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Updated: 7 hours 42 min ago

Black founders face a unique set of challenges

10 hours 47 min ago

The notion that Black people in America need to work twice as hard as others to succeed may be a depressing sentiment, but it has been deeply ingrained into the psyches of many African-Americans.

At TechCrunch Disrupt, several Black founders spoke about some of the burdens that come along with being a Black person in tech. Many of us are familiar with imposter syndrome, where one feels like they’re a fraud and fear being “found out.” But another idea that came up was representation syndrome.

Representation syndrome centers around this idea that because there are so few Black people in tech, being one of the only ones comes with this added pressure to be successful. Otherwise, one may feel that if they fail as one of the only Black people in tech, they will inadvertently make it harder for other Black people to be embraced by this homogeneous industry. That’s a heavy load to carry. 

As Jessica Matthews, founder and CEO at Uncharted Power said:

When we raised our Series A, the immediate thing I thought was, ‘Oh, man. I can not lose these people’s money.’ This is huge and if we don’t work, it’s not even about us, it’s about every other person who looks like me.

Matthews said she hopes for a world where her daughter “can be mediocre as hell and still raise funding.”  In 2016, she launched the Harlem Tech Fund, a nonprofit organization focused on STEM. 

“You know, we would tell people we’re going to be the first billion-dollar tech company in Harlem, but we do not want to be the last,” she said.

Categories: Business News

Privacy data management innovations reduce risk, create new revenue channels

14 hours 56 min ago
Mark Settle Contributor Mark Settle is a seven-time CIO, three-time CIO 100 award winner and two-time book author. His most recent book is "Truth from the Valley: A Practical Primer on IT Management for the Next Decade." Tomer Y. Avni Contributor Tomer Y. Avni is an MBA/MS student at the Harvard Business School and the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

Privacy data mismanagement is a lurking liability within every commercial enterprise. The very definition of privacy data is evolving over time and has been broadened to include information concerning an individual’s health, wealth, college grades, geolocation and web surfing behaviors. Regulations are proliferating at state, national and international levels that seek to define privacy data and establish controls governing its maintenance and use.

Existing regulations are relatively new and are being translated into operational business practices through a series of judicial challenges that are currently in progress, adding to the confusion regarding proper data handling procedures. In this confusing and sometimes chaotic environment, the privacy risks faced by almost every corporation are frequently ambiguous, constantly changing and continually expanding.

Conventional information security (infosec) tools are designed to prevent the inadvertent loss or intentional theft of sensitive information. They are not sufficient to prevent the mismanagement of privacy data. Privacy safeguards not only need to prevent loss or theft but they must also prevent the inappropriate exposure or unauthorized usage of such data, even when no loss or breach has occurred. A new generation of infosec tools is needed to address the unique risks associated with the management of privacy data.

The first wave of innovation

A variety of privacy-focused security tools emerged over the past few years, triggered in part by the introduction of GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) within the European Union in 2018. New capabilities introduced by this first wave of innovation were focused in the following three areas:

Data discovery, classification and cataloging. Modern enterprises collect a wide variety of personal information from customers, business partners and employees at different times for different purposes with different IT systems. This data is frequently disseminated throughout a company’s application portfolio via APIs, collaboration tools, automation bots and wholesale replication. Maintaining an accurate catalog of the location of such data is a major challenge and a perpetual activity. BigID, DataGuise and Integris Software have gained prominence as popular solutions for data discovery. Collibra and Alation are leaders in providing complementary capabilities for data cataloging.

Consent management. Individuals are commonly presented with privacy statements describing the intended use and safeguards that will be employed in handling the personal data they supply to corporations. They consent to these statements — either explicitly or implicitly — at the time such data is initially collected. Osano, Transcend.io and DataGrail.io specialize in the management of consent agreements and the enforcement of their terms. These tools enable individuals to exercise their consensual data rights, such as the right to view, edit or delete personal information they’ve provided in the past.

Categories: Business News

Want to hire and retain high-quality developers? Give them stimulating work

15 hours 42 min ago
Phil Alves Contributor Share on Twitter Devsquad founder and CEO Phil Alves is an expert entrepreneur with more than 15 years of experience in the tech industry leading product development teams for multiple clients.

Software developers are some of the most in-demand workers on the planet. Not only that, they’re complex creatures with unique demands in terms of how they define job fulfillment. With demand for developers on the rise (the number of jobs in the field is expected to grow by 22% over the next decade), companies are under pressure to do everything they can to attract and retain talent.

First and foremost — above salary — employers must ensure that product teams are made up of developers who feel creatively stimulated and intellectually challenged. Without work that they feel passionate about, high-quality programmers won’t just become bored and potentially seek opportunities elsewhere, the standard of work will inevitably drop. In one survey, 68% of developers said learning new things is the most important element of a job.

The worst thing for a developer to discover about a new job is that they’re the most experienced person in the room and there’s little room for their own growth.

Yet with only 32% of developers feeling “very satisfied” with their jobs, there’s scope for you to position yourself as a company that prioritizes the development of its developers, and attract and retain top talent. So, how exactly can you ensure that your team stays stimulated and creatively engaged?

Allow time for personal projects

78% of developers see coding as a hobby — and the best developers are the ones who have a true passion for software development, in and out of the workplace. This means they often have their own personal passions within the space, be it working with specific languages or platforms, or building certain kinds of applications.

Back in their 2004 IPO letter, Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page wrote:

We encourage our employees, in addition to their regular projects, to spend 20% of their time working on what they think will most benefit Google. [This] empowers them to be more creative and innovative. Many of our significant advances have happened in this manner.

At DevSquad, we’ve adopted a similar approach. We have an “open Friday” policy where developers are able to learn and enhance their skills through personal projects. As long as the skills being gained contribute to work we are doing in other areas, the developers can devote that time to whatever they please, whether that’s contributing to open-source projects or building a personal product. In fact, 65% of professional developers on Stack Overflow contribute to open-source projects once a year or more, so it’s likely that this is a keen interest within your development team too.

Not only does this provide a creative outlet for developers, the company also gains from the continuously expanding skillset that comes as a result.

Provide opportunities to learn and teach

One of the most demotivating things for software developers is work that’s either too difficult or too easy. Too easy, and developers get bored; too hard, and morale can dip as a project seems insurmountable. Within our team, we remain hyperaware of the difficulty levels of the project or task at hand and the level of experience of the developers involved.

Categories: Business News

HumanForest suspends London e-bike sharing service, cuts jobs after customer accident

16 hours 50 min ago

UK-based startup HumanForest has suspended its nascent ‘free’ e-bike service in London this week, after experiencing “mechanical” issues and after a user had an accident on one of its bikes, TechCrunch has learned. The suspension has also seen the company make a number of layoffs with plans to re-launch next spring using a different e-bike.

The service suspension comes only a few months after HumanForest started the trial in North London — and just a couple of weeks after announcing a $2.3M seed round of funding backed by the founders of Cabify and others.

We were tipped to the closure by an anonymous source who said they were employed by the startup. They told us the company’s e-bike had been found to have a defect and there had been an accident involving a user, after which the service was suspended. They also told us HumanForest fired a bunch of staff this week with little warning and minimal severance.

Asked about the source’s allegations, HumanForest confirmed it had suspended its service in London following a “minor accident” on Sunday, saying also that it had identified “problems of a similar nature” prior to the accident but had put down those down to “tampering or minor mechanical issues”.

Here’s its statement in full: “We were not aware that the bike was defective. There had been problems of a similar nature which were suspected to be tampering or minor mechanical issues. We undertook extra mechanical checks which we believed had resolved the issue and informed the supplier. We immediately suspended operations following the minor accident on Sunday. The supplier is now investigating whether there is a more serious problem with the e-bike.”

In an earlier statement the startup also told us: “There was an accident last week. Fortunately, the customer was not hurt. We immediately withdrew all e-bikes from the street and we have informed the supplier who is investigating. Our customers’ safety is our priority. We have, therefore, decided to re-launch with a new e-bike in Spring 2021.”

HumanForest declined to offer any details about the nature of the defect that caused it to suspend service but a spokeswoman confirmed all its e-bikes were withdrawn from London streets the same day as the accident, raising questions as to why it did not do so sooner — having, by its own admission, already identified “similar problems”.

The spokeswoman also confirmed HumanForest made a number of job cuts in the wake of the service suspension.

“We are very sorry that we had to let people go at this difficult time but, with operations suspended, we could only continue as a business with a significantly reduced team,” she said. “We tried very hard to find a way to keep people on board and we looked at the possibility of alternative contractual arrangements or employment but unfortunately, there are no guarantees of when we can re-launch.”

“Employees who had been with the company for less than three months were on their probation period which, as outlined in their contract, had one week’s notice. We will be paying their salaries until the end of the month,” she said, reiterating that it’s a difficult time for the startup.

The e-bikes HumanForest was using for the service appear to be manufactured by the Chinese firm Hongji — but are supplied by a German startup, called Wunder Mobility, which offers both b2c and b2b mobility services.

We contacted both companies to ask about the e-bike defect reported by HumanForest.

At the time of writing only Wunder Mobility had responded — confirming it acts as “an intermediary” for HumanForest but not offering any details about the nature of the technical problem.

Instead, it sent us this statement, attributed to its CCO Lukas Loers: “HumanForest stands for reliable quality and works continuously to improve its services. In order to offer its customers the best possible range of services in the sharing business, HumanForest will use the winter break to evaluate its findings from the pilot project in order to provide the best and most sustainable solution for its customers together with Wunder Mobility in the spring.”

“Unfortunately, we cannot provide any information about specific defects on the vehicles, as we have only acted as an intermediary. Only the manufacturer or the operator HumanForest can comment on this,” it added.

In a further development this week, which points to the competitive and highly dynamic nature of the nascent micromobility market, another e-bike sharing startup, Bolt — which industry sources suggest uses the same model of e-bike as HumanForest (its e-bike is visually identical, just painted a more lurid shade of green) — closed its e-bike sharing service in Paris, a few months after launching in the French capital.

When we contacted Bolt to ask whether it had withdrawn any e-bikes because of technical issues it flat denied doing so — saying the Paris closure was a business decision, and was not related to problems with its e-bike hardware.

“We understand some other companies have had issues with their providers. Bolt hasn’t withdrawn any electric bikes from suppliers due to defects,” a spokesperson told us, going on to note it has “recently” launched in Barcelona and trailing “more announcements about future expansion soon”.

In follow up emails the spokesperson further confirmed it hasn’t identified any defects with any e-bikes it’s tested, nor withdrawn any bikes from its supplier.

Bolt’s UK country manager, Matt Barrie, had a little more to say in a response to chatter about the various micromobility market moves on Twitter — tweeting the claim that: “Hardware at Bolt is fine, all good, the issues that HumanForest have had are with their bespoke components.”

“The Paris-Prague move is a commercial decision to support our wider business in Prague. Paris a good market and we hope to be back soon,” he added.

We asked HumanForest about Barrie’s claim that the technical issues with its hardware are related to “bespoke components” — but its spokeswoman declined to comment.

HumanForest’s twist on the e-bike sharing model is the idea of offering free trips with in-app ads subsidizing the rides. Its marketing has also been geared towards pushing a ‘greener commute’ message — touting that the e-bike batteries and service vehicles are charged with certified renewable energy sources.

Categories: Business News

Don’t miss the Q&A sessions at TC Sessions: Mobility 2020

17 hours 5 min ago

It’s nearly October, startup fans, and that means TC Sessions: Mobility 2020 is right around the corner. On October 6 & 7, you’ll experience an incredible two-day agenda packed with the top leaders, visionaries, makers and investors, and they’re ready to drop serious knowledge about crucial trends, issues and challenges related to mobility and transportation tech.

Attendees tell us there’s only one problem with all these great interviews and panel discussions. They generate a lot of follow-up questions and the desire for even more conversation. We hear you loud and clear, and that’s why we’re excited to offer several different Q&A breakout sessions featuring speakers who presented on the TC Sessions: Mobility main stage. They’re the perfect place to get answers to your burning questions.

And there’s nothing that prevents you from initiating a whole new conversation. You never know what opportunity might arise when you engage and interact with some of the top minds in the business.

Here’s the answer to burning question No. 1: Which top minds are heading up the Q&A breakout sessions? Here are just a few, with more to come!

Fresh from their main stage discussion, Investing in Mobility, Reilly Brennan (Founding General Partner, Trucks Venture Capital), Amy Gu (Managing Partner, Hemi Ventures) and Olaf Sakkers (Partner, Maniv Mobility) will take your questions related to VC investment.

Do you have questions about micromobility? This is your moment. First, check out the main stage presentation, The Next Opportunities in Micromobility with Danielle Harris (Director of Mobility Innovation, Elemental Excelerator) and Dmitry Shevelenko (Co-founder & President, Tortoise). Second, head to their Q&A for a deeper understanding of this timely topic.

Finally, don’t miss Peter Rawlinson’s Q&A. It’s a chance to follow up on his main stage discussion, The Road to the All-Electric Air. How often do you get the opportunity to get answers to specific questions on this — dare we say it — electrifying topic?

There’s so much to do and experience — more than 40 early-stage startups exhibiting in our expo, networking made simple with CrunchMatch and live pitching from the main stage.

TC Sessions: Mobility 2020 takes place October 6-7. Buy your pass today — prices increase on October 5. Don’t miss your chance to learn, explore ideas and new trends, and meet and connect with the people who can help you build your business and launch your dreams.

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at TC Sessions: Mobility 2020? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

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Categories: Business News

Indonesian cloud kitchen startup Yummy gets $12 million Series B led by SoftBank Ventures Asia

2020, September 25 - 1:38pm

Yummy Corporation, which claims to be the largest cloud kitchen management company in Indonesia, has raised $12 million in Series B funding, led by SoftBank Ventures Asia. Co-founder and chief executive officer Mario Suntanu told TechCrunch that the capital will be used to expand into more major cities and on developing its tech platform, including data analytics.

Other participants in the round included returning investors Intudo Ventures and Sovereign’s Capital, and new backers Vectr Ventures, AppWorks, Quest Ventures, Coca Cola Amatil X and Palm Drive Capital. The Series B brings Yummy Corporation’s total raised so far to $19.5 million.

Launched in June 2019, Yummy Corporation’s network of cloud kitchens, called Yummykitchen, now includes more than 70 HACCP-certified facilities in Jakarta, Bandung and Medan. It partners with more than 50 food and beverage (F&B) companies, including major brands like Ismaya Group and Sour Sally Group.

During COVID-19 movement restrictions, Suntanu said Yummykitchen’s business showed “healthy growth” as people, confined mostly to their homes, ordered food for delivery. Funding will be used to get more partners, especially brands that want to digitize their operations and expand deliveries to cope with the continuing impact of COVID-19.

The number of cloud kitchens in Southeast Asia has grown quickly over the past year, driven by demand for food deliveries that began increasing even before the pandemic. But for F&B brands that rely on deliveries for a good part of their revenue, running their own kitchens and staff can be cost-prohibitive. Sharing cloud kitchens with other businesses can help increase their margins.

Other cloud kitchen startups serving Indonesia include Hangry and Everplate, but these companies and Yummy Corporation are all up against two major players: “super apps” Grab and Gojek, which both operate large networks of cloud kitchens that have the advantage of being integrated with their on-demand delivery services.

Suntanu said Yummy’s main edge compared to other cloud kitchens is that it also offers fully-managed location and kitchen operation services, in addition to kitchen facilities. This means Yummy’s partners, including restaurants and and F&B brands, don’t need to hire their own teams. Instead, food preparation and delivery is handled by Yummy’s workers. The company also provides its clients with a data analytics platform to help them with targeted ad campaigns and making their listings more visible on food delivery apps.

In a statement, Harris Yang, Souteast Asia associate at SoftBank Ventures Asia, said the firm invested in Yummy because “given the company’s strong expertise in the F&B industry and unique value proposition to brands, we believe that Yummy will continue to be the leader in this space. We are excited to support the team and help them scale their business in this emerging sector.”

Categories: Business News

The eSIM maker powering Xiaomi’s IoT devices raises $15M

2020, September 25 - 9:00am

Connectivity is vital to a future managed and shaped by smart hardware, and Chinese startup Showmac Tech is proposing eSIMs as the infrastructure solution for seamless and stable communication between devices and the service providers behind.

Xiaomi accepted the proposition and doled out an investment for the startup’s angel round in 2017. Now Showmac has convinced more investors to be onboard as it banked close to 100 million yuan ($15 million) in a Series A+ round led by Addor Capital, with participation from GGV Capital and Hongtai Aplus.

“We believe cellular communication will become a mainstream trend in the era of IoT. Wi-Fi works only when it’s connected to a small number of devices, but when the number increases dramatically it becomes unreliable,” said Lily Liu, founder and chief executive of Showmac, during an interview with TechCrunch.

Unlike a traditional SIM, short for “subscriber identity module,” an eSIM doesn’t need to be on a removable card, doing away the need for the SIM card slot on a device. Rather, it will be welded onto the device’s integrated chip during assembly and is valid for different network operators. To chipmakers, Showmac’s eSIM functions like an application or software development kit (SDK), Liu observed.

The company began as a pilot project supplying eSIMs to Xiaomi’s ecosystem of connected devices and subsequently set up an entity when the solution proved its viability. Its core products today include eSIM cards for IoT devices, an eSIM communication module and gateway, and connection management software as a service.

To date, Showmac has powered more than 10 million devices, around 30% of which are affiliated with Xiaomi, which through in-house development and external investments has constructed an empire of IoT partners reliant on its operating system and consumer reach.

The majority of Showmac’s clients are providers of shared goods, those of which “ownership and right to use are separate,” explained Liu, who earned a PhD in economics from China’s prestigious Huazhong University of Science and Technology. Shared bikes and Luckin’s shared coffee mugs are just a few examples.

Showmac is hardly a forerunner in the global eSIM space, but the founder believed few competitors could match it on the level of supply chain resources, thanks to its ties with Xiaomi.

“As an R&D-oriented and relatively young team, we are very fortunate to have experienced large-scale industrial activity that churns out products in the hundreds of thousands and even millions every day. [Xiaomi] has provided us with this precious opportunity,” the founder said.

With a staff of 40-50 employees across Beijing and Shenzhen, the startup is currently focusing on the Chinese market, but has plans for overseas expansion in the long run.

“We are not the first to make eSIM in the world, but being in China, the center of the world’s electronics manufacturing, we are in a superior position to get things done,” suggested Liu.

The arrival of 5G is a boon to the startup, the founder believed. “5G will spurn more IoT devices and applications, giving rise to the need for IoT [devices] with cross-carrier and cross-region capabilities,” she said.

Showmac says it will spend its newly raised capital on mass-producing its integrated eSIM modules, research and development, and business development.

Categories: Business News

Why isn’t Robinhood a verb yet?

2020, September 25 - 4:10am

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s VC-focused podcast (now on Twitter!), where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This week Natasha MascarenhasDanny Crichton and your humble servant gathered to chat through a host of rounds and venture capital news for your enjoyment. As a programming note, I am off next week effectively, so look for Natasha to lead on Equity Monday and then both her and Danny to rock the Thursday show. I will miss everyone.

But onto the show itself, here’s what we got into:

Bon voyage for a week, please stay safe and don’t forget to register to vote.

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PDT and Thursday afternoon as fast as we can get it out, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

Categories: Business News

Announcing the final agenda for TC Sessions: Mobility 2020

2020, September 25 - 4:05am

TC Sessions: Mobility is back and we’re excited to give the final look of what and who is coming to the main stage.

Before we get into who is coming, let’s tackle one important change from our 2019 inaugural event: this year, TC Sessions: Mobility will be virtual. Never fear, the virtual version of TC Sessions: Mobility will bring all of what you’d expect from our in-person events, from the informative panels and provocative one-on-one interviews to the networking and this year, even a pitch-off session.

While virtual isn’t the same as our events in the past, it has provided one massive benefit: democratizing access. If you’re a startup or investor based in Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, South America or another region in the U.S., you can listen in, network and connect with other participants here in Silicon Valley. Plus, you’ll be able to meet all of the attendees through our matchmaking platform, CrunchMatch.

This year, we’re also holding a pitch-off competition for early-stage mobility companies, but you’ll need to make sure you have your ticket to join us at the event online. Prices start at just $25 for an Expo Ticket and only $195 for a General Admission Ticket to experience the whole event. We also offer a $50 tickets for students.

TechCrunch reporters and editors will interview some of the top leaders in transportation to tackle topics such as scaling up an electric vehicle company, the future of automated vehicle technology, micromobility, building an AV startup and investing in the industry. Our guests include Argo AI co-founder and CEO Bryan Salesky, Waymo COO Tekedra Mawakana, Lucid Motors CEO and CTO Peter Rawlinson, Ike Robotics co-founder and chief engineer Nancy Sun, Formula E race car driver Lucas di Grassi, Cruise’s director of global government affairs Prashanthi Raman, Hemi Ventures managing partner Amy Gu, Polestar CEO Thomas Ingenlath as well as TuSimple co-founder and CTO Xiaodi Hou and Boris Sofman, former Anki Robotics founder and CEO who now leads Waymo’s trucking unit.

Don’t forget that General Admission tickets (including $50 savings) are currently available for a limited time; grab your tickets here before prices increase.

AGENDA

Tuesday, October 6

Taking AVs to the Next Level Tekedra Mawakana (Waymo)

Waymo Chief Operating Officer Tekedra Mawakana is at the center of Waymo’s future, from scaling the autonomous vehicle company’s commercial deployment and directing fleet operations to developing the company’s business path. Tekedra will speak about what lies ahead as Waymo drives forward with its plan to become a grownup business.

The Changing Face of Delivery with Matthew Johnson-Roberson (Refraction AI), Ali Kashani (Postmates), and speaker to be confirmed.

Small startups and logistics giants alike are working on how to use automated vehicle technology and robotics for delivery. Matthew Johnson-Roberson, co-founder of Refraction AI and Ali Kashani, the VP of special projects at Postmates will talk about the challenges and opportunities of using robots for delivery.

Investing in Mobility with Reilly Brennan (Trucks VC), Amy Gu (Hemi Ventures), and Olaf Sakkers (Maniv Mobility)

Reilly Brennan, Amy Gu and Olaf Sakkers will come together to debate the uncertain future of mobility tech and whether VC dollars are enough to push the industry forward.

Networking Break

With our virtual platform, attendees can network via video chat, giving folks the chance to make meaningful connections. CrunchMatch, our algorithmic matching product, will be available to ensure you’re meeting the right people at the show, as well as random matching for attendees who are feeling more adventurous.

Setting the Record Straight with Bryan Salesky (Argo AI)

Argo AI has gone from unknown startup to a company providing the autonomous vehicle technology to Ford and VW — not to mention billions in investment from the two global automakers. Co-founder and CEO Bryan Salesky will talk about the company’s journey, what’s next and what it really takes to commercialize autonomous vehicle technology.

The Next Opportunities in Micromobility with Danielle Harris (Elemental Excelerator), Dmitry Shevelenko (Tortoise), Avra van der Zee (Superpedestrian)

Worldwide, numerous companies are operating shared micromobility services — so many that the industry is well into a consolidation phase. Despite the over-saturation of the market, there are still opportunities for new players. Danielle Harris, director of mobility innovation at Elemental Excelerator, Dmitry Shevelenko, founder at Tortoise will discuss, and VP of Strategy and Policy at Superpedestrian.

Building an AV Startup with Nancy Sun (Ike)

Ike co-founder and chief engineer Nancy Sun will share her experiences in the world of automation and robotics, a ride that has taken her from Apple to Otto and Uber before she set off to start a self-driving truck company. Sun will discuss what the future holds for trucking and the challenges and the secrets behind building a successful mobility startup.

Uber’s City Footprint with Shin-pei Tsay (Uber)

Uber’s operations touch upon many aspects of the transportation ecosystem. Whether its autonomous vehicles, food delivery, trucking or traditional ride-hailing, these products and services all require Uber to interact with cities and ensure the company is on the good side of cities. That’s where Shin-pei Tsay comes in. Hear from Tsay about how she thinks through Uber’s place in cities and how she navigates various regulatory frameworks.

The Road to the All-Electric Air with Peter Rawlinson (Lucid Motors)

Just weeks after Lucid Motors unveils its long-anticipated all-electric luxury Air sedan, we’ll sit down with Peter Rawlinson to discuss the challenges of building a car company and assembling that first production vehicle as well as plans for the future.

Wednesday, October 7

The Future of Racing with Lucas Di Grassi (Audi Sport)

Formula E driver Lucas Di Grassi is part of a new racing series, in which riders on high-speed electric scooters compete against each other on temporary circuits in cities. Think Formula E, but with electric scooters. The former CEO of Roborace and sustainability ambassador of the EsC, Electric Scooter Championship, will join us to talk about electrification, micromobility and a new kind of motorsport.

The Future of Trucking with Xiaodi Hou (TuSimple) and Boris Sofman (Waymo)

TuSimple co-founder and CTO Xiaodi Hou and Boris Sofman, former Anki Robotics founder and CEO who now leads Waymo’s trucking unit, will discuss the business and the technical challenges of autonomous trucking.

The Electrification of Porsche with Detlev von Platen (Porsche AG)

Porsche has undergone a major transformation in the past several years, investing billions into an electric vehicle program and launching the Taycan, its first all-electric vehicle. Now, Porsche is ramping up for more. Porsche AG’s Detlev von Platen, who is a member of the company’s executive board, will talk about Porsche’s path, competition and where it’s headed next.

Navigating Self-Driving Car Regulations with David Estrada (Nuro), Melissa Froelich (Aurora) and Jody Kelman (Lyft), Prashanthi Raman (Cruise)

Autonomous vehicle developers face a patchwork of local, state and federal regulations. Government policy experts, from Nuro, Aurora, Lyft and Cruise, discuss the progress that’s been made, the challenges that remain and how startups can navigate the jumble of regulations and deploy their autonomous vehicle technology at scale.

Future of Cities: Delivery Takes Flight with Margaret Nagle (Wing)

Margaret Nagle, head of policy and public affairs at Wing, will talk about how drones used for delivery could reshape cities and improve accessibility.

Delivering and Building EVs with Thomas Ingenlath (Polestar)

Polestar is less than four years old and already has two vehicles on the market and more on the way. In this fireside chat with CEO Thomas Ingenlath, we’ll discuss the company’s focus, strategy and sleek design.

Scooting Through the World’s Regulatory Frameworks with Tony Adesina (Gura Ride), Fredrik Hjelm (VOI Technology), and Euwyn Poon (Spin)

Although dockless scooters first hit the streets of the U.S., there’s plenty of scooter activity going on abroad. And thanks to different regulatory landscapes and players, the state of scooters looks different depending on where you are. Scooters have taken off in Europe, with a number of players operating across the continent, as well as in South America. Now, shared scooters and ebikes are popping up in Africa. Hear from Spin CEO Euwyn Poon about bringing his U.S.-centric company abroad, VOI co-founder Fredrik Hjelm about the state of scooters in Europe and Tony Adesina, the founder and CEO of micromobility startup Gura Ride about opportunities and challenges in Africa.

Startup Pitch-Off

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

Life After Tesla with JB Straubel (Redwood Materials)

JB Straubel might be best known as Tesla’s co-founder and former CTO who was responsible for some of the company’s most important technology, notably around batteries. But Straubel is hardly finished. He launched his own recycling startup called Redwood Materials that is focused on creating a circular supply chain and recently named Amazon and Panasonic as customers. We’ll sit down with Straubel to talk about his latest venture, time at Tesla and of course, battery technology and the state of the electric vehicles.

Building Better Battery Tech with Celina Mikolajczak (Panasonic) and JB Straubel (Redwood Materials)

Celina Mikolajczak, vice president of battery technology for Panasonic Energy of North America, and JB Straubel, co-founder and CEO of Redwood Materials, will dig into the state of battery tech, what it will take to meet growing demand while minimizing the environmental impact, and how their respective companies are working together.

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Categories: Business News

3 founders on why they pursued alternative startup ownership structures

2020, September 25 - 2:52am

There is no one-size-fits all model for building a startup.

At TechCrunch Disrupt, we heard from a handful of founders about alternative approaches to creating a sustainable company that ensures more than just VCs and early founders benefit from its success. 

One way is building a cooperative, which Driver’s Seat CEO Hays Witt described as “a kind of corporate entity that both allows and requires that we return the majority of our profits to our members, and that our members have a majority of governance.”

Driver’s Seat helps ride-hail drivers use data to maximize their earnings. It works by requiring drivers to install an app that educates them about how the co-op collects and uses their data. In exchange, the app gives them insights about their real hourly wages after expenses and how those wages relate to different driving strategies.

“At a community level, what we do is sort of align everybody’s interest so that as gig workers come into our co-op, as they generate data, the value of that data in the aggregate gets higher and higher,” Witt said. “The dividends that we’re able to return back to drivers gets higher and also the kind of insights we’re able to give communities about work gets higher at the same time. So we kind of align all of our impact and mission goals. And our business model is through our co-op structure.”

That’s not to say Driver’s Seat does not create returns for its investors — investors are just one group of many that benefit from the company’s success. Witt said a desire for accountability made him decide to form a co-op.

“If we are always accountable to our co-op members, and our co-op members are gig workers, then we’re going to know that we’re accountable to the right things,” Witt said. “Now, we have investor members, too. We’re accountable to them, too. But our structure means that the gig workers always have at least that 51%. [ … ] it’s certainly not the only way to build a business. But, you know, for us, it was the way that we would build a business that would align with our mission of really changing the gig economy.”

Categories: Business News

The first rule of BookClub? No boring book clubs.

2020, September 25 - 1:56am

Book clubs can be magical. Bring together a group of friends, tear apart a book and all of a sudden the words have a second, paperless, life.

But what if the author could join in the banter? Imagine riffing with Roxane Gay, debating with Ta-Nehisi Coates and eavesdropping on Jhumpa Lahiri. The experience would resemble that of an epilogue, but one reserved exclusively for your friend group.

For those intrigued, a new Salt Lake City startup wants to talk. BookClub launched today to bring author-led book clubs to readers. The platform will allow authors to join personal book groups, share exclusive video-based interviews and engage in questions you might have (including cliffhanger complaints).

The startup is founded by some familiar names: Degreed co-founders David Blake and Eric Sharp, as well as early product leader at Degreed, Emily Campbell.

“When you think of Instagram Stories and TikTok, the mainstream social media movement is mostly video-based,” Blake said. “But the book world has not yet caught up. If you think of Goodreads, it’s kind of like the internet, circa 2010.” BookClub, he hopes, will lead to more modern experiences with authors that are, at the same time, easily scalable.

To better picture the experience, see how BookClub produced a video based on the novel “The Suspect,” by Kent Alexander and Kevin Salwen.

Image Credits: David Blake

Readers can also request an author to join their club.

Image Credits: BookClub

BookClub is taking a MasterClass approach to education and entertainment. MasterClass, which raised $100 million in May, sells celebrity-taught classes with a big focus on production. For a subscription fee, MasterClass users can learn how to cook from Gordon Ramsay or how to play tennis from Serena Williams.

Blake wants to offer a similar experience, but with authors.

“MasterClass has authors already on their platform, but they are all 100% teaching the skill of how to be a good writer,” Blake said. “Our platform is being built from the ground up, exclusively for this use case — and will be feature rich with things that can help tag, explore, discuss by characters, themes, questions.”

He did not share any big author names that BookClub has secured just yet, although those partnerships will be vital to BookClub’s success.

Blake declined to share specific details on pricing, but said that it will be a consumer subscription business with shared economic benefits for authors and moderators.

Although the product is pre-launch, Blake is clear about what BookClub is not.

“Rather than doing what’s easiest or most accessible, we’re trying to step back and say ‘what will it take to unlock the power of a great book?’ ” he said. “We’re giving [the book] the justice it deserves, rather than being Zoom for authors.”

One benefit of going with Zoom is that it is already a household name and millions of people have downloaded the client. BookClub will live as a media platform, not a downloaded client, and is going mobile-first. The decision to go mobile before desktop was driven by the fact that most people don’t want to hold a laptop during their book clubs. Instead, BookClub wants to recreate a FaceTime-like experience with an author.

It has been a busy pandemic for the co-founders of Degreed, which raised over $32 million in June. In April, the duo founded Learn In, a venture that plugs into company HR software to help decisionmakers manage sabbaticals for their employees. The startup raised $3.5 million from Album, GSV and Firework Ventures. BookClub will be their third company in the edtech space, and second startup launched within five months.

When asked how he’s handling juggling all of the startups, Blake simply said that he was “travelling 200 days a year, and got all that time back.” He added that he is now only at Degreed at an operational capacity, so will be evenly splitting his time between Learn In and BookClub. Still, leading two startups at the same time is a challenge, since most people can’t even handle one.

BookClub tells TechCrunch that it successfully secured funding. The startup has raised $6 million in a seed round led by Maveron . Other investors include Signal Peak Ventures, Pelion Venture Partners, Mike Levinthal and GSV (a firm that has invested in all three of Blake’s ventures).

The money will be used for video production costs.

“Unless the author has been on Oprah’s book club, this will be the highest video treatment that an author will have ever received,” he said. “We’re trying to do Hollywood cinematic levels.”

Join the waitlist here.

Edtech investors are panning for gold

Categories: Business News

Learning how to ask questions is an essential skill for startup founders

2020, September 25 - 12:30am
Mercedes Bent Contributor Share on Twitter Mercedes Bent is a partner at Lightspeed where she invests in consumer, edtech and fintech companies. More posts by this contributor

For many of us, learning to ask questions was a matter of the five W’s: who, what, where, when, why (and how).

As I interviewed founders about the most valuable learning resources that allowed them to grow into the leaders they are today, I realized that many of them leaned heavily on carefully crafted approaches to asking questions. In all the interviews, inquiry was by far the most cited learning process. I found these founders to be incredibly methodical, brave, curious, disciplined and efficient in their pursuit of learning.  

Founders showed incredible discipline by approaching information gathering as a structured process. Some founders have a highly systematic approach in how they target their outreach:

I learned by being systematic about talking to people smarter than myself. I needed to know hundreds of people and know what they know. I made a table matrix of who I talk to and for what topic. For example, Eric Schmidt is one of six experts I turn to on establishing management OKRs.

— Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn

And in how they catalog/store information about who is an expert …

Categories: Business News

Entrepreneurship and investing as social good

2020, September 25 - 12:15am
Sree Kolli Contributor Share on Twitter Sree Kolli is co-founder of Conduit, a premium investment platform that connects founders with successful operators, family offices and select VCs worldwide.

2020 has been a year of social upheaval. Around the world, society is identifying different problems in our culture and pushing for widespread change. While there are notable steps we can all take, from altering exclusionary company policies to signing action-oriented petitions, the VC and investment world has another, often overlooked option: Investing in change-the-world startups.

Increasingly, angel investors and institutional funds have begun allocating a portion of their funds to startups focused on diversity and social good, whether focused on democratized access to healthcare and education, or larger scale issues like climate change.

Initially, shifting funds to empower social good may seem like a hefty feat, however investors can embrace this mindshift in three simple steps: (1) redistributing stagnant investments; (2) leveraging democratized access to change-making startups; and (3) identifying founders tracking toward success.

Allocating more investments to foster change

Most of the world’s money is tied up in stagnant places. Whether invested in real estate, bonds or other traditional vehicles, this capital typically often shows conservative returns to investors — and has negligible impact on society. The intent isn’t malicious.

Most family offices and private wealth managers strive to minimize losses and these sorts of uniformed portfolios are safe. Even the most seasoned investors should incorporate more variety into their portfolios, determining where they can make profitable investments that yield higher returns while advancing societal good. Investors can take small steps to get more confident in expanding their strategies.

To start, reframe your thinking into seeing the potential opportunity rather than the risk. A good way to do this: Look at how high-risk public equities performed over the last five years and compare it to ventures within tech. Investors will see a significant disparity and the opportunity to make different returns.

The idea is not to put an entire profile in a single venture. Rather, an investor should take a portion of their portfolio in a high-risk investment sector, like public equities or fund structures, and put it in a similar risk profile with a better return. Gradually increasing these increments, starting at 15% and slowly scaling up, can help investors to see outsized returns while making a difference in the process.

A world of passion at your fingertips

For startups of all sizes, democratized access to investors will accelerate the use of capital for social good. Until recently, only the world’s wealthiest people had exposure to premium capital, but crowdfunding and accelerator programs have ushered in new opportunities, forging connections that might not have otherwise been possible.

These avenues have opened new doors for investors and startups. Access to developed networks or innovation hubs like Silicon Valley are no longer make-or-breaks for those looking to raise capital. Extended global opportunity for startups also means investors have more options to find promising ventures that align with their values, regardless of their location.

But while crowdfunding and accelerators have made the world more accessible, they come with sizable challenges. Despite making early-stage investment more obtainable, crowdfunding often does not bring the most valuable investors to the table.

Crowdfunding also inundates platforms with poor-quality deal flow, making it more strenuous for investors to connect with fruitful opportunities. Meanwhile, various accelerators and incubation platforms have emerged, which have advanced global connection, but tend to be quite noisy.

To succeed, entrepreneurs need more than capital. Rather, they need strategic support from experienced investors who can help them make decisions and scale in an impactful way. With a world of ideas at their fingertips, investors should take time to sift through their options and find the ideas that move them the most, prioritizing quality deals and looking toward platforms that curate promising connections.

Empowering entrepreneurs poised for success

Now is the right time to invest in startups. People who innovate during the pandemic have triple the hustle of those who build in safer economies. But while the timing is right, it’s equally important that the fit is right. I’m a big believer in investing in potential: Ambition, unwavering tenacity and empathy are desirable qualities that can help bring game-changing ideas to fruition.

If an investor funds a passionate leader with a strong vision and ability to attract talent, then the groundwork is laid to build something meaningful. When considering the change-makers to invest in, ask: Is this the right person to be building this company? Do they have the ability to attract and lead talent? Is the market big enough, and is there a significant enough problem to build a company around?

If the answer isn’t yes to all of these questions, it’s important to gauge if you can see a theoretical exit, or if the company is pre-seed or Series A, if they have the ability to scale to a decent size.

Despite this, investing in startups, no matter how good their intentions, can scare investors. One way to overcome trepidation is to invest in larger-stage startups that seem less risky and then wade into earlier-stage startups at your own pace. Special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs) are also becoming an interesting investment option.

SPACs are corporations formed for the sole purpose of raising investment capital through an IPO. The proceeds are then used to buy one or more existing companies, an option that could decrease anxiety for risk-averse investors looking to expand their comfort zone.

Any strategy an investor chooses to embrace social good is a step in the right direction. Capital is a tangible way to fuel innovation and bring about impactful change.

Democratized access to startups yields more opportunity for investors to find ventures that align with their values while diversifying their profiles can provide tremendous results. And when that return means disrupting the status quo and empowering societal change? Everyone wins.

Conduit launches to help founders find actually useful angels and VCs

Categories: Business News

As tech stocks dip, is insurtech startup Root targeting an IPO?

2020, September 24 - 11:24pm

During the week’s news cycle one particular bit of reporting slipped under our radar: Root Insurance is tipped by Reuters to be prepping an IPO that could value the neo-insurance provider at around $6 billion.

Coming after two 2020 insurtech IPOs, Root’s steps toward the public markets are not surprising. But they are good news all the same for a number of insurance startups that have raised lots of capital and will eventually need to prepare their own debuts if they don’t find a larger corporate home.

The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. Read it every morning on Extra Crunch, or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.

Programming note: The Exchange column is off starting tomorrow through next week. The newsletter will go out as always on Saturdays. I’m taking a week to sit and do nothing.

The Root IPO will also help clarify Lemonade’s own public offering and ensuing valuation. Lemonade’s debut brought a strong price to the rental-focused insurance provider, leading to a more buoyant attitude toward the valuation of its class of startups. More precisely, the public price assigned to Lemonade when it floated was, no bullshit, very bullish.

If Root can repeat the feat it would cast a warm light on the yet-private players in its niche that will have their eyes pinned to the flotation. Names like MetroMile and Hippo could be next if Root’s IPO goes well.

But, first, does Root make sense at a $6 billion valuation? We can do a little digging on that this morning, using Lemonade’s present-day valuation to get a handle on the figure. Let’s go!

Root’s valuation in a Lemonade world

Before we get into the numbers, bear in mind that we’re going to compare apples and oranges today, and that we’ll have to use some dated numbers as well. That said, we can still get somewhere about what Root could be worth. So, roll with me but don’t take every number as engraved onto an obelisk.

Back in July of this year, in the wake of the Lemonade IPO and Hippo’s latest funding round, a $150 million investment at a $1.5 billion post-money valuation, we started to do some math. Lemonade’s valuation was much richer than Hippos’ when you look at their multiples, which got us thinking about private and public neo-insurance provider valuations: Why was Lemonade worth so much more than its peers per dollar of written premium?

To better understand the situation, we dug up some 2019 data on the dollar value of gross written premium Hippo and Lemonade wrote and found new valuation multiples for them based on those numbers. Lemonade was worth 28.4x its Q1 annualized gross written premium, while Hippo was worth just 5.6x its own.

Then we also found Root and MetroMile gross written premium numbers for 2019, which allowed us to calculate their own effective valuations (albeit using dated numbers).

As before when we found that Hippo’s private valuation looked light compared to Lemonade’s public valuation when we contrasted their valuation/gross written premium multiple, we discovered that MetroMile and Root also looked cheap. Very cheap.

Categories: Business News

Rephrase.ai raises $1.5M to use synthetic media for personalized sales pitches

2020, September 24 - 11:11pm

Bangalore-based Rephrase.ai has an ambitious vision for reshaping how movies and videos are made.

CEO Ashray Malhotra laid it out for me yesterday, saying that his co-founder Nisheeth Lahoti “came up with this concept — he wants to build an engine that can take any script as input and create a professional movie,” no filming required.

But Rephrase.ai is starting with what Malhotra said is a more “short-term, monetizable” goal: Offering technology that makes it easy to create personalized sales videos.

The startup was part of the Techstars Bangalore program in 2019 and is announcing today that it has raised $1.5 million in seed funding led by Lightspeed Venture Partners and AV8 Ventures.

Malhotra demonstrated the technology for me, showing me how a salesperson can select a model, a background and a voice, and enter text that the model will recite. They can then export that video for use in a variety of sales tools.

This is valuable for, he said, because sending personalized video messages in sales emails can lead to “an insane increase” in clickthrough rates. But creating all those videos can be a huge chore, if not downright impossible.

And while there are plenty of other startups working on synthetic media, Malhotra said Rephrase.ai is set apart by the 18 months the team spent developing technology that can take 10 minutes of footage and “predict how the lip movements of the person would have been if you’d shot them [saying any phrase] in an actual studio.”

You can see the results for yourself in the video above. Personally, I was impressed by the lip movements but disconcerted by the fact that Rephrase.ai customers can pair any model with any voice, leading to some strange combinations that feel more like badly dubbed movie than an effective sales pitch.

When I brought this up, Malhotra replied that some clients will want to take the time “perfecting it out, finding the right voices, the right costumes, the right personality of the actors,” while other clients might be fine spending less time to create something a little less convincing.

It’s also worth noting that Rephrase.ai has several policies designed to prevent the creation of deceptive deepfakes: Presenters can control who has the authority to create videos using their faces, the platform is only open to authorized businesses and videos are created from scratch, rather than transferring someone’s face onto an existing person.

Malhotra said Rephrase.ai is currently talking to a number of potential customers, but those discussions are in early stages. He also suggested that the technology could expand fairly quickly into areas like chatbots and education.

“I think it’s going to open a whole new world of creativity,” he said. “When you and I want to express something, we’re most likely to write a text document, but as a viewer, we want to see a video. They’ve been disconnected because video creation is really difficult.”

Sonantic is ready to convince listeners that synthetic voices can cry

Categories: Business News

NUVIA raises $240M from Mithril to make climate-ready enterprise chips

2020, September 24 - 10:30pm

Climate change is on everyone’s minds these days, what with the outer Bay Area on fire, orange skies above San Francisco, and a hurricane season that is bearing down on the East Coast with alacrity (and that’s just the United States in the past two weeks).

A major — and growing — source of those emissions is data centers, the cloud infrastructure that powers most of our devices and experiences. That’s led to some novel ideas, such as Microsoft’s underwater data center Project Natick, which just came back to the surface for testing a bit more than a week ago.

Yet, for all the fun experiments, there is a bit more of an obvious solution: just make the chips more energy efficient.

That’s the thesis of NUVIA, which was founded by three ex-Apple chip designers who led the design of the “A” series chip line for the company’s iPhones and iPads for years. Those chips are wicked fast within a very tight energy envelope, and NUVIA’s premise is essentially what happens when you take those sorts of energy constraints (and the experience of its chip design team) and apply them to the data center.

We did a deep profile of the company last year when it announced its $53 million Series A, so definitely read that to understand the founding story and the company’s mission. Now about one year later, it’s coming back to us with news of a whole bunch of more funding.

Three of Apple and Google’s former star chip designers launch NUVIA with $53M in series A funding

NUVIA announced today that it has closed on a $240 million Series B round led by Mithril Capital, with a bunch of others involved listed below.

Since we last chatted with the company, we now have a bit more detail of what it’s working on. It has two products under development, a system-on-chip (SoC) unit dubbed “Orion” and a CPU core dubbed “Phoenix.” The company previewed a bit of Phoenix’s performance last month, although as with most chip companies, it is almost certainly too early to make any long-term predictions about how the technology will settle in with existing and future chips coming to the market.

NUVIA’s view is that chips are limited to about 250-300 watts of power given the cooling and power constraints of most data centers. As more cores become common pre chip, each core is going to have to make do with less power availability while maintaining performance. NUVIA’s tech is trying to solve that problem, lowering total cost of ownership for data center operators while also improving overall energy efficiency.

There’s a lot more work to be done of course, so expect to see more product announcements and previews from the company as it gets its technology further finalized. With $240 million more dollars in the bank though, it certainly has the resources to make some progress.

Shortly after we chatted with the company last year, Apple sued company founder and CEO Gerald Williams III for breach of contract, with the company arguing that its former chip designer was trying to poach employees for his nascent startup. Williams counter-sued earlier this year, and the two parties are now in the discovery phase of their lawsuit, which remains ongoing.

In addition to lead Mithril, the round was done “in partnership with” the founders of semiconductor giant Marvell (Sehat Sutardja and Weili Dai), funds managed by BlackRock, Fidelity, and Temasek, plus Atlantic Bridge and Redline Capital along with Series A investors Capricorn Investment Group, Dell Technologies Capital, Mayfield, Nepenthe LLC, and WRVI Capital.

Categories: Business News

E-commerce platform Whitebox raises $18M

2020, September 24 - 10:11pm

Whitebox, a startup that manages e-commerce logistics and fulfillment for a variety for brands, has raised $18 million in Series B funding.

While discussing the new funding, CEO Marcus Startzel repeated a point he made after Whitebox raised its $5 million Series A last year — that the startup is differentiated by combining tools for managing e-commerce listings across a variety of marketplaces with the ability to store and ship products from its own warehouse spaces across the United States.

“We really saw an opportunity for a platform that could both sell stuff and move stuff,” Startzel said.

However, he suggested that more recently, “The thing that really shined for us through this period has been third layer of that platform, which is our decisioning layer.” That’s the layer that allows brands to use data to answer questions like, “Should I fulfill this big wholesale order or hold inventory for the marketplaces? Should I inbound a bunch of stuff into Amazon, or do I keep it here in my Whitebox warehouses to potentially fulfill wholesale orders?”

And of course, this is happening as e-commerce has become increasingly important during the pandemic. Startzel suggested that initially, Whitebox’s ideal customer was a “challenger brand” whose business was mostly coming from Shopify, and who needed help as it expanded to Amazon and other marketplaces. But increasingly, the startup is also working with more traditional customers.

“Twenty-five years ago, if you wanted to buy a bottle of ketchup, you had to go to a store and discover a bottle of ketchup as you walked down the condiment aisle,” Startzel said. “Today, the store brands can no longer count on foot traffic, and they’re beginning to recognize how important it is on to be on e-commerce.”

As a result, Whitebox said it saw 40% quarter-over-quarter revenue growth in the first three months of 2020, followed by 78% growth in Q2. And its direct-to-consumer shipments grew 300% over the first half of the year.

Startzel also said that the company took “a very aggressive and conservative approach” to managing its fulfillment facilities during this period — aggressive in the sense that it wanted to ensure that there was no disruption in shipments, conservative in its efforts to make sure the facilities were safe.

The Series B was led by Alan Taetle of Noro-Moseley Partners, with participation from TDF Ventures, TCP Venture Capital’s Propel Baltimore Fund, Merkle global chairman David Williams and Millennial Media co-founder Chris Brandenburg.

“Whitebox remains a leader in this extremely busy and competitive space, and is uniquely positioned to see continued growth,” Taetle said in a statement. “The team has built a technology platform that not only expands the tools and insights that brands need to manage their sales and fulfillment processes from top to bottom, but also powers the larger e-commerce economy by eliminating marketplace complexities. Our investment signifies our confidence in Whitebox and the capabilities that we know the company can bring to the table for new and current customers.”

Startzel said the company will use the new funding to expand its sales and marketing teams, continue developing its technology platform and build out its fulfillment centers — it currently has centers in Baltimore (where Whitebox is headquartered), Las Vegas and Memphis, with plans to expand in the Midwest next year.

Why e-commerce startups aren’t raising more funding during this historic boom

Categories: Business News

Spectrum Labs raises $10M for its AI-based platform to combat online toxicity

2020, September 24 - 10:00pm

With the U.S. presidential election now 40 days away, all eyes are focused on how online conversations, in conjunction with other hallmarks of online life like viral videos, news clips and misleading ads, will be used, and often abused, to influence people’s decisions.

But political discourse, of course, is just one of the ways that user-generated content on the internet is misused for toxic ends. Today, a startup that’s using AI to try to tackle them all is announcing some funding.

Spectrum Labs — which has built algorithms and a set of APIs that can be used to moderate, track, flag and ultimately stop harassment, hate speech, radicalization and some 40 other profiles of toxic behavior, in English as well as multiple other languages — has raised $10 million in a Series A round of funding, capital that the company plans to use to continue expanding its platform.

The funding is being led by Greycroft, with Wing Venture Capital, Ridge Ventures, Global Founders Capital and Super{set} also participating. The company has raised about $14 million to date.

Spectrum Labs’ connection to combatting toxic political discourse is not incidental.

CEO Justin Davis said the startup was founded in the wake of the previous U.S. election in 2016, when he and his co-founder Josh Newman (the CTO) — who hailed from the world of marketing tech (they and about 9 other employees at Spectrum all worked together at Krux and then Salesforce after Krux got acquired by it) — found themselves driven to build something that could help combat all the toxicity online, which they felt had a huge role to play not just in how the election unfolded but in the major rifts that get established, and play themselves out everyday, on the internet and beyond.

“We were all looking for some way to get involved,” he said. “We wanted to use our big data experience” — Krux’s specialty was online content categorization for marketers to better measure their campaigns — “to do some good in the world.”

Spectrum Labs today works with a wide range of companies — from gaming giants (Riot Games is one customer), to social networks (Pinterest is another), online dating sites (the Meet Group is one more), marketplaces (Mercari is a fourth), DTC brands and organizations that want to track their own internal conversations.

The company’s primary platform is called “guardian” (not to be confused with the eponymous newspaper, whose logo it resembles) and it comes in the form of a dashboard if you need it, or just a set of services that you can integrate, it seems, into your own.

Customers can use the tech to check and vet their existing policies, get guidance on how to improve them and use a framework to create new samples and labels to train models to track content better in the future.

Tools for content moderation have been around for years, but they have largely been very simplistic complements to human teams, flagging keywords and the like (which as we now can throw up many false positives).

But more recently, advances in artificial intelligence have supercharged that work — an arrival that has come not too soon, considering how online conversations have grown exponentially with the surge of popularity of social media and online chatting in general.

Spectrum Labs’ AI-based platform is currently set up to scan for more than 40 kinds of toxic behavior profiles, such as harassment, hate speech, scams, grooming, illegal solicitation and doxxing, a set of profiles that it built initially in consultation with researchers and academics around the world and continues to hone as it ingests more data from across the web.

The startup is not the only one that is tapping AI to target and fix toxic behavior. Just this year, for example, we’ve also seen the AI startup Sentropy — also focusing on social media conversations — raise money and come out of stealth and L1ght also announce funding for its own take on tackling online toxicity.

Indeed, what has been notable is not just the emergence of other startups building businesses around fighting the good fight, but seeing investors interested in backing them, in what might not be the most lucrative ventures, but definitely efforts that will help society for the better in the longer term.

“Justin and Josh have grit and resilience and it takes a unique set of leaders and team,” said Alison Engel, a venture partner at Greycroft. “But as investors we know to solve the most systemic problems requires capital, too. You have to invest behind them. To pull it off, you will need coalitions, platforms coming together. A lot of this is a problem rooted in data and making it more robust, second is people behind it and third is the capital.”

She said that it feels like there is a changing tide right now among VCs and where they choose to put their money.

“When you look at the investment community supporting and thriving on community growth you have to think, what is our value system here? We need to invest in the platforms that are part of this greater good, and you are starting to see investors responding to that.”

Categories: Business News

Airship acquires SMS commerce company ReplyBuy

2020, September 24 - 10:00pm

Airship is announcing that it has acquired mobile commerce startup ReplyBuy.

The startup (which was a finalist at TechCrunch’s 1st and Future competition in 2016) works with customers like entertainment venues and professional and college sports teams to send messages and sell tickets to fans via SMS. It raised $4 million in funding from Sand Hill Angels, Kosinski Ventures, SEAG Ventures, Enspire Capital, MRTNZ Ventures and others, according to Crunchbase.

Airship, meanwhile, has been expanding its platform beyond push notifications to cover customer communication across SMS, email, mobile wallets and more. But CEO Brett Caine said this is the first time the company is moving into commerce.

While sports and concerts tickets might not be a booming market right now, Caine suggested that the company is actually seeing increased purchasing activity “in and around the Airship platform” as businesses try to drive more in-app purchases. He also suggested that both the COVID-19 pandemic and increased restrictions on mobile data collection and ad targeting are going to “accelerate direct-to-consumer motion by large brands.”

Airship isn’t disclosing the deal price, but Caine said the seven-person ReplyBuy team will be joining the company, with CEO Brandon O’Halloran becoming Airship’s general manager of commerce and CTO Anthony Saia leading the commerce engineering team.

“Nobody directly connects more brands to mobile consumers than Airship,” O’Halloran said in a statement. “Joining Airship offers ReplyBuy the opportunity to serve the global market with a more comprehensive solution across more industries, and provide more valuable mobile customer experiences.”

Caine added, “These are really key roles, demonstrating the importance, in our view, of extending commerce to the customer engagement experience.”

He also said that Airship will continue to support ReplyBuy as a standalone product, while also integrating and extending its capabilities to other areas of the Airship platform.

“This one-to-one commerce at scale is a key part of the ReplyBuy solution,” he said. “We’re going to bring it into all the digital channels that Airship powers [to create] a seamless, fast, easy experience around commerce.”

Airship acquires A/B testing company Apptimize

Categories: Business News

Valar triples down on Petal, leading $55M Series C round into the credit card disruptor

2020, September 24 - 10:00pm

Sometimes raising venture capital can be as simple as talking to your existing investor and having them wire over another check.

When we last caught up with Petal in January 2019, the startup was hot off its $30 million Series B round and was accelerating its mission to take on the world of credit cards. Petal’s core differentiation is that it looks at the cash flow of potential borrowers rather than traditional credit scores to assess creditworthiness, helping to identify underbanked users who have the ability to be trusted with a credit card, but lack the formal statistics to prove it.

Well, a lot has happened since then. COVID-19 hit, and along the way, the traditional credit score has been rent asunder as millions lost their jobs, had their hours cut back and changed life circumstances. At the same time, federal stimulus relief in the form of direct payments to taxpayers actually led some credit scores to increase during the pandemic. All of this is to say that underwriting based on prospective cash flow has been a bit more attuned to reality rather than credit scores based on retrospective history.

Now, the New York City-headquartered startup is expanding, and netted a $55 million Series C round led by Valar again, which not only led the company’s Series B, but also its $13 million Series A round back in 2018. This Series C round closed in April just after the COVID-19 pandemic got fully underway, and is officially being announced today.

Valar, one of the many vehicles in the Peter Thiel capital universe, has staked its claim in the fintech world, backing companies like Even, Stash, N26, BlockFi, Point Card and Taxfix. I asked Petal CEO Jason Gross his thoughts on why he took capital from his existing investors two more times, and his line was, “if you’ve heard the expression, ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.’ ” He continued, “Our view has been that if we already have a really great working relationship, and a lot of support and a dynamic that’s been successful in the boardroom, there’s no reason to necessarily change that.”

Petal raises $30M from Valar to bank the unbanked with credit cards

Gross said that the company’s model has allowed it to handle the storm of changes that have been underway this year. “It’s allowing us to make credit accessible at a period of time when legacy institutions — traditional banks and so on — are being forced to pull back,” he said. “We’ve been able to continue to accurately understand what’s going on with the financial circumstances of our customers and applicants,” allowing the company to “lean in” this year.

He noted the company has brought on “tens of thousands of customers” since the last time TechCrunch chatted with the company.

Petal has slightly tweaked the cosmetic design of the card. Photo via Petal.

Outside of fundraising and customer growth, the company has been busy. It launched a second office in Richmond, Virginia last year. It “has a really strong, kind of vibrant and emerging technology scene. It is the largest concentration of colleges in Virginia, and it also is a financial-services-heavy location,” Gross explained. Conveniently, it also shares the same time zone as NYC.

Last September, the company raised $300 million from Jeffries as a debt facility to finance its credit card, and in February, it recruited Kaustav Das as its new chief risk officer. Das came from small business loan platform Kabbage, which was sold to American Express earlier this year following the heavy economic blow from the pandemic to small businesses across the country.

Petal is now about 100 employees, and the company has been operating entirely remotely since March. Gross says his goal for the next two years is to onboard “hundred of thousands of new customers.”

In addition to Valar, a huge miscellany of funds participated in the round, including “Rosecliff Ventures, Afore Capital, RiverPark Ventures, Great Oaks Venture Capital, GR Capital, Nelstone Ventures, Abstract Ventures, Ride Ventures, Gramercy Fund, Adventure Collective, Starta Ventures and NFL star Kelvin Beachum, Jr.” The company has now raised about $100 million of equity capital all together.

Categories: Business News

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