tobacco products can’t avoid comparisons to Juul — the multi-billion-dollar startup that’s at the center of the surge in teen nicotine consumption.

“The Juul comparison is something that’s obviously top of people’s minds,” Renteln said. “It’s important to note that there’s a huge difference in nicotine products.”

Renteln points to statements from former Food and Drug Administration chief, Scott Gottlieb (who’s now a partner at the venture firm New Enterprise Associates), which drew a distinction between combustible tobacco products on one end and nicotine gums and patches on the other.

“Nicotine isn’t the principle agent of harm associated with these tobacco products,” said Rentlen. “It’s addictive but not inherently bad for you.”

Lucy Goods also doesn’t release its nicotine dosage in a concentrated burst like vapes, which are designed to replicate the head rush associated with smoking a cigarette, said Renteln.

“It is a stimulant and they will get a sensation, but it’s not as intense as taking a very deep drag of a cigarette,” Renteln said. 

The company’s website also doesn’t skew to young, lifestyle marketing images. Instead, there are testimonials from older, ex-smokers hawking the Lucy gum.

“I don’t want anyone underage using any nicotine product or any drug in general… [and] the flavors have been around for a long time.”

Joining Renteln in the quest to create a better nicotine gum is Samy Hamdouche, a former business development executive at several Southern California biotech startups and the previous vice president of research at Soylent. 

For both men, the idea is to get a new product to market that can help people quit smoking — without a social stigma — Renteln said.

“Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States claiming over 480,000 lives every year and costing the U.S. an estimated $300 billion in direct health costs and lost productivity. Lucy is committed to bringing innovative nicotine products to the market to eliminate tobacco related harm and we’re proud to be part of their journey,” said RRE investor, Jason Black in a statement.

Australia's Bushfires Completely Blasted Through the Models

By Matt Simon
The wildfires weren't just unprecedented—scientists didn't think such catastrophic conflagrations would happen until the end of this century. 

Family Farms Try to Raise a New Cash Cow: Solar Power

By Maria Gallucci
A ‘solar sharing’ pilot project in Colorado is testing whether farmers can profit from growing vegetables and harvesting green energy on the same plot.
Before yesterdayYour RSS feeds

Do phones need to fold?

By Greg Kumparak

As Samsung (re)unveiled its clamshell folding phone last week, I kept seeing the same question pop up amongst my social circles: why?

I was wondering the same thing myself, to be honest. I’m not sure even Samsung knows; they’d win me over by the end, but only somewhat. The halfway-folded, laptop-style “Flex Mode” allows you to place the phone on a table for hands-free video calling. That’s pretty neat, I guess. But… is that it?

The best answer to “why?” I’ve come up with so far isn’t a very satisfying one: Because they can (maybe). And because they sort of need to do something.

Let’s time-travel back to the early 2000s. Phones were weird, varied and no manufacturers really knew what was going to work. We had basic flip phones and Nokia’s indestructible bricks, but we also had phones that swiveled, slid and included chunky physical keyboards that seemed absolutely crucial. The Sidekick! LG Chocolate! BlackBerry Pearl! Most were pretty bad by today’s standards, but it was at least easy to tell one model from the next.

(Photo by Kim Kulish/Corbis via Getty Images)

Then came the iPhone in 2007; a rectangular glass slab defined less by physical buttons and switches and more by the software that powered it. The device itself, a silhouette. There was hesitation to this formula, initially; the first Android phones shipped with swiveling keyboards, trackballs and various sliding pads. As iPhone sales grew, everyone else’s buttons, sliders and keyboards were boiled away as designers emulated the iPhone’s form factor. The best answer, it seemed, was a simple one.

Twelve years later, everything has become the same. Phones have become… boring. When everyone is trying to build a better rectangle, the battle becomes one of hardware specs. Which one has the fastest CPU? The best camera?

Loon and SoftBank’s HAPSMobile team with Airbus, China Telecom and more on stratospheric cell networks

By Darrell Etherington

A new industry alliance led by Alphabet’s Loon high-altitude balloon technology company and SoftBank’s HAPSMobile stratospheric glider subsidiary aims to work together on standards and tech related to deploying network connectivity using high-altitude delivery mechanisms.

This extends the existing partnership between HAPSMobile and Loon, which began with a strategic alliance between the two announced last April, and which recently resulted in Loon adapting the network hardware it uses on its stratospheric balloons to work with the HAPSMobile stratospheric long-winged drone. Now, they two are welcoming more members, including AeroVironment, Airbus Defence and Space, Bharti Airtel, China Telecom, Deutsche Telekom, Ericsson, Intelsat, Nokia, HAPSMobile parent SoftBank and Telefonica.

The new HAPS Alliance, as it’s being called (HAPS just stands for ‘High Altitude Platform Station’) will be working together to promote use of the technology, as well as work with regulators in the markets where they operate on enabling its use. They’ll work towards developing a set of common industry standards for network interoperability, and also figure how to essentially carve up the or stake out the stratosphere so that participating industry players can work together without stepping on each other’s toes.

This new combined group is no slouch: It includes some of the most powerful network operators in the world, as well as key network infrastructure players and aerospace companies. Which could mean big things for stratospheric networks, which have the advantages of being closer to Earth than satellite-based internet offerings, but also avoid the disadvantages of ground-based cell towers like having to deal with difficult terrain or more limited range.

Is this the first step towards a future where our connected devices rely on high-flying, autonomous cell towers for connectivity? It’s too early to say how ubiquitous this will get, but this new group of heavyweights definitely lends more credence to the idea.

Here’s our pick of the top six startups from Pause Fest

By Mike Butcher

We’ve been dropping into the Australian startup scene increasingly over the years as the ecosystem has been building at an increasingly faster pace, most notably at our own TechCrunch Battlefield Australia in 2017. Further evidence that the scene is growing has come recently in the shape of the Pause Fest conference in Melbourne. This event has gone from strength to strength in recent years and is fast becoming a must-attend for Aussie startups aiming for both national international attention.

I was able to drop in ‘virtually’ to interview a number of those showcased in the Startup Pitch Competition, so here’s a run-down of some of the stand-out companies.

Medinet Australia
Medinet Australia is a health tech startup aiming to make healthcare more convenient and accessible to Australians by allowing doctors to do consultations with patients via an app. Somewhat similar to apps like Babylon Health, Medinet’s telehealth app allows patients to obtain clinical advice from a GP remotely; access prescriptions and have medications delivered; access pathology results; directly email their medical certificate to their employer; and access specialist referrals along with upfront information about specialists such as their fees, waitlist, and patient experience. They’ve raised $3M in Angel financing and are looking for institutional funding in due course. Given Australia’s vast distances, Medinet is well-placed to capitalize on the shift of the population towards much more convenient telehealth apps. (1st Place Winner)

Everty
Everty allows companies to easily manage, monitor and monetize Electric Vehicle charging stations. But this isn’t about infrastructure. Instead, they link up workplaces and accounting systems to the EV charging network, thus making it more like a “Salesforce for EV charging”. It’s available for both commercial and home charging tracking. It’s also raised an Angel round and is poised to raise further funding. (2nd Place Winner)

AI On Spectrum
It’s a sad fact that people with Autism statistically tend to die younger, and unfortunately, the suicide rate is much higher for Autistic people. “Ai on Spectrum” takes an accessible approach in helping autistic kids and their families find supportive environments and feel empowered. The game encourages Autism sufferers to explore their emotional side and arms them with coping strategies when times get tough, applying AI and machine learning in the process to assist the user. (3rd Place Winner)

HiveKeeper
Professional bee-keepers need a fast, reliable, easy-to-use record keeper for their bees and this startup does just that. But it’s also developing a software+sensor technology to give beekeepers more accurate analytics, allowing them to get an early-warning about issues and problems. Their technology could even, in the future, be used to alert for coming bushfires by sensing the changed behavior of the bees. (Hacker Exchange Additional Winner)

Relectrify
Rechargeable batteries for things like cars can be re-used again, but the key to employing them is being able to extend their lives. Relectrify says its battery control software can unlock the full performance from every cell, increasing battery cycle life. It will also reduce storage costs by providing AC output without needing a battery inverter for both new and 2nd-life batteries. Its advanced battery management system combines power and electric monitoring to rapidly the check which are stronger cells and which are weaker making it possible to get as much as 30% more battery life, as well as deploying “2nd life storage”. So far, they have a project with Nissan and American Electric Power and have raised a Series A of $4.5M. (SingularityU Additional Winner)

Gabriel
Sadly, seniors and patients can contract bedsores if left too long. People can even die from bedsores. Furthermore, hospitals can end up in litigation over the issue. What’s needed is a technology that can prevent this, as well as predicting where on a patient’s body might be worst affected. That’s what Gabriel has come up with: using multi-modal technology to prevent and detect both falls and bedsores. Its passive monitoring technology is for the home or use in hospitals and consists of a resistive sheet with sensors connecting to a system which can understand the pressure on a bed. It has FDA approval, is patent-pending and is already working in some Hawaiin hospitals. It’s so far raised $2m in Angel and is now raising money.

Here’s a taste of Pause Fest:

How companies are working around Apple’s ban on vaping apps

By Matt Burns

Apple banned vaping apps in November 2019. Since then, the company has said very little about its decision, leaving many companies upset and confused about its blanket prohibition.

Three months later, companies are working around Apple’s ban. Here’s how they’re doing it.

Apple’s wide-sweeping ban on vaping affected apps from Juul, Pax and many others, including apps that calculate electrical resistance because they can be used to build vape components. It appears to have hit the cannabis industry at a higher rate than tobacco, as few tobacco vapes have a companion application.

The removal was sudden but not unexpected, given the climate at the time. In 2019, the vaping industry suffered a crisis as the Centers for Disease Control stumbled through a health scare caused by illicit products. Industry experts quickly identified a filler additive as the source of the illnesses, but these reports were ignored for months, creating widespread panic. Consumer sentiment promptly settled on the conclusion that all vapes are harmful, even when clear data shows the opposite. Vapes sourced through legal means are proven to be safer alternatives than other consumption methods.

It’s important to note Apple didn’t disable the apps or force the removal from phones. Apps that had already been downloaded continued to work, though they could not be updated.

Announcing the final agenda for Robotics + AI — March 3 at UC Berkeley

By Richard Smith

TechCrunch is returning to U.C. Berkeley on March 3 to bring together some of the most influential minds in robotics and artificial intelligence. Each year we strive to bring together a cross-section of big companies and exciting new startups, along with top researchers, VCs and thinkers.

In addition to a main stage that includes the likes of Amazon’s Tye Brady, U .C. Berkeley’s Stuart Russell, Anca Dragan of Waymo, Claire Delaunay of NVIDIA, James Kuffner of Toyota’s TRI-AD, and a surprise interview with Disney Imagineers, we’ll also be offering a more intimate Q&A stage featuring speakers from SoftBank Robotics, Samsung, Sony’s Innovation Fund, Qualcomm, NVIDIA and more.

Alongside a selection of handpicked demos, we’ll also be showcasing the winners from our first-ever pitch-off competition for early-stage robotics companies. You won’t get a better look at exciting new robotics technologies than that. Tickets for the event are still available. We’ll see you in a couple of weeks at Zellerbach Hall.

Agenda

8:30 AM – 4:00 PM

Registration Open Hours

General Attendees can pick up their badges starting at 8:30 am at Lower Sproul Plaza located in front of Zellerbach Hall. We close registration at 4:00 pm.

10:00 AM – 10:05 AM

Welcome and Introduction from Matthew Panzarino (TechCrunch) and Randy Katz (UC Berkeley)

10:05 AM – 10:25 AM

Saving Humanity from AI with Stuart Russell (UC Berkeley)

The UC Berkeley professor and AI authority argues in his acclaimed new book, “Human Compatible,” that AI will doom humanity unless technologists fundamentally reform how they build AI algorithms.

10:25 AM – 10:45 AM

Engineering for the Red Planet with Lucy Condakchian (Maxar Technologies)

Maxar Technologies has been involved with U.S. space efforts for decades, and is about to send its sixth (!) robotic arm to Mars aboard NASA’s Mars 2020 rover. Lucy Condakchian is general manager of robotics at Maxar and will speak to the difficulty and exhilaration of designing robotics for use in the harsh environments of space and other planets.

10:45 AM – 11:05 AM

Automating Amazon with Tye Brady (Amazon Robotics)

Amazon Robotics’ chief technology officer will discuss how the company is using the latest in robotics and AI to optimize its massive logistics. He’ll also discuss the future of warehouse automation and how humans and robots share a work space. 

11:05 AM – 11:15 AM

Live Demo from the Stanford Robotics Club 

11:30 AM – 12:00 PM

Book signing with Stuart Russell (UC Berkeley)

Join one of the foremost experts in artificial intelligence as he signs copies of his acclaimed new book, Human Compatible.

11:35 AM – 12:05 PM

Building the Robots that Build with Daniel Blank (Toggle Industries), Tessa Lau (Dusty Robotics), Noah Ready-Campbell (Built Robotics) and Brian Ringley (Boston Dynamics)

Can robots help us build structures faster, smarter and cheaper? Built Robotics makes a self-driving excavator. Toggle is developing a new fabrication of rebar for reinforced concrete, Dusty builds robot-powered tools and longtime robotics pioneers Boston Dynamics have recently joined the construction space. We’ll talk with the founders and experts from these companies to learn how and when robots will become a part of the construction crew.

12:15 PM – 1:00 PM

Q&A: Corporate VC, Partnering and Acquisitions with Kass Dawson (SoftBank Robotics America), Carlos Kokron (Qualcomm Ventures), and Gen Tsuchikawa (Sony Innovation Fund)

Join this interactive Q&A session on the breakout stage with three of the top minds in corporate VC.

1:00 PM – 1:25 PM

Pitch-off 

Select, early-stage companies, hand-picked by TechCrunch editors, will take the stage and have five minutes to present their wares.

1:15 PM – 2:00 PM

Q&A: Founding Robotics Companies with Sebastien Boyer (FarmWise) and Noah Ready-Campbell (Built Robotics)

Your chance to ask questions of some of the most successful robotics founders on our stage

1:25 PM – 1:50 PM

Investing in Robotics and AI: Lessons from the Industry’s VCs with Dror Berman (Innovation Endeavors), Kelly Chen (DCVC) and Eric Migicovsky (Y Combinator)

Leading investors will discuss the rising tide of venture capital funding in robotics and AI. The investors bring a combination of early-stage investing and corporate venture capital expertise, sharing a fondness for the wild world of robotics and AI investing.

1:50 PM – 2:15 PM

Facilitating Human-Robot Interaction with Mike Dooley (Labrador Systems) and Clara Vu (Veo Robotics)

As robots become an ever more meaningful part of our lives, interactions with humans are increasingly inevitable. These experts will discuss the broad implications of HRI in the workplace and home.

2:15 PM – 2:40 PM

Toward a Driverless Future with Anca Dragan (UC Berkeley/Waymo), Jinnah Hosein (Aurora) and Jur van den Berg (Ike)

Autonomous driving is set to be one of the biggest categories for robotics and AI. But there are plenty of roadblocks standing in its way. Experts will discuss how we get there from here. 

2:15 PM – 3:00 PM

Q&A: Investing in Robotics Startups with Rob Coneybeer (Shasta Ventures), Jocelyn Goldfein (Zetta Venture Partners) and Aaron Jacobson (New Enterprise Associates)

Join this interactive Q&A session on the breakout stage with some of the greatest investors in robotics and AI

2:40 PM – 3:10 PM

Disney Robotics

Imagineers from Disney will present start of the art robotics built to populate its theme parks.

3:10 PM – 3:35 PM

Bringing Robots to Life with Max Bajracharya and James Kuffner (Toyota Research Institute Advanced Development)

This summer’s Tokyo Olympics will be a huge proving ground for Toyota’s TRI-AD. Executive James Kuffner and Max Bajracharya will join us to discuss the department’s plans for assistive robots and self-driving cars.

3:15 PM – 4:00 PM

Q&A: Building Robotics Platforms with Claire Delaunay (NVIDIA) and Steve Macenski (Samsung Research America)

Join this interactive Q&A session on the breakout stage with some of the greatest engineers in robotics and AI.

3:35 PM – 4:00 PM

The Next Century of Robo-Exoticism with Abigail De Kosnik (UC Berkeley), David Ewing Duncan, Ken Goldberg (UC Berkeley), and Mark Pauline (Survival Research Labs)

In 1920, Karl Capek coined the term “robot” in a play about mechanical workers organizing a rebellion to defeat their human overlords. One hundred years later, in the context of increasing inequality and xenophobia, the panelists will discuss cultural views of robots in the context of “Robo-Exoticism,” which exaggerates both negative and positive attributes and reinforces old fears, fantasies and stereotypes.

4:00 PM – 4:10 PM 

Live Demo from Somatic

4:10 PM – 4:35 PM

Opening the Black Box with Explainable AI with Trevor Darrell (UC Berkeley), Krishna Gade (Fiddler Labs) and Karen Myers (SRI International)

Machine learning and AI models can be found in nearly every aspect of society today, but their inner workings are often as much a mystery to their creators as to those who use them. UC Berkeley’s Trevor Darrell, Krishna Gade of Fiddler Labs and Karen Myers from SRI will discuss what we’re doing about it and what still needs to be done.

4:35 PM – 5:00 PM 

Cultivating Intelligence in Agricultural Robots with Lewis Anderson (Traptic), Sebastian Boyer (FarmWise) and Michael Norcia (Pyka)

The benefits of robotics in agriculture are undeniable, yet at the same time only getting started. Lewis Anderson (Traptic) and Sebastien Boyer (FarmWise) will compare notes on the rigors of developing industrial-grade robots that both pick crops and weed fields respectively, and Pyka’s Michael Norcia will discuss taking flight over those fields with an autonomous crop-spraying drone.

5:00 PM – 5:25 PM

Fostering the Next Generation of Robotics Startups with Claire Delaunay (NVIDIA), Scott Phoenix (Vicarious) and Joshua Wilson (Freedom Robotics

Robotics and AI are the future of many or most industries, but the barrier of entry is still difficult to surmount for many startups. Speakers will discuss the challenges of serving robotics startups and companies that require robotics labor, from bootstrapped startups to large scale enterprises.

5:30 PM – 7:30 PM

Unofficial After Party, (Cash Bar Only) 

Come hang out at the unofficial After Party at Tap Haus, 2518 Durant Ave, Ste C, Berkeley

Final Tickets Available

We only have so much space in Zellerbach Hall and tickets are selling out fast. Grab your General Admission Ticket right now for $350 and save 50 bucks as prices go up at the door.

Student tickets are just $50 and can be purchased here. Student tickets are limited.

Startup Exhibitor Packages are sold out!

Daily Crunch: Blue Apron might sell itself

By Anthony Ha

Blue Apron considers “strategic alternatives,” Facebook experiments with different News Feed formats and Twitter buys a startup focused on the Stories format. Here’s your Daily Crunch for February 19, 2020.

1. Blue Apron is considering selling itself

Meal kit company Blue Apron has been struggling for a long time, with its lackluster debut on the public market, employee lawsuits and layoffs. So it should come as no surprise that the company announced that it’s exploring “strategic alternatives” like selling itself, merging or raising more capital.

“Our strategic alternatives process, together with our cost optimization initiatives, is intended to best position the company for the future, including to support our growth strategy,” said CEO Linda Findley Kozlowski in a statement. “These efforts reflect the commitment of the Board, management and myself to doing what’s in the best interest of the business, Blue Apron’s shareholders and other stakeholders.”

2. Facebook prototypes tabbed News Feed with Most Recent & Seen

Facebook may make it easier to escape its ranking algorithm and explore the News Feed in different formats. The company has internally prototyped a tabbed version of the News Feed for mobile that includes the standard Most Relevant feed, along with the existing-but-buried Most Recent feed of reverse chronological posts and an Already Seen feed of posts that was only available on desktop via a largely unknown URL.

3. Twitter acquires Stories template maker Chroma Labs

Is a Twitter Stories format on its way? The company has just acquired Chroma Labs, a startup co-founded by Instagram Boomerang inventor John Barnett with an app to let you fill in stylish layout templates and frames for posting to Instagram Stories, Snapchat and elsewhere.

4. Adobe celebrates Photoshop’s 30th anniversary with new desktop and mobile features

The marquee feature here is probably the addition of the Object Selection tool in Photoshop on the iPad. With this tool, Adobe is giving creatives a way to select and manipulate one or multiple objects in complex scenes.

5. Do trade shows still matter in the age of online business?

One of countless unintended consequences of the coronavirus-prompted cancellation of MWC will be a broader debate about trade shows in general. In many ways, it’s an extension of a conversation that’s been going on for years: Are trade shows worth it? (Extra Crunch membership required.)

6. Coinbase becomes a Visa Principal Member to double down on debit card

Cryptocurrency company Coinbase has been working with Paysafe to issue the Coinbase Card, a Visa debit card that works with your Coinbase account balance. The company is now a Visa Principal Member, which should help Coinbase rely less on Paysafe and control a bigger chunk of the card payment stack.

7. ForgePoint raises a massive new $450M fund for early-stage cybersecurity startups

The aim is to try to cash in early on an increasing number of startups in the cybersecurity space that could go on to become the next CrowdStrike or Cloudflare — which both saw massive exits last year when they went public at valuations of several billion apiece.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

Blue Apron is considering selling itself

By Megan Rose Dickey

Meal kit company Blue Apron has long been on the struggle bus — whether it’s been its lackluster debut on the public market, employee lawsuits or layoffs. So, it should come as no surprise that the company is considering selling itself in order to maximize value for shareholders.

In addition to a potential sale, Blue Apron is exploring a merger, raising capital through either the public or private markets, selling off assets or some combination of the above.

“We continue to believe that we have the right strategy to drive our resumption of growth as we work to launch additional new capabilities and test new product offerings,” Blue Apron CEO Linda Findley Kozlowski said in a press release. “Our strategic alternatives process, together with our cost optimization initiatives, is intended to best position the company for the future, including to support our growth strategy. These efforts reflect the commitment of the Board, management and myself to doing what’s in the best interest of the business, Blue Apron’s shareholders and other stakeholders.”

In Q4 2019, Blue Apron reported a net revenue decrease of 33% year-over-year, to $94.3 million. For the full fiscal year of 2019, revenues decreased 32%, to $454.9 million from $667.6 million the year prior. Blue Apron attributes this to a decline in customers.

Do trade shows still matter in the age of online business?

By Brian Heater

The death of Mobile World Congress 2020 started as a trickle.

First, it was an understandably nervous ZTE. As a Chinese company, it was undoubtedly going to receive extra scrutiny — never mind that ZTE’s Shenzhen headquarters are a two-hour flight from Wuhan. Soon enough, South Korea’s LG backed out, followed by Nvidia and Ericsson.

By the weekend, as deaths from the coronavirus rose to more than 800 (surpassing SARS in the process), event organizers GSMA put strict guidelines in place for approximately 100,000 expected attendees:

  • No travelers from the Hubei province would be permitted access.
  • Attendees were required to prove that they were outside China for 14 days prior to the event (passport stamp, health certificate).
  • Temperature screening was to be implemented.
  • Attendees needed to self-certify they had not been in contact with anyone infected.

Ultimately, it was too late. Soon enough, Amazon was out and the list ballooned to dozens of companies, including AT&T, Intel, Nokia, Sony and Vodafone. Each offered a similar boilerplate response, noting the cost-benefit analysis for sending staff to a large international show amid concerns of a global epidemic.

PCMag’s Sascha Segan wrote a piece worth reading on “snowballing hysteria” around a trade show killed in a country that only had two reported cases at the time of cancellation. It’s a valid point, though speaking purely pragmatically, I can understand why companies felt obligated to back out.

If you want to give them the benefit of the doubt, there are some valid concerns about sending employees into the petri dish of colds and flus that is basically every trade show, coupled with the novelty of a new and still not completely understood virus. It can be difficult to balance concerns for employee safety with the need to resist panicking over media reports that tend to overemphasize threats.

Join the Q&A with top speakers at TC Sessions: Robotics + AI (March 3)

By Brian Heater

Over the past four years, TechCrunch has brought together some of the biggest names in robotics — founders, CEOs, VCs and researchers — for TC Sessions: Robotics + AI. The show has provided a unique opportunity to explore the future and present of robotics, AI and the automation technologies that will define our professional and personal lives.

While the panels have been curated and hosted by our editorial staff, we’ve also long been interested in providing show-goers an opportunity to engage with guests. For this reason, we introduced the Q&A stage, where some of the biggest names can more directly engage with attendees.

This year, we’ve got top names from SoftBank, Samsung, Sony’s Innovation Fund, Qualcomm, Nvidia and more joining us on the stage to answer questions. Here’s the full agenda of this year’s Q&A stage:

11:30 – 12:00 Russell Book signing
Stuart Russell

12:15 – 1:00 Corporate VC, Partnering and Acquisitions
Carlos Kocher (Qualcomm)
/> Kass Dawson (SoftBank)
Gen Tsuchikawa (Sony Innovation Fund)

1:15 – 2:00 Founders
Sebastien Boyer (FarmWise)
Noah Campbell-Ready (Built Robotics)

2:15 – 3:00 VC
Jocelyn Goldfein (Zetta Venture Partners)
/> Rob Coneybeer (Shasta Ventures)
Aaron Jacobson (New Enterprise Associates)

3:15 – 4:00 Building Robotics Platforms
Steven Macenski (Samsung)
Claire Delaunay (Nvidia)

$345 General admission tickets are still on sale — book yours here and join 1,000+ of today’s leading minds in the business for networking and discovery. The earlier you book the better, as prices go up at the door.

Students, save big with a $50 ticket and get full access to the show. Student tickets are available to current students only. Book yours here.

Why Kepler is building its full-stack satellite business in Canada

By Darrell Etherington

Toronto-based telecommunications startup Kepler Communications surprised many recently when it revealed plans to establish its own satellite assembly and base the operation in its own hometown instead of contracting the work to an existing manufacturer.

It might seem a perplexing and unnecessarily costly choice at first, but I spoke to Kepler CEO and co-founder Mina Mitry about what his startup stands to gain by being based in Canada while the small-satellite industry heats up in the U.S.

“We’ve been running a global survey of available supply chain for this particular type of small satellite for the past two years or so and conducting some pretty extensive experiments, like buying parts, seeing where they end up, etc.,” Mitry told me. “The output of that global survey is really that the supply chain is immature, that it doesn’t exist in a way that’s robust enough to meet our price, performance and timeline expectations. Historically, the type of business that is now delivering on small satellites has been built on selling one-off government contracts or a small component of the satellite, and now they’re transitioning upmarket to try and sell complete satellites and try to do that at scale, which is a totally different problem that they haven’t yet addressed.”

After figuring this out through multiple years of investigation and inquiry, Mitry says it eventually resulted in the realization that meeting the startup’s goals of getting its 440 satellites in orbit in a timely manner would be best served by building them in-house. That’s not unlike the conclusion reached by Elon Musk and SpaceX for many of the components used in developing their own launch vehicles.

“We started to evaluate what countries and where and how that would all get done,” Mitry said. “It ended up that Toronto would make a lot of sense because of the surrounding technical talents we get from the key universities in the area, and then above and beyond that, we’re not doing a whole lot of manual labor in this process. Most of that is outsourced labor to a variety of different locations where they’re building circuit boards, or they’re building like metal machine parts, etc. And then in-house, we’re doing mostly assembly integration and testing, and a lot of that kind of stuff gets automated. So there was no material overhead costs that gets incurred because we’re in Toronto as opposed to any other location.”

Daily Crunch: Apple blames coronavirus for revenue miss

By Anthony Ha

Apple says the coronavirus outbreak will hurt its manufacturing and sales, Jeff Bezos makes a big commitment to fighting climate change and SpaceX launches more Starlink satellites. Here’s your Daily Crunch for February 18, 2020.

1. Apple will miss revenue forecast as coronavirus impacts its manufacturing and sales

In a letter to investors, Apple said that it “do[es] not expect to meet the revenue guidance we provided for the March quarter” due to impacts stemming from the coronavirus that has shuttered large parts of China, and is reverberating through the global economy.

As China’s return to work has proved halting, and the coronavirus itself more intractable than some anticipated, the company’s change in guidance is almost unsurprising — but that hasn’t stopped Apple’s stock price from falling this morning.

2. Jeff Bezos announced a $10 billion fund to fight climate change

Jeff Bezos announced on Instagram that he’s creating a $10 billion fund to combat climate change. He said the Bezos Earth Fund will finance “scientists, activists, NGOs — any effort that offers a real possibility to help preserve and protect the natural world.”

3. SpaceX successfully launches 60 more Starlink satellites but misses booster landing

SpaceX has launched a batch of 60 Starlink satellites into orbit, marking its fifth overall launch of a group of 60 of the small spacecraft, and its third this year alone. This launch brings the total Starlink constellation to 300 satellites in orbit, extending SpaceX’s lead as the largest commercial satellite operator in the world.

4. Redbox enters the free, ad-supported streaming market

Oddly, Redbox Free Live TV isn’t live at all — at least, not in the way that you’d get with a TV streaming service like YouTube TV or Hulu with Live TV. Instead, it offers a curated set of ad-supported movies and TV shows, similar to The Roku Channel, IMDb TV or TiVo Plus.

5. How TikTok decides who to make famous

The co-founders of video startup Trash take a deep dive into the TikTok ecosystem, particularly its extensive content moderation. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

6. Atomico raises new $820M fund to back ‘mission-driven’ European founders at Series A and beyond

The London-headquartered VC firm’s previous fund closed at $765 million, so this is an increase over three years ago. However, the remit remains largely the same. Atomico says it plans to double down on its strategy of backing “mission-driven” European founders at Series A, but with the ability to invest in what it calls “breakout” companies at the Series B and C stage.

7. Black haircare startup Naza Beauty just raised $1 million from Alexis Ohanian’s Initialized Capital

At its most basic level, it’s like Drybar — with a menu of styles — but for women of color. On the tech side, Naza’s software functions as a booking and payments platform, which also learns the styles of each customer and then makes product recommendations.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

New Early Stage speakers to talk fundraising strategies, growth marketing and PR

By Jordan Crook

TC Early Stage SF goes down on April 28, and we are getting pretty damn excited about it!

The show will bring together 50+ experts across startup core competencies, such as fundraising, operations and marketing. We’ll hear from VCs on how to create the perfect pitch deck and how to identify the right investors for you. We’ll hear from lawyers on how to navigate the immigration process when hiring, and how to negotiate the cap table. And we’ll hear from growth hackers on how to build a high-performance SEO engine, and PR experts on how to tell your brand’s story.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Today, I’m pleased to announce four more breakout sessions.


Lo Toney

Toney is the founding managing partner of Plexo Capital, which was incubated and spun out from GV. Before Plexo, Toney was a partner with Comcast Ventures, where he led the Catalyst Fund, and then moved to GV where he focused on marketplace, mobile and consumer products. Toney also has operational experience, having served as the GM of Zynga Poker, the company’s largest franchise at the time.

Think Like a PM for VC Pitch Success

Your pitchdeck is not just a reflection of your business, it’s a product unto itself. Your startup’s success, and avoiding the end of your runway, depends on the conversion rate of that product. Hear from Plexo Capital founding partner Lo Toney about how thinking like a PM when crafting your pitch deck can produce outstanding results.


Krystina Rubino and Lindsay Piper Shaw

Shaw and Rubino are marketing consultants for Right Side Up, a growth marketing consultancy. Prior to Right Side Up, Shaw scaled podcast campaigns for brands like quip, Lyft and Texture, and has worked with brands like McDonald’s, Honda, ampm, and Tempur Sealy. Rubino has worked with companies across all stages and sizes, including Advil, DoorDash, P&G, Lyft and Stitch Fix.

Why You Need Podcasts in Your Growth Marketing Mix

Podcast advertising is widely viewed as a nascent medium, but smart companies know it can be a powerful channel in their marketing mix. Opportunity is ripe — get in early and you can own the medium, box out competitors and catapult your growth. Krystina Rubino and Lindsay Piper Shaw have launched and scaled successful podcast ad campaigns for early-stage startups and household name brands and will be sharing their strategies for companies to succeed in this often misunderstood channel.


Jake Saper

Jake Saper, the son of serial co-founders, has been obsessed with entrepreneurialism from a young age. His origin in venture capital started at Kleiner Perkins, and he moved on to become a partner at Emergence in 2014, where he became a Kauffman Fellow. He serves on the boards of Textio, Guru, Ironclad, DroneDeploy, and Vymo, and his self-described “nerdy love” of frameworks has only grown over the years.

When It Comes to Fundraising, Timing Is Everything

There are some shockingly common timing mistakes founders make that can turn an otherwise successful fundraise into a failure. We’ll talk through how to avoid them and how to sequence efforts from the time you close your seed to ensure you find the right partner (at the right price!) for Series A and beyond.


April Conyers

Conyers has been in the communications industry for 15 years, currently serving as the senior director of Corporate Communications at Postmates . Before Postmates, Conyers served as a VP at Brew PR, working with clients like Automattic, NetSuite, Oracle, Doctor on Demand and about.me. During that time, she also found herself on BI’s “The 50 Best Public Relations People In The Tech Industry In 2014” list.

The Media Is Misunderstood, But Your Company Shouldn’t Be

With the media industry in a state of flux, navigating the process of telling your story can be confusing and overwhelming. Hear from Postmates Senior Director of Corporate Communication April Conyers on how startups should think about PR, and how to get your message across in a hectic media landscape.


Early Stage SF goes down on April 28, with more than 50 breakout sessions to choose from. However, don’t worry about missing a breakout session, because transcripts from each will be available to show attendees. And most of the folks leading the breakout sessions have agreed to hang at the show for at least half the day and participate in CrunchMatch, TechCrunch’s great app to connect founders and investors based on shared interests.

Here’s the fine print. Each of the 50+ breakout sessions is limited to around 100 attendees. We expect a lot more attendees, of course, so signups for each session are on a first-come, first-serve basis. Buy your ticket today and you can sign up for the breakouts we are announcing today, as well as those already announced. Pass holders will also receive 24-hour advance notice before we announce the next batch. (And yes, you can “drop” a breakout session in favor of a new one, in the event there is a schedule conflict.)

So get your TC Early Stage: San Francisco pass today, and get the inside track on the sessions we announced today, as well as the ones to be announced in the coming weeks.

Possible sponsor? Hit us up right here.

The Atlantic Ocean's 'Conveyor Belt' Stirs Up a Science Fight

By Evan Lubofsky
Researchers are debating the best way to monitor the ocean currents that sweep through the Labrador Sea—and may foretell the planet's climate future.

Floating Farms May Help Reinvent the World's Food Ecosystems

By Laura Mallonee
Thirty-four heifers aboard a stable in Rotterdam harbor are showing that cow buoys might be a sustainable, reliable alternative to our current food system.

A Car ‘Splatometer’ Study Finds Huge Insect Die-Off

By Damian Carrington
Measuring how many bugs fly into car windshields might sound silly. But to scientists predicting an “insect apocalypse,” the numbers are deadly serious. 
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