posted about 1 hour ago on techcrunch
Indian e-commerce giant Flipkart has hit the market to raise about $1 billion at up to $30 billion valuation before its public listing, two people familiar with the matter told TechCrunch. The Bangalore-based startup, which sold majority stake to Walmart in 2018, began exploring funding opportunities with some of its investors earlier this year. In recent months, the company has also internally discussed pushing its IPO process to early next year. (Media reports last year had suggested Flipkart might file for an IPO in 2021.) SoftBank, one of Flipkart’s major investors, declined to comment on fundraise talks early this month. Another investor said it made sense that the e-commerce group was planning to raise some capital as the market currently has no shortage of it. Flipkart was last valued at about $24.9 billion last year when it raised $1.2 billion in a round led by Walmart. TechCrunch hasn’t been able to identify the investors who might participate in the new investment round. This is a developing story. More to follow…

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posted about 3 hours ago on techcrunch
Even the most casual industry observer has to be stunned at times by the pace of dealmaking right now. Not quite halfway through 2021, startups are routinely closing new rounds just months apart and sometimes seeing their valuations triple and even quadruple with every new round. Maybe they will all become trillion-dollar companies. It’s more likely, however, that they will not, which is where year-old Caplight comes in. Led by Javier Avalos, a former investment banker who recently spent more than three years with the secondaries platform Forge, Caplight is right now building a model that it says will enable institutional investors to take long and short private company positions via synthetic, cash-settled derivatives, so whether or not they own any actual shares in certain startups, they can bet on their rise or fall. Caplight isn’t the first company drawn to the idea. Another young startup in New York, Apeira Capital, is also looking to “short” overvalued startups.  More, Avalos and his cofounder, Justin Moore, a former engineering manager at Forge, could also face competition, from their old firm, for example, as well as Carta, the venture-backed company that makes software to manage equity stakes in other startups. Still, Avalos thinks he’s on to something. Caplight already has $400 worth of interest from more than 30 institutions, he says. It also just closed on $1.7 million in pre-seed funding led by Fin VC, with participation from Susquehanna Private Equity Investments, Clocktower Ventures, and Dash Fund. We talked with him late last week to learn more; below are excerpts from that chat, edited lightly for length. TC: You were at Forge, which helps people buy and sell pre-IPO shares. What opportunity did you see while working there? JA:  I think what platforms like Forge have done really well is build tech solutions for startup employees, for startup founders, and for the companies themselves, and that’s great. What we’re really focused on are larger institutions who need true liquidity, meaning higher frequency of trading, whether that’s buying and selling option contracts, or entering swap-type agreements. [They need a way] to quickly move in and out of positions, as well as hedge themselves. Caplight [aims to become the] infrastructure that enables any other fund that is looking to take directional positions in private companies. It’s meant to be the plumbing that connects that fund to a market, but not just the marketplace –all of the infrastructure that comes with that. So holding assets in prime brokerage; being able to quickly settle transactions through clearinghouses; being able to provide [the] data to inform a mark to market to value those contracts. TC: Even more specifically, what are you offering? JA: So we [want to] allow institutional investors to hedge their private company stock — to generate income on their private company stock by selling out-of-the-money option contracts, for instance. We also allow institutional investors to take short or long positions [and] we’re doing all of our transactions synthetically, so the underlying shares don’t don’t actually have to move. TC: Is that private company stock used as collateral or encumbered in any way? Do you need the permission of the startup? JA: The pre-IPO stock can be used as collateral. It doesn’t always need to be though. The great thing about building a synthetic platform is you can inject liquidity into the market by working with sellers who don’t actually own the stock. If I’m a hedge fund, and I don’t own shares of a pre-IPO company, but I still want to express a short interest — a negative view on that company — I could use Caplight to do that. I’d just need to hold other tradable securities as collateral. That’s part of the beauty of what makes this a marketplace that can have very rapid settlement and execution. TC: So if a hedge fund wants to go short, it just needs to needs to find another party on your service who’s willing to take that trade?  JA: What you need is two parties — one who one who’s interested in going short on the name, and another who’s interested in going long on the name. Beyond that, you need a model that helps these parties arrive at not just an agreed-upon valuation of the company today, but also where they’re comfortable striking a contract at some point in the future, and then a methodology for valuation at any point in time in between those two points.What we’re talking about here is a methodology to create a mark to market on what the value of that contract is at any given time between the time you enter the contract and the time you ultimately go to settle the contract. Those are really the three main ingredients that are needed here. TC: How do you develop this methodology? How automated is it? JA: We’re in the process of building that out now. There’s quite a bit of work, as you can imagine, that goes into that. And part of the mandate that we have having raised this pre seed funding is to go out and find the best talent to come in and help us with this. TC: Assuming some of these inputs would include fund-raising announcements, any announced revenues, and where things are trading on the secondary market, what are other inputs might surprise people? JA: Maybe a less obvious one is that when public mutual funds own private tech companies’ stock, they have to report out on at least a quarterly basis where they’re marking those positions, and that’s all public information. So that’s another alternative data set that we would love to pull into our platform in product form. TC: Why does your company make sense now versus earlier? Does it tie to smart contracts? JA: Smart contracts are are definitely an enabler. But I think it’s more of a function of where we are in the markets. Forge alone is [ approaching a billion dollars a quarter of volume] and that’s just one platform. When you sum up all the activity, we think there is $20 billion of transaction volume, meaning pre IPO shares that are trading hands each year. For that size marketplace to exist without the ability to have directional bets on top of that, or hedging that is made very easy, it just didn’t make sense to us that hedging and derivative-type transactions don’t exist. TC: This is a work in progress. In the meantime, what’s to stop Forge or Carta from doing what you’re doing? JA: It’s something I spend a lot of time thinking about. It goes back to a point that I mentioned earlier, which is that I think Carta and Forge have done a really good job of building tech solutions that serve the companies, and I think a lot of future growth from Carta and Forge and some of the other players is pegged on their ability to develop company relationships. And when you have a lot of [your] growth pegged on building out these relationships — a lot of the valuation that’s being ascribed to Forge and Carta and other secondary platforms is tied their ability to maintain those relationships — to turn around and stand up a marketplace that allows institutions to go short on the same companies that you’re fighting to build relationships with is a direct conflict. Above, from left to right, Caplight founders Javier Avalos and Justin Moore. For more from this chat, including some of the legal hurdles Caplight has to overcome to operate its business, and how it attracts buyers and sellers to the platform, you can hear our longer conversation here.

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posted about 3 hours ago on techcrunch
Serialized fiction app Radish will be acquired by Kakao Entertainment in a transaction valued at $440 million. Kakao Entertainment is owned by Kakao, the South Korean internet giant whose services include its eponymous messaging platform. Radish founder Seungyoon Lee will hold onto his role as its chief executive officer, while also becoming Kakao Entertainment’s global strategy officer to lead its growth in international markets. Radish claims millions of users in North America, and the acquisition will be help Kakao Entertainment expand its own webtoons and web novel business there, and in other English-speaking markets. Radish will retain management autonomy and continue operating as its own brand. Serialized fiction startup Radish raises $63.2M from SoftBank and Kakao Founded in 2015, Radish originally focused on user-generated content, but now the core of its business is Radish Originals, or serial fiction series designed specifically for the app. The company said the launch of Radish Originals in 2018 helped propel its growth, with revenue increasing more than 10 times in 2020 from the previous year. Radish monetizes content through its micropayments system, which allows users to read several free episodes before making payments of about 20 to 30 cents to unlock new episodes (users also have the option of waiting an hour to unlock episodes for free). About 90% of its revenue now comes from Radish Originals. The acquisition means that Radish Originals’ intellectual property will now be adapted by Kakao into webtoons, videos and other content, increasing their reach. Since 2016, Kakao Entertainment has adapted several web novels including “What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim?,” “A Business Proposal” and “Solo Leveling” into webtoons and other media. Lee told TechCrunch that Radish started exclusively distributing several of Kakao Entertainment’s most popular original series, like “What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim?” last month. It plans to launch more content from Kakao Entertainment’s portfolio and are also “looking at ways in which we can make original localized novel adaptions of Kakao’s popular stories,” he added. In a press statement, Kakao Entertainment CEO Jinsoo Lee said, “Radish has firmly established itself as a leading web novel platform and yet we see even greater growth potential… With the combination of Kakao’s expertise in the IP business and Radish’s strong North American foothold, we are excited about what we can achieve together.” The acquisition has been approved by Radish’s board of directors, which includes a representative from SoftBank Ventures Asia, its largest investor, and the majority of its shareholders. Radish’s other backers include Lowercase Capital, K50 Ventures, Nicolas Bergruen, Charlie Songhurst, Duncan Clark and Amy Tan, the best-selling author. Investors say emerging multiverses are the future of entertainment

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posted about 3 hours ago on techcrunch
Toyota has tapped Japanese company Eneos to help develop the hydrogen fuel cell system that will power its futuristic prototype city Woven City. The vision for the 175-acre city, where people will live and work amongst all of Toyota’s projects, including its autonomous e-Palette shuttles and robots, is to build a fully connected ecosystem powered by hydrogen fuel cells. Woven Planet, the innovation-focused subsidiary of Toyota that is in charge of the project, announced Monday that ENEOS, a Japanese petroleum company that’s investing heavily into hydrogen, will help make Toyota’s “human-centered” city of the future. This new partnership not only signifies Toyota’s backing of hydrogen over electric, but it also could help Japan achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. The two companies will work together to test the feasibility of a hydrogen-based supply chain, from production to delivery to usage. To facilitate this, ENEOS will further its technological developments in hydrogen production in order to achieve a fully carbon-free supply chain.  “As Japan’s leading integrated energy company, ENEOS has demonstrated its valuable expertise in all vital processes from hydrogen production to sales and we are confident they have the holistic perspective we require for success,” said Akio Toyoda, president and CEO of Toyota Motor Corporation, in a statement. “To realize a hydrogen-based society, in addition to the evolution of individual technologies, it is essential to seamlessly integrate all the processes of production, delivery, and use.”  Toyota is positioning hydrogen as a top viable clean energy source for the future with this partnership, although it certainly has more electric vehicles on the market than hydrogen, including three new ones this year. Its iconic hydrogen fuel-cell powered car, the Toyota Mirai, saw a 2021 upgrade, and it’s the same tech that Toyota used in its Kenworth T680 tractor.  As part of its partnership with Woven City, ENEOS will use its expertise of operating 45 commercial hydrogen refueling stations in the four major metropolitan areas in Japan to establish one outside of Woven City. The company will also be expected to produce hydrogen derived from renewables, to help install stationary fuel cell generators inside Woven City and to work with Toyota to research hydrogen supply.  “We believe that hydrogen energy will play an integral role in the realization of carbon neutrality on a global scale,” Katsuyuki Ota, president of ENEOS said in a statement. “By working together with Toyota to fully explore hydrogen’s potential, we believe we can make a significant contribution to the creation of new hydrogen-based lifestyles.” Construction at the Woven City site in Susono City, Shizuoka Prefecture, at the base of Mount Fuji began in February. A month later, the Toyota subsidiary launched Woven Capital, a new venture fund that will invest in technologies that will build the future of safe mobility. Woven Capital’s first investment is in autonomous delivery company Nuro.  What’s fueling hydrogen tech?

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posted about 4 hours ago on techcrunch
More investors are joining the wave to bet on lidar, the remote sensing method that uses laser light to measure distances and has garnered ample interest from automakers in recent times. But it’s also a technology that has long been scorned by Elon Musk partly due to its once exorbitant costs. Innovusion, a five-year-old lidar company and a supplier to Chinese electric car upstart Nio, just landed a Series B funding round of $64 million. The new proceeds boost its total investment to over $100 million, not a small amount but the startup is in a race crowded with much bigger players that have raised hundreds of millions of dollars, like Velodyne and Luminar. Temasek, the Singaporean government’s sovereign wealth fund, led Innovusion’s latest financing round. Other investors included Bertelsmann Asia Investment Fund, Joy Capital, Nio Capital, Eight Roads Ventures, and F-Prime Capital. Innovusion runs core development teams out of Sunnyvale, California and Suzhou, an eastern Chinese city near Shanghai that the robotaxi unicorn Momenta also calls home. Junwei Bao, Innovusion’s co-founder and CEO, is not deterred by the industry’s existing giants. Back at Baidu where Bao oversaw sensors and onboarded computing systems for autonomous driving, he also worked on the Chinese search engine leader’s investment in Velodyne. “They were designing things more like a college student designing in their labs,” Bao said of Velodyne. Lidar was a niche market up until about five years ago, the founder explained, for the technology was mostly used by a small community of amateurs and areas such as military, surveying and mapping. These were relatively small markets in terms of shipping volume and Velodyne filled the demand. “They were not thinking about industrialization, volume manufacturing, or roadmap extensibility. They were a pioneer and we [Baidu] recognized their value… but we also knew their weakness.” In fairness, Silicon Valley-based Velodyne today is a $2.2 billion company supplying to some of the world’s largest automakers, including Toyota and Volkswagen. It also pocketed a hefty sum of cash after going public via a SPAC merger last year. Innovusion’s strategy is to make sensors for automakers that are “good enough for the next five years,” according to Bao. The startup chooses “mature components” so it can quickly ramp up production to 100,000 units a year. Its biggest customer at the moment is Nio, a Chinese challenger to Tesla which has backed Innovusion through its corporate venture fund Nio Capital. For mass production of its auto-grade lidar, Innovusion is partnering with Joynext, a smart vehicle arm of the Chinese auto component supplier, Joyson Electronics. For now, China is the largest market for Innovusion. The startup is scheduled to ship a few thousand units this year, mainly for smart transportation and industrial use. Next year, it has a target to deliver several tens of thousands of units to Nio’s luxury sedan, ET7, which is said to have a scanning range of up to 500 meters, an ambitious number, and a standard 120-degree field of view. Similar alliances between carmakers and lidar suppliers have played out in China as the former race to fulfill their “autonomous driving” promises with the aid of lidar. Xpeng, a competitor to Nio, recently rolled out a sedan powered by Livox, a lidar maker affiliated with DJI that markets its consumer-grade affordability. Price is similarly important to Innovusion, which sells lidars to automakers for about $1,000 apiece at the volume of 100,000 per year. “Adding a $1,000 upfront cost plus another couple thousand dollars for a car that’s selling for $30,000 or $50,000 is affordable,” Bao suggested. With the fresh capital, Innovusion plans to increase the production volume of its auto-grade lidar and put more R&D efforts into smart cities and vehicles. The company has over 100 employees and plans to expand its headcount to over 200 this year. China’s Xpeng in the race to automate EVs with lidar

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posted about 4 hours ago on techcrunch
Singapore-based Aspire, which wants to become the financial services “one-stop shop” for SMEs, announced that its business accounts have reached $1 billion in annualized transaction volume one year after launching. The company also unveiled Bill Pay, its latest feature that lets businesses manage and pay invoices by emailing them to Aspire’s AI-based digital assistant. Launched in May 2020, Aspire’s online business accounts are targeted to startups and small- to medium-sized enterprises, and do not require minimum deposits or monthly fees. Co-founder and chief executive officer Andrea Baronchelli told TechCrunch more than 10,000 companies now use Aspire’s business accounts and that adoption was driven by two main reasons. The first was Aspire’s transition to a multi-product strategy early last year, after focusing on corporate cards and working capital loans. The second reason is the COVID-19 pandemic, which made it harder for companies to open accounts at traditional banks. “We can go in and say we offer all-in-one financial tools for growing businesses,” he said. “People come in and use one thing first, and then we offer them other things later on, so that’s been a huge success for us.” Founded in 2018, Aspire has raised about $41.5 million in funding so far, including a Series A announced in July 2019. Its investors include MassMutual Ventures Southeast Asia, Arc Labs and Y Combinator. Aspire raises $32.5M to help SMEs secure fast finance in Southeast Asia Baronchelli said Aspire’s business account users consist of two main segments. The first are “launchers,” or people who are starting their first businesses and need to set up a way to send and receive money. Launchers typically make less than $400,000 a year in revenue and their Aspire account serves as their primary business account. The second segment are companies that make about $500,000 to $2 million a year and already had another bank account, but started using Aspire for its credit line, expense management or foreign exchange tools, and decided to open an account on the platform as well. The company has customers from across Southeast Asia, and is particularly focused on Singapore, Indonesia and Vietnam. For example, it launched Aspire Kickstart, with incorporation services for Singaporean companies, at the start of this year. Bill Pay, its newest feature, lets business owners forward invoices by email to Aspire’s AI-based digital assistant, which uses optical character recognition and deep learning to pull out payment details, including terms and due dates. Then users get a notification to do a final check before approving and scheduling payments. The feature syncs with accounting systems integrated into Aspire, including Xero and QuickBooks. Baronchelli said Aspire decided to launch Bill Pay after interviewing businesses and finding that many still relied on Excel spreadsheets. Aspire’s offerings overlap with several other fintech companies in Southeast Asia. For example, Volopay, Wise and Revolut offer business accounts, too, and Spenmo offers business cards. Aspire plans to differentiate by expanding its stack of multiple products. For example, it is developing tools for accounts receivable, such as invoice automation, and accounts payable, like a dedicated product for payroll management. Baronchelli said Aspire is currently interviewing users to finalize the set of features it will offer. “I don’t want to close the door that others might come toward a multiple product approach, but if you ask me what our position is now, we are basically the only one that offers an all-in-one product stack,” he added. “So we are a couple years ahead of the competition and have a first-mover advantage.” Singapore-based Volopay raises $2.1 million seed round to build a ‘financial control center’ for businesses Brex raises $425M at a $7.4B valuation, as the corporate spend war rages on Singapore is poised to become Asia’s Silicon Valley  

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posted about 5 hours ago on techcrunch
While consumers and businesses continue to use their purchasing power to spin the wheels of the globalized economy, one of the companies that’s built a technology platform to help that economy operate more smoothly is announcing an investment to double down on growth. Zencargo, which has built a digital platform to enable freight forwarding — the process by which companies organize and track the movements of items they are making and selling (and the components needed for those items) — has raised £30 million (about $42 million). Alex Hersham, the CEO who co-founded the company with Richard Fattal (CCO) and Jan Riethmayer, said that London-based Zencargo will be using the funding to open offices in The Netherlands, Hong Kong and the U.S.; to more than double its headcount to 350 from 150 today; and to begin to make moves into trade finance — a critical lever for facilitating the trading activities that are the bread and butter of Zencargo’s business. The Series B is being led by Digital+ Partners, with HV Capital, which led its previous round, also participating. Zencargo is not disclosing its valuation but the company — which provides services to both to companies and distributors like Amazon to ship goods to its fulfillment centers; and brands like Vivienne Westwood, Swoon Furniture, and Soho Home — said that it is on track to make £100 million in revenues this year, and £200 million in 2022. That is against the backdrop of some major world events that have both proven to be challenges as well as opportunities for the startup. Brexit in the UK has created quite a mess for moving goods in and out of the country and into Europe (difficult but ultimately a net positive for Zencargo: it helps facilitate some aspects of that movement for its clients). Covid-19, meanwhile, has impacted economies (again: a difficult impact but also a positive, in that people are spending more money on goods for themselves and less on travel, leading to more demand for shipping those goods around the globe). The Suez Canal blockage, on the other hand, also continues to loom (not great: Hersham said that Zencargo and others are still dealing with the fallout of those delays, although it’s highlighted the need for blended approaches when it comes to moving goods, with some items shipped slower by sea, and others faster by air or road). And there is the growing priority of how shipping impacts carbon footprints (an area of opportunity, interestingly: Zencargo can provide more efficient routing, and also services to consider how to carbon offset shipping activities). The more general challenge that Zencargo is tackling goes hand in hand with our existence as consumers. Many of us do not blink an eye when we go online or to a store to procure something, and we get whatever that happens to be right away. But the simplicity of wanting and subsequently obtaining goods sits on top of a huge, and hugely complex, logistics operation. It might involve components, assembly, or growing and processing things, shipping from one place to another, passing through multiple distribution and shipping hubs, customs, retailers and finally delivery to your store, or directly to you — a logistics chain that, taking all the world’s goods into account, has been estimated to be worth up to $12 trillion annually. Freight forwarding is the process by which all of that logistics works as it should, and in itself accounts for hundreds of billions of dollars in spend, and potentially more than $1 trillion in costs when things go awry. Traditionally, a lot of freight forwarding work has been done offline, a messy process involving paper and faxing, prone to mistakes, over- and under-supply based on sales and typically hard to scrutinize because of the lack of centralized information. Companies like Zencargo — along with others in the same space like Flexport — have built digitized platforms to manage all of this, tracking items by SKU data, matching shipments with real-time insights into sales and demand, and balancing different kinds of freight options to provide the right items at the right time. (Zencargo works across sea, air and land freight, with sea accounting for about half of all of its traffic, Hersham said.) Zencargo’s services arguably will continue to see demand growing in line with the growth of the logistics industry, but the curve balls of the last several years, and in the last 12 months in particular, that have impacted the shipping business lay out an interesting road ahead for the startup in the future. “The freight industry has struggled to keep pace with innovation. Archaic processes are still in place across the board, resulting in widespread inefficiencies,” said Patrick Beitel, Managing Director and Founding Partner at Digital+ Partners, in a statement. “Zencargo’s cutting edge technologies, plus deep industry experience and knowledge, are transforming the supply chain, and that marries up perfectly with Digital + Partners’ mission to back companies with best-in-class technology and exceptional management teams. We are honoured to join them on the next stage of their journey.”

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posted about 5 hours ago on techcrunch
Toronto-based Wattpad is officially part of South Korean internet giant Naver as of today, with the official close of the $600 million cash and stock acquisition deal. Under the terms of the acquisition, Wattpad will continue to be headquartered in, and operate from Canada, with co-founder and Allen Lau remaining CEO of the social storytelling company and reporting to the CEO of Naver’s Webtoon, Jun Koo Kim. I spoke to Lau about what will change, and what won’t, now that Wattpad is part of Naver and Webtoon. As mentioned, Wattpad will remain headquartered in Toronto — and in fact, the company will be growing its headcount in Canada under its new owners with significant new hiring. “For Wattpad itself, last year was one of our fastest growing years in terms of both in terms of revenue and company size,” Lau said. “This year will be even faster; we’re planning to hire over 100 people, primarily in Toronto and Halifax. So in terms of the number of jobs, and the number of opportunities, this puts us on another level.” While the company is remaining in Canada and expanding its local talent pool, while maintaining its focus on delivering socially collaborative fiction, Lau says that the union with Naver and Webtoon is about more than just increasing the rate at which it can grow. The two companies share unique “synergies,” he says, that can help each better capitalize on their respective opportunities. “Naver is one of the world’s largest internet companies,” Lau told me. “But the number one reason that this merger is happening is because of Webtoon. Webtoon is the largest digital publisher in the world, and they have over 76 million monthly users. Combined with our 90 million, that adds up to 166 total monthly users — the reach is enormous. We are now by far the leader in this space, in the storytelling space, in both comics and fiction: By far the largest one in the world.” The other way in which the two companies complement each other is around IP. Wattpad has demonstrated its ability to take its user-generated fiction, and turn that into successful IP upon which original series and movies are based. The company has both a Books and a Studios publishing division, and has generated hits like Netflix’s The Kissing Booth out of the work of the authors on its platform. Increasingly, competing streaming services are looking around for new properties that will resonate with younger audiences, in order to win and maintain subscriptions. Storytelling app Wattpad raises $51M at a $398M valuation “Wattpad is the IP factory for user generated content,” Lau said. “And Webtoons also have a lot of amazing IP that are proven to build audience, along with all the data and analytics and insight around those. So the combined library of the top IPs that are blockbusters literally double overnight [with the merger]. And not just the size, but the capability. Because before the acquisition, we had our online fiction, we have both publishing business, and we have TV shows and movies, as well; but with the combination, now we also have comics, we also have animation and potentially other capabilities, as well.” The key to Wattpad’s success with developing IP in partnership with the creators on its platform isn’t just that its’ user-generated and crowd-friendly; Wattpad also has unique insight into the data behind what’s working about successful IP with its fans and readers. The company’s analytics platform can then provide collaborators in TV and movies with unparalleled, data-backed perspective into what should strike a chord with fans when translated into a new medium, and what might not be so important to include in the adaptation. This is what provides Wattpad with a unique edge when going head-to-head with legacy franchises including those from Disney and other megawatt brands. “No only do we have the fan bases — it’s data driven,” Lau said. “When we adapt from the fiction on our platform to a movie, we can tell the screenwriter, ‘Keep chapter one, chapter five and chapter seven, but in seven only the first two paragraphs,’ because that’s what the 200,000 comments are telling us. That’s what our machine learning story DNA technology can tell you this is the insight; where are they excited? This is something unprecedented.” With Naver and Webtoon, Wattpad gains the ability to leverage its insight-gathering IP generation in a truly cross-media context, spanning basically every means a fan might choose to engage with a property. For would-be Disney competitors, that’s likely to be an in-demand value proposition.

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posted about 6 hours ago on techcrunch
To get a roundup of TechCrunch’s biggest and most important stories delivered to your inbox every day at 3 p.m. PDT, subscribe here. Today as we dig deep into Expensify, its history and its current ramp toward the public markets after reaching $100 million in ARR, a quick note on where we are in the world of exits. If you are bored of IPOs, consider it a luxury. For years, the unicorn market was all hype and no liquidity. But in the last year or so, the public market has been a welcome and lucrative exit path for a host of unicorns. The same excitement that has led to record venture capital results in the private sector has been at play amongst public investors, boosting the value of many a former unicorn as they left their startup days behind them. But an April pause led to some concern that the IPO market was cooling. News out today details an IPO climate that is warming once again. For Expensify, and other unicorns on the sidelines like Robinhood, it’s good news. For one company in particular, warm IPO markets could not have come back at a better time. Let’s talk about Expensify. A deep dive into Expensify ahead of its IPO TechCrunch’s continuing series of deep dives on the most interesting startup companies continues this week, with the kickoff of our look at Expensify. Unlike some other companies we’ve profiled as part of our EC-1 series, like Tonal, perhaps, you’ve probably used Expensify’s software. So you know the company in question. What you might not have known is just what a wild ride Expensify has been on during its startup life. From the introduction to the Expensify series, I present the following paragraph: Most interestingly, this is a story about just not giving a damn about what anyone goddamn thinks, an approach to life and business that led to more than $100 million in annual revenue, and an IPO incoming on what looks to be a very quick timetable. Prodigious revenues, 10 million users and only 130 employees running the whole shebang — that’s a hell of an achievement in only 13 years. You can read the first main piece here. The rest will be coming out over the next few weeks. Get hype! Startups and venture capital We have a lot to get through, so please excuse the following list of bullets: This founder raised millions to build Fair, a neobank for immigrants — The core promise of fintech is that it should apply technology to an ossified, inequitable and often iniquitous financial system. Fair wants to do that for immigrants via a neobank. And it’s doing it with alternative capital. Super cool. Crypto asset manager Babel raises $40M from Tiger Global, Bertelsmann and others — By this point in the business cycle, we should not be shocked at $40 million Series A rounds. Especially if Tiger is involved. In this case Babel is the recipient of the outsized round, with the startup busy at work building “a suite of [crypto] asset management products and services tailored to enterprise clients around the world,” Rita reports. Blind raises $37M to double down on workplace gossip and career advice — If your friends don’t send you Blinds on what is going on at their workplace, are you really friends? Maybe. But Blind has found a big niche with its focus on providing verified-ish gossip on companies you can name. Also journalists love it. As do, Danny reports, investors. Indy VC firm Sixty8 Capital launches $20M fund aimed at underrepresented founders — According to Ron, Sixty8 Capital is launching a “new $20 million fund aimed at providing early-stage funding for underrepresented founders” from “smack dab in the middle of the United States.” It’s not alone in raising capital in the Midwest; TechCrunch reported that M25 recently raised a new fund as well. Snack, a ‘Tinder meets TikTok’ dating app, opens to Gen Z investors — What is more Gen Z than a Tinder-TikTok mobile app tie up? How about Snack allowing its young users to invest in its upcoming round? The kids are just fine, it turns out. This is great. 4 lessons I learned about getting into Y Combinator (after 13 applications) Can you imagine making 13 attempts at something before attaining a successful outcome? Alex Circei, CEO and co-founder of Git analytics tool Waydev, applied 13 times to Y Combinator before his team was accepted. Each year, the accelerator admits only about 5% of the startups that seek to join. “Competition may be fierce, but it’s not impossible,” says Circei. “Jumping through some hoops is not only worth the potential payoff but is ultimately a valuable learning curve for any startup.” In an exclusive exposé for TechCrunch, he shares four key lessons he learned while steering his startup through YC’s stringent selection process. The first? “Put your business value before your personal vanity.” 4 lessons I learned about getting into Y Combinator (after 13 applications) (Extra Crunch is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.) The tech giants Tech’s bigger players have been busy today, giving us quite a lot to chew on. Facebook, for example, is taking fire from state lawyers arguing that its idea of building an Instagram for kids is a bad idea. Not that the complaints will stop Facebook from doing whatever it wants, but the level of criticism is notable. Facebook doesn’t have a lot of political goodwill to spend, these days. Facebook is also following in Twitter’s footsteps in asking users to read articles before they share them. Because the world going digital has not yet stopped humans from being in need of chronic correction. In order of descending market capitalization, Spotify is next on our list. The company is improving its social sharing capabilities, in essence boosting the ability of its users to share podcasts intelligently. As Sarah reports, “Spotify will also now allow users to share a time-stamped link to a podcast, which allows users to tune into a particular moment of the podcast episode.” Thank everything, and it’s about time. Even if everyone who listens to my show uses Apple Podcasts. Finally, enterprise storage, security and collaboration company Box is in the middle of a very public fight with an activist investor. In short, Box’s growth is slowing. While the company’s leadership is confident that it can restart its growth engine, outside parties want more control. Yoof. Community The fun thing about setting up something new like our Discord server is that it’s new. The tough thing about setting up something new (like the Discord server) is that it needs folks like you to come make it great. Join us! (New this week, a room about fintech and one dedicated to space!)

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posted about 6 hours ago on techcrunch
Micromobility startups are following the lead of EV companies going public via mergers with special purpose acquisition companies, a financial instrument that came back en vogue in 2020. Bird Rides, the California-born micromobility company that now operates in more than 100 cities across the United States, Europe and the Middle East, plans to merge with Dallas-based blank-check company Switchback II Corporation, reports dot.LA. Switchback, the blank-check company merging with Bird, was formed in 2019 and led by former executives at oil and gas driller RSP Permian, Scott McNeill and Jim Mutrie. Bird is the second scooter company this year to eschew the traditional IPO path and instead opt for the trendy SPAC tool. In February, Helbiz, a micromobilty startup in Europe and USA, also became a public company via SPAC in a merger with GreenVision Acquisition Corp. Many micromobility companies saw ridership fall during the pandemic last year, so we might expect to see more go the SPAC route in order have access to capital quickly, without the time or expense of a traditional IPO process.  Bird has not responded to a request for comment.  At the start of 2020, Bird was valued at $2.85 billion. It has had its struggles, particularly during the pandemic when revenue dropped to $95 million in 2020, a 37% decrease from the previous year, according to the pitch deck viewed by dot.LA. In 2020, Bird laid off 406 employees, or about 30% of its workforce, to cut costs. The impending transaction valued the company at $2.3 billion below its valuation last year, according to the pitch deck. With this merger, Bird will have access to cash, which the company will likely use to pay off its debts and fund its European expansion in a push for profitability. Last month, the company announced intentions to spend $150 million to double its European operations by expanding to 50 new cities.  The pitch deck reveals a number of other financial and ridership details. For instance, Bird expects to achieve profitability by 2023 after trimming this year’s losses to $96 million and next year’s to $28 million. It would also need to make $815 million in revenue in 2023 to be profitable, and the company expects to make $188 million this year.  “The financials included in the slides reveal a company quickly burning through the $1.1 billion of cash it has raised since 2017, with a $226 million adjusted EBITA loss in 2019 and a $183 million loss last year,” writes dot.LA. The pitch deck also shows ridership rebounds after the lockdown, with an 81% increase in topline revenue over the past month, but much of that could be attributed to springtime weather. Bird is one of the three cities that recently won a permit to operate in New York City’s pilot e-scooter program in the Bronx, a win that might be contributing to the company’s future prospects, even as it lost bids for Paris, Chicago and San Francisco. As more cities are creating a favorable regulatory environment for shared micromobility, better hardware continues to emerge and the industry further consolidates, making high growth an achievable possibility for the company.  Bloomberg first reported Bird’s conversations with Credit Suisse to go SPAC in November last year, and according to The Information, Bird has been raising $100 million in convertible debt from its existing investors, debt that could be converted into stock, but the company hasn’t confirmed the deal yet.  Bird, Lime and Veo selected for NYC e-scooter pilot

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posted about 6 hours ago on techcrunch
LiveWire, Harley-Davidson’s electric motorcycle, is being spun out as a standalone brand, complete with a new logo and brand identity. Harley-Davidson first unveiled the LiveWire electric motorcycle in 2018 with a listing price of $29,799, placing it on the higher end for motorcycles. It went into production the following year, with some bumps, including a brief halt to production due to a charging-related problem on one of the motorcycles. The first “first LiveWire branded motorcycle” will launch on July 8. Its public debut will come a day later at the International Motorcycle Show, Harley-Davidson said Monday. Dealers had trouble selling the bike to younger, newer motorcycle riders, Reuters reported in 2019. Part of the issue was the price, which is in the same category as a Tesla Model S, dealers told the news wire at the time. Given that Harley-Davidson’s core constituency is still Baby Boomers, who are beginning to age out of the products, the question is whether a new spin out and rebranding can attract younger (and affluent) riders. The two companies will share technological advancements and LiveWire will “benefit from Harley-Davidson’s engineering expertise, manufacturing footprint, supply chain infrastructure, and global logistics capabilities,” Harley-Davidson said Monday. LiveWire will have dedicated showroom locations, starting in California, and a “virtual” headquarters with hubs in Silicon Valley and Milwaukee. Harley-Davidson is one of the most recognizable motorcycle makers in the country, but its sales have struggled in recent years. The company’s annual revenue dropped nearly 24% in 2020 compared to the previous year, though some of that is likely due to the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic. The company also cut 700 jobs from its global operations last summer, in a restructuring plan known as “The Rewire.” More recently, the company debuted a five-year strategic plan dubbed “The Hardwire.” Included in the plan is to further invest in the electric market. The company has already started moving in this direction with the release last November of its Serial 1 Cycle e-bicycles. Its Rush/Cty Speed model can hit speeds of up to 28 mph and comes in at $5,000. Giving EV batteries a second life for sustainability and profit

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posted about 8 hours ago on techcrunch
This morning ServiceNow announced that it was acquiring Lightstep, an applications performance monitoring startup that has raised over $70 million, according to Crunchbase data. The companies did not share the acquisition price. ServiceNow wants to take advantage of Lightstep’s capabilities to enhance its IT operations offerings. With Lightstep, the company should be able to provide customers with a way to monitor the performance of applications with the goal of detecting problems before the grow into major issues that take down a website or application. “With Lightstep, ServiceNow will transform how software solutions are delivered to customers. This will ultimately make it easier for customers to innovate quickly. Now they’ll be able to build and operate their software faster than ever before and take the new era of work head on with confidence,” Pablo Stern, SVP & GM for IT Workflow Products at ServiceNow said in a statement. Ben Sigelman, founder and CEO at Lightstep sees the larger organization being a good landing spot for his company. “We’ve always believed that the value of observability should extend across the entire enterprise, providing greater clarity and confidence to every team involved in these modern, digital businesses. By joining ServiceNow, together we will realize that vision for our customers and help transform the world of work in the process […], Sigelman said in a statement. Lightstep is part of the application performance monitoring market with companies like DataDog, New Relic and AppDynamics, which Cisco acquired in 2017 the week before it was scheduled to IPO for $3.7 billion. It seems to be an area that is catching the interest of larger enterprise vendors, who are picking off smaller startups in the space. Last November, IBM bought Instana, an APM startup and then bought Turbonomic for $2 billion at the end of last month as a complementary technology. Being able to monitor apps and keep them up and running is crucial, not only from a business continuity perspective, but also from a brand loyalty one. Even if the app isn’t completely down, but is running slowly or generally malfunctioning in some way, it’s likely to annoy users and could ultimately cause users to jump to a competitor. This type of software gives customers the ability to observe and detect problems before they have an impact on large numbers of users. Lightstep, which is based in San Jose California, was founded in 2015. It raised $70 million from investors like Altimeter Capital, Sequoia, Redpoint and Harrison Metal. Customers include GitHub, Spotify and Twilio. The deal is expected to close this quarter.

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posted about 8 hours ago on techcrunch
Sophie Alcorn Contributor Share on Twitter Sophie Alcorn is the founder of Alcorn Immigration Law in Silicon Valley and 2019 Global Law Experts Awards’ “Law Firm of the Year in California for Entrepreneur Immigration Services.” She connects people with the businesses and opportunities that expand their lives. More posts by this contributor Dear Sophie: Can I transfer my H-1B to a startup I founded? Dear Sophie: What’s the latest on DACA? Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies. “Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.” Extra Crunch members receive access to weekly “Dear Sophie” columns; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one- or two-year subscription for 50% off. Dear Sophie, I’m the founder of an early-stage, two-year-old fintech startup. We really want to move to San Francisco to be near our lead investor. I heard International Entrepreneur Parole is back. What is it, and how can I apply? — Joyous in Johannesburg Dear Joyous, Today for the first time, international startup founders can sigh a breath of relief because there is new hope for immigration! This hope comes in the form of a little-known pathway to live and work legally in the United States. This pathway is now possible because, effective today, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) withdrew the proposed rule to remove the International Entrepreneur Parole Program. This development is FANTASTIC for startup founders everywhere! DHS believes that “qualified entrepreneurs who would substantially benefit the United States by growing new businesses and creating jobs for U.S. workers” should be able to benefit from “all viable” immigration options. The National Venture Capital Association is “thrilled” at the news, and so am I! Image Credits: Joanna Buniak / Sophie Alcorn (opens in a new window) International Entrepreneur Parole (IEP) allows founders to request a 30-month immigration status, with the possibility of a 30-month extension as well. Spouses of those with IEP can qualify for work permits. There’s no limit to the variety of fields in which startups can qualify — we’ve had interest from founders in everything from autonomous drone delivery to AI for law enforcement; anticancer drug discovery to satellites. To qualify, you need to show that: Your startup is less than five years old.

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posted about 8 hours ago on techcrunch
Dr. Bobbie Kumar Contributor Share on Twitter Dr. Bobbie Kumar is a board-certified family physician and director of Clinical Innovation at Inflect Health as well as as director of Clinical Innovation at Vituity, leading many of Vituity’s transformative programs including telemedicine, care navigation and health technology next-generation prototype programs. If the last 10 years practicing family medicine have taught me anything, it’s that there is a desperate need for innovation in healthcare. I don’t just mean in terms of medical treatments or protocols, but really in every aspect. As a physician, I’ve worked with my fair share of “the latest and greatest” innovations both in my outpatient practice and at hospitals. As I shifted into my current position, I’ve come across some products that were distinguished winners, eventually going on to become not just highly successful but the new gold standard in the industry. Others, unfortunately, never even got off the ground. Often, in the back of my mind, I felt like I could always tell which ones had the staying power to transform healthcare the way it needed to be transformed. When it comes to ensuring the success of your product, service or innovation, following these three golden rules will put you on the right track. When it comes to ensuring the success of your product, service or innovation, following these three golden rules will put you on the right track. It’s no guarantee, but without getting these three things right, you’ve got no shot. Design for outcomes first Stephen Covey coined the phrase: “Begin with the end in mind.” It’s the second of his 7 Habits. But he could have also been writing about habits for health tech innovators. It’s not enough to develop a “new tool” to use in a health setting. Maybe it has a purpose, but does it meaningfully address a need, or solve a problem, in a way that measurably improves outcomes? In other words: Does it have value? When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, pharmaceutical and research firms set out upon a global mission to develop safe and effective vaccines, to bring the virus under control and return life around the world to something approaching “normal” … and quickly. In less than a year, Pfizer and Moderna crossed the finish line first, bringing novel two-jab mRNA vaccines to market with extraordinary speed and with an outstanding efficacy rate. Vaccine makers started with an outcome in mind and, in countries with plentiful vaccine access, are delivering on those outcomes. But not all outcomes need be so lofty to be effective. Maybe your innovation aims to: Improve patient compliance with at-home treatment plans. Reduce the burden of documentation on physicians and scribes. Increase access to quality care among underserved, impoverished or marginalized communities. For example, Alertive Healthcare, one of our portfolio companies, wanted to meaningfully improve round-the-clock care for when patients couldn’t get in to see their physicians and developed a platform for clinical-grade remote patient monitoring. Patients download an easy-to-use app that sends intelligent alerts to providers, reducing documentation and decreasing time to treatment. Patients enrolled in the app reduce their risk of heart attack and stroke by 50%. That’s compelling value and an example of designing for outcomes. When designing for outcomes, it’s also important to know precisely how you’ll measure success. When you can point toward quantifiable metrics, you’re not only giving yourself goals in your product design and development, you’re also establishing the proof points that sell your product into the market. Make them as meaningful and measurable as possible, as soon as possible.

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posted about 9 hours ago on techcrunch
Tesla’s advanced driver assistance system known as Autopilot could not have been engaged on the stretch of road where a Model S crashed last month in Texas, killing the two occupants, according to a preliminary report released Monday by the National Transportation Safety Board. The results help clear up some of the mysteries around the crash, which has received widespread attention after police reported that there was no one in the driver’s seat, leading to speculation that Autopilot was functioning at the time. Only adaptive cruise control, one of the functions in Autopilot, could be engaged in that section of the road, according to the NTSB. Autosteer, another feature that keeps the vehicle in the lane, was not available on that part of the road, the report says. The preliminary report supports comments made during Tesla’s vice president of vehicle engineering Lars Moravy, who said during an earnings call that adaptive cruise control was engaged and accelerated to 30 miles per hour before the car crashed. NTSB also confirmed there were only two occupants in the vehicle. When the two men were found, one was in the passenger seat and the other was in the back seat, which led to speculation about whether Autopilot was engaged and even conspiracy theories that there was a third occupant. “Footage from the owner’s home security camera shows the owner entering the car’s driver’s seat and the passenger entering the front passenger seat,” the report reads. “The car leaves and travels about 550 feet before departing the road on a curve, driving over the curb, and hitting a drainage culvert, a raised manhole, and a tree.” What is still unknown is whether the driver moved to another seat before or after the crash. The NTSB said it will continue to collect data to analyze the crash dynamics, postmortem toxicology test results, seat belt use, occupant egress and electric vehicle fires. All aspects of the crash remain under investigation, the NTSB said. The NTSB’s preliminary report also indicated that the crash of the Tesla Model S, which caught fire after hitting a tree, destroyed an onboard storage device and damaged the restraint control module — two components that could have provided important information about the cause of the incident. The car’s restraint control module, which can record data associated with vehicle speed, belt status, acceleration, and airbag deployment, was recovered but sustained fire damage, the agency said. The NTSB has taken the restraint control module to its recorder laboratory for evaluation. The NTSB is investigating the crash with support from Tesla and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Harris County Texas Precinct 4 Constable’s Office is conducting a separate, parallel investigation.

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posted about 9 hours ago on techcrunch
Years after popping open a Pandora’s box of bad behavior, social media companies are trying to figure out subtle ways to reshape how people use their platforms. Following Twitter’s lead, Facebook is trying out a new feature designed to encourage users to read a link before sharing it. The test will reach 6% of Facebook’s Android users globally in a gradual rollout that aims to encourage “informed sharing” of news stories on the platform. Users can still easily click through to share a given story, but the idea is that by adding friction to the experience, people might rethink their original impulses to share the kind of inflammatory content that currently dominates on the platform. Starting today, we’re testing a way to promote more informed sharing of news articles. If you go to share a news article link you haven’t opened, we’ll show a prompt encouraging you to open it and read it, before sharing it with others. pic.twitter.com/brlMnlg6Qg — Facebook Newsroom (@fbnewsroom) May 10, 2021 Twitter introduced last June prompts urging users to read a link before retweeting it, and the company quickly found the test feature to be successful, expanding it to more users. Facebook began trying out more prompts like this last year. Last June, the company rolled out pop-up messages to warn users before they share any content that’s more than 90 days old in an an effort to cut down on misleading stories taken out of their original context. Twitter plans to bring prompts to ‘read before you retweet’ to all users At the time, Facebook said it was looking at other pop-up prompts to cut down on some kinds of misinformation. A few months later, Facebook rolled out similar pop-up messages that noted the date and the source of any links they share related to COVID-19. The strategy demonstrates Facebook’s preference for a passive strategy of nudging people away from misinformation and toward its own verified resources on hot-button issues like COVID-19 and the 2020 election. While the jury is still out on how much of an impact this kind of gentle behavioral shaping can make on the misinformation epidemic, both Twitter and Facebook have also explored prompts that discourage users from posting abusive comments. Pop-up messages that give users a sense that their bad behavior is being observed might be where more automated moderation is headed on social platforms. While users would probably be far better served by social media companies scrapping their misinformation and abuse-ridden existing platforms and rebuilding them more thoughtfully from the ground up, small behavioral nudges will have to do. Twitter runs a test prompting users to revise ‘harmful’ replies It’s time for Facebook and Twitter to coordinate efforts on hate speech  

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posted about 9 hours ago on techcrunch
Voyager Space Holdings has added X.O. Markets, the parent of commercial space service venture Nanoracks, to its growing catalogue of space companies. The agreement was first announced last December. This is Voyager’s fourth majority stake acquisition of a space company since its founding in October 2019, and it won’t be its last. Voyager CEO Dylan Taylor told TechCrunch that he anticipates the company will announce two to four more acquisitions this year. It’s an aggressive strategy but key to understanding Voyager’s business model. “A lot of people confuse us with a fund or private equity strategy, or some kind of a financial instrument, for lack of a better word, and we’re really none of those things,” Taylor said. “We’re an operating company.” Voyager wants to reach the same level of capability as the space “primes,” or primary companies, in seven to ten years. To get there, it’s pursued a majority stake in a series of space ventures to build out its portfolio of capabilities. Notably, Voyager has always never opted for 100% equity in these companies and it operates in a relatively decentralized way. These business decisions help keep innovation flourishing amongst Voyager’s many ventures, Taylor said. The typical strategy in private equity – to purchase two competing companies, merge them, and sell them onto another financial buyer – doesn’t ultimately spur growth of the new space economy, he pointed out. “[That strategy is] really not how you capture value in space,” he said. “You capture value in space by Capability A, marrying it with Capability B and unlocking a new Capability C that’s higher up on the food chain.” The company also plans to go public via a traditional initial public offering sometime around the third quarter of this year. It anticipates filing the S-1 at some point this summer, Taylor said. He declined to provide further details of the recent acquisition. Voyager Space Holdings to acquire multi-launch site startup The Launch Company Voyager’s previous major acquisitions have been with Pioneer Astronautics, an R&D company that performs, amongst other things, research into supporting life in space; advanced robotics startup Altius Space Machines; and The Launch Company, a launch support company that provides standardized hardware and equipment to launch providers. The newest acquisition, Nanoracks, has been involved in more than 1,000 projects with the International Space Station, most importantly installing the first commercial airlock on the ISS. Last November, the company also entered into a partnership with the Abu Dhabi Investment Office to research agricultural solutions in challenging physical environments, like the desert – or space. Perhaps the most interesting of Nanoracks’ endeavors is what it calls its Outpost program: building and operating completely commercial space stations out of the spent upper stages of launch vehicles and other space debris. Nanoracks will be launching a demonstration mission on board a SpaceX mission next month. The four acquisitions taken together – launch support, advanced robotics, a research company, and now Nanoracks – clearly point to a future in which Voyager is primed to build and operate commercial space stations. While that future is still far off, it’s closer than one might think. “The last ten years of the industry was defined by getting to orbit,” Taylor said. “I think the next 10 years will be about destinations. I think it’s highly likely we’re going to have somewhere between 8-12 space stations in orbit by 2030.” More new space consolidation as Voyager Space Holdings acquires Pioneer Astronautics

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posted about 10 hours ago on techcrunch
In a new letter, attorneys general representing 44 U.S. states and territories are pressuring Facebook to walk away from new plans to open Instagram to children. The company is working on an age-gated version of Instagram for kids under the age of 13 that would lure in young users who are currently not permitted to use the app, which was designed for adults. “It appears that Facebook is not responding to a need, but instead creating one, as this platform appeals primarily to children who otherwise do not or would not have an Instagram account,” the coalition of attorneys general wrote, warning that an Instagram for kids would be “harmful for myriad reasons.” The state attorneys general call for Facebook to abandon its plans, citing concerns around developmental health, privacy and Facebook’s track record of prioritizing growth over the well-being of children on its platforms. In the letter, embedded below, they delve into specific worries about cyberbullying, online grooming by sexual predators and algorithms that showed dieting ads to users with eating disorders. Consumer groups and child development experts petition Facebook to drop ‘Instagram for kids’ plan Concerns about social media and mental health in kids and teens is a criticism we’ve been hearing more about this year, as some Republicans join Democrats in coalescing around those issues, moving away from the claims of anti-conservative bias that defined politics in tech during the Trump years. Leaders from both parties have been openly voicing fears over how social platforms are shaping young minds in recent months amidst calls to regulate Facebook and other social media companies. In April, a group of congressional Democrats wrote Facebook with similar warnings over its new plans for children, pressing the company for details on how it plans to protect the privacy of young users. In light of all the bad press and attention from lawmakers, it’s possible that the company may walk back its brazen plans to boost business by bringing more underage users into the fold. Facebook is already in the hot seat with state and federal regulators in just about every way imaginable. Deep worries over the company’s future failures to protect yet another vulnerable set of users could be enough to keep these plans on the company’s back burner. View this document on Scribd Lawmakers press Instagram for details on its plans for kids Investors and startups are seeking ways to entertain and protect kids online  

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posted about 11 hours ago on techcrunch
Last week activist investor Starboard delivered a public letter rebuking the company for what it perceives as under performance. Today the firm, which owns 8% of Box stock, making it the company’s largest stock holder, took it a step further with an official slate of four candidates it will be putting up at the next stockholder’s meeting. While the company rehashed many of the same complaints as in last week’s letter, this week’s explicitly stated its intent to run its own slate of candidates for the Box board. “Therefore, in accordance with the Company’s governance deadlines and in order to preserve our rights as stockholders, we have delivered a formal notice to Box nominating four highly qualified director candidates (the “Nominees”) for election to the Board at the Annual Meeting,” Starboard wrote in a public letter to Box. Box responded in a press release that the Board as currently constituted categorically rejects this attempt by Starboard to take over additional seats. “The Box Board of Directors does not believe the changes to the Board proposed by Starboard are warranted or in the best interests of all stockholders. The Box Board has been consistently responsive to feedback from all of its stockholders, including suggestions from Starboard, and open-minded toward all value enhancing opportunities. Furthermore, Starboard’s statements do not accurately depict the progress Box has made,” the Board wrote in a statement this morning. Box further points out that the company overhauled the Board last year with three new board members specifically receiving Starboard approval. What is driving Starboard to take this action? Like any good activist investor it wants a higher stock price and is seeking for more growth from Box. Activist investors often come in and try to extract value by brute force when they perceive the company is under performing. The end game were they successful could involve removing Levie as CEO or more likely selling the company and grabbing its profit on the way out. As activist investors loom, what’s next for Box? Box asserted that “Starboard’s statements do not accurately depict the progress Box has made,” highlighting some of its recent financial performance including “a $127 million increase in free cash flow in fiscal 2021.” The former private-market darling also argued that its fiscal 2021 “revenue growth rate plus free cash flow margin [came to more than] 26%,” which beat its own target of 25% and was “nearly double” what it managed in its fiscal 2020. This is a good time for a ‘yes, but‘: Yes, but Box’s ability to improve its profitability does not change the fact that its growth rate has been in steady decline for years. And while a company’s growth rate can cover nearly any sin, slowing growth that has already slipped into the single digits doesn’t cut Box much slack. (For reference, in its most recent quarter, the fourth of its fiscal 2021, Box grew just 8% on a year-over-year basis.) It’s worth noting that the company did promise “accelerated growth and higher operating margins in the years ahead” in its most recent earnings call, but the company’s recent $500 million investment from KKR particularly irked Starboard, which asserts that it was akin to ‘buying the vote.’ “[Box] made several poor capital allocation decisions, including its recent entry into a financing transaction that we believe serves no business purpose and was done in the face of a potential election contest with Starboard at the 2021 Annual Meeting of Stockholders.” KKR hands Box a $500M lifeline Now it’s becoming a battle over more board seats. Box is putting up Levie, Verisign CFO Dana Evan and Peter Leav, Chief Executive Officer of McAfee and former Chief Executive Officer of BMC. Starboard nominees include Deborah S. Conrad, former executive at Intel; Peter A. Feld, Starboard’s head of research; John R. McCormack, former CEO of WebSense and Xavier D. Williams, a director of American Virtual Cloud Technologies. The vote will take place at the Box stockholder’s meeting, which has traditionally been held in late June or early July. To this point, the company has not put out the exact date publicly. Starboard Value puts Box on notice that it’s looking to take over board

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posted about 12 hours ago on techcrunch
Houston-based startup Axiom Space and NASA unveiled more details Monday about the forthcoming Axiom Mission 1 (AX-1), the first fully private human mission to the International Space Station. The Axiom Mission 1 (AX-1) spaceflight mission will ferry four private astronauts to the International Space Station in January 2022. The eight-day mission will be launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida using a SpaceX Crew Dragon. While in space, the crew will be living and working in the U.S. segment of the ISS. NASA will be paying Axiom $1.69 million for services associated with the mission, such as transporting supplies to the ISS, though that does not include other reimbursable agreements between the two entities. There’s a “high degree of confidence in the late January date” for the launch, Axiom CEO Michael Suffredini said. Axiom in January released the identity of the crew members: Canadian investor Mark Pathy, investor Larry Connor, and former Israeli pilot Eytan Stibbe. Leading the crew as mission commander is former NASA astronaut and Axiom Space VP Michael López-Alegría, who has four spaceflights under his belt. Pathy, Connor and Stibbe will engage in research missions while onboard. Pathy will be collaborating with the Montreal Children’s Hospital and the Canadian Space Agency; Connor, the Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic; and Stibbe, to conduct scientific experiments coordinated by the Israel Space Agency at the Ministry of Science and Technology. “Larry and Mark are very serious individuals who are dedicated to being the best they can be in the mold of a NASA astronaut and they’re not interested in being tourists,” López-Alegría said during the media briefing. “They want to do their part to improve humankind.” To prepare for the mission, the four crew members will go on a “camping trip” in the Alaskan foothills for training in July, López-Alegría said. He will start full-time training around August, with Larry starting in September. The rest of the crew will start in October, with around two-thirds of their time dedicated to ISS-specific training and the rest dedicated to training with SpaceX. The staggered schedule is due to the differing responsibilities between the crew members while on board. Axiom will be using the same contractor that NASA uses to train its astronauts. While Suffredini declined to specify how much the private astronauts paid for their space on the flight, he said he “wouldn’t argue with” widely reported figures in the tens of millions. The Washington Post in January reported that the ticket prices came in at $55 million each. Prices may not always be so high, but Suffredini said that the industry is likely at least a decade away from serious price drops that might make space travel feasible for the average space-goer. Axiom intends to offer astronaut flights – both private and national – to the International Space Station and eventually its own privately-funded space station. While Axiom has “things lined up” for AX-2, AX-3 and AX-4, “like everyone we have to compete for the opportunity,” Suffredini said. The number of missions to the ISS is limited because there are only two docking ports on the ISS, Station deputy manager Dana Weigel added. That suggests that additional stations will be necessary to meet the burgeoning demand for both commercial and scientific space missions. Axiom Space raises $130 million for its commercial space station ambitions The company also in January 2020 won a NASA contract to develop and install a commercial module to the Harmony docking port of the ISS as early as 2024. Phil McAlister, NASA’s director of commercial spaceflight development, said that recent announcements on commercial spaceflights from Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic in addition to the Axiom mission have heralded “a renaissance in U.S. human spaceflight.” “A lot of times history can feel incremental when you’re in it, but I really feel like we are in it this year. This is a real inflection point with human spaceflight,” he said.

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posted about 12 hours ago on techcrunch
This morning, construction tech unicorn Procore Technologies set a price range for its impending public offering. The news comes after the company initially filed to go public in February of 2020, a move delayed by the pandemic. As TechCrunch reporter Mary Ann Azevedo reported at the time, the hiatus came with a large check to see the company through its public-offering pause. In March 2021, Procore filed again for a public offering, but its second shot ran into a cooling IPO market. The company filed another S-1/A in April, and then another in early May. Today’s filing is the first that sets a price for the Carpinteria, California-based software upstart. The Exchange explores startups, markets and money.  Read it every morning on Extra Crunch or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday. Procore’s filing sets a price range of $60 to $65 per share for its equity. But Procore is not the only company that filed and later put on hold an IPO to get back to work on floating. Kaltura, a software company focused on video distribution, also recently got its IPO back on track. Are we seeing a reacceleration of the IPO market? Perhaps. This morning, let’s find out what Procore is worth at its new IPO valuation range, calculate some revenue multiples for the firm, noodle on its implied multiples, and then ask ourselves if its movement toward the public markets alongside Kaltura’s actions is really enough to claim that the public-offering market is actually back. Procore’s IPO price range While private Procore raised well over a half-billion dollars from a host of investors, including ICONIQ, Dragoneer, Tiger Global and D1 Capital Partners, per Crunchbase data, it most recently raised $150 million last year after its IPO delay at a valuation of just over $5 billion calculated on a post-money basis. According to its latest S-1/A filing, Procore will sell 9,470,000 shares in its IPO, providing it with a post-IPO share count of 128,134,774. At $60 per share, the company’s simple valuation comes to $7.69 billion. At $65 per share, that figure rises to $8.33 billion.

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posted about 12 hours ago on techcrunch
Startup Battlefield, the world’s preeminent pitch competition, has launched hundreds of startups over the years — 922 if you want to be a stickler about it. The next Battlefield takes place at TechCrunch Disrupt 2021 on September 21-23. Yup, that sound you hear is opportunity knocking. If you want a shot to compete against some of the most innovative early-stage startups in the world, apply to Startup Battlefield here before the application window closes on May 13 at 11:59 pm (PT). Still need a nudge? Keep reading. Founders from these three startups took a chance, gave it their all and ended up winning the championship — and $100,000 — in their respective years: Canix (2020), Render (2019) and Forethought (2018). Oh, and Forethought scored a $9 million Series A investment after it won. Food for thought. TechCrunch vets every application and will select roughly 25 startups to compete. It costs nothing to apply or compete — no fees, no equity slice. Participants receive weeks of (free!) training with the TC Battlefield team to make sure they’re primed up and ready to face a panel of expert VC judges. Speaking of judges — you know, the peeps you need to impress, the folks who determine the winner? Yeah, them. We recently announced the first of our Startup Battlefield judges — Terri Burns, a partner at GV (formerly known as Google Ventures). We’re thrilled to have her on board. Each startup team gets 6 minutes to pitch and present their demo — and then they’ll answer probing questions from the judges. Teams that move on to the second round do it all over again in front of a new panel of experts. Then it’s the finals and one last major push — pitch, demo, Q&A. One team will emerge the Startup Battlefield 2021 champion, win the Disrupt Cup and take home a whopping $100,000 in prize money. Beyond the actual competition, all Battlefield competitors receive a VIP experience — free demo space in the virtual Startup Alley, a free membership to Extra Crunch, complimentary tickets to future TC events and a private reception with members of the Startup Battlefield alumni community. Don’t forget — everyone wants to learn more about the Battlefield contenders. Whether or not you win the whole shooting match, you’ll receive plenty of invaluable exposure to global investors, media outlets and potential customers. Not a bad return for a small investment of your time and energy, amirite? Want a few more details about how Startup Battlefield works? You’ll find them here. TC Disrupt 2021 takes place September 21-23, and when opportunity knocks, early-stage startup founders kick down the door. Strap on your boots and take your shot — apply to Startup Battlefield before May 13 at 11:59 pm (PT) and show the startup world what you’re made of. Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Disrupt 2021? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form. ( function() { var func = function() { var iframe = document.getElementById('wpcom-iframe-82e7089bb76c80e1d7d73433ec8b0f47') if ( iframe ) { iframe.onload = function() { iframe.contentWindow.postMessage( { 'msg_type': 'poll_size', 'frame_id': 'wpcom-iframe-82e7089bb76c80e1d7d73433ec8b0f47' }, "https:\/\/tcprotectedembed.com" ); } } // Autosize iframe var funcSizeResponse = function( e ) { var origin = document.createElement( 'a' ); origin.href = e.origin; // Verify message origin if ( 'tcprotectedembed.com' !== origin.host ) return; // Verify message is in a format we expect if ( 'object' !== typeof e.data || undefined === e.data.msg_type ) return; switch ( e.data.msg_type ) { case 'poll_size:response': var iframe = document.getElementById( e.data._request.frame_id ); if ( iframe && '' === iframe.width ) iframe.width = '100%'; if ( iframe && '' === iframe.height ) iframe.height = parseInt( e.data.height ); return; default: return; } } if ( 'function' === typeof window.addEventListener ) { window.addEventListener( 'message', funcSizeResponse, false ); } else if ( 'function' === typeof window.attachEvent ) { window.attachEvent( 'onmessage', funcSizeResponse ); } } if (document.readyState === 'complete') { func.apply(); /* compat for infinite scroll */ } else if ( document.addEventListener ) { document.addEventListener( 'DOMContentLoaded', func, false ); } else if ( document.attachEvent ) { document.attachEvent( 'onreadystatechange', func ); } } )();

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posted about 12 hours ago on techcrunch
Ford confirmed Monday that its all-electric pickup truck will be named the F-150 Lightning, resurrecting a name that once donned the SVT F-150 in the 1990s. The company hasn’t said much about the powertrain, range or other specs. However, Ford President and CEO Jim Farley provided new details about the electric pickup that is coming to market next year. Most notably, it seems that the battery on the Ford F-150 Lightning will have the ability to power a home during an outage. Ford has touted the capability of its Hybrid F-150 to power a job site or tools, but this is the first time the company has said one of its vehicles could act as a backup generator to a home. Farley also said the electric truck will have the capability to handle over-the-air software updates and will be quicker than the original F-150 Lightning performance truck, the V8-powered truck that debuted in 1993. “Every so often, a new vehicle comes along that disrupts the status quo and changes the game … Model T, Mustang, Prius, Model 3. Now comes the F-150 Lightning,” Farley said in a statement. “America’s favorite vehicle for nearly half a century is going digital and fully electric. F-150 Lightning can power your home during an outage; it’s even quicker than the original F-150 Lightning performance truck; and it will constantly improve through over-the-air updates.” Production of the electric pickup truck is expected to begin next spring at the company’s Ford Rouge Electric Vehicle Center. The Ford F-150 Lightning will be revealed via a livestream May 19 at the company’s headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan.  The debut of electric pickups signals a new EV era

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posted about 12 hours ago on techcrunch
On the heels of its expanded partnership with Facebook, Spotify this morning announced new sharing features that broaden the way Spotify content, including both music and podcasts, can be shared across social media. As part of this, Spotify’s Canvas feature, which adds a looping, visual art experience to songs, is being improved. Spotify will also now allow users to share a timestamped link to a podcast, which allows users to tune into to a particular moment of the podcast episode. Previously, if you wanted to share a podcast episode, you could only post the link to the entire episode. But many times, people want to comment on or discuss a particular part of an episode. Now, they’ll be able to do so by using the “switch to share” feature at the current playtime, after tapping the “share” button while listening to the show. This is toggle switch that lets you share from the timestamp where you’ve paused the show. After turning this one, you’re able to choose where you want to share to — like Instagram, Facebook (Stories or Feed), Snapchat, Twitter, WhatsApp, SMS, and more. The feature could also potentially be used for podcast marketing purposes. Typically, creators post an interesting clip from their latest episode that includes a link to the episode. But Spotify’s new feature could entice someone to tune in at a particular part, then continue listening. They may even choose to follow the podcast after doing so, as they’ll have already found themselves in the Spotify app. While it may not replace other marketing — not everyone uses Spotify, after all — it could serve as a handy supplement to the creator’s existing promotional activity. The update to Spotify’s Canvas, meanwhile, is a smaller improvement. Now, users are able to preview their social share across Instagram Stories and now Snapchat, to see how it will appear. Before today, Canvas art could only be shared to Instagram Stories. Spotify notes that social sharing features had become a more important aspect of using its service during the pandemic, as in-person concerts and fan events had been shut down. Artists and creators still want to engage with their fans, but have had to do so remotely and digitally. And fans want to support their favorites by posting their content to social networks where others can discover them, too. The new sharing features are a part of Spotify’s larger investment in expanded social media distribution, which recently led to its partnership with Facebook on something the social network called “Project Boombox.” Facebook in April introduced a new miniplayer that streams Spotify’s music and podcasts from the Facebook app. That way, users can listen while they scroll, with Spotify playing in the background. But Spotify’s deal with Facebook doesn’t limit it from making it easier to share to other platforms, as well, as these new features indicate. Spotify says the new features are rolling out now to global users on both iOS and Android.

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posted about 13 hours ago on techcrunch
Kara Penn is the mother of four daughters and owner of Mission Spark, a management and strategy consulting company. And now, thanks to Hustle Fund, she is also an angel investor. Hustle Fund is coming out of stealth today with Angel Squad, a new initiative aimed at making angel investing more accessible to more people. To more people like Colorado-based Penn. “We believe that in order to increase diversity in the startup ecosystem, one thing that we must do is increase diversity — whether it be in regard to gender, race or geography — amongst angel investors,” said Hustle Fund co-founder and general partner Elizabeth Yin. Via Angel Squad, Hustle Fund specifically aims to build an inclusive investor community, make minimum check sizes low and accessible (think as little as $1,000), provide “angel education” and give investors a way to invest alongside Hustle Fund. “There’s been this misnomer, or at least I had this incorrect assumption that in order to become an angel investor, you have to be super rich and write $25,000 checks,” Yin told TechCrunch. “But the reality is actually in Silicon Valley, there are all these people running around investing $1,000 checks…and that’s something that’s a lot more accessible than then most people might think. And, part of the value of having this group is then we can accumulate a bunch of smaller checks to then write one larger check for a company.” So far, Penn has invested in five startups across a range of sectors including real estate, food, apparel and finance.  She describes herself as “a complete novice” in angel investing, and so far, she’s loving the experience. “I love Hustle Fund’s perspective that great hustlers can look like anyone and come from anywhere,” Penn told TechCrunch. “I’ve enjoyed being in a supportive community with differing levels of expertise, but where every question is welcomed.” The experience is also broadening her exposure to technology and AI, the collection and use of data and the creation of new marketplaces in ways she never would have been exposed to before. “As someone whose own company focuses exclusively on strategy in social impact organizations, I am also looking for how founders identify and bring to market creative solutions to complex problems, as well as exposure to a network of innovative people looking to solve hard issues in smart ways,” Penn said. “This exposure is helping me begin to think about applications of these approaches to difficult social problems.” For some context, Hustle Fund is a venture firm founded by Elizabeth Yin and Eric Bahn, two former 500 Startups partners, with the goal of investing in pre-seed software startups. The firm has traditionally operated by investing $25,000 in a company, usually with a minimum-viable product, and then works with the team to help them grow. It does around 50 investments per year, according to its website.  It recently closed on $33.6 million for a new fund. Hustle Fund, a pre-seed firm, closes $30M for a new fund “One of the things most important to us is this bigger mission of wanting to change the way the startup ecosystem is,” Yin said. “I noticed both as an entrepreneur and while running an accelerator, if you have a certain resume, went to certain schools, or were a certain race or gender, you have advantages in starting a company and getting funding. For many people, if you don’t tick those boxes, it can be very challenging. That’s why we’re investing in a lot of founders from all walks of life.” Hustle Fund Venture Partner Brian Nichols had started a syndicate of Lyft alumni on AngelList. After doing a few deals, he opened up the syndicate to people outside of AngelList. “I found there was a wide range of people looking to diversify into private markets, from all over the world with all types of backgrounds,” he said. “Hustle Fund and I had similar taste in companies I was investing in and I built a relationship with them in co-investments.” Today, he’s helping run the fund’s Angel Squad initiative. So far, it has had two cohorts with over 150 investors total and true to the fund’s mission, those investors have been more diverse than typical angel syndicates: 46% of the members are female, 9% are underrepresented minorities and 32% are people who work outside of tech with professional roles such as lawyers, doctors and artists. Just one-third are based in Silicon Valley. Every week, Angel Squad hosts an event which ranges from networking to a peek behind the curtain at opportunities at Hustle Fund is considering investing in to talking through why or why not to take a meeting with a founder. “Imagine starting from zero, and if you could skip a bunch of steps and have Elizabeth (Yin) tell you how to do this before you lose a bunch of money in the process of evaluating a startup,” Nichols told TechCrunch. “Angel Squad is exactly what I wish had existed three or four years ago when I became interested in investing.” Silicon Valley, Yin acknowledges, can be intimidating but the reality is that no one is an expert in everything. “We’re trying to cultivate an environment where people are very kind — we have a no asshole rule, and that is a safe space where people can learn and feel like they can ask questions, and not have to know everything about angel investing. The reality is most people don’t. And we want to bring new people into this system.” Besides not being an a-hole, other criteria in becoming a Squad Member include being able to add value and being an accredited investor. “With rounds as competitive as they are today, we are looking for people who want to be actively supportive of the portfolio companies we’re investing in,” Nichols said. “Every person who wants to join the program is interviewed by someone from our team, who asks questions such as ‘What can you help a founder with?’ We are not looking for passive capital. That’s not super helpful at this point in the ecosystem. Despite gains, gender diversity in VC funding struggled in 2020

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