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Ardy Esmaeili Contributor Share on Twitter Ardy Esmaeili, CPA, is a startup tax accountant and managing director of tax services at Burkland. More posts by this contributor Starting up remotely? Keep these labor laws and tax guidelines in mind What US startup founders need to know about the R&D tax credit Trends indicate that a majority of businesses plan to fully adopt software as a service (SaaS) by 2025, and if the past is any indicator, that means state legislatures are working hard to capture revenue from this new sales stream. As with many U.S. laws and regulations, tax laws regarding SaaS vary quite a bit and continue to evolve. Currently, some states consider SaaS to be software while others categorize it as a service. In addition, some states tax all services regardless of type, and more than 20 have a way to target SaaS. At least four states (New York, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington) are aggressively pursuing SaaS. There’s also the issue of bundling — on its own, SaaS might not be taxed, but it will be when paired with hardware. In the early days of a startup, there’s a tendency to think that the only tax worry would be an audit in the future, the likelihood of which is low. However, tax issues become a problem when you’re fundraising or facing due diligence for mergers and acquisitions. The party conducting due diligence will be focused on sales and use tax, as any liability could transfer to the buyer. We saw this with a new client recently — they hadn’t performed a risk assessment and the buyer identified almost $1 million dollars in tax liability. This reduced the purchase price significantly. Startups think they’ll have lots of time to get to this point, but they actually need to focus on it right away. Any negligence, if identified, could exclude a company from any statute of limitations. While no business is exempt from taxes, it’s critical for startups to understand when they’re liable for tax, and if offering a SaaS solution, how each set of local laws applies. Do not assume that your product or service is non-taxable or that you’ve identified all your areas of potential tax liability. Determining your taxability To identify which states you’ll owe sales taxes to, first establish your nexus by determining your physical or economical presence. You can determine your physical nexus by examining which states you have employees, office, property or agents in. Are you “maintaining, occupying or using permanently or temporarily, directly or indirectly, an office, place of distribution, sales or sample room or place, warehouse, server, storage place or other place of business?” Or is there an “employee, representative, agent or salesperson working in the state under the authority of the company on a temporary or permanent basis?” An economic nexus is established for sellers “not having physical presence in the state.” In this case, the state will collect sales tax from customers and remit if the seller meets a set level of sales or number of transactions in that state. With broad definitions like these, it’s easy to see how complex taxes can become.What do recent changes to state taxes mean for US SaaS startups? by Ram Iyer originally published on TechCrunch

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Manu Jain, the executive who helped Xiaomi set up and scale business in India, has left the company, he said Monday, joining a long list of high-profile departures at the local unit that is increasingly losing market share to rivals including Samsung. Jain did not say why he was leaving the firm, but he has been pitching investors ideas for an EV startup for several months, people familiar with the matter said. Jain told many industry figures several quarters ago that he was planning to leave the firm, according to many of the people with whom he spoke. Xiaomi entered the Indian smartphone market in 2014. In within quarters, the firm had started to make a dent in the market, undercutting rivals Samsung, OnePlus, Oppo and Vivo with higher specs phones at more affordable price. A few years later, Xiaomi became the top smartphone vendor in India, a crown it no longer holds. Once a key figure in the India team, Jain grappled with a big blow after the relationship between China and India soured amid geopolitical tension between the neighboring nations in 2020, people familiar with the matter said. According to one source, Jain was supposed to be elevated to a higher global role but the firm changed its mind. Amid the tension at its India unit, several key Xiaomi executives including Raghu Reddy, Xiaomi India business head, have left the firm. Xiaomi did not respond to a request for comment in December. Jain did not respond to multiple requests for comment throughout last year. “I joined the Xiaomi Group in 2014 to start its India journey. The first few years were full of ups and downs. We started as a one-person startup, working from a small little office. We were the smallest amongst the hundreds of smartphone brands, that too with limited resources and no prior relevant industry experience,” Jain said in a statement. In his long statement Monday, Jain did not comment on Xiaomi’s dwindling market share in India and other departures. Manu Jain, Xiaomi exec who set up and scaled India business, leaves by Manish Singh originally published on TechCrunch

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It’s hard to develop a personal note taking habit. Many folks just resort to using a default app like Apple’s Notes app or sending something to themselves on Slack. It’s fine if you just need to jot down a note or two, but it becomes hard to organize and search for them later. Stashpad is working on a solution for that issue — especially for developers and product managers. Stashpad is an app that runs on all desktop platforms (Intel and M1 Mac, Windows and Linux). When you first launch the application, it has a minimal learning curve for getting started — you can just start typing in notes. You can put these notes under one Stack for a project  — think of this as creating a folder. There is also an option of creating a sub-stack (no, not that one) under a folder. All stacks open up as tabs on top of the app, and there is an option of pinning tabs for easy access. The app also has a “Sticky” mode, which makes it easier to take notes during a video call. Image Credits: Stashpad While the basic structure is simple, the app gives users a plethora of formatting options including code. And if you are an advanced user, you can remember and use keyboard shortcuts accessible through a command bar for anything from navigating through the app to creating or moving notes. Plenty of modern tools like SigmaOS, the Arc browser, and Vimcal and Cron calendar apps follow the same philosophy. Stashpad has kept the notetaking part simple even though there’s a lot of flexibility when it comes to organizing and structuring notes. For instance, users can easily build a to-do list but won’t get features like reminders for that. So they will need to integrate Stashpad into their daily workflow to make the most out of it. Why the founders made another note-taking app? The company’s co-founders Cara Borenstein and Theo Marin previously worked at Twilio and Nextdoor respectively. The founders, who met at Columbia University while studying computer science, said that while working at their job they realized that a lot of developers rely on personal notepads for listing tasks and getting the work done. So they decided to build Stashpad. “At our jobs, we noticed that there were some knowledge-sharing challenges within teams and set out to build a better wiki. We came to realize that challenges with the wiki are more of a people challenge than a tech challenge when it comes to creating the right incentives to keep the wiki up-to-date. We realized that the personal notepad, much more than the wiki, is key to how devs like us get stuff done,” they told TechCrunch over an email. Image Credits: Stashpad While the company counts tools like Notion, Evernote and Obsidian as competitors, it says that these apps are focused more on knowledge management while Stashpad is concentrating on note-taking for working memory. “In some senses, we’re complementary to these tools. However, it’s common to use these tools for both working memory and long-term knowledge management. We believe that the working memory use case deserves its own, purpose-built tool. By designing for this use-case, we’re better able to prioritize frictionless capture while helping you keep different chains of thought compartmentalized,” they said. Stashpad is free for personal usage, but if you want to use it across devices along with the mobile app you have to pay $8 per month. The company also working on providing a commercial license for teams at $50 per year. The startup first launched its desktop app in August, and to date, it has users from companies like AWS, Coinbase, Atlassian, and Spotify. Image Credits: Stashpad Stashpad is launching its iOS app today to go with the desktop client. The app lets you sync 50 notes on the free tier and unlimited notes on the paid tier. The company has designed the mobile app in such a way that it helps people take quick notes by placing the cursor in the writing box directly. The founder said that they wanted to keep the interface in line with the desktop design and give people the experience of “DMing themselves.” The road ahead The company raised $1.8 million last year from Alex Solomon (CTO at PagerDuty), Will Larson (CTO at Calm), operators at Postman, Loom, Webflow, and the co-founders’ former colleagues at Twilio and Nextdoor. As the company participated in Techstars in 2021, its total raise to date is $2 million. Stashpad is planning to work on making notes collaborative so users can share some of their notes for a group brainstorming session. However, the founders said at the core, they still want the app to be a personal notetaker. The startup plans to release an Android app this quarter along with support for images in notes. In the future, the company also plans to release an API to make the experience more customizable for developers. Stashpad is a notepad for devs with a “DM to yourself” interface by Ivan Mehta originally published on TechCrunch

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The Station is a weekly newsletter dedicated to all things transportation. Sign up here — just click The Station — to receive the full edition of the newsletter every weekend in your inbox. Subscribe for free.  Welcome back to The Station, your central hub for all past, present and future means of moving people and packages from Point A to Point B.  It seems we can’t get through a week without discussing something related to Tesla. The company announced a new investment in its Nevada gigafactory and shared Q4 earnings (more on that later). But much of the attention was directed at the class-action securities fraud trial that kicked off earlier this month in San Francisco. Tesla shareholders who traded the company’s stock in the days after CEO Elon Musk’s infamous 2018 tweet that stated funding was “secured” to take Tesla private at a potential value of $420 per share are suing the executive for billions of dollars in damages. This week, lawyers on either side of the courtroom engaged in a verbal tug of war over the intent of Musk’s “funding secured” tweet — a question that they tried to answer during his testimony by picking apart emails, phone calls and boardroom conversations. The words ‘drudgery’ and ‘mind numbing’ came to mind more than once as the sparring over whether Musk knew he was being negligent was hashed out.  There were a couple of tidbits that came out of the whole debacle. Musk testified that his $420 per share reference was not a joke or a reference to weed culture, but rather it was a 20% premium over the stock price at the time. Sure, sure … Musk also disclosed that he thought funding was secured from the Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, and that even if he didn’t, he would have sold SpaceX shares to fund the buyout, much like he sold Tesla shares to fund Twitter. Wonder why he didn’t share that five years ago?  Akio Toyoda at a press conference in 2021. Perhaps the biggest automotive story of the week was Akio Toyoda’s surprise announcement that he is stepping out of the CEO driver seat at Toyota and handing the keys to Koji Sato, who most recently led automaker’s luxury brand Lexus. Akio Toyoda isn’t leaving the Toyota altogether. He will now become chairman of the board, replacing Takeshi Uchiyamada, who held the position since 2013. The company has said the change to management was triggered by Uchiyamada’s resignation. Toyoda and Sato made remarks during a live streamed Toyota event and a few nuggets stood out to me. One was Toyoda commenting on his 13 years as CEO, an era when the company suffered due to the global financial crisis, earthquake and a worldwide recall. I believe that in times of crisis, two paths appear before us. One is a path toward short-term success or a quick victory. The other is a path that leads back to the essential qualities and philosophies that gave us strength. I chose the latter. And Sato on the future: I love making cars. For that reason, I want to be a president who continues to make cars. I would like to show what kind of company Toyota should be through our cars. That’s what I want to do. Cars that are fun to drive and cars that support mobility. And cars in the future will evolve into the concept of mobility itself. Amid such, I hope to preserve the essential value of the car and propose new forms of mobility. You can drop us a note at [email protected] If you prefer to remain anonymous, click here to contact us, which includes SecureDrop (instructions here) and various encrypted messaging apps. Micromobbin’ This was a pretty slow week in the micromobility realm, but there are a few morsels worth sharing. Bike New York, a non-profit org, is providing immigrants and asylum seekers with two wheels.  California will soon be the latest state to offer rebates for e-bikes. The state is gearing up to launch up to $13 million in funding.  Citibike has raised membership and single trip prices in Jersey City and Hoboken. Will other markets follow? Helbiz wants to address short selling of its stock. The company signed a deal with Shareholder Intelligence Services to stop any illegal short selling.  Honda Motorcycle is set to launch sit-down e-scooters in 2024 for the Indian market.  Madrid has selected Lime, Dott and Tier for scooter licenses. The permits are good for three years, which is a step up on many permits that only last a year or two. Tier has announced more layoffs across its own brand and Spin. This follows previous rounds of layoffs from both companies. Tier said it would let go 80 workers from Tier and another 20 from Spin as it pivots its strategy from growth at all costs to sustainable growth.  Veo donated 36 decommissioned bikes to a Bronx school. Deal of the week There wasn’t one big deal that caught our attention this week, so here are a few smaller ones that you should know about. Ampeco, a Bulgarian EV charging management platform, raised a $13 million Series A led by BMW iVentures to drive into North America.  Caura, an administrative app for drivers, raised £4 million ($5 million) from LLoyds Banking Group Plc. The four-year-old company is also backed by Jaguar Land Rover’s venture arm. Geely is planning a big investment to turn London’s iconic black taxis into a high-volume, all-electric brand with a range of commercial and passenger vehicles. Log9 Materials, an India-based battery tech startup, raised $40 million in Series B round of equity and debt co-led by Amara Raja Batteries and Petronas Ventures. Incred Financial Services, Unity Small Finance Bank, Oxyzo Financial Services and Western Capital Advisors also participated. Onto raised a £100 million line of credit from CDPQ to continue expanding its UK fleet with the latest electric car models. Sheeva.AI, a company that developed in-car payments and commerce platform based on a vehicle’s location, raised $9.25 million in a Series A funding round led by strategic Reynolds and Reynolds Company, with additional funding from Poppe + Potthoff Capital GmbH and Pegasus Tech Ventures. Terra Drone raised a $14 million Series C from Wa’ed Ventures, the VC arm of Saudi Arabia’s public oil and gas company, Saudi Aramco. Virgin Australia is expected to begin interviewing lead underwriters for a planned IPO in 2023. Notable reads and other tidbits ADAS Tesla’s Autopilot fell in a Consumer Reports ranking of 12 major systems. Ford’s BlueCruise ranked the highest, followed by General Motors’ Cadillac Super Cruise and Mercedes-Benz Driver Assistance. Autopilot came in 7th place.  Autonomous vehicles Vay received an exemption permit to test its remotely piloted cars on public roads in Germany.  Waymo quietly laid off staff as its parent company Alphabet let go of 12,000 workers.  Also missed this one last week. Waymo was named the official autonomous vehicle technology partner of Super Bowl LVII, which will be held in Phoenix this year. “There’s no bigger stage for our 24/7 ride-hailing service than transporting people from all over the globe to and from the airport and around downtown for the many exciting activities surrounding the Big Game,” Waymo’s chief product officer Saswat Panigrahi said in a statement. Electric vehicles Bluedot is a startup that offers a debit card for EV drivers, offering them rewards and discounts on EV charging and other auto-related services.  Honda will establish a division dedicated to developing EVs and other electrical products like storage and generation.  Lightyear has stopped production on its Lightyear 0, the company’s €250,000 flagship solar-powered EV. It will instead redirect its attention to its second production model, the Lightyear 2, which will come in at a modest €40,000. Tesla reported Q4 and full year earnings this week. The company beat Wall Street estimates with $24.3 billion in the fourth quarter. Tesla also reached record deployments for its energy offerings. Separately, Tesla invested $3.6 billion into building two new facilities in Nevada: a 100 GWh battery cell factory and the company’s first high-volume Semi truck factory.  Toyota is partnering with Enel X Way to make the latter’s domestic and street charging services available to Toyota and Lexus drivers. Volta Trucks has announced first production orders of over 300 electric EVs and more than €85 million in associated revenue. Ride-hail Gig workers in India on platforms like Uber, Ola and Swiggy are facing blocked accounts and other backlash for speaking out and protesting over poor working conditions. Lyft has introduced wait-time fees, or charges incurred if a Lyft driver has to wait for a rider upon pickup. Uber has had them since 2016. Lyft’s new fees kick in two minutes after on-time arrival for standard rides and five minutes after Black and Black XL.  Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said the company is not planning any widespread job cuts. Here’s holding him to his word. People Canoo named Ken Manget as its CFO. Ramesh Murthy, who served as interim CFO, will continue in his role as senior vice president of finance and chief accounting officer. Elon takes the stand, Akio Toyoda hands over the CEO keys and layoffs come for Waymo by Rebecca Bellan originally published on TechCrunch

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French startup Sorare has signed a four-year licensing partnership with the Premier League. This is an important move for the company as the English football league is one of the most-watched sports league in the world. Sorare is a fantasy sports gaming experience based on NFTs, or non-fungible tokens. In particular, Sorare has partnered with many football leagues so that it can create trading cards representing football players. Each card is registered as a unique token on the Ethereum blockchain. Sorare players can buy and sell cards from other players. They can then put together a lineup of five players and earn points based on real-life performances. Sorare frequently issues new cards on the platforms that users can buy to add to their personal collections — that’s how the company generates revenue. And the startup has been quite successful so far. It raised a gigantic $680 million Series B round and signed partnerships with many clubs and football organizations including Spain’s LaLiga, Germany’s Bundesliga and Italy’s Serie A. The Premier League is a nice addition to this list of organizations. With today’s new partnership with the Premier League, Sorare users will find all 20 clubs on the platform. There will also be league-specific competitions. “The Premier League is a truly global competition and has been the home to so many iconic moments and players over the last 30 years. As football fans ourselves, this partnership is something we’ve dreamt of since we founded the business,” Sorare co-founder and CEO Nicolas Julia said in a statement. “It’s a major milestone for us as we pursue our goal to build a compelling global sports community for fans and we’re extremely proud to have now partnered with three of the biggest sports leagues in the world: the Premier League, NBA and MLB. We’re incredibly excited and can’t wait to see fans play with Premier League cards in our tournaments.” As for sports fans who don’t particularly enjoy football, Sorare also teamed up with the NBA and MLB over the past few months. While MLB season hasn’t started yet, Sorare’s NBA game is already live. It works more or less like the fantasy football game. Sorare teams up with the Premier League for its NFT fantasy football game by Romain Dillet originally published on TechCrunch

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PhonePe clocked a revenue of $234.3 million in the first nine months of 2022, the most valuable Indian fintech startup has disclosed in a filing. The nine-month financials marks a jump from the $201.6 million revenue that the Bengaluru-headquartered generated in the 12-month period ending in financial year March last year. PhonePe, which is valued at $12 billion, has projected a revenue of $325 million in the calendar year 2022 and $504 million in 2023, according to a valuation report prepared by the auditing firm KPMG and filed by PhonePe. The auditing firm’s estimates relied on information provided by the PhonePe management, the document said. The startup, backed by Walmart, doesn’t expect to turn EBIDTA positive, a key profitability metric, until the calendar year 2025, KMPG wrote in its valuation report. Image credits: PhonePe regulatory filing At a $12 billion valuation, PhonePe is India’s most valuable fintech startup. The startup competes with Google Pay and Paytm. Paytm, which expects to reach $1 billion revenue by March this year, is currently valued at $4.1 billion. PhonePe, to be sure, is the clear leader in the mobile payments market on UPI, a network built by a coalition of retail banks in India. UPI has become the most popular way Indians transact online, and processes over 7 billion transactions a month. Seven-year-old PhonePe commands about 40% of all these transactions. A concern for PhonePe’s growth was Indian regulators enforcing a market cap check on each player, but the deadline for the new guidelines was extended last month and now won’t come into effect until 2025, giving PhonePe another two years of fast-growth. Walmart-backed PhonePe’s nine-month 2022 revenue surged to $234 million by Manish Singh originally published on TechCrunch

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After a decade of frantic growth, China’s smartphone market is hitting a speed bump as COVID-19 roils the world’s second-largest economy. The country’s smartphone shipments dropped 14% year-over-year in 2022, reaching a ten-year low, according to research firm Counterpoint. It was also the first time that China’s handset sales had slid below 300 million units in ten years, according to Canalys. Even in December, which has historically seen seasonal jumps in sales, China recorded a 5% quarter-to-quarter decline in smartphone shipments. The three-year-long stringent “zero-COVID” policy that disrupted businesses and dampened consumer confidence, coupled with macroeconomic headwinds, spelled an end to China’s years of double-digit growth. Troubles mounted when the abrupt relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions in early December resulted in a surge in cases, further adding pressure to the waning economy. Last year, China’s GDP grew 3%, its lowest in decades other than 2020. Alibaba’s annual shopping bonanza in November offered some clues to China’s weakening spending power. The event, which is often compared to Black Friday and seen as a bellwether for the country’s consumer appetite, did not disclose its final sales number in 2022 for the first time since its inception in 2009. There was one winner in this gloomy time. Apple finished the year with an all-time high market share of 18% thanks to “its aggressive promotions” and “resilient” demand in the high-end segment in China, according to Canalys. Its ascent also coincides with Huawei’s fall from grace in the premium handset market since U.S. sanctions cut off its access to high-end chipsets. Apple’s relationship with China remains a delicate one. The country is not only one of its biggest markets but has been the manufacturing backbone that created the world’s most valuable company today. In the past few years, however, COVID-related disruptions, such as a rare worker protest at a major Foxconn plant that delayed production, prompted the hardware juggernaut to rethink its supply chain strategy. The Wall Street Journal reported in early December that Apple was looking to relocate some of its supply chains out of China to other parts of Asia, including Vietnam and India. India, in particular, is expected to play a bigger role in Apple’s supply chains as the firm plans to expand its manufacturing capacity in the country to produce 25% of all iPhones by 2025, according to JP Morgan analysts. In Q4, the top smartphone brands in China by shipment were Apple, Vivo, Oppo, Honor (which was spun off from Huawei following U.S. sanctions on the parent firm), and Xiaomi. Apple limits AirDrop ‘Everyone’ option to 10 minutes in China China smartphone market slumps to 10-year low in 2022 by Rita Liao originally published on TechCrunch

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Founded by two insurance industry veterans, Eazy Digital wants to give small insurance companies in Southeast Asia the same advantage as their larger competitors. Its SaaS platform lets insurers digitize many parts of their operations, enabling them to scale up more efficiently. The Bangkok-based startup announced today it has raised $850,000 in an oversubscribed seed round led by Wavemaker Partners, with participation from Seedstars International Ventures, Wing Vasiksiri and Sasin Bangkok Venture Club. Eazy Digital was founded last year by Haprem Doowa and Maethavee Sukul. Doowa was previously co-founder and CEO of Frank Insurance, an online digital broker in Thailand that was acquired by Bolttech in 2021. Sukul was head of operations at Frank, Bolttech Insurance Broker and digital health insurance broker Benix. Eazy Digital co-founder Haprem Doowa Doowa told TechCrunch that while working together at Frank, he and Sukul “both realized that the insurance industry was plagued with manual work and quick home-built solutions.” Many insurance companies in Thailand manage their agents using a combination of Excel, Line chats and phone calls. While larger insurance companies have the money and team members to build their own software, their smaller competitors, which Doowa said make up over 90% of insurance companies, struggle to digitize their operations. Eazy Digital’s goal is to give them a platform that is affordable and helps solve their scalability issues. It enables insurers to manage agents, operations, user referrals and engagement. Eazy Digital’s competitors include eBao, Appman and ZA Tech, which also build software for insurers. Doowa said Eazy Digital differentiates by focusing on distribution and the efficiency of agency sales and customer referrals. “Both are revenue-earning for the companies which makes it easier for insurance companies to say yes to working with us,” he added. The startup’s new funding will be used for marketing, hiring and product development with an eye on expanding to other Southeast Asian markets. Armed with experience, insurtech MGAs are paving the way for insurtech 2.0 Eazy Digital helps Southeast Asia’s small insurers digitize their operations by Catherine Shu originally published on TechCrunch

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Welcome to The Interchange! If you received this in your inbox, thank you for signing up and your vote of confidence. If you’re reading this as a post on our site, sign up here so you can receive it directly in the future. Every week, I’ll take a look at the hottest fintech news of the previous week. This will include everything from funding rounds to trends to an analysis of a particular space to hot takes on a particular company or phenomenon. There’s a lot of fintech news out there and it’s my job to stay on top of it — and make sense of it — so you can stay in the know. — Mary Ann Stripe eyes exit, reportedly tried raising at a lower valuation The big news in fintech this week revolved around payments giant Stripe. On January 26, my Equity Podcast co-host and overall amazingly talented reporter Natasha Mascarenhas and I teamed up to write about how Stripe had set a 12-month deadline for itself to go public, either through a direct listing or by pursuing a transaction on the private market, such as a fundraising event and a tender offer, according to sources familiar with the matter. The news, as first reported by the Wall Street Journal, came as a surprise considering the rather dry public market activity in the tech world. Later that day, it also came to light that Stripe had reportedly approached investors about raising more capital — at least $2 billion — at a valuation of $55 billion to $60 billion. This is especially newsworthy considering that Stripe last raised at a $95 billion valuation in March of 2021. Now, down rounds are hardly shocking in today’s environment. But for some reason, when you’re talking about a company that had achieved the highest-ever valuation for a privately held startup, it sits differently. Even more intriguing, The Wall Street Journal reported that Stripe would not use the money toward operating expenses but rather to cover a large annual tax bill associated with employee stock units. It is not clear if any discussions are ongoing, and Stripe declined to comment on the matter when asked. The fact that the company might raise money to pay off a tax bill raised eyebrows internally here at TechCrunch. That is not typical, and it certainly doesn’t seem like it’s an ideal way to spend investors’ cash. Ken Smythe, founder and CEO of Next Round Capital Partners — a capital markets and VC secondaries firm — validated our impressions. In a phone interview on January 27, he told me that it is “highly unusual for investors to be excited about a new round that is primarily going to pay unpaid taxes.” Instead, Smythe said, they generally get more pumped about funding expansions into new markets or products or other growth initiatives. But generally speaking, he believes that a fundraise is a more likely outcome for Stripe than an IPO, if the company can pull it off. “It makes sense that Stripe would try to raise money privately at a $55 billion to $60 billion, a -30% drop from their $95 billion round in 2021,” he told me. “In contrast to public fintech stocks, which have suffered -65% to -80% drops over the last 12 to 18 months (PayPal, Square, Ayden), a private raise at $60 billion would be a big win. That’s still a very healthy multiple of 20x+ revenue multiple in an environment where many fintech names are trading in the single digits.” Going public, Smythe said, will likely remain challenging for most companies until late 2023 or 2024 — Stripe included. “It’s highly unlikely that an IPO for Stripe is anywhere near on the horizon, given the weakness of broader fintech gains and the unpredictability and volatility of Stripe’s revenues,” he added. Indeed, as a historically transactional-payments business, Stripe appears to be exploring ways to generate meaningful — and predictable — revenue. For example, Amazon announced on January 23 that it plans to “significantly expand” its use of Stripe. Reported Pymnts: “Under the new agreement, Stripe will become a strategic payments partner for Amazon in the U.S., Europe and Canada, processing a significant portion of Amazon’s total payments volume. Stripe will be used across Amazon’s business units, including Prime, Audible, Kindle, Amazon Pay, Buy With Prime and more.” Also, I recently wrote about how new fintech startup Mayfair is paying Stripe a fee as part of its mission to offer businesses a higher yield on their cash. I know we’re all wondering what’s going on with the company as it appears to be struggling to keep its footing in an increasingly crowded fintech space. Will it raise or go public? What is Stripe really valued at now? I, for one, can’t wait to find out. Image Credits: SOPA Images / Contributor / Getty Images Bolt lays off more people, continues to struggle One-click checkout startup Bolt laid off more people last week. And according to The Information, CEO Maju Kuruvilla “told an all-hands meeting … that ‘quite a few’ of Bolt’s recent moves, including partnerships, new products, and acquisitions, had not worked out.” Also according to The Information, about 50 employees were affected by the latest round of layoffs. Overall, the company has cut its headcount by more than half since last May. When asked, a company spokesperson told me only that Bolt is “focused on the long-term success” of its business and its customers. She added: “We truly believe we will power the next generation of growth for independent retailers. As we concentrate on strengthening our core products, we regretfully had to make the difficult decision to restructure our teams and part ways with some of our talented employees. We’re extremely grateful for everyone’s contributions.” TechCrunch reported on Bolt’s previous layoffs last May. Next Round Capital Partners’ Ken Smythe is not at all surprised by the latest layoff news, telling me that Bolt has struggled to get its core product “to achieve any real traction with customers.” “Revenue continues to be very weak — in the $30 million to $40 million range, and it was expected to be much higher at this point,” Smythe said. “A lot of customer acquisition they have talked about has not come to fruition. They overhired, raised $1B at an extreme valuation ($11B valuation at 300x+ multiple), which they used to hire but a product never materialized. Now they’re burning that cash. The reality is they haven’t delivered — hence the layoffs.” Image Credits: CEO Maju Kuruvilla / Bolt Other News Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, U.S. Bank, PNC, Truist and Capital One are collaborating on a product that, according to The Wall Street Journal, “will allow shoppers to pay at merchants’ online checkout with a wallet that will be linked to their debit and credit cards.” Early Warning Services, which is owned by a consortium of the seven banks, will operate the yet-to-be-named digital wallet, which Banking Dive reports is expected to launch in the second half of the year. The wallet will operate separately from the EWS-run peer-to-peer payments platform Zelle, according to the Journal. The move seems to be an effort on the part of the banks to compete with the likes of PayPal and Apple. But is it too little too late? J.D. Power and Associates sent me a report that showed that according to its data, “mobile wallet usage among Americans continues to grow in stores, but the percentage of customers that still say it is easier to use a physical credit/debit card than a mobile wallet is on the rise.” ICYMI: On January 19, Bloomberg reported that Capital One had “eliminated hundreds of technology positions,” a move that impacted over 1,100 workers. Those employees were reportedly invited to apply for other roles in the bank. For those of us who suck at carrying cash, it’s good to know that digital tipping is a growing space. Christine Hall recently wrote about Grazzy raising $4.5 million to grow its digital tipping platform. And last week, startup eTip announced its collaboration with Visa aimed at helping hospitality and service industry clients “accelerate the adoption of digital tipping.” Via email, eTip said: “With eTip, guests of hotels, cruise lines, casinos, and resorts can now tip staff by simply scanning or tapping a QR code, allowing hospitality and service employees to receive digital tips in real time.” X1 released X1+, which it described as a “premium smart credit card” focused on travel. Features include complimentary lounge access for flight delays, enhanced travel rewards and “smart” baggage protection. CEO Deepak Rao also told me via email that X1 has raised $16 million in venture debt from Silicon Valley Bank, which will be used toward “growing new product lines and having cash reserve for growth in purchase volume and outstanding balances.” That financing follows the company’s recent $15 million extension funding round. Fintech-turned-HR outfit Deel revealed that it reached $295 million in annual recurring revenue (ARR) in 2022. That’s up 417.5% from $57 million in ARR achieved at the end of 2021. The massive jump in ARR is impressive by normal standards but particularly so considering the challenging macroenvironment that startups everywhere faced last year. The company’s co-founder and CEO Alex Bouaziz also confirmed the company’s valuation of $12 billion, which we reported on in May at the time of Deel’s $50 million raise. The executive also told TechCrunch that Deel is profitable, having been EBITDA positive since September. Former Salesforce executive Craig Nile has taken a role as Modern Treasury’s new chief revenue officer to, in the company’s own words, “lead the company’s continuing push into enterprises.” Modern Treasury, which describes itself as “the operating system for the new era of payments,” also announced it has landed construction software giant Procore, fintech Splitwise and expense management company TripActions as new customers. Ex-Plaid product marketing lead Victor Umunze has launched Wafi, a payment processing platform that aims to provide e-commerce businesses “with a simple API to enable fast, secure, and cost-effective processing of bank payments that eliminates redundant entities in the payment processing flow, giving businesses significant cost savings and increasing profitability,” the company told me via email. More on this here. Reports Manish Singh: “India’s central bank has directed SBM Bank India to stop all outward remittance transactions in a blow to the bank and many of its fintech partners that offer services allowing users to invest in foreign services.” More here. From Fintech Futures: “Mexican buy now, pay later (BNPL) fintech Kueski has appointed Fausto Ibarra as its new chief product officer (CPO) to lead the firm’s long-term vision for its financial product offerings. Ibarra brings over two decades of experience to the role, most recently serving as Stripe’s head of product for Latin America. Prior to that, he also held various senior roles at tech giants including Meta, Google and Microsoft.” Via email, Kueski told me that the company recently hit its 10-year anniversary of financial service operations, with almost 10 million loans issued since its inception to 1.7 million users across its products, Kueski Pay and Kueski Cash, totaling more than $1.4 billion in loan transactions. PayPal and Bold Commerce have teamed up in an effort “to enable brands to go headless.” Via email, the companies told me: “Brands will now be able to give PayPal’s 430 million active users the ability to check out wherever they are — beyond brands’ traditional e-commerce sites — using PayPal’s full line of payment options: PayPal, Venmo, PayPal Pay Later solutions, and credit and debit cards. This news creates the largest global cross-merchant network effect for e-commerce … Brands will now have control of the checkout experience and payment options they offer shoppers on third-party digital channels (such as social media, blogs, digital interfaces and QR codes). Currently, brands either have to take shoppers away from the content they’re engaging with to complete a purchase, or they’re limited to the payment options selected by the channel.” Some news out of Puerto Rico: FV Bank — which claims to be the first bank in Puerto Rico granted a digital asset custody license by the Office of the Commissioner of Financial Institutions (OCIF) — announced the launch of its cross-border, foreign currency payments facility. Via email, FV told me: “The new service will facilitate commerce, allowing US and international customers to make timely, seamless, and secure cross-border transactions, without the need for multiple currency conversions or exorbitant fees.” More here. In this week’s episode of TechCrunch’s fabulous Found podcast, Darrell and Becca were joined by Sebastian Siemiatkowski, the co-founder and CEO of Klarna. Sebastian talks about what led him to found the startup and how it has navigated multiple market cycles since. He also dives into how Klarna has grown in different categories and which have been more successful than others. Plus, he talks about why he’s been so transparent about the company’s valuation and status amid 2022’s market turmoil. Check it out here. And while we’re on the topic of Klarna . . . From Finextra: “Klarna has taken a leaf out of Spotify’s playbook with the launch of Money Story, a personal summary of 2022 that provides consumers with useful insights into their spending habits. Money Story uses the animated ‘story’ format popularised by social media, to provide users with spending insights that they can convert into financial goals for 2023. The package visualises spending patterns and presents animated quiz questions that prompt users to reflect on where they think they spent their money in 2022.” Speaking of BNPL, in last week’s Exchange newsletter, the brilliant Anna Heim writes in a story cleverly titled ‘Protect me from what I want’: “Buy now, pay later is an alluring option for consumers, perhaps even more so in a recession. But with rising debt and inflation, perhaps the focus should be on companies that help protect borrowers from digging themselves into a hole.” Reports Startup Weekly: “Bean, a Matchstick Ventures-backed digital accounting startup, announced it emerged from stealth to democratize the market for accounting services. Bean’s SaaS enabled marketplace matches a network of elite accountants (only 4% of applicants get access) with CFOs and companies. A 2022 graduate of TechStars LA, Matchstick Ventures, Far Out Ventures and Acadian Ventures invested $1.7 million joined by angel investors and founders Wayne Chang and Jeff Seibert.” Restive Ventures released its 2023 State of Fintech report. Proptech corner Inman reports: “Comparing himself to Henry Ford and Elon Musk, CEO Vishal Garg says he’s reconfigured Better‘s assembly line to crank out mortgages in a single day.” In a press release, the company — which is rumored to still be struggling quite a bit — claims that its customers “will be able to go online, get pre-approved, lock their rate and get a mortgage Commitment Letter from Better, all within 24 hours.” Sean Roberts has left his role as COO and CFO of real estate tech company Orchard and is now CEO of Villa, a venture-backed ADU builder. According to his LinkedIn profile, Roberts will continue to strategically advise Orchard. According to Layoffstracker.com, vacation rental management platform Vacasa laid off 1,300 employees, or 17% of its workforce, last Tuesday, “a dramatic step aimed at stabilizing the faltering Portland company.” “We need to reduce our costs and continue to focus on becoming a profitable company,” new CEO Rob Greyber wrote in a note to staff Tuesday, which Vacasa then filed with federal securities regulators. Fundings and M&A Seen on TechCrunch YC grad Method raises $16M to power loan repayment, balance transfers and more across fintech apps B2B sales closing and financing platform Vartana raises $12M Reimbursement and spend management platform Payem secures $220M in equity and debt  Bling Capital-backed Coverdash unveils its embedded, digital insurance for small businesses Zenfi takes in new funding to bring Mexicans some financial peace And elsewhere DailyPay secures $260 million in new funding. Tranch raises $100 million in funding ($5 million equity, $95 million debt) to expand B2B BNPL for service providers. Charlotte, NC–based commercial lending startup Foro emerges from stealth with $8 million in Series A funding Interestingly, the company tells us that one of its backers is former Bank of America CEO and chairman Hugh McColl Jr. Suppli raises $3.1 million to modernize construction payments, grow team. Zurp raises $5 million pre-seed round to launch the credit card for experiences. Nuula sold to Nav Technologies following collapse of Series A round.  ​​Medsi secures $10 million in debt financing to onboard 30,000 Mexican customers waiting for its “health assurance” super app. Madrid-based Twinco Capital raises $12 million in equity and debt for supply chain finance platform. Mexican VC Dila Capital, with portfolio companies such as fintechs Kushki and Mattilda, closed its fourth fund: $115 million. Sandbar gets $4.8 million to fund fight against financial crime. Beyond the headline: The startup also announced the availability of its product. Investors include Lachy Groom and Abstract Ventures, with participation from BoxGroup, as well as 45+ angel investors, including founders and executives from Ramp, Stripe, OpenAI, Plaid, and Square. Sandbar says it identifies risks and “provides more effective models to accurately identify suspicious behavior across payment products and services.” According to a spokesperson: “With stronger AML systems, Sandbar is helping to mitigate false positives and to address large-scale fraud, money laundering, sanctions, and illicit funding for human trafficking, wars, and crimes.” ICYMI: Alaan, UAE’s spend management platform, raises $4.5 million in a pre-series A round. Butter Payments raises $22 million to target a massive problem for subscription companies. Whew, I’ll be honest, that was exhausting to put together (but fun!). Thank you for hanging in there with me ’til the end. Enjoy the rest of your weekend and stay tuned for lots more fintech news next week. xoxo, Mary Ann What’s Stripe’s deal? by Mary Ann Azevedo originally published on TechCrunch

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Much hope remains after the crypto winter almost froze the sector: the Luna crash, the bankruptcy of Celsius and the arrest of FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried for alleged fraud. Then there was the venture pullback amid an economic downturn. In 2021, web3 startups globally raised a record $29.2 billion. By 2022, that number dipped to $21.5 billion — though that’s still much more than the total $4.8 billion and $4.2 billion such companies picked up in 2020 and 2019, respectively. Black people who invested in crypto were hit disproportionately hard during the winter, though many Black founders and investors who spoke to TechCrunch remain optimistic about the sector’s potential for the community and society overall. If anything, last year’s economic correction was necessary, they told TechCrunch. “Bubble had to pop,” People of Crypto co-founder Simone Berry said. “It wasn’t sustainable and economic correction was needed. The downturn removed the bad actors who only entered the space for fast dollars. It created an opportunity to exit the hype cycle, clearing the way for development that will ensure the growth of the ecosystem in a sustainable way, adding value.” Pryce Adade-Yebesi, the co-founder of Utopia Labs, agreed. “This period of time was a rightful consequence for a period of rampant speculation and grift,” he told TechCrunch. “This will be a great time to focus. Getting back to the reality of solving pervasive problems in the world; it’s an important change of pace for the space.” Funding for Black web3 founders has only increased, and the crypto winter proved the most fruitful year. Crunchbase data shows that U.S. Black web3 founders raised $60 million (out of the $11.9 billion total given to all U.S. web3 startups in 2022). That amount is substantially higher than the $16 million such founders received in 2021, during crypto’s record-breaking year (U.S. web3 startups received $16.5 billion that year). In 2017, they raised $11 million out of $1.03 billion, and in 2018, they raised basically zero dollars out of around $2.8 billion; note the vanishingly thin red line in the chart below. In 2019 and 2020 Black web3 founders raised $2.5 million and $4.5 million out of $2.4 billion and $3.2 billion, respectively. Fundraising last year was hard for many Black founders, and many were impacted by the downturn, though it’s quite telling that Black web3 founders were able to pick up record sums amid an overall dip in the web3 funding market. It appears that investors, too, are in some ways bullish on Black founders, a change of tune in how such entrepreneurs are usually considered. ( function() { var func = function() { var iframe = document.getElementById('wpcom-iframe-ab20568207019a9c89e5ab294cfe2eda') if ( iframe ) { iframe.onload = function() { iframe.contentWindow.postMessage( { 'msg_type': 'poll_size', 'frame_id': 'wpcom-iframe-ab20568207019a9c89e5ab294cfe2eda' }, "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 ); } } )(); Data visualization by Miranda Halpern, created with Flourish VC funding to Black web3 founders popped last year, bucking trends by Dominic-Madori Davis originally published on TechCrunch

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Hey, party people, it’s Kyle, continuing to step in for Greg to write Week in Review as he spends time with his newborn. Dunno about y’all, but it’s been a week. I’m dead tired and thankful it’s over. But because the news never sleeps, I’m rallying with the help of a fourth cup of coffee. Wish me luck. I’ve talked your ears off about it at this point, but I’m under contractual obligation (not really, but still) to mention TechCrunch’s upcoming Early Stage 2023 event in Boston on April 20. The one-day summit on startups will include advice and takeaways from top experts, plus opportunities to meet fellow founders and share your own entrepreneurial experiences. Don’t miss it. On the subject of travel, it’s not too early to start thinking about this year’s TechCrunch Disrupt 2023, which will take place in late September in San Francisco. Tickets aren’t available just yet, but they will be in the near-ish future. Sign up here for updates. With the call to actions out of the way (phew), here’s this week in tech news! most read Stripe eyes an exit: Mary Ann and Natasha write that fintech startup Stripe has set a 12-month deadline for itself to go public, either through a direct listing or by pursuing a transaction on the private market. The payments giant was founded in 2010, so the fact that it’s exploring avenues for exit isn’t entirely surprising. But Stripe hasn’t been immune to the global downturn, recently laying off 14% of its staff (around 1,120 people) and slashing its internal valuation multiple times. In a twist, Stripe reportedly tried to raise at least $2 billion in capital recently, according to The Wall Street Journal. Dell bets on the cloud: Ingrid reports that Dell is making an acquisition to beef up its cloud services business — specifically its offering in DevOps. The company is buying Cloudify, an Israeli startup that has built a platform for cloud orchestration and infrastructure automation, sources say for as much as $100 million. The purchase comes as DevOps startups continue to attract attention from investors, with venture funding in the sector reaching $4 billion in Q2 2021, according to PitchBook. Shutterstock embraces generative AI: As part of a partnership with OpenAI, the AI startup that recently attracted a multibillion-dollar investment from Microsoft, Shutterstock this week rolled out a tool that lets customers create images based on text prompts. Powered by OpenAI’s tech, specifically DALL-E 2, the tool creates images that are “ready for licensing” after they’re made. That’s significant given that one of Shutterstock’s biggest competitors, Getty Images, is currently embroiled in a lawsuit against Stability AI — maker of another generative AI service called Stable Diffusion — over using its images to train its AI without permission from Getty or rights holders. Bidet brand buys shower startup: Harri has the scoop on Brondell’s purchase of Nebia, the techy showerhead startup backed by Apple CEO Tim Cook and a host of other big names, including Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia. Nebia stood out when it launched with pricey nozzles that blasted users with a fine mist while conserving up to 70% of the water a typical showerhead sprays out. Co-founder Philip Winter told TechCrunch this week that Nebia’s products, including those it made with Moen, have reached more than 100,000 homes. An AI maestro, unreleased: An impressive new AI system from Google can generate music in any genre given a text description. But the company, fearing the risks, has no immediate plans to release it. Called MusicLM, the system was trained on a dataset of 280,000 hours of music to learn to generate coherent songs for descriptions like “enchanting jazz song with a memorable saxophone solo and a solo singer” or “Berlin ’90s techno with a low bass and strong kick.” Its songs, remarkably, sound something like a human artist might compose, albeit not necessarily as inventive or musically cohesive. No rest for Musk’s Twitter: Twitter owner and self-proclaimed “free-speech absolutist” Elon Musk is facing a legal challenge in Germany over how the platform is allegedly failing to enforce its own rules against antisemitic content, including Holocaust denial. Holocaust denial is a crime in Germany — which has strict laws prohibiting antisemitic hate speech — making the Berlin court a compelling arena to hear such a challenge. For his part, Musk has repeatedly claimed Twitter will respect all laws in the countries where it operates, including European speech laws, although he has yet to make any public comment on this specific lawsuit. Text till you drop: Walmart recently introduced a new way to shop via chatbot. Sarah gave it a go and found that the experience leaves a lot to be desired. She writes: “It felt like the process of ordering a few basic things has become an ordeal and has taken a lot longer than the traditional method of searching in Walmart’s app and adding things to the cart. If conversational commerce like this is the future, I’d say this is very much still a work in progress.” Flutter toward the future: Flutter, Google’s open source framework for building multiplatform apps for mobile, web and desktop, is coming along nicely. Frederic writes that at a recent conference, the tech giant highlighted the latest version of Flutter, which brings massively improved graphics performance, the ability to more easily embed Flutter code into existing web and mobile apps and support for new architectures like WebAssembly and RISC-V. audio roundup For your listening pleasure, TechCrunch has a crop of compelling new podcast episodes in the queue (as is the case weekly, might I add). Over at Equity, the crew took the mic to talk through deals of the week, All Raise’s CEO departure, what Google’s antitrust lawsuit means for startups, how the downturn impacted the way companies are hiring and why femtech stood out in 2022. On Found, Darrell and Becca were joined by Klarna’s co-founder and CEO Sebastian Siemiatkowski to talk about how the company is expanding beyond the buy now, pay later space to become a neobank. And TC’s crypto-focused Chain Reaction spotlighted Mo Shaikh, co-founder and CEO of the layer-1 blockchain Aptos, which is building infrastructure for web3 apps and products. TechCrunch+ TC+ subscribers get access to in-depth commentary, analysis and surveys — which you know if you’re already one. If you’re not, consider signing up. I doubt you’ll regret it. Just check out the highlights from this week: Salesforce under siege: Salesforce finds itself under threat from activist investor Elliott Management, which announced it was taking a multibillion-dollar position in the CRM leader. Ron examines what could be next for Salesforce as the company looks to cut costs and potentially sell unprofitable pieces of the organization. Energy transition is a winner with investors: Tim looks at investments in the energy transition, which took off last year. Businesses, financial institutions, governments and end users around the world sunk $1.11 trillion into low-carbon technologies, which was just over 30% more than 2021 and the second year in a row in which the growth rate exceeded that figure. Increased scrutiny: Rebecca writes that startups should expect more scrutiny from VCs on their hiring plans. Startups went on a hiring spree in 2021 as VC cash flowed and the job market was hot. But many overindulged in the talent pool and then had to make large cuts and layoffs in 2022. Stripe eyes an exit, Dell bets on the cloud, and Shutterstock embraces generative AI by Kyle Wiggers originally published on TechCrunch

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Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy. The app economy in 2023 hit a few snags, as consumer spending last year dropped for the first time by 2% to $167 billion, according to the latest “State of Mobile” report by data.ai (previously App Annie). However, downloads are continuing to grow, up 11% year-over-year in 2022 to reach 255 billion. Consumers are also spending more time in mobile apps than ever before. On Android devices alone, hours spent in 2022 grew 9%, reaching 4.1 trillion. This Week in Apps offers a way to keep up with this fast-moving industry in one place with the latest from the world of apps, including news, updates, startup fundings, mergers and acquisitions, and much more. Do you want This Week in Apps in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here: techcrunch.com/newsletters Top Stories Temu’s continued rise Image Credits: Temu Temu, a shopping app from Chinese e-commerce giant Pinduoduo, has been having quite the run as the No. 1 app on the U.S. app stores. The mobile shopping app hit the top spot on the U.S. App Store in September and has continued to hold a highly ranked position in the months that followed, including as the No. 1 free app on Google Play since December 29, 2022. More recently, Temu once again snagged the No. 1 position on the iOS App Store on January 3 and hadn’t dropped since as of earlier this week. Offering cheap factory-to-consumer goods, Temu provides access to a wide range of products, including fast fashion, and pushes users to share the app with friends in exchange for free products, which may account for some of its growth. The app has seen 5 million U.S. installs this January alone, up 19% from 4.2 million in the prior 22 days from December 10 through December 31, Sensor Tower says. This brings it to a total of 19 million lifetime installs across the App Store and Google Play, more than 18 million of which came from the U.S. The growth now sees Temu outpacing rival Shein in terms of daily installs. In October, Temu was averaging around 43,000 daily installs in the U.S., the firm said, while Shein averaged about 62,000. In November, Temu’s average daily installs grew to 185,000 while Shein’s climbed to 70,000, and last month, Temu averaged 187,000 installs while Shein saw about 62,000. The app appears to be leveraging a similar growth strategy to TikTok, which heavily spent on marketing to gain users. According to Meta’s ad library, Temu has run some 8,900 ads across Meta’s various platforms just this month. The ads promote Temu’s sales and its extremely discounted items, like $5 necklaces, $4 shirts and $13 shoes, among other deals. These ads appear to be working to boost Temu’s installs. But dig into the app’s reviews and you’ll find similar complaints to Wish, including scammy listings, damaged and delayed deliveries, incorrect orders and lack of customer service. Without addressing these issues, which helped bring down Wish, Temu seems more likely to go the way of Wish, not TikTok, no matter what it spends. Walmart’s chatbot shopping didn’t go well Image Credits: Screenshot of Walmart Text to Shop Walmart recently introduced a new way to shop: via text. Last month, the retail giant launched its “Text to Shop” experience, which allows mobile consumers across both iOS and Android devices to text Walmart the items they want to purchase from either their local stores or Walmart.com, or easily reorder items for pickup, delivery or shipping. However, the chat experience as it stands today does not come across as fully baked, our tests found. The chatbot said confusing things and the user interface at times was difficult to navigate, despite aiming to be a simpler, text-based shopping experience. We tested the experience, which leverages Apple’s Message app on iPhone, and it did not go well. The bot responded twice at times, offered only a few options for generic requests like “eggs,” asked everytime if an item was for pickup or delivery, provided inaccurate responses and spoke nonsense when confused — like when it returned options for “la croix organic eggs.” We’d say stick with the Walmart app for now. Read the full review here. Hands on with Walmart’s new (but buggy) ‘Text to Shop’ feature Apple’s Reality Pro details Could the next big app platform be Apple’s AR/VR headset? That’s the news from Bloomberg, which leaked details of Apple’s upcoming headset, the $3,000 Reality Pro due out later this year. The headset will attempt to create a 3D version of Apple’s operating system, the report said, and will include features like FaceTime videoconferencing (with avatars), the ability to watch immersive videos, play VR games and use Apple’s apps — including the Safari web browser, photos, mail, messages, calendar, App TV+, Apple Music, Podcasts and the App Store. The report described an interface with a grid of app icons and widgets, and said Siri could be used when you needed to input text. However, the interesting details involved how users could interact with on-screen items. Apparently, the device would have external sensors to analyze the user’s hands and sensors inside to track the user’s eyes. This would allow the user to select items on the screen by looking at them, then pinch their thumb and forefinger together to activate the task — without needing to hold additional hand controllers like rival headsets, Bloomberg said. It may also have its own Digital Crown, like Apple Watch, for switching between AR and VR and its iOS-like interface. Additionally, Apple is reported to be building software that allows users, including those who don’t know how to code, to build their own AR apps for its upcoming mixed-reality headset. There are of course still a lot of unanswered questions about the headset’s capabilities, though it does sound like a very “Apple” attempt at getting VR right. But the device’s price point will make it a premium product for the time being — and one launching during a down economy — which could limit its growth. App Updates Apple Updates The new iOS 16.3 update included notable security features like the expansion of the new Advanced Data Protection for iCloud feature to markets outside of the U.S. The update also added Security Keys for Apple ID and a change to the Emergency SOS call system that now requires users to hold the side button with the up or down volume button and then release it in order to prevent inadvertent emergency calls. The update also fixed a CarPlay bug, among other things. The iPhone 5S also received a security update with iOS 12.5.7, which addresses a vulnerability that may have been actively exploited, Apple said. Google/Android Updates Google announced it’s shutting down Optimize and Optimize 360 — tools that helped marketers run A/B tests to improve their website or app’s user experience. The tools will no longer be available after September 30, 2023. However, Google clarified that Firebase A/B Testing, which is powered by Optimize and used for testing app experiences, will continue to be supported in the future and will not be impacted by this change. A deadline to target the latest Android API level is arriving. Originally, Google’s deadline for developers was November 1, 2022, but it was extended to January 31, 2023 to give devs more time. The change was announced last year, when Google also said that as of November 1, 2022, existing apps that didn’t target an API level within two years of the latest major Android release version will not be available for discovery or installation for new users with devices running Android OS versions higher than apps’ target API level. Gaming Pokémon GO maker Niantic tries again to replicate its AR flagship’s success, this time with the launch of NBA All-World, an AR game for iOS and Android. The game includes nods to basketball culture, minigames and avatars of NBA players like Jordan Poole, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. Select Fortnite versions will become unavailable to players under 18, the company said. (Though the game was removed from mobile app stores, users who still had it installed could continue to play.) The FTC fined the game maker $520 million for COPPA violations and tricking people into making purchases. The company said it would no longer allow users of the 13.40 build on iOS, Mac and Google Play from spending V-Bucks. We want all versions of our games to use the current suite of Epic Online Services including parental controls, purchasing defaults, and parental verification features. We are not able to update the app on these platforms given Apple and Google’s restrictions on Fortnite. (2/2) — Fortnite Status (@FortniteStatus) January 23, 2023 Entertainment Netflix and Bumble partnered on a new dating app experience that lets users bond over popular TV shows. The dating app will launch a weekly Netflix question-and-answer game that users can play against their match to break the ice. Image Credits: Bumble YouTube Music launched a new beta testing program called “Listening Room,” where it invited users to try out new features. The program was almost immediately filled up. Clubhouse introduced a new feature called Instant Invite, which lets users invite their friends to join House rooms and lounge conversations with a one-tap invite link. The company hopes the feature will reduce the friction involved with joining the app. Messaging Image Credits: Meta Facebook Messenger expanded its tests of end-to-end encryption. The app will also allow users to take advantage of features like themes, chat emoji, reactions, group profile photos, link previews and active status while in E2EE chats. Millions of people will be alerted over the coming months as the E2EE option becomes available. WhatsApp launched a beta version of its macOS app with native Apple Silicon support. Mac users with Apple’s own chip and macOS 11 Big Sur or newer will be able to try it, as well as Intel Macs that can run apps built with Catalyst. Social Instagram introduced a new profile photo feature that lets users showcase both their profile photo and their avatar by offering an interface where you can flip between both options. Meta is exploring the use of AI tools to make its ad systems less dependent on user data, after Apple’s ATT privacy changes impacted its ads business, The WSJ reported. AI tools have already helped boost Reels viewership by 20%. Etc. RevenueCat released a massive report digging into data around the subscription economy, powered by its insights into 22,000 subscription-based apps. The report offers actionable insights and never-before-seen benchmarks around factors like app pricing, retention, conversion, renewals, trial strategies and much more. The whole thing is worth a look here. Top U.S. banks are again planning a mobile wallet to compete with Apple Pay and PayPal, The WSJ said. The wallet will be developed by Early Warning Services, which is also behind Zelle. The banks tried and failed to get a similar initiative (CurrentC) off the ground in years past. Dating app Match Group revamped its executive leadership team. Among the changes was the addition of former vice president of Product at Snap, Will Wu, who will now become Match’s CTO, in a newly created role. Read-it-later app Pocket, acquired by Mozilla in 2017, revamped its mobile reading experience with new features. One addition adds more organization and recommendations to the Home tab. It’s also rebranding its “My List” tab as “Saves” and enhancing its functionality with filters and bulk edit tools. The features are launching on Android first. Popular wearable Oura Ring updated its mobile app to integrate with another wearable, Apple Watch. The companion app can display info like Readiness, Activity, Sleep Scores, heart rate, body temperature, ring battery level and more, similar to the iPhone counterpart. Samsung users are advised to update the Galaxy Store app on their devices due to the discovery of vulnerabilities that would allow a hacker to install any app from the store on their phone without their knowledge. Uber Eats added a new feature that shows users how much of their personal information is shared with the delivery person when they place an order on the app. Uber proper already had a similar feature called “View as Driver.” Government, Policy and Lawsuits France’s privacy regulator, the CNIL, fined French hypercasual game developer Voodoo €3 million for violating the French Data Protection Act. The fine was issued over Voodoo’s use of the IDFV, or ID for Vendors, without user consent on iOS devices. The FTC finalized a consent order settling charges that the credit services company Credit Karma had used dark patterns to misrepresent that consumers were “pre-approved” for credit card offers. The FBI and DoJ are investigating Snapchat’s role in the spread of fentanyl-laced pills as part of a counterfeit drug probe underway. TikTok has shifted its approach in its dealings with U.S. officials in the wake of government bans, after two years of confidential talks with the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States about ByteDance’s relationship with the Chinese government, The NYT reported. The video app is now going on the PR offensive, more aggressively lobbying and speaking out more publicly, the report noted. Funding and M&A Strava, an activity tracking and social community platform used by more than 100 million people globally, acquired European 3D mapping company Fatmap for an undisclosed sum. Strava aims to integrate Fatmap’s core platform into its app eventually, but for now they’ll remain separate products. Voice AI company SoundHound raised $25 million in equity from undisclosed investors after laying off 40% of staff. Part of the funding will be used to provide laid off employees with severance. Downloads Ivory goes live Image Credits: Tapbots Tapbots, the makers of the popular third-party Twitter app Tweetbot that was recently killed by Twitter’s API changes, this week publicly launched the company’s next new product. Hoping to fill the void that Tweetbot leaves behind, the company is now making its anticipated Mastodon client app Ivory available on the App Store as an Early Access release. The “Early Access” label is a subtitle that Tapbots put on its release to indicate there will still be features missing as it debuts, the company told us. However, by launching publically on the App Store, Tapbots is able to put Ivory into more people’s hands after filling up the limited number of TestFlight slots it had for its test version. For longtime Tweetbot users, Ivory will offer a familiar experience. But instead of serving as a client for Twitter’s network, the company has now embraced the promising open source platform Mastodon. Though not quite as simple to use or understand as Twitter, Mastodon has gained traction in the months following Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter. At launch, it sports dozens of features, ranging from support for baseline functionality to clever bells and whistles, like being able to theme the app or change its icon. The app also supports multiple accounts, and lets you view your local and federated timelines, trending posts, post statistics, notifications and more. It also enables Mastodon-specific options that weren’t available on Twitter — like the ability to add content warnings to posts — as well as more common features, like the ability to post GIFs and polls. There are other thoughtful touches designed to appeal to power users, too, like hashtag tracking, mute filters with regex support and timeline filters that let you show or hide posts that meet certain criteria you set. This could appeal to Mastodon’s older users, as well, who may want to mute and avoid some of the posts shared by Mastodon newcomers who are bringing Twitter’s culture to the platform, leading to unwanted posts without content warnings in their timelines. Tapbots launches a new Mastodon client, Ivory, after Twitter kills its Tweetbot app Pestle (Update) Image Credits: Pestle Pestle, a handy and well-designed recipe app for iOS is getting a notable update on January 28. The app is adding a number of features for power users, including “Smart Folders,” which are automatically created folders that organize recipes based on user-set criteria, plus PDF and image import features. The latter allows users to import the recipes they had saved in other formats, while Smart Folders simplify the otherwise tedious process of organizing recipes. For instance, you could create Smart Folders that automatically add any saved recipe with a specific ingredient, or a dessert folder with additional rules. The app itself is a free download but offers subscriptions of $1.99/mo or $19.99/year (or $39.99 lifetime) for pro users. This Week in Apps: Temu’s hot streak, Walmart’s m-commerce & an Apple XR App Store by Sarah Perez originally published on TechCrunch

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Welcome to Startups Weekly, a nuanced take on this week’s startup news and trends by Senior Reporter and Equity co-host Natasha Mascarenhas. To get this in your inbox, subscribe here. Sometimes, due to the nature of the startup game, we over index on “the new.” Companies want to build for the pain point you never dreamed to disrupt; VCs want to invest in an emerging trend before it becomes a household name; and those breaking into tech are told to lean into their earnestness, because you never know who is going to answer your cold email. In order for entrepreneurship to feel exciting and welcoming — not even be, but feel — new needs to be one of its loudest characteristics. After all, you only get to be “it” once. But one question I’ve found myself asking over the past year, especially as some of the more tenured folks speak about past downturns and cyclical learning lessons, is the latecomer advantage. It’s partially obvious: When you’ve done this whole entrepreneurship thing before, you understand what mistakes to avoid and seamlessly know which investors to dodge. But it’s also partially not as easy of a story. There’s a difference between being new and being inexperienced, the same way there’s a difference between experienced and being late. How do you know where you are on that entire timeline — especially when the stories feel better to tell at the extremes? This week on Equity, I interviewed T2 co-founder Sarah Oh, who is building a Twitter rival after working at Twitter as a human rights adviser. Quite quickly, I asked her how building a copycat of your former employer makes you feel. She seemed unbothered, to which I promptly said: All is fair in love and moderation. But the better answer that Oh gave me was around the latecomer advantage that she has, building a company in a world that she knows extremely well. By joining the consumer social wave today versus before anyone even thought in characters and retweets, the co-founder thinks they get to factor in more of the nuance. “There’s a lot that we know about gaps in trust and safety in the industry, whether it’s datasets that we need, or models that need to be built, or certain standards that need to exist for models, right, there’s a whole laundry list of things that I wish I had in my previous roles that just didn’t exist, we’re now at a place where we can have those conversations,” Oh said. She added that when some of the first social media platforms were being created, there weren’t “historical case studies or precedent” for a lot of the controversies that now exist. With some of the ugly out of the way — my words, not hers — T2 has examples it can refer back to on how to handle tensions around virality, doxxing and more. It just made me think about that larger comprehension coupled with the nimbleness of a startup. Maybe, it’s being both old and new that might be the striking balance that helps a startup start up. In this case, we have no idea how the old or the new attempts at Twitter are going to do, but we do know that this time has never mattered more. In the rest of this newsletter, we’ll talk about chief inspiration officers, growing startup accelerators and a rare buzz we’re hearing about one tech company and its public market wishes. As always, you can follow me on Twitter or Instagram. Goodbye, chief inspiration officer Also on Equity this week, the crew spoke about how venture capitalists are going to pay more attention to how portfolio founders are spending capital — especially around hiring trends. Becca’s latest for TC+ — use code EQUITY for 50% off an annual membership — gets into why the hiring slide in the pitch deck is no longer going to be a throwaway part of the presentation. Expect more scrutiny. Here’s why this is important: We know that companies are dropping staff to cut costs, but those that are hiring may have to take a more conservative approach in both types of roles and level of pay. All to say, there’s definitely an opportunity to find talent if you are hiring. But, it won’t be easy for all laid-off talent to find their next gigs, especially as employers look to hire cheaper talent with less ambitious staffing goals. My big question is if VCs are taking the same advice that they’re dishing. Don’t forget VCs, you have VCs too. (At least most of you do!) Burned by layoffs, tech workers are rethinking risk Waymo lays off staff as Alphabet announces 12,000 job cuts Laid off from your crypto job? Here’s what founders are looking for in new talent Crypto recruiters see opportunity to snatch up talent amid Big Tech layoffs Image Credits: MicroStockHub (opens in a new window) / Getty Images The Goldilocks moonshot NextView Ventures has launched its fourth accelerator program, aiming to back around half a dozen founders with $400,000 in funding and mentorship opportunities. It’s also offering at least one spot to a team built by ex-colleagues who have been laid off over the past downturn. Here’s why this is important: The accelerator partners are open to backing founders even if they have a half-baked idea or only an area that they want to dig into. Even in a more disciplined market, there are some firms that are still comfortable seeding ideas versus fully fledged business ideas. “It’s almost half a step earlier than we’ve typically thought of” portfolio companies, Rob Go, founding partner, NextView Ventures, said, of the cohorts. I was thinking about this idea when speaking to NEA’s Scott Sandell earlier this week. The 45-year old venture firm closed in on a $6.2 billion pair of funds, one of which is wholly dedicated to new early-stage investments. Sandell said he’s looking for “the efficiency gene” when sourcing companies and wants proof that they know how to handle capital. Smart, and common. After our call, I joked that I’m curious if any VC firms are interested in backing startups that don’t care at all about discipline or capital efficiency. Wouldn’t that be a story? In a more serious way, I am interested in the early-stage focused venture capitalists that are taking risks right now and how that rewards certain sectors and backgrounds. Jumia’s investors rethink their stakes — for better and worse Cowboy Ventures goes bigger with $260M across two new funds, including an opportunity fund Another All Raise CEO steps down Sequoia, Marc Andreessen back early-stage fund Kearny Jackson Image Credits: Talaj (opens in a new window) / Getty Images The follow-up Stripe is eyeing an exit, finally. The payments giant has set a 12-month deadline for itself to go public, either through a direct listing or pursuing a transaction on the private market, such as a fundraising event and a tender offer, according to sources familiar with the matter. Here’s why this is important: I mean, must I state the obvious? The public markets for tech companies have been stale, unwelcoming, insert boring adjective here. If Stripe does kick off a trend, we’re in for an exciting next year. But some are dubious on the timeline. After all, it’s literally easier said than done. Report: Stripe tried to raise more funding at a $55B-$60B valuation Method raises $16M to power loan repayment, balance transfers and more across fintech apps Being the steady hand in market uncertainty with Sebastian Siemiatkowski from Klarna And shout out to The Interchange, a fintech newsletter put together by the inimitable Mary Ann Azevedo. Read last week’s issue, here!  Image Credits: masik0553 (opens in a new window) / Getty Images Etc., etc. A16z is hiring someone to run Tech Week. This should be fun. Recursive Ventures, a San Francisco-based firm investing in U.S. and Israeli early-stage companies, has closed over $11 million for its third fund, according to SEC filings. Will 2023 be the year of accountability? I enjoyed this piece by Eric Newcomer. If you missed Startups Weekly last week, catch my last issue here: “Tech forgot its umbrella.” TechCrunch is coming to Boston on April 20. I’ll be there with my favorite colleagues to interview top experts at a one-day founder summit. Book your pass ASAP! Seen on TechCrunch The thing we thought was happening with robotic investments is definitely happening App downloads were stagnant in the fourth quarter, new analysis finds Then call them ‘robots’ Strava acquires Fatmap, a 3D mapping platform for the great outdoors LastPass owner GoTo says hackers stole customers’ backups Seen on TechCrunch+ The current legal cases against generative AI are just the beginning A VC’s perspective on deep tech fundraising in Q1 2023 As activist investors target Salesforce, what’s next for the CRM giant? Laid off from your crypto job? Here’s what founders are looking for in new talent Startups should expect more scrutiny from VCs on their hiring plans I’ll end with the evergreen reminder that I absolutely love going to startup happy hours and VC dinners in San Francisco, so do let me know if you’re throwing one! And if you’re still working on your social engine like me, I’m also always game to do a 1:1 coffee chat or dumpling lunch. To the rest of you, thanks for reading as always. 2023 is already soaring on by, isn’t it? Talk soon, N The latecomer advantage in startups by Natasha Mascarenhas originally published on TechCrunch

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W elcome to the TechCrunch Exchange, a weekly startups-and-markets newsletter. It’s inspired by the daily TechCrunch+ column where it gets its name. Want it in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here. The adoption of product-led growth is changing how B2B companies conduct their business and leading some of them to reorganize their teams. What if “sales and product” or “sales and growth” made more sense than “sales and marketing”? Let’s explore. — Anna The new focus of product-led sales Product-led sales is a model in which the product, not traditional marketing, helps companies understand who might be their next big customer. Think of a freemium dev tools company, for instance: Instead of tracking which CTO downloaded their latest white paper, they look for organizations that already have dozens of employees engaging with their product on a daily basis. Where should sales sit in product-led companies? by Anna Heim originally published on TechCrunch

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Welcome back to Chain Reaction, a podcast diving deep into stories, backgrounds and the latest news with the biggest names in crypto. For this week’s episode, I sat down with Mo Shaikh, co-founder and CEO of the layer-1 blockchain Aptos. Shaikh is a three-time founder with over a decade of experience in financial services as well as blockchain technology and crypto. He also worked on blockchain strategic partnerships for Novi, Meta’s wallet, and was the strategy director at ConsenSys. “When we’re thinking about Aptos, we certainly thought that the people need a new form of sharing information digitally and being able to share that information and economic value digitally in more efficient, more fair ways,” Shaikh said during the podcast. “That’s the mission that we’re on.” Last year was huge for Aptos — the blockchain launched publicly and raised about $400 million in funding amid a bear market, Shaikh shared. The new-ish layer-1 received backing from major investors like Andreessen Horowitz, Circle Ventures and the now-defunct FTX Ventures, to name a few. Aptos wants to reach billions of people without disruption or downtime, while giving thousands of transactions per second and sub-second latency, Shaikh shared. “All these things put together can rival not only other previous generations of blockchains and scaling solutions that we’re seeing in the market, but they’re now starting to challenge the internet and the way economic value and information moves across the world itself.” Looking forward to 2023, Aptos plans to make it a “year of intention,” Shaikh said. “I think it’s a year of intention for the entire industry.” There will be a new evolution to existing web3 products that have been out in the market, while big traditional players — like its Google partnership — that were previously “sitting on the sidelines” are going to dive into the space “in a big way,” he added. Chain Reaction comes out every other Thursday at 12:00 p.m. PT, so be sure to subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your favorite pod platform to keep up with the action. Aptos wants to shake up the blockchain space by creating more economic value, co-founder says by Jacquelyn Melinek originally published on TechCrunch

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Toyota’s president, Akio Toyoda, surprised the automotive world this week by announcing he would resign his position and hand the reins over to Koji Sato, who currently helms the company’s Lexus and Gazoo Racing divisions. But Toyoda isn’t going far. The 66-year-old isn’t retiring outright, but instead retiring to the boardroom, where he’ll take over the role of chair. Insiders aren’t expecting Toyoda to be hands-off, either. One executive said that Toyoda was about to embark on a period of “cloister rule,” a period in Japan’s history where the emperor retired to a monastery without actually ceding power. If that’s the case, then the shakeup in Toyota City might not be much of a shakeup at all. Toyota’s surprise executive shakeup may disappoint investors by Tim De Chant originally published on TechCrunch

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Brendan Wallace’s ambition is beginning to seem almost limitless. The venture firm that Wallace and cofounder Brad Greiwe launched less than seven years ago already has $3.2 billion in assets under management. But that firm, Fifth Wall, which argues there are massive financial returns at the intersection of real estate and tech, isn’t worried about digesting that capital. It’s heavy-hitting investors — CBRE, Starwood, and Arbor Realty Trust among them — don’t seem concerned, either. Never mind that just last month, Fifth Wall closed the largest-ever venture fund focused on real-estate tech startups with $866 million in capital, or that it closed a $500 million fund earlier in 2022 that aims to decarbonize the property industry. Never mind that on top of these two efforts, Fifth Wall also expanded into Europe last February with a London office and a €140 million fund. As for the fact that office buildings in particular have been shocked by a combination of layoffs, work-from-home policies and higher interest rates, Wallace says he considers it an opportunity. More, Wallace already sees many more opportunities he wants to pursue, including in Asia, as well as the buying and building of “utility-scale solar and micro grids and wind farms” that Fifth Wall plans to both invest in and to which it will provide financing. It’s a lot to take on, particularly for a now 80-person outfit whose biggest exits today include the home-flipping outfit OpenDoor, the property insurance company Hippo Insurance, and SmartRent, which sells smart home technology to apartment building owners and developers. None have been spared by public market shareholders; still, talking to Wallace and the picture he paints, it’s easy to see why investors keep throwing money his team. We spoke with him earlier today in a chat that has been edited for length. TC: How is it that your many real estate investing partners are investing so much capital with you when it’s such a challenging time for real estate, particularly office buildings? BW: It’s the same thesis we were we were founded on, which is you have the two largest industries in the U.S., which is real estate, which is 13% of US GDP, and tech, and they’re colliding and it represents a huge explosion of economic value [as] we’ve seen in this kind of super cycle of proptech companies that has grown up. Now, this additional layer has been unearthed around climate tech. The biggest opportunity in climate tech is actually the built environment. Real estate accounts for 40% of CO2 emissions, and yet the venture climate tech venture capital ecosystem only has historically put about 6% of climate VC dollars toward tech for the real estate industry. How do you designate which vehicle — your flagship proptech fund or your climate fund — funds a particular startup? How we define proptech is tech that is usable by the real estate construction or hospitality industry, so it needs to be tech that’s immediately usable by them — which can be a lot of different things. It can be leasing, asset management software, fintech, mortgages, operating systems, keyless entry — but it doesn’t necessarily have the effect of decarbonizing the real estate industry. It can be a derivative benefit, but it’s not the core focus. The core focus is simply that you have this industry that has been so slow and late to adopt technology that’s now starting to do so, and as it does, it’s creating all this value. We’ve already had six portfolio companies go public and we’re a six-year-old firm. [As just one example], do you know how many multifamily units today have a smart device inside them? One percent of all multifamily units in the United States have a single smart device — any smart device: a light switch, shade, access control. There is a massive transition going on right now, where every single thing inside a building is going to become smart. And we’re at the dawn of that right now. I do believe, though, that the opportunity in climate tech is a multiple of that simply because the cost required to decarbonize the real estate industry is so vast. The cost to decarbonize the U.S. commercial real estate industry is estimated to be $18 trillion. That is just the U.S. commercial real estate industry. To put that in perspective, the U.S. GDP is like $22 trillion to $23 trillion, and we have to decarbonize the real estate industry over the next 20 years, so one way to think about that is that we have to roughly spend one year of U.S. GDP over the next 20 just on decarbonizing our physical assets. Where are the major spending areas on which you’re focused? I’ll give you one very concrete example, which is literally concrete. If concrete were a country, it would be the third largest CO2 emitter on planet Earth after the U.S. and China. Fully 7.5% of global CO2 emissions come from making concrete. It’s the most used material on planet Earth after water. So you have this raw material that’s an input for all of our infrastructure — all of our cities, all the homes we inhabit, all the buildings where we do business — and that is generating 7.5% of global co2 emissions. And so the race is on right now to identify an opportunity to make carbon neutral or carbon negative cement. We actually invested in a company called Brimstone alongside Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos because they also see this opportunity that this is one of the major spend categories where that $18 trillion that’s required to decarbonize real estate is going to go. Then you can go further down [list], from glass, steel, cross laminated timber — just all of the materials that are used in making buildings. More immediately, and this is more a question about repurposing space, but what do you think becomes of underused office space in this country over the next 18 to 24 months? It’s particularly extreme in San Francisco, I realize, given its population of tech workers who haven’t returned to the office. I wouldn’t draw too much of a conclusion from San Francisco alone. I think San Francisco has probably been the hardest hit city. I don’t think San Francisco is the canary in the coal mine for the rest of the U.S. office industry. But with that said, I think we’re now in a moment where the pendulum has swung obviously very far in the direction of hybrid work and companies downsizing their physical footprints, but you’re already starting to see that these things are circular and cyclical and that some employees actually want to go back to the office, while CEOs are saying, ‘It’s hard to mentor and build culture and drive the kind of operational efficiencies we once had in an office in an entirely remote environment.’ So my sense is that we’re probably two to three years out from another pendulum swing back toward companies retrenching themselves in a physical office. I think we’re in an artificially low ebb in sentiment and demand for office. Fifth Wall, focused on real estate tech and managing $3.2B, looks to eat up even more of its market by Connie Loizos originally published on TechCrunch

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The enormous Space Launch System passed its first test with flying colors, NASA’s preliminary analysis concludes, and the rocket and Orion capsule are good to go for their next mission: Artemis II, which will carry a crew to lunar orbit. After numerous delays and enormous cost overruns, some worried that the SLS (nicknamed the “Mega Moon Rocket”) would never actually take off. But the launch in November went off (mostly) without a hitch, as did the 25-day mission undertaken by an uncrewed Orion capsule. While its success was apparent, it wasn’t a case of all or nothing. Reams of data needed to be analyzed by NASA’s teams to make sure that Artemis I didn’t succeed in spite of serious problems. Fortunately that does not seem to be the case: Although the teams are still working through the terabytes of raw data, the agency has pronounced the mission good enough to endorse its sequel. “Building off the assessment conducted shortly after launch, the preliminary post-flight data indicates that all SLS systems performed exceptionally and that the designs are ready to support a crewed flight on Artemis II,” wrote NASA in a news post. Emphasizing the point, SLS Program manager John Honeycutt is quoted as follows: The correlation between actual flight performance and predicted performance for Artemis I was excellent. There is engineering and an art to successfully building and launching a rocket, and the analysis on the SLS rocket’s inaugural flight puts NASA and its partners in a good position to power missions for Artemis II and beyond. Key pressures, temperatures, and other values were all within 2 percent of predictions. No doubt the team is working on narrowing that delta even now. Artemis II’s crewed mission obviously depended entirely on the success of Artemis I, and this is the clearest indication since launch that the SLS and Orion are quantifiably good enough. It’s a big step to say, “Yes, we’re moving forward with putting astronauts on this thing,” but of course there’s a lot more work to come before it takes place. Artemis I’s timeline didn’t exactly go as planned but having verified that the rocket works as expected may help hurry along the next part of NASA’s big plan to return to the moon. NASA’s ‘Mega Moon Rocket’ aced first flight and is ready for crewed Artemis II launch by Devin Coldewey originally published on TechCrunch

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To get a roundup of TechCrunch’s biggest and most important stories delivered to your inbox every day at 3 p.m. PST, subscribe here. Well, it’s Friday again. And as the Equity pod team noted today, “You could be Wasted and not even know it.” — Christine and Haje The TechCrunch Top 3 The search for more money: Mary Ann follows up on yesterday’s story about Stripe setting a deadline to go public with some additional information that Stripe had reportedly tried raising additional capital at a decreased valuation. Look for more on this developing story in Mary Ann’s Interchange newsletter, which comes out on Sundays. If you don’t already get it in your inbox, click here. No music for you: Google displayed its musical chops and now won’t share it with the world, Kyle writes. The search engine giant created an artificial intelligence system that can generate music from text descriptions, but he reports that “fearing the risks, has no immediate plans to release it.” Maybe if we all say something nice to them… From angel to the board room: Twitter co-founder Biz Stone is the newest board member of audiovisual startup Chroma, a company Stone began investing in two years ago. Sarah has more. Startups and VC Kano, the venture-backed U.K. startup known for its build-your-own computer kits and software for teaching coding and associated STEM skills, has accused Warner Bros. of copying one of its products and infringing on its intellectual property, Paul reports. By any measure, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff has been a successful executive. He helped build Salesforce from the ground up, starting in an apartment in San Francisco in 1999 and eventually erecting Salesforce Tower, the tallest building in the city, Ron reports. He took the idea of running software in the cloud and grew it into the de facto way to deliver software at a time when most companies offered software in boxes or on-prem seat licenses. As activist investors target Salesforce, what’s next for the CRM giant? (TC+) And we have five more for you: Here comes the space train: Haje reports that Atomos tows a $16 million load of funding to create tugboats in space. I pee what they did there: Christine reports that Starling Medical’s new urine-testing device turns your toilet into a health tracker. A peek behind the curtains: Tage breaks down how African startups raised venture capital in 2022. Here’s how to get customers: Matt invites you to come hear the right way to acquire customers with Cube and Mayfield on TechCrunch Live. More money to reduce fraud: Inscribe bags $25 million to fight financial fraud with AI, reports Kyle. 4 practical steps for using no-code to evolve your prototype to an MVP Image Credits: Luis Cagiao Photography (opens in a new window) / Getty Images Forget about dogs: No-code development tools can be a nontechnical founder’s best friend. Building a minimum viable product once required engineering and design ability. Now, bootstrapping founders can iterate without developers to keep costs and extend their runway. “Instead of getting caught up trying to design the perfect and complete MVP release all at once, try to deliver value as quickly as possible and continuously improve your prototype,” advises Katherine Kostereva, CEO and managing partner of Creatio. She shares four tactics for transforming prototypes into usable products via no-code: Embrace an everyday delivery approach Proper scoping and decomposition Carefully manage and decouple dependencies Invest in continuous deployment automation 4 practical steps for using no-code to evolve your prototype to an MVP Three more from the TC+ team: Gewoon, gezellig: Haje spoke to HRH Prince Constantijn to figure out what’s going on in the Dutch startup scene. That’s a Lot of Dollars: Energy transition investments hit $1.1 trillion — with a T — last year, Tim reported. A near-perfect deck: Haje finds very little to complain about in his most recent Pitch Deck Teardown, of Orange’s $2.5 million seed deck. TechCrunch+ is our membership program that helps founders and startup teams get ahead of the pack. You can sign up here. Use code “DC” for a 15% discount on an annual subscription! Big Tech Inc. Apparently, “AI that can generate art, text and more is in for a reckoning,” Kyle writes today. He’s been following a class-action lawsuit against Microsoft, GitHub and OpenAI that “accuses them of violating copyright law by allowing Copilot, a code-generating AI system trained on billions of lines of public code, to regurgitate licensed code snippets without providing credit.” Kyle lays it all out for you and even notes that cases like these against generative AI are just the beginning. If you’ve been enjoying HBO’s new zombie thriller “The Last of Us,” you’ll be able to enjoy it a little longer. The show got picked up for a second season after delighting over 22 million viewers, Lauren writes. Here’s your Friday five: Gobbling up your information: Uber Eats has a new feature that shows you how much of your information is shared with delivery people, Aisha reports. Lock and key: Speaking of features that protect what someone sees, Chrome for Android now lets you lock your incognito session, Ivan writes. Texting with Walmart: Sarah tests out Walmart’s new “Text to Shop” feature that has a few bugs to work out — wait until you see what happens when she tries to add La Croix to her cart. Taking the dating helm: Will Wu, former Snap VP of product, found his “Match” joining the parent company of popular dating apps as its new CTO, which was one of the changes made when Match restructured its executive leadership, Aisha reports. Buyer’s remorse: After buying shares in African e-commerce company Jumia, investors are now rethinking that decision — for better and worse, Tage writes. Daily Crunch: Stripe responds to report that it seeks to raise $2B with a terse ‘no comment’ by Christine Hall originally published on TechCrunch

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It’s now official: Dungeons & Dragons is licensed under the Creative Commons. This makes the popular tabletop roleplaying game “freely available for any use,” Dungeons & Dragons executive producer Kyle Brink wrote in a blog post today. Just weeks ago, this outcome would have seemed impossible. About a month ago, Wizards of the Coast (WoTC) — the publisher of Dungeons & Dragons and a subsidiary of Hasbro — sent a document with a new open gaming license (OGL) to top Dungeons & Dragons content creators, asking them to sign what they called “OGL 1.1.” The existing OGL, which had been in effect since 2000, made it possible for third-party creators to use the expansive game system to sell their own spell books, modules, virtual tabletops (VTTs), and other content that has helped the game grow into the mega-success it is today. But certain terms in the updated document would have made it impossible for these independent businesses to continue operating. Some creators leaked the document in protest, exposing its predatory terms that would suffocate the prolific fan community. Over 77,000 creators and fans signed an open letter against these changes, and some went as far as canceling their subscriptions to D&D Beyond, an online platform for the game. Finally, WoTC admitted that they “rolled a 1,” or in other words, messed up very badly. Last week, fans were pleasantly surprised last week when Brink announced that the company was planning to release game materials under a Creative Commons license, a complete reversal from the original, restrictive plan. Today, after getting feedback from over 15,000 fans, Dungeons & Dragons officially released the game system under this lenient license, in all 403 pages of its glory. The company even addressed concerns about how last week’s initial Creative Commons proposal would impact VTTs, or software that makes it possible for people to play TTRPGs remotely. Now, WoTC has even walked back those stipulations, while also keeping the original OGL in effect. “This Creative Commons license makes the content freely available for any use,” Brink wrote in today’s blog post. “We don’t control that license and cannot alter or revoke it. It’s open and irrevocable in a way that doesn’t require you to take our word for it. And its openness means there’s no need for a VTT policy. Placing the [Systems Reference Document] under a Creative Commons license is a one-way door. There’s no going back.” As it turns out, fan communities can accomplish a lot when they rally together. Just ask Ticketmaster. Dungeons & Dragons content creators are fighting to protect their livelihoods The 403-page Dungeons & Dragons game system is now licensed under Creative Commons by Amanda Silberling originally published on TechCrunch

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Tesla CEO Elon Musk is facing scrutiny by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) regarding his specific comments and efforts to promote the automaker’s claims regarding its “self-driving” capabilities, Bloomberg reports. The SEC investigation into Musk is part of its overall efforts to determine whether Tesla has run afoul of its rules in promoting its FSD and Autopilot offering. The SEC doesn’t typically comment on any ongoing investigations prior to formally filing suit, and has not commented on this case in particular. But recent revelations may explain why Musk is in their crosshairs when it comes to Tesla “self-driving” technology: Last week, testimony given by a senior engineer on the Tesla team working on its Autopilot software revealed that a video the company released in 2016 purporting to show a Tesla vehicle driving itself was in fact staged. Reporting by Bloomberg later revealed that the video was overseen and directed by Musk himself. Of course, the SEC’s domain isn’t safety claims, but it does take issue with public companies or company executive officers making forward-looking claims that are false or misleading. That’s apparently what they’re concerned about here – Musk has often suggested FSD would attain essentially driver-free navigation capabilities in timelines that have not ended up proving accurate. Based on what the SEC determines following its investigation, we could lawsuits or other consequences for Musk including limitations on his future activity as an officer of a public company if they choose to pursue enforcement of any violations they find. Elon Musk is being investigated by the SEC for Tesla self-driving claims, report says by Darrell Etherington originally published on TechCrunch

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Startups selling dev tools over the last few years have seen the pendulum swing. On one hand, developers rarely need anyone’s permission to start using their tools, which resulted in teams within the same organization using wildly different tech stacks. On the other, a growing number of companies are attempting to limit this chaos at the organizational level. The latter trend is known as platform engineering and is embodied by platform engineering teams. Talking to TechCrunch, Boldstart Ventures partner Shomik Ghosh described these as “groups within typically larger organizations that are given the role to improve the developer experience for other developers in the organization.” The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. Read it every morning on TechCrunch+ or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday. The role of platform engineering teams includes coming up with their own tools and documentation, but also making buying decisions on core tooling that developers across their entire organization will be able to use. For dev-centric startups, this presents a question: How do you sell your product to platform engineering teams? We asked this and more to three people with deep knowledge of this space: startup founder Nora Jones, CEO at Jeli; Armon Dadgar, CEO and co-founder of NASDAQ-listed company HashiCorp; and Draft.dev CEO Karl Hughes, a developer content marketing expert. Let’s dive in. Seize the momentum What does selling to platform engineering teams mean for developer relations? by Anna Heim originally published on TechCrunch

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In late April, police in Nebraska received a tip saying 17-year-old Celeste Burgess had given birth to a stillborn baby and buried the body. Officers soon learned that her mother, Jessica Burgess, and a friend had helped her with transportation and burial. The police issued citations for concealing the death of another person and false reporting. But in June, they also charged Jessica with providing an abortion for her teenage daughter. Police had made the discovery after obtaining a warrant that required Meta to hand over their conversations on Facebook Messenger. The messages, which were not encrypted, showed the two had discussed obtaining and using abortion pills. Warrants for digital data are routine in police investigations, which makes sense given how much time we spend online. Technology giants have for years responded to valid court orders for specific information sought by law enforcement, though some companies have done more to fight for our privacy than others. Millions of people now use apps that encrypt their calls and messages, like Signal and WhatsApp, so that no one can access their messages — not even the providers themselves. The case in Nebraska is not the first in which police have used digital data to prosecute an abortion, and it won’t be the last. While digital data is rarely the main form of evidence, prosecutors use it to paint a picture in court; by showing messages sent to friends, internet searches, or emails from an online pharmacy. As in the Burgess case, however, it’s often people around the women who first notify the authorities — a doctor or nurse, a family member, or a friend of a friend. When the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last summer, it ended the constitutional right to abortion. In doing so, it gave states the power to regulate abortion or ban the procedure altogether, triggering a wave of abortion bans nationwide. At least 13 states now ban abortion with few or no exceptions. Georgia recently reinstated a ban after six weeks of pregnancy. And in many states, the fight over abortion access is still taking place in courtrooms. A week after the ruling, Google announced it would delete location data for visits to abortion clinics and other medical facilities. The Electronic Frontier Foundation said we should review our privacy settings. The Digital Defense Fund encouraged us to use encrypted messaging apps. Some suggested that we delete our period tracking apps. It may seem odd to dedicate so much attention to digital privacy in the context of our reproductive rights. But a look at prosecutions between 2011 and 2022 illustrates why these conversations are needed. — In May 2011, police in Idaho charged Jennie McCormack with inducing her own abortion. The 32-year-old couldn’t afford a legal procedure. Instead, she took pills purchased online. NPR reported that McCormack confided in a friend shortly after the abortion. It was this friend’s sister who told the police. When officers arrived at her home, they found the fetus wrapped up on her back porch. McCormack admitted to the police that she self-induced an abortion after ingesting a pack of five pills. At trial, she told the court that the medication was “FDA-approved,” “procured through the internet,” and “prescribed by a physician.” Years later, an appeals court noted that “McCormack’s sister allegedly found unspecified abortion pills online, paid $200 for them, and had them shipped to McCormack in Idaho.” At the time, McCormack faced up to five years in prison. The case was eventually dismissed. — In March 2015, Indiana sentenced Purvi Patel to 20 years in prison for neglect of a dependent and feticide. Two years earlier, Patel had gone to the hospital with bleeding after delivering a child at home. She first told the medical staff that she had been ten to twelve weeks pregnant. But when questioned by two doctors, admitted to giving birth and said the baby was stillborn. Patel told the doctors she had put the body in a paper bag and placed it in a dumpster behind a Target store, not far from her family’s restaurant. The hospital notified the police, who searched the area and recovered the bag. A doctor who participated in the search said “the baby was cold and lifeless” but “was an otherwise normal, healthy appearing baby.” Court documents show that police obtained a search warrant for Patel’s phone. An officer with “training in examining electronic devices” downloaded her text messages. In reviewing the data, the police found that she had discussed her abortion with “at least one friend.” Patel had also shared that she’d obtained and taken abortion pills from Hong Kong. An Indiana appeals court overturned the feticide conviction in July 2016. The court noted that in searching Patel’s iPad, “police found a customer service email from InternationalDrugMart.com.” The email confirmed that Patel had ordered mifepristone and misoprostol for $72. A detective ordered the same pills, presumably to confirm that it was possible to do so. Police also found Patel had visited a website titled “Abortion after Twelve Weeks.” The court documents do not mention the type of phone Patel had or how police gained access to her messages. But the messages were at least three months old, suggesting that she likely did not delete the texts or the email from the online pharmacy. Indiana’s attorney general decided not to appeal the court’s ruling. In September 2016, Patel was resentenced to 18 months for child neglect, less time than she had already served. The judge then ordered Patel’s immediate release. — In April 2015, police in Arkansas arrested Anne Bynum after she gave birth to a stillborn child at home. She was charged with concealing birth and abuse of a corpse. The state also charged her friend, Karen Collins, with performing an abortion. Bynum, who already had one child and worked a minimum-wage job, never told her parents about the pregnancy. When her pregnancy became difficult to hide, she took medications to induce labor. In a video interview, Bynum said she delivered the baby at home by herself, in the middle of the night. “She was just beautiful. Really beautiful. But eyes closed, mouth closed. Complete stillness.” Bynum wrapped up the remains and went to bed. The next day, she drove to the emergency room with the remains in the front passenger seat. Bynum said she “gave birth last night, but she didn’t make it.” Medical staff determined it had been a stillbirth. When the hospital discharged Bynum days later, she was arrested on her way home. The sheriff put her in handcuffs and placed her in the back of the police car. Bynum’s trial was brief, just two days of testimony and a few minutes of jury deliberation. The judge sentenced her to six years in prison. An appeals court reversed the conviction in December 2018. Exactly who notified the police remains unknown. The appeals court noted that “Bynum told friends, her attorneys, and her priest about the pregnancy and of her intent to put the child up for adoption when it was born.” On the morning after she gave birth, Bynum texted her attorney “who advised her to go see a doctor.” The attorney also called a funeral home and “was advised to have Bynum take the fetal remains to the hospital.” It’s unclear whether Bynum shared the texts herself, or if police recovered them another way. — In January 2018, Mississippi charged Latice Fisher with murder for the death of her newborn the year before. The Washington Post reported that when paramedics arrived at her home, they found “a baby in the toilet, lifeless and blue, the umbilical cord still attached.” The baby was pronounced dead at the hospital. Fisher initially said she didn’t know she was pregnant, but later admitted that she had been aware of the pregnancy for at least a month. She also admitted to conducting internet searches for how to have a miscarriage. Fisher reportedly “voluntarily surrendered” her iPhone to police. Court records show her phone’s “memory and data were then downloaded, including but not limited to Fisher’s past internet activity.” While reviewing that data, investigators learned that Fisher had researched “buy abortion pills, mifeprisone [sic] online, misoprostol online,” and “buy Misoprostol Abortion Pill Online.” Fisher had also “apparently purchased misoprostol immediately subsequent to these searches.” Another court document suggests police also searched her husband’s phone. While there is no evidence that Fisher took the pills, prosecutors used her digital data to argue that she intended to abort her pregnancy. The murder charge was eventually dismissed. — Technology companies may not have many options for handling search warrants from the police, even when the investigations relate to abortion. But companies do get to decide how much digital data they collect about people and for how long they store the information. They also get to decide whether to offer end-to-end encryption, which would give people increased privacy for all of their messages. Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year, Meta announced it’s making encrypted one-to-one chats in Instagram available to adults in the two countries. And while Elon Musk said Twitter should end-to-end encrypt direct messages prior to acquiring the company, it’s unclear if this will actually happen. Last year, reporters found that Facebook and anti-abortion clinics collect sensitive information on would-be patients. The Markup also reported that Hey Jane, an online abortion pill provider, employed a series of online trackers that follow users across the internet — until the journalists reached out about the practice. More recently, ProPublica found nine pharmacies selling abortion pills also sharing sensitive data with Google and other third-parties. All nine were recommended by Plan C, which provides information about how to get abortion pills by mail. None responded to ProPublica’s request for comment. In Abortion, Every Day, publisher Jessica Valenti reminds us that “if you are white, have money, and the ability to travel to a state where abortion is legal — you will have a much easier time than those from marginalized communities.” Everybody deserves access to reproductive health care. If the past decade is any indication, protecting essential abortion rights is going to require all of us, from doctors, nurses and attorneys to lawmakers, software engineers and voters. Sarah Mitchell-Weed contributed research. How US police use digital data to prosecute abortions by Zack Whittaker originally published on TechCrunch

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We’ll be straight with you. There’s no 1:1 Twitter replacement, not yet and possibly not ever. Still, there are plenty of social apps that might still be worth substituting into your obsessive timeline-checking routines if you’re done with Twitter for whatever reason (we can think of plenty). Twitter’s current situation — advertisers leaving, Nazis logging back on, little things breaking here and there every day — presents an opportunity to check in with ourselves about what we really want out of a social network. We don’t just have to use social apps because they’re there and they’re really sticky. Users should get something out of the exchange, particularly on ad-supported services. Whether that means building a following for your fledgling business or connecting with people in communities you care about, social media should serve a function — not just drain away the hours in the day. Happily, there are options. Decentralized projects offer a different experience that’s less beholden to corporate whims while less traditional social platforms might serve up a totally different set of interactions and experiences. But that’s okay. Twitter wasn’t perfect and while it was and arguably still is pretty essential for realtime events and news-gathering, its most engaged users didn’t always enjoy spending time there. While we’re all figuring it out and seeing what pops up next, here are some options to consider. Mastodon Mastodon emerged as the most-discussed home for fleeing Twitter users — and with good reason. The service is designed in a way that decentralizes power and moderation decisions, obviating the concerns about one person setting platform-wide rules based on a whim. Mastodon works a lot like Twitter, allowing users to share real-time thoughts to an account and re-share posts by others. But that’s mostly where the similarities end. Unlike traditional social networks, Mastodon is an open source option, which means that rather than all users being in one big basket with one set of rules, you’ll need to select a server (smaller basket) to join. If you get sick of it or disagree with those moderation decisions, you can migrate elsewhere. You can still follow and interact with people on other servers so you don’t need to agonize too much over that choice, but that decentralized ethos colors the whole experience. Like a choice of server, you’ll also have a choice of which app to use to use the service on mobile (We like Metatext and plan to check out Ivory, from Tweetbot maker Tapbots). Mastodon’s open source nature means that you’ve got more choice all around, but the downside of that is that the extra steps might be off-putting to people who want a more straightforward sign up process. That said, if you’re tired of the cynicism and harassment on Twitter, the vibe on Mastodon is pretty chill right now. If any of this sounds interesting, it’s definitely worth checking out. A beginner’s guide to Mastodon, the open source Twitter alternative Discord Discord doesn’t really work like Twitter at all but hear us out — it’s one of the best social apps around. The app was originally created to give gamers a better way to chat, but since then it has expanded well beyond that initial vision. Like Mastodon, Discord doesn’t offer a giant “public square,” instead offering topic and interest-based servers that anyone can join and hang out in. Discord offers regular text chat within its server-based channels as well as seamless voice chat and some other experiences, like streaming a game to friends or queueing up YouTube videos together. Some of the most popular servers have hundreds of thousands of members, but you could also just curate one for friends or family. Through servers, Discord offers some of the same federation benefits as Mastodon without the open source stuff that spooks some people during onboarding. Unlike some of the other options on this list, Discord isn’t going anywhere any time soon: It’s a mature company with a thriving user base and a sustainable business built around paid subscriptions. That kind of stability goes a long way for social apps, which historically are prone to fizzling out and vanishing overnight. The downside is that Discord is more about chatting than posting. The app’s Slack-like interface refreshes in real-time and in a busy Discord, or even one with a few hundred active members, it’s easy to lose track of conversations fast. The company knows that and is actively building more tools that enable asynchronous interactions, so that’s something to watch out for. Discord opens up paid subscriptions so servers can sell premium perks Post Post is a mainstream alternative to Twitter that shares little in common with more open platforms like Mastodon. The platform was sped into private beta to capitalize on the timing of Twitter’s recent chaos and is only just opening up to everybody. Far from being decentralized, Post offers a more curated experience that’s focused on attracting the journalists who usually while away the day on Twitter. Post allows users to write, post, share, comment and like content, much like we’re used to on Twitter. But the thrust of the service is altogether different. Post wants to help newsgatherers monetize their content, building in micropayments and tipping and promising the ability to buy “individual articles from different premium news providers” in order to get outside of their information bubble. Far from being an open platform, Post is backed by VC and traditional investment from Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) and tech commentator Scott Galloway. Post’s pitch is compelling but the social network sounds a bit like it was designed in a vacuum. Those of us who work in the news might check it out or hang out there but it’s hard to imagine many average Twitter users being lured by the promise of paying for journalism, which unfortunately is a hard sell. Post could develop a more Substack-like commentator culture but even then it’s hard to see why the Substack elite would jump ship for a new platform. Post News, a Twitter alternative, gets funding from a16z Tumblr Although you may not see it as an alternative to Twitter, hear us out, because there are some similarities between the two platforms that make it a notable contender. Even though Tumblr teeters more toward a microblogging site than a traditional social network, it features a feed that displays posts from people you follow in a similar way to Twitter. Tumblr lets you post content with images, GIFs, videos and more. You can leave notes on a post, which are similar to comments. You can also like, share and repost content on the platform. Tumblr also has a trending topics section like Twitter. In addition, the platform has a chat feature that’s similar to direct messages on Twitter. Tumblr offers more flexibility than Twitter, while being easy to set-up and use. You can use Tumblr for free or opt for an ad-free experience with additional features for $4.99 per month or $39.99 a year. Given Tumblr’s ability to stay alive despite its fair share of changing ownership, we don’t think it’s going anywhere, which makes it an ideal alternative to Twitter. It’s also a place with its own unique humor and a chaotic culture that’s a massive part of Tumblr’s unique appeal. Tumblr said 420 Blaze it (but literally) Cohost Although Cohost is still in its beta phase, anyone can sign up for the service. If you don’t have an invitation, you’ll have to wait a day or two before you can start posting. The website says this measure is designed to prevent spam. Cohost offers a vertical feed that displays posts chronologically, as opposed to an algorithmic listing. Similar to Twitter, Cohost has followers, reposts, likes and comments. Right now, the interface is quite simple, and since it doesn’t use algorithms, there isn’t a trending section. The platform won’t surface content unless you actively search for it using hashtags. You can use the platform for free or pay a monthly $5 fee for additional features, such as larger uploads and more customization options. The company says the fee mainly helps it keep the lights on as it continues to grow. Since Cohost is fairly new and a bit rocky, it may not be the most established Twitter alternative. But, it could be appealing to people who want a simple alternative that actually looks like Twitter in some ways. We’ll have to wait and see if it will be able to amass enough users and traction to be considered a worthy alternative. Wild card: Bluesky We don’t know a lot about Bluesky but what we do know is intriguing. Bluesky was developed in parallel with Twitter and spearheaded by former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. Like Mastodon, Bluesky is all about the decentralized social network, i.e. giving people the tools they need to form their own communities. There’s been some pushback to Bluesky given its Dorsey connection, but we’re still interested to see what the project comes up with once it eventually expands its super limited closed beta. The Bluesky team is apparently launching an app along with the protocol itself and the result could combine a Twitter-like user interface with algorithmic choice, a federated design and community-specific moderation. We’re listening. Wow. 30k signups for our app’s waiting list in the last two days! Thanks for the overwhelming interest, we’ll do our best to get you in soon. — bluesky (@bluesky) October 20, 2022 We’ll keep this list updated as we explore new social apps that can scratch the Twitter itch in the coming months. Love one we didn’t mention here? Let us know: [email protected] The best Twitter alternatives worth checking out by Taylor Hatmaker originally published on TechCrunch

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You may not have known that space needs tugboats, but now you do — and Atomos Space just closed a $16.2 million Series A investment, which will enable the company to complete its demonstration mission where it will show off its docking and towing capabilities. The company is building a series of Orbital Transfer Vehicles (OTV) that makes it possible to reposition satellites in space. The theory is that, by making it possible to move flying objects into different orbits, they don’t have to have full navigation capabilities themselves, which in turn should make operating spacecraft much cheaper. The company claims its existence effectively halves the launch costs of satellite operators. The company is starting with high-powered electric propulsion systems, and is eager to share that it sees those propulsion methods as stepping stones for its nuclear OTV options, which would be able to travel faster and farther, and offering commercial mobility services. The company is also positioning itself to be able to use these technologies for asteroid deflection, effectively putting Harry Stamper out of a job. “I worked on launch vehicle design, and then spacecraft propulsion system design and also some advanced technologies for moving around in space, and realized very quickly that how we do space logistics is sub-optimal. The best analogy that we use is with aircraft. Imagine you have a single-use plane, you are the sole passenger, and you have to take everything with you, unable to do shopping on the way. So if you want to drive around at your end destination, you need to take the car and you need to take gas with you,” explains Vanessa Clark, CEO and co-founder of Atomos Space. “Ultimately, it’s very expensive and limited. What we really need is a hub and spoke logistics model for space. This allows us to do really cool things, commercial missions like Earth observation, global communications, broadband internet, but it also allows us to take the next step as a species and do more things in deep space that makes sense economically and from a scientific perspective.” Orbit Fab raises $3M to make orbital refueling easier, cheaper and more accessible This is the company’s third round of VC funding, and so far it has built and tested on the ground, including its docking and propulsion systems. The next big step is to fly the first vehicle. “This is a lot of autonomy. We are working on having a self-driving satellite that can detect and navigate to a client and grab onto it safely. We have the ability to optimize our propulsion system for operating just in space, unlike a launch vehicle that also has to design for getting into space,” Clark highlights the company’s competitive advantage. “That means we can go farther and use less propellant. With this new round of funding we’re finishing the build of our first two vehicles, and we have booked a launch in just under 12 months. It’s going to be a really exciting mission, where we are flying two full-size commercial vehicles.” The first use cases of the technology is to take launched satellites to their final destinations and to reposition satellites mid-mission. When vehicles have reached their end of service, they can be moved to graveyard orbits, or disposal orbits so that they can burn up in the atmosphere. “Our goal as a company is to make any orbit as accessible as low Earth orbit (LEO). On Earth, if you want to send something overseas, it is as easy as sending a package to the next town over. You just go to the post office. We want that to be possible for space,” explains Clark. “We want to be operating a fleet of orbital transit vehicles in Earth orbit that can provide the vast missions for a set of clients, spacecraft operators, Space Station operators and also companies and agencies that want to explore beyond the atmosphere.” Investment in space continues to drop, but some sectors more resilient than others, report finds The company is particularly excited about nuclear propulsion in space, and are investing heavily on that front, telling us it offers an order of magnitude improvement in speed and payload capabilities. With the current round of funding, the company says it will double the size of the team and launch its first two OTVs in early 2024. The investment was led by Cantos Ventures and the Yamauchi No. 10 Family Office (that’s the family that founded Nintendo), with participation from Upheaval Investments, Dolby Family Ventures, Arden Road Investments, Elefund and Techstars. Atomos tows a $16M load of funding to create tugboats in space by Haje Jan Kamps originally published on TechCrunch

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