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Agora isn’t the only company headquartered outside the United States aiming to go public domestically this quarter. After catching up on Agora’s F-1 filing, the China-and-U.S.-based, API-powered tech company that went public last week, today we’re parsing DoubleDown Interactive’s IPO document. The Exchange is a daily look at startups and the private markets for Extra Crunch subscribers; use code EXCHANGE to get full access and take 25% off your subscription. The mobile gaming company is targeting the NASDAQ and wants to trade under the ticker symbol “DDI.” As with Agora, DoubleDown filed an F-1, instead of an S-1. That’s because it’s based in South Korea, but it’s slightly more complicated than that. DoubleDown was founded in Seattle, according to Crunchbase, before selling itself to DoubleU Games, which is based in South Korea. So, yes, the company is filing an F-1 and will remain majority-held by its South Korean parent company post-IPO, but this offering is more a local affair than it might at first seem. Even more, with a $17 to $19 per-share IPO price range, the company could be worth up to nearly $1 billion when it debuts. Does that pricing make sense? We want to find out. So let’s quickly explore the company this morning. We’ll see what this mobile, social gaming company looks like under the hood in an effort to understand why it is being sent to the public markets right now. Let’s go! Fundamentals Any gaming company has to have its fun-damentals in place so that it can have solid financial results, right? Right? [Editor’s note: A Anyway, DoubleDown is a nicely profitable company. In 2019 its revenue only grew a hair to $273.6 million from $266.9 million the year before (a mere 2.5% gain), but the company’s net income rose from $25.1 million to $36.3 million, and its adjusted EBITDA rose from $85.1 million to $101.7 million over the same period.

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Earlier this year, Google made a significant change to its Shopping search tab in the U.S. to allow the service to primarily feature free product listings selected by Google’s algorithms, instead of paid ads. Building on that change, Google is today introducing a shift to free product listings in the main Google Search results page in the U.S. Before, it would only showcase sponsored links in its “product knowledge panel.” This panel appears when a Google user searches for a product that has matching listings on e-commerce website. But until now, those links were paid ads. Google says, starting this summer, these panels will instead feature free listings. This change will roll out first in the U.S. on mobile, followed later by the desktop. Shopping ads aren’t going away, however. These ads will appear separately at the top of the page, where they’re marked like Google’s other ad units. Since its shift to free listings in April of this year, Google says it’s seen an average 70% increase in clicks and 130% increase in impressions across both the free listings and ads on the Shopping tab in the U.S. These metrics were based on an experiment looking at the clicks and impressions after the free listings were introduced, compared with a control group. The control group was a certain percentage of Google traffic that had not been moved to the new, free experience. Image Credits: Google   Google has positioned its shift to free listings as a way to aid businesses struggling to connect with shoppers due to the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. But the reality is that this change would have had to arrive at some point — pandemic or not — because of Amazon’s threat to Google’s business. Amazon over the years has been steadily eating away at Google’s key business: search ad revenue. In a report published last fall, before the pandemic hit, analyst firm eMarketer said Google’s share of search ad market revenue would slip from 73% in 2019 to 71% by 2021, as more internet users started their searches for products directly on Amazon. Now the coronavirus is pushing more consumers to shop online in even greater numbers, much to Amazon’s advantage. The online retailer reported the pandemic helped drive a 26% increase in its first-quarter 2020 revenue, for example. Meanwhile, a new eMarketer forecast estimates that Google ad revenues will drop for the first time this year, falling 5.3% to $39.58 billion due to pandemic impacts on ad spend — particularly the pullback in travel advertiser spending. Google needed to change its Search service to return more than just paid listings to better compete. Paid listings alone wouldn’t always feature the best match for the user’s search query nor would they show as complete a selection — a problem Amazon’s vast online superstore doesn’t have. But Google’s shift to free listings also incentivizes advertisers to pay for increased visibility. Now, advertisers will need a way to stand out against a larger and more diverse selection of products. “For many merchants, connecting with customers in a digital environment is still relatively new territory or a smaller part of their business,” notes Google’s, Bill Ready, President of Commerce. “However, consumer preference for online shopping has increased dramatically, and it’s crucial that we help people find all the best options available and help merchants more easily connect with consumers online.”

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MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) has put one of its research projects to work providing disinfection services for The Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB), in an effort to slow the spread and still allow the non-profit to provide services to its patrons. The CSAIL-designed robotic system, which was created in partnership with Ava Robotics, can not only disinfect surfaces that might have come in contact with the novel coronavirus, but also wipe out its aerosolized forms that might be present in the air, the lab says. CSAIL’s robotic cleaning system goes well beyond your run-of-the-mill Roomba: It employs UV light for a fully automated clean that can be done free of any human oversight, which is key because UV light when used in the strength required for surface and airborne disinfection can be harmful to any people present. The team behind the design took one of Ava’s telepresence robot, removed the top which normally houses the screen to display a remote operator, and instead replaced it with a UVC light array. Via cameras and sensors, the robot can map an indoor space, and then navigate designed waypoints within that mapped area and disinfect as it goes, keeping track fo the areas it has to disinfect. In operation, after its autonomous mapping exercise, human remote operators showed it the path that people would normally traverse in the space to define priority disinfection zones. The system is flexible so that it can handle re-mapped routes, which is required because what areas of the GBFB warehouse need to be traversed can change daily as food comes in and food goes out, with stock stored on different shelves. Eventually, the team wants to develop more automated ways for the modified telepresence robots to user their suite of sensors to figure out what areas are priority for disinfection based on foot traffic and changing real-world conditions, but for now, it can easily be manually adjusted to accommodate shifts. This project focused specifically on use at the GBFB, a priority resource especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, but MIT CSAIL’s researchers envision similar systems being put to use to cover a range of complex spaces that require frequent disinfection, including grocery stores, dorms, schools and airplanes.

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Crowdsourced navigation platform Waze, which is owned by Google and yet remains a separate, but intertwined product relative to Google Maps, just got one of its biggest UI and design overhauls ever. The new look is much more colourful, and also foregrounds the ability for individual drivers to share their current emotions with Moods, a set of user-selectable icons (with an initial group of 30) that can reflect how you’re feeling as you’re driving. Moods may seem like a relatively small user personalization option, but it’s actually a very interesting way for Waze to add another data vector to the crowdsourced info it can gather. In a blog post describing the feature, Waze Head of Creative Jake Shaw talks about the added Mood set, which builds upon the Moods feature previously available in Waze and greatly expands the set of expressible emotions. “The fundamental idea of Moods has always been the same: to reflect how users feel on the road,” he wrote. “We had a lot of fun exploring the range of emotions people feel out there. A dozen drivers could all feel different in the exact same situation, so we set about capturing as many of those feelings as possible. This was critical to us, because the Moods act as a visual reminder of all of us out there, working together.” Extending Moods to be more varied and personalized definitely has the advantage of being more visually-appealing, and that could serve to boost its engagement among the Waze user community. They don’t mention this explicitly, but you can imagine that combining this as a sort of sentiment measure along with other crowd-reported navigational details including traffic status, weather conditions, construction and more could ultimately help Waze build a much richer dataset and resulting analyses for use in road planning, transportation infrastructure management and more. This update also includes a full refresh of all the app’s interfaces, using colored shapes based around a grid system, and new icons for reported road hazards. It’s a big, bright changes, and further helps distinguish Waze’s visual identity from that of its sibling Google Maps, too. Shaw talk repeatedly about the value of the voice of the community in informing this redesign, and it definitely seems interested in fostering further a sense of participation in that community, as distinct from other transportation and navigation apps. Oddly, this serves as a reminder that Google’s most successful social networking product, with the exception maybe of YouTube depending on how you define it, may well be Waze.

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Amazon warehouse workers in Germany are striking for 48 hours this week, to protest conditions that have led to COVID-19 infections among fellow employees. Strikes began today at six warehouses and are set to continue through end of day Tuesday. The company has drawn international criticism for its decision not to disclose official COVID-19 infection rates among workers, but a representative for Berlin-based labor union Verdi (Vereinte Dienstleistungsgewerkschaft or German United Services Trade Union) says they’re aware of “at least 30 to 40” workers in the Bad Hersfeld factory in Central Germany who have been infected with the virus.  Other striking factories include Koblenz, Leipzig, Rheinberg and Werne. Germany represents Amazon’s largest non-U.S. market, and is one that has seen its fair share of worker protests. Strikes were planned for Prime Days in both 2018 and 2019. But the COVID-19 pandemic represents a new challenge for the online retail giant. Amazon employees plan additional protests over COVID-19 working conditions As it has done with other recent criticism, the company denied suggestions that its working conditions are unsafe and pointed to various COVID-19-related initiatives. “The majority of our associates does not participate and we see no impact on customer orders. The fact that more than 8,000 of our over 13,000 permanent associates in Germany are with us for more than five years proves that we are a fair employer,” a spokesperson said in a statement to TechCrunch. “Everything the union demands is already in place: Wages at the upper end from what is paid for similar jobs, career opportunities and a safe working environment,. The facts are: By end of June, we will have invested approximately $4 billion worldwide on COVID-related initiatives getting products to customers and keeping employees safe.” Here in the States, the company has drawn criticism from media and politicians alike for its action on COVID-19, including the firing of multiple workers who have been vocally critical of its policies.

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One thing missing from last week’s virtual version of Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference was its ceremony announcing its latest selection of Apple Design Award winners. Today, Apple announced the 2020 award winners, highlighting those it said brought “distinctive new ideas to life” while demonstrating a mastery of Apple technology. The Design Awards serve as a signal to the development community as a whole what sort of apps and games Apple wants to see. For example, last year, the company celebrated apps that showcased the use of Apple Pencil, CoreML, Metal 2, and other Apple technologies. This year, Apple has again focused on several apps designed for iPad, particularly photo editors and other design tools that showcase the iPad as a tool for creatives. Meanwhile, a couple of the game winners were selected for their use of spatial audio, in addition to their use of other technologies and their design choices. Not coincidentally, Apple at WWDC20 said it was updating its AirPods Pro with support for spatial audio. The photo and video editor Darkroom from Bergen Co., which was described as being easy enough for casual and pros to use, was among this year’s app winners. It also leveraged Apple technologies like photo and camera APIs, Home Screen quick actions, contextual menus, and haptics. Animation app Looom, developed by iorama.studio, won for its playful and creative interface, novel custom controls, and support for Apple technologies like Apple Pencil and Dark Mode. CAD editor Shapr3D, from Shapr3D Zartkoruen Mukodo Reszvenytarsasag, runs on iPad and works with Apple Pencil to allow technical designers to create 3D models. The app uses ARKit and drag and drop, and is soon adding support for the LiDAR Scanner for generating 2D floor plans from 3D photos. StaffPad, from StaffPad Ltd., turns handwritten musical notations into digital sheet music using Apple Pencil, drag and drop, and Core ML. Sayonara Wild Hearts from developer Simogo and publisher Annapurna Interactive, had already been dubbed by Apple one of the best games of 2019 last year. The game won a Design Award for its vibrant landscapes, visuals, and motion, as well as its extensive use of Apple technologies including Metal, Game Center, spatial audio, and game controllers. Sky: Children of the Light, from thatgamecompany, also made Apple’s “best of” list last year, and has returned to win the Design Award for multiplayer, social quest game featuring Apple technologies including a custom Metal engine, haptics, Game Center, and spatial audio. “Song of Bloom,” from indie developer Philipp Stollenmayer, is a nonlinear puzzler with stories told in rapidly changing art styles. Apple selected this title, which runs on iPad, for its handcrafted gameplay and design. “Where Cards Fall,” from developer The Game Band and publisher Snowman, is an adventure game where players build houses of cards to bring memories to life. The game uses Metal, haptics, Game Center, iCloud, and other technologies. “Every year, app and game developers demonstrate exceptional craftsmanship and we’re honoring the best of the best,” said Ron Okamoto, Apple’s vice president of Worldwide Developer Relations, in an announcement. “Receiving an Apple Design Award is a special and laudable accomplishment. Past honorees have made some of the most noteworthy apps and games of all time. Through their vision, determination, and exacting standards, the winning developers inspire not only their peers in the Apple developer community, but all of us at Apple, too.”

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Developer and programmer Brie Code has worked at the peak of the video game industry – she was responsible for many of the AI systems that powered non-player character (NPC) behavior in the extremely popular Assassin’s Creed series created by Ubisoft. It’s obvious that gaming isn’t for everyone, but Code became more and more interested in why that maxim seemed to play out along predictable gender lines, leading her ultimately to develop and launch #SelfCare through her own independent development studio TRU LUV. #SelfCare went on to win accolades including a spot of Apple’s App Store Best of 2018 list, and Code and TRU LUV was also the first Canadian startup to attend Apple’s Entrepreneur Camp program. Now, with over 2 million downloads of #SelfCare (without any advertising at all), Code and TRU LUV have brought on a number of investors for their first outside funding including Real Ventures, Evolve Ventures, Bridge Builders Collaborative and Artesian Venture Partners. I spoke to Code about how she came up with and created #SelfCare, what’s next for TRU LUV, and how the current COVID-19 crisis actually emphasizes the need for an alternative to gaming that serves many similar functions, but for a previously underserved groups of people for whom the challenges and rewards structures of traditional gaming just don’t prove very satisfying. “I became very, very interested in why video games don’t interest about half of people, including all of my friends,” Code told me. “And at that point, tablets were becoming popular, and everyone had a phone. So if there was something universal about this medium, it should be being more widely adopted, yet I was seeing really clear patterns that it wasn’t. The last time I checked, which was maybe a couple years ago, there were 5 billion mobile users and around 2.2 billion mobile gamers.” Her curiosity piqued by the discrepancy, especially as an industry insider herself, Code began to do her own research to figure out potential causes of the divide – the reason why games only seemed to consistently appeal to about half of the general computer user population, at best. “I started doing a lot of focus groups and research and I saw really clear patterns, and I knew that if there is a clear pattern, there must be an explanation,” Code said. “What I discovered after I read Sheri Grainer Ray’s book Gender Inclusive Game Design, which she wrote in 2004, in a chapter on stimulation was how, and these are admittedly gross generalizations, but men tend to be stimulated by the sense of danger and things flashing on screen. And women, in her research, tended to be stimulated by something mentioned called a mutually-beneficial outcome to a socially significant situation. That’s when you help an NPC and they help you, for instance. In some way, that’s more significant, in the rules of the world than just the score going up.” TRU LUV founder and CEO Brie Code Code then dug in further, using consumer research and further study, and found a potential cause behind this divide that then provided a way forward for developing a new alternative to a traditional gaming paradigm that might prove more appealing to the large group of people who weren’t served by what the industry has traditionally produced. “I started to read about the psychology of stimulation, and from there I was reading about the psychology of defense, and I found a very simple and clear explanation for this divide, which is that there are two human stress responses,” she said. “One of them, which is much more commonly known, is called the ‘fight-or-flight’ response. When we experience the fight-or-flight response, in the face of challenge or pressure or danger, you have adrenaline released in your body, and that makes you instinctively want to win. So what a game designer does is create these situations of challeng,e and then give you opportunities to win and that leverages the fight-or-flight response to stress: That’s the gamification curve. But there is another human stress response discovered at the UCLA Social Cognitive Neuroscience lab in 2000, By Dr. Shelly Taylor and her colleagues. It’s very prevalent, probably about half of stress responses that humans experience, and it’s called tend-and-befriend.” Instead of generating an adrenaline surge, it releases oxytocin in the brain, and instead of seeking a victory over a rival, people who experience this want to take care of those who are more vulnerable, connect with friends and allies, and find mutually beneficial solutions to problems jointly faced. Seeking to generate that kind fo response led to what Code and TRU LUV call AI companions, a gaming alternative that is non-zero sum and based on the tend-and-befriend principal. Code’s background as an AI programmer working on some of the most sophisticated virtual character interactions available in modern games obviously came in handy here. Code thought she might be on to something, but didn’t anticipate the level of #SelfCare’s success, which included 500,00 downloads in just six weeks, and more than 2 million today. And most of the feedback she received from users backed up her hypotheses about what the experience provided, and what users were looking for an an alternative to a mobile gaming experience. Fast forward to now, and TRU LUV is growing its team, and focused on iterating and developing new products to capitalize on the clear vein of interest they’ve tapped among that underserved half of mobile users. Code and her team have brought on investors whose views and portfolios align with their product vision and company ethos, including Evolve Ventures which has backed a number of socially progressive ventures, and whose managing director Julius Mokrauer actually teaches a course on the subject at Columbia Business School. #SelfCare was already showing a promising new path forward for mobile experience development before COVID-19 struck, but the product and TRU LUV are focused on “resilience and psychological development,” so it proved well-suited to a market in which mobile users were looking for ways to make sustained isolation more pleasant. Obviously we’re just at the beginning of feeling whatever impacts come out of the COVID-19 crisis, but it seems reasonable to expect that different kinds of mobile apps that trigger responses more aligned with personal well-being will be sought after. Code says that COVID-19 hasn’t really changed TRU LUV’s vision or approach, but that it has led to the team moving more quickly on in-progress feature production, and on some parts of their roadmap, including building social features that allow players to connect with one another as well as with virtual companions. “We want to move our production forward a bit faster than planned in order to respond to the need,” Code said.”Also we’re looking at being able to create social experiences a little bit earlier than planned, and also to attend to the need of people to be able to connect, above and beyond people who connect through video games.”

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Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines. This is Equity Monday, our week-starting primer,  in which we go over the latest, look to the week ahead, talk about some neat funding rounds, and dig into the latest on the health of the startup market. Don’t forget that you can follow Equity on Twitter, and, as explained in the show, you can sign up for Alex’s new TechCrunch newsletter “The Exchange” here. Ok, let’s get into what we talked about this morning: The Rothenberg VC scandal is moving towards what feels like a conclusion, with the Department of Justice filing criminal charges against its founder. As TechCrunch reported, “the U.S. Department of Justice has brought two criminal wire fraud charges against him, charges that he made two false statements to a bank, and money laundering charges, all of which could result in a very long time in prison depending on how things play out.” Q2 is coming to a close this week, and many American companies are taking Friday off. Expect news to slow into the end of the week. But, this week, South Korean gaming company DoubleDown Interactive is looking to raise $200 million by going public this week in the United States. That’s going to be exciting to watch. Instead of picking individual funding rounds, we covered some notes on the Indian startup market. LiveMint, Times of India, and Entrackr all covered recent venture data, showing a booming India edtech market amidst a weaker VC landscape. If it turns out that rest of the world’s VC scenes are in similar straits, we could be entering something similar to a VC recession. Finally, Bloomberg’s Joe Weisenthal is writing about how the stock market actually is tracking the economy. This is counter to the cliche that the stock market isn’t the economy. But his argument helps explain something about the startup market that has stuck out for a while, namely why did startup layoffs drop sharply and churn decline quickly in Q2? Well, maybe things got better? And that’s Equity for today. We’re back Friday morning! Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 a.m. PT, so subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify and all the casts.

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As COVID-19 cases in the US continue to spike and doctors and researchers try to marshal any and all technological resources to help patients, understand the disease, and fight off the spread of the epidemic, one startup that monitors and evaluates medical device technology is offering its services for free so doctors can understand the tools at their disposal. San Francisco-based Elektra Labs was co-founded by a former official at the Food and Drug Administration and a Harvard-trained physician working at Massachusetts General Hospital, to provide clear and accurate assessments of the security, validity, and viability of new biosensors coming to market. The company said that it will now make its assessments of medical devices that are pitching symptom monitoring technologies for COVID-19 available for free to clinicians and researchers. As the number of infected people in the US reaches 2.5 million and the nightmare scenario that health experts warned about becomes a reality with capacity in hospitals overwhelmed by sick patients, the healthcare industry is turning to digital services like telemedicine not because they want to, but because they must. “The ability to reliably assess patients’ vital signs remotely is a powerful way to improve the utility of telemedicine,” said Elektra Labs co-founder Dr. Sofia Warner, who has been treating COVID-19 patients on the front line at Massachusetts General Hospital, in a statement. “Having a sense of what connected sensors are validated for which measurements is important for providers to know.”  Digital monitoring and technology tools aren’t just for treating patients. The pharmaceutical industry is using the same tech to help with clinical trials to test new drugs and treatments since in-person trials have ground to a halt. “Many pharmaceutical companies running large, critical, and expensive clinical trials are quickly working to adapt their studies to maintain progress and keep patients safe amid the pandemic,” said Ariel Stern, PhD, faculty at the Harvard-MIT Center for Regulatory Sciences, in a statement. “These companies are racing to determine which products are not only safe and effective, but also easy for study participants to deploy at home.” Elektra Labs has developed what amounts to a nutrition label for objective measures around the validation, usability, utility, security and data governance components of connected sensor and it actually published the methodology behind its scoring framework in Nature Digital Medicine earlier this year.  No one knows how effective digital therapies are, but a new tool from Elektra Labs aims to change that Backed by venture capital firms including Founder Collective, Boost VC, Lux Capital, Maverick Ventures, Village Global and Arkitekt Ventures, the early stage startup has already found a welcome reception among pharmaceutical companies and researchers. “Technology has moved faster than our ability to safeguard ourselves,” said Elektra Labs CEO Andy Coravos. “I co-founded Elektra to make it easier and safer to care for people at home, and never has this been more important than during the COVID-19 crisis. I’m thrilled to donate use of the Atlas platform to those working to treat patients and innovate in healthcare throughout the pandemic.” Unlike Apple’s initiative to label apps in the app store based on the way they use and reuse personal data, Elektra Labs’ scoring and ranking information won’t be available to everyone. Instead the data will be available only to clinicians moving to virtual care, researchers organizing decentralized clinical trials and public health officials examining tools for population health monitoring. The idea is to enable doctors and researchers to determine which biometric monitoring tools they might use to supplement video visits or track patients in a study actually are safe and effective for patients to use at home.  

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Early-stage startups are confident of re-opening their offices in the wake of the COVID-19 within the next 6 months. But: there will be changes. An exclusive survey compiled by Founders Forum, with TechCrunch, found 63% of those surveyed said they would only re-open in either 1-3 months or 3-6 months – even if the government advises that it is safe to do so before then. A minority have re-opened their offices, while 10% have closed their office permanently. However, there will clearly be long-term impact on the model of office working, with a majority of those surveyed saying they would now move to either a flexible remote working model (some with permanent offices, some without), but only a small number plan a ‘normal’ return to work. A very small number plan to go fully ‘remote’. Many cited the continuing benefits of face-to-face interaction when trying to build the team culture so crucial with early-stage companies. Massive office closures during pandemic Of the 349 that answered the survey 84% said they had closed their office during the COVID-19 pandemic; 5% said they had not; and 8% said it was not applicable (i.e. no office to close). The majority of those answering were at Seed or Pre-seed stage, with a minority past Series A stage. Crucially, a clear majority of respondents (66%) said the need to return to the office was not ‘business critical’, while 33% thought it was. Right now, startups are closely divided over feeling the need to return to the office, with 46% saying they did feel a need, while 53% said they did not. The survey was launched by TechCrunch and UK non-profit Founders Forum in order to assess how startups will work in the future, in the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on office working and the shift to ‘Work From Home’ policies. Of the 349 answers, 61% were from the UK, 20% from the US, and the rest from other countries. “Missing the power of face to face problem solving and building teams” Founders Forum’s Brent Hoberman, who initiated the study, commented on the results: “The results prove both that early-stage tech founders are adaptable and that entrepreneurship is one of the best-suited professions to remote work. The majority of early-stage founders haven’t seen productivity take a hit during this period, but it remains to be seen what happens to creative output, team culture and training over the longer term. Furthermore, there are clearly opportunities for new types of even more flexible shared social workspaces with a vast majority of those surveyed still seeing value in face-to-face interaction.” Remote working ups productivity, but impacts culture Remote working during COVID-19 appears not to have impacted output, with 55% of startups saying they had worked more than normal; 30% the same hours, and 13% fewer hours. In answer to the question: “Are you going to permanently change how and where your team works together?”: 48% said they would adopt a more flexible working arrangement (e.g. remote work days); 33% will adopt a remote-first setup (e.g. rented space for key meetings/workshops); 13% plan a normal return to work; and just 4% will adopt a fully remote configuration. In terms of plans to re-open offices, 36% planned to re-open in 1-3 months “as soon as government advises that it is safe to do so”; 27% in 3-6 months “even if the government advises that it is safe to do so before then”; 16% answered “It’s already open – employees have been visiting if they feel comfortable”; 10% said “We have closed the office permanently”; and 9% said they planned to re-open in 6-12 months “even if the government advises that it is safe to do so before then”. Given a full choice in the matter, 81% of those surveyed said they would prefer a hybrid of office and remote work, with only 11% wanting to go remote full time and 8% returning to an office full time. And 83% wanted to have set days when the whole team is in the office together. Commenting on why they thought re-opening an office – in some form – was business-critical, comments from respondents included: • “My employees are looking to return to work given wanting space from home confinement” • “Need for top management sessions where in-person is much more productive than remote video calls” • “Missing the power of face to face problem solving and building teams” • “Ability to support early-career employees and bring on new ones” • “I believe either fully remote or fully in-person setups are effective. A halfway house is ineffective.” • “Too difficult to achieve the cross-pollination and high-velocity communication needed at our early stage.” • “Culture. Younger team members can’t work from home all the time (shared accommodation). Some parents need the office to focus” • “We’re a biotech company and need to work from our labs” • “We do order fulfillment from our warehouse.” • “Team members ask for it as they cannot stand anymore working alone in their apartment” Most startups are offering remote work options either to ‘some’ employees (52%) or to all employees (31%). Some 16% offered no remote working at all, especially in areas like BioTech where remote working from a lab is not possible. Office spaces still adapting There were mixed results when startups were asked if they had renegotiated their lease as a result of COVID-19, with 16% of those on a short lease saying they had and were successful, but 16% saying they had, but had not been able to renegotiate. Some 14% on a long lease were successful in the renegotiation, 14% said they were still in negotiation and 11% had canceled the membership of their co-working space. Some 41% of startups or their landlords had not performed a workplace risk assessment, 25% had, while 33% still planned to. Offices appear to be responding well, with either 40% having already introduced measures to improve the safety of workplaces or 34% planning to, while 25% had not, probably because they do not have an office or use co-working spaces. Most people (58%) said they felt the work they perform remotely is “trusted and respected equally to the work I perform in the workplace”. Most (50%) said their home setup was “ok, but not ideal.” WFH impacts working practices When asked “What remote productivity tools or processes have become your secret weapon during COVID-19?” notable answers included: • Miro, trello, zoom, Asana, Airtable, Slack, Microsoft Teams (among many others) • “Two screens.” • “Dedicated office space at home” • “Routine. Shutting off at 5.30pm and going for a run/walk” • “Saying hello and prioritizing chit chat on video calls every time, even though we all have work to do, observing social graciousness remotely is even more important. “ • “Company instituted “Summer Fridays” urging to not work after 1pm on Fridays – less pressure to be “always-on”” • “Being able to step away and recharge through engaging with the family when needed during the day.” • “Old school phone calls” Mental health impact  Almost 80% said there had been no significant change to their mental health as a result of working remotely during COVID-19, with a slim number experiencing either a negative impact or positive.          

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Facebook is expanding the availability of the tools it offers to help game streamers and other online creators make money. The social network first launched fan subscriptions in early 2018, giving a small group of creators in the United States and the United Kingdom the ability to charge their fans a $4.99 monthly fee for exclusive content and a fan badge for their profiles. Participation in the subscription program was limited until today. In a blog post, Facebook now says that any creator in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, Thailand, United Kingdom and United States that meets the subscription eligibility criteria (having 10,000 followers or more than 250 return viewers, and either 50,000 post engagements or 180,000 watch minutes in the last 60 days, as well as abiding by Facebook’s general monetization policies) should be able to sign up to participate. The company monetizes these subscriptions by taking up to 30% of subscription revenue. (It only collects revenue on subscribers acquired after January 1, 2020.) Image Credits: Facebook Facebook is also expanding the availability of Stars, a virtual currency that fans can use to tip their favorite creators. Creators in Australia, Canada, Columbia, India, Indonesia, Italy, Spain, Germany, France, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand, United Kingdom and the United States can now participate. “We’re seeing the traditional notion of a creator evolve as comedians, artists, fitness instructors, athletes, small businesses and sports organizations use video and online events to connect with their audience,” wrote Product Marketing Director Yoav Arnstein, Product Marketing Director and Head of Creator & Publisher Experience Jeff Birkeland. “To better support our partners, we’re improving the tools that help creators earn money and manage their presence on Facebook.” Beyond subscriptions and virtual currencies, the company says it’s giving creators new ways to make money through advertising, including image and post-roll ads in short-form videos (60 to 180 seconds), as well as ads in live videos. Lastly, Facebook says it’s improving the Creator Studio tool with features like Comment Insights (which show how comments on posts can affect engagement and audience size) and the ability to log in using Instagram credentials. Facebook will start taking a cut of fan subscriptions in 2020

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Handwashing for the Apple Watch happily slotted alongside face masks for Memojis in the list of COVID-19-related features the company introduced at last week’s WWDC keynote. It’s a pedestrian action, something we take entirely for granted the several times a day we do it. Over the past five months, however, handwashing has taken on a kind of central importance to our daily lives — something to focus on and obsess over. We all read the WHO and CDC guidelines and shared (and perhaps even created) some of the millions of song lyric memes highlighting the proper length of time required to sufficiently clean one’s hands and avoid virus transmission. We’ve all also become painfully aware of just how long 20 seconds can feel when you’re standing in front of the bathroom sink. Unlike other rush initiatives undertaken by the company once the virus hit, however, the forthcoming Apple Watch handwashing app wasn’t built overnight. The feature was the result of “years of work,” VP of Technology Kevin Lynch told TechCrunch. In typical Apple fashion, the product was a result of years of trial and error, according to the executive. Image Credits: Apple Certainly it’s not the first smartwatch app to tackle this one banal action. Samsung was quick to the market to introduce a Galaxy Watch app designed for users wash their hands for the allotted time. But Apple’s version slots alongside such health features as the Noise app, and leverages the device’s built-in sensors to provide clever applications that contribute to the wearable’s overall health focus. The feature, which is built directly into the forthcoming version of watchOS, is designed to work like fitness tracking in a number of ways. For starters, if the user opts into it, it’s designed to automatically trigger when handwashing is detected, starting a countdown timer of 20 seconds. The accelerometer is the key piece of hardware here, waiting for the specific handwashing pattern — which apparently adopts a number of different methods, depending on who’s actually doing the scrubbing. Apple’s software updates give a glimpse of software in a COVID-19 era The system uses machine learning models to tackle different methods, but the system gets an additional nudge from the Watch’s microphone. Along with motion, the app listens for the sound of running water. Even that’s not enough, though — after all, eco sinks have become increasingly popular, meaning that there’s often less water sound to be listening for. The sound of squishing soap takes care of that last bit. It’s got a unique enough audio signature so as to confirm that handwashing is taking place. The feature flashes images of soap bubbles and buzzes the watch’s haptics to encourage the wearer to go the distance — offering “polite encouragement” if they pause. Like fitness tracking, that information is recorded in Apple’s health app. Again, what might otherwise feel like a silly little feature is suddenly taking on a much deeper importance as suddenly we all find ourselves obsessing over germ transmission. The feature inadvertently joins a number of other COVID-19-related initiatives from Apple introduced over the past several months. The company has donated masks and built face shields and been a key player in contact-tracing initiatives. Image Credits: Apple On the Watch front specifically, it has opened remote usage for doctors looking to monitor patients’ ECG readings without risking exposure to the virus for either party. Apple currently makes no claims about the Watch’s potential for helping to diagnose the virus, however. “While we haven’t studied specifically how Apple Watch can track COVID, we’re happy to support the research the medical community is doing. We really support their initiatives by enabling our colleagues in the space, and we’re excited to see what they learn,” Apple’s VP of Health, Sumbul Ahmad Desai, tells TechCrunch. The company doesn’t have anything specific to share on that front, at the moment, but it’s easy to see how researchers would be interested in leveraging such a widely used wearable in the detection and diagnoses of such a viral and deadly disease. Back in May, Fitbit announced that it was in the early stages of working with researchers on precisely that.

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Scotts Miracle-Gro, the lawn care and fertilizer giant that has opened up a secondary business as a pioneer in cannabis and hemp cultivation, is launching a $50 million corporate venture capital fund called1868 Ventures.  Is it strange that a fertilizer company would commit to a $50 million fund to invest in two to three startup companies per year over the next few years? It’s 2020, folks, nothing makes sense. Except this might? New discoveries around crop cultivation, the development of organic pesticides and herbicides, and the wave of new applications for hemp and cannabinoids in manufacturing, healthcare, and legal recreational use are creating new opportunities for the business and Scotts Miracle-Gro is looking to capitalize on them. At least, that’s the word from the company’s chief financial officer, Randy Coleman. “The company is doing extremely well in both of our big businesses,” said Coleman. “A lot of that ties back to the budding cannabis industry.” For those who don’t know, while Scotts Miracle-Gro is humongous in the hedgerow business, it also has a subsidiary called Hawthorne Gardening Company which it created in 2014 to service the specific needs of cannabis growers. “We identified some areas that we knew we needed to supercharge a bit,” said Coleman. And after a discussion with members of its board of directors, the company decided to turn to Touchdown Ventures to help power its new investment arm.  Investment areas the company intends to seed with its follow-on financing include technology to help with controlled agriculture environments and plant genetics. “A lot of that work is being done in our Hawthorne business up in Canada,” said Coleman. “Down the road as laws change in the US we might do more there… Right now the R&D we’re doing around hemp in Oregon.” The company will also look at ways to boost its e-commerce and direct to consumer channels as more Americans use online commerce instead of shopping at physical retail locations. Coleman said Scotts Miracle-Gro sales were up 200% on digital channels including Amazon. Finally, natural products and sustainable packaging also are interesting to the company, said Coleman. “I really like the exposure to more ideas and spreading our risk around and opportunity around,” he said. 1868 Ventures will be stage-agnostic and investments will range between $250,000 and $2.5 million, looking at companies primarily in North America. To help with the firm’s venture initiatives, Scotts turned to Touchdown Ventures, a firm specializing in corporate venture capital. Touchdown will work closely with senior executives at Scotts Miracle-Gro to operate the fund, the company said.  “We are enthusiastic about the capital investment, industry expertise, and customer validation that Scotts Miracle-Gro can bring to innovators in lawn and garden care and controlled environment agriculture,” noted David Horowitz, Co-Founder and CEO of Touchdown Ventures, in a statement. “We believe Scotts Miracle-Gro will be the partner of choice for entrepreneurs seeking to create a competitive advantage for their startups in these categories.” 

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Amazon said on Monday it has eliminated all single-use plastic in its packaging across its fulfillment centers in India, delivering on a pledge it made last year to achieve this goal by June. The American e-commerce group said it had replaced packaging materials such as bubble wraps with paper cushions and was also using “100% plastic-free biodegradable” paper tapes. All of Amazon’s 50-plus fulfilment centers in India were complying with the new guidelines, the company said. Flipkart, which had made a similar pledge last year, said last month that its reliance on single-use plastic across its supply chain had dropped by 50%. Last year, the Walmart-owned marketplace said it intended to move entirely to recycled plastic consumption in its supply chain by March 2021. Amazon’s announcement Monday follows Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s directive last year, when he urged Indians to put an end to usage of single-use plastic by 2022. India has been grappling with a major plastic waste problem for several years. Asia’s third-largest economy is struggling with disposing of the 9.4 million tons of plastic waste it generates each year. Dozens of nations across the world have in recent years moved to address this challenge by imposing curbs and levies on use of single-use plastic. Amazon said today that it still uses some plastic in packaging material, but those are 100% recyclable through available collection, segregation and recycling channels. The company said it is continuing to educate sellers who fulfil customer orders to join in this nationwide change in packaging. “Our aim is to minimize environmental impact while elevating customer experience. While navigating through unprecedented challenges with the lockdown and pandemic in the last few months, we have continued to take progressive steps towards ensuring that we meet our commitment,” said Prakash Kumar Dutta, Director of Customer Fulfilment & Supply Chain at Amazon India, in a statement. Earlier this month, Amazon expanded Packaging-Free Shipping (PFS), an India-first initiative that sees fulfilment centers either deliver products that are completely packaging-free or have significantly reduced packaging, to over 100 cities in India. The company said more than 40% of its orders in India today are already using PFS. Additionally, Amazon said it is also collecting and recycling plastic waste equivalent to its usage at a national level from September 2019, and has identified collection agencies to help collect equivalent 100% plastic waste generated from usage across the Amazon fulfilment network. Earlier this month, Amazon announced it was launching a $2 billion internal venture-capital fund focused on technology investments to reduce the impact of climate change. The new fund, called The Climate Pledge Fund, will invest in firms across a number of industries, including transportation, energy generation, and manufacturing. Through the program, the companies aim to reach a goal of “net zero” carbon emissions by 2040.

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Like it or loathe it, video has proven to be the most engaging of all mediums across the web, and today a company out of Israel called Artlist — which provides royalty-free libraries of music, sound effects and even video itself to enhance video content — is announcing a significant growth round of $48 million, both to continue its expansion, and to build better technology to help navigate users to the perfect clip. The funding is being led by KKR, with participation also from Elephant Partners, a VC out of Boston that has also backed Allbirds, Scopely and Keelvar among others. This is the first funding that Artlist has ever announced, although Elephant had backed it with a previously undisclosed amount previously. Ira Belsky, Artlist’s co-CEO who co-founded the company with Itzik Elbaz, and Eyal Raz and started as a filmmaker himself, said the company has mostly been bootstrapped since being founded in 2016. It’s not disclosing the total amount raised to date, nor its valuation except to say that it’s on the rise. “We have been 100% cash flow positive since the day we started,” he said. “We just want to accelerate growth because there is an opportunity to cater to a wider audience.” The market gap that Artlist is tackling is a byproduct of how the internet is used and evolving. According to a recent report from Sandvine, video accounts for just under 58% of online traffic globally, with video, social and gaming (with the latter two also being very video-heavy) together accounting for some 80% of traffic. That speaks to a huge amount of content being made available not just from premium media provides like Netflix or Disney, but popular a vast array of user-generated content on channels like YouTube, TikTok, Facebook and Twitter. While some of these may be building their own sound and video content, a large part of those, to speed up production and focus on whatever aspect of their work that they can better individualise and control, many creators turn to stock audio and video footage in their work. Indeed, there are a number of others in this same space, including the likes of Getty, Epidemic Sound, Shutterstock, Artgrid, the platforms themselves and many others, but Belsky said that in his time as a filmmaker, he found that many of these were not quite what he was looking for himself in terms of connecting him with just the right music that he was looking for, which was part of the impetus behind building Artlist. What’s interesting is that Covid-19 has had a double impact on that market. Not only has there been a huge boost in online video usage as more people are spending time at home and staying away from public places, but in terms of creators, Belsky notes that many of them have found it harder either to shoot certain kinds of footage, or collaborate with people create music and other sound effects, all of which has led to a surge of usage for platforms like Artlist. Artlist’s royalty-free model means that people pay subscription fees to Artlist to use its platform — prices range between $149 and $599 per year, depending on usage and whether you are taking the music, video, sound effects or combined plans — but then nothing more for individual clips. On the other side of the marketplace, the company does not disclose how much its artists are making from the service, but the basic model is that it varies depending on how much a track is used, and generally they are very competitive. “Our artists make more from us than they do from other platforms,” Belsky said. There are no plans to switch that business model include non-royalty-free, nor outright sales of exclusive rights, he added. On royalty-free alone, the funding comes on the back of significant growth for the company in the last couple of years, with both users and amount of content both on exponential growth curves, respectively now standing at 1.1 million subscribers and 25.8 million pieces of content (mostly music at the moment, Belsky said). While many users will incorporate one kind of media, either video or music, into a bigger video project — such as this Mercedes Benz commercial that uses Artlist audio — others looking to see how creative they can be when leaning on both, which speaks to how we might see video continue to evolve as the market matures and yet more video content gets produced: That brings us to the company’s next steps. Belsky said that while today there are already various taxonomies for searching for just the right piece of content, the plan is to try to make that process more intuitive. Being based in Israel, the company has been tapping some interesting data science talent, and the country is well-known for producing some of the more interesting startups using AI and all of that is feeding into Artlist’s development, too. “We want to invest in AI for personalisation,” he said. “We see ourselves in the creative tech space, a combination of content and technology. The aim is to find the best piece of music, but also the best user experience when finding it, to make it fast and intuitive.” One experiment has involved people uploading examples of what they’d like, and Artlist searching for “matches” in its own catalogue, and there are others to come, he said. (Indeed, given what we’ve seen with the advances in semantic search, there is a potentially very interesting opportunity to start to explore how to, for example, ingest a video clip to try to match the mood of a piece of audio to it, which is not something that the company is exploring today, but could be an avenue down the line.) Meanwhile, given Artlist’s traction and revenue growth, the opportunities and the needs of creators today are interesting enough to make this an interesting bet, despite the stiff competition. “The growth of digital content creation – and the evolving way in which it is consumed – has generated a tremendous amount of opportunities for creators, but the process of licensing digital assets remains a significant challenge for small and large creators alike,” said Patrick Devine, a member of KKR’s Next Generation Technology Growth investment team, in a statement. “What impresses us most about Artlist is the management team’s dedication to helping creators focus on what they do best and removing friction from the process of discovering and accessing content.”

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Zuoyebang, a Beijing-headquartered startup that runs an online learning app, said on Monday it has raised $750 million in a new financing round as investors demonstrate their continued trust in — and focus on — Asia’s booming edtech market. U.S. investment firm Tiger Global and Hong Kong-based private equity firm FountainVest Partners led the six-year-old startup’s Series E financing round. Existing investors including SoftBank’s Vision Fund, Sequoia Capital China, Xiang He Capital, Qatar Investment Authority also participated in the round, which brings the startup’s to-date raise to $1.33 billion. As we have previously noted in our coverage, Zuoyebang’s app helps students — ranging from kindergarten to 12th-grade — solve problems and understand complex concepts. The app, which offers online courses and runs live lessons, also allows students to take a picture of a problem, upload it to the app, and get its solution. The startup claims it uses artificial intelligence to identify the question and its answer. Zuoyebang has amassed 170 million monthly active users, about 50 million of whom use the service each day, the startup said in a post (in Chinese). More than 12 million of these users are paid subscribers, it said. The announcement today further illustrates the opportunities investors are seeing in the online education sector in Asia. Last week, Indian edtech giant Byju’s announced it had received fresh funds from Mary Meeker’s fund, Bond. SoftBank counts Zuoyebang among its 88 portfolio startups that have demonstrated growth in recent quarters. Zuoyebang was founded by Baidu in 2015. A year later the Chinese search giant spun off Zuoyebang into an independent startup. Zuoyebang competes with a handful of startups in China, including Yuanfudao, which offers a similar service. In March, Yuanfudao said it had secured $1 billion in a financing round led by Tencent and Hillhouse Capital. The startup was valued at $7.8 billion at the time. Reuters reported earlier this month that Zuoyebang could be valued at $6.5 billion in the new financing round. According to research firm iResearch, the online education market in China could be worth $81 billion in two years.

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Extra Crunch is now live in Romania. That adds to our existing support in Europe in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, and U.K.. There’s been reason to be bullish on Romania’s technology sector for some time. A TechCrunch op-ed called the country the “Silicon Valley of Transylvania” in 2016, noting that the number of startups in the country had grown by 20% from 250 to 300 in a year.  The country’s rich pool of developer talent (bullish notes on that matter here) has also led to rising investor interest. Crunchbase data, for example, said that known venture round counts rose by 26% in the country in 2019, compared to 2018. And from a 2015-era trough, the country’s GDP has risen sharply, along with its GDP per-capita.  It’s no surprise, then, that Romania has been one of the most requested countries for Extra Crunch support in recent months. We’re happy to add the country to the list. You can sign up here. Extra Crunch is a membership program from TechCrunch that features market analysis, weekly investor surveys and how-tos and interviews on growth, fundraising, monetization and other work topics. Members can save time with access to an exclusive newsletter, no banner ads or video pre-rolls on TechCrunch.com, Rapid Read mode and our List Builder tool. Committing to an annual and two-year plan will save you a few bucks on the membership price and unlock access to TechCrunch event discounts and Partner Perks. The Partner Perks program features discounts and savings on services from AWS, DocSend, Typeform, Zoom and more. Thanks to everyone that voted on where to expand next. If you haven’t voted and you want to see Extra Crunch in your local country, let us know here. You can sign up or learn more about Extra Crunch here.

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While many in Silicon Valley might prefer to forget about investor Mike Rothenberg roughly four years after his young venture firm began to implode, his story is still being written, and the latest chapter doesn’t bode well for the 36-year-old. While Rothenberg earlier tangled with the Securities & Exchange Commission and lost, it was a civil matter, if one that could haunt him for the rest of his life. Now, the U.S. Department of Justice has brought two criminal wire fraud charges against him, charges that he made two false statements to a bank, and money laundering charges, all of which could result in a very long time in prison depending on how things play out. How long, exactly? The DOJ says the the two bank fraud charges and the two false statement to a bank charges “each carry a maximum of 30 years in prison, not more than five years supervised release, and a $1,000,000 fine,” while the money laundering charges “carry a penalty of imprisonment of not more than ten years, not more than three years of supervised release, and a fine of not more than twice the amount of the criminally derived property involved in the transaction at issue.” The damage done in the brief life of his venture outfit — even while understood in broad strokes by industry watchers – is rather breathtaking. As laid out by the DOJ, Rothenberg raised and managed four funds between the inception of his firm, Rothenberg Ventures, in 2013 and 2016, and his criminal activities began almost immediately. According to the DOJ’s charges, after closing that initial fund, he partially funded his own capital commitment to the second fund by making false statements about his wealth to his bank while refinancing his home mortgage and while obtaining a $300,000 personal loan, some of which he poured in the fund. That’s bank fraud. Yet according to the DOJ, that was merely Rothenberg’s opening gambit. The following year, in 2015, Rothenberg “took excess money in venture capital fees from one of the funds he was raising and managing” and because he then “faced a shortfall at the end of the year that he did not wish to report to his investors,” he found an illegal workaround. Specifically, alleges the DOJ, he “engaged in a scheme to defraud a bank by making false statements and misrepresentations to the bank in order to obtain a $4 million line of credit to pay back the fund from which he had taken excess fees.” The idea, says the DOJ, was to “deceive his investors into believing the fund was well-managed,” which apparently worked at the time. Of course, in reality, Rothenberg was digging an ever bigger hole for himself, suggests the DOJ. Meanwhile, he seemingly had appearances to keep up. Which could be why in February 2016,  according to the allegations laid out by the DOJ, he “engaged in a scheme to defraud an investor with respect to a $2 million investment that it believed it was making directly into a virtual reality content production company operating as River Studios that Rothenberg contended he wholly owned.” The DOJ says that that instead, Rothenberg used most of it for purposes having nothing to do with that production company. Rothenberg also — judging by the DOJ’s report — began to throw caution to the wind, perhaps because he thought he might get away with it or because he was increasingly desperate. To wit, its complaint alleges that five months after defrauding that first investor, in July 2016, Rothenberg “engaged in a scheme to defraud as many as five separate investors when he induced them to wire a total of $1.35 million under the premise of investing in the untraded stock of a privately-held software company.” The complaint charges Rothenberg with “knowingly engaging in a scheme to defraud one investor by representing to that organization that its money would be used to purchase the software company’s shares. According to the complaint, on the same day the money was wired, Rothenberg took the money from the bank account designed to make the investment and sent it to RVMC’s main operating bank account, from which it was used for many purposes.” No stock in the software company was ever purchased, according to the DOJ’s investigation. The agency says Rothenberg also “induced investments in his RVMC-managed funds under the premise he would use the money for investments in ‘frontier edge’ technologies and take only certain limited fees for the management of the funds.” Instead, he “took more fees than to which he was entitled and invested far less of the money he raised than the operating agreements disclosed to the investors contemplated.” Altogether, says the DOJ, it has collected evidence that Rothenberg fraudulently obtained at least $18.8 million. We’ve reached out to Rothenberg — who has consistently denied any wrongdoing — for comment. It isn’t the only bad news he has faced lately, in any case. Just seven months ago, in December, Rothenberg was ordered to pay more than $31 million in connection with the misappropriation of investor money relating to an SEC complaint that alleged he misappropriated millions of dollars from his firm’s funds, then used the money to support personal business ventures. In October 2018, Rothenberg also agreed to be barred from the securities industry with a right to reapply after five years. All have been incredible developments in what was already a nearly unbelievable story of apparent hubris and its consequences. Rothenberg had entered the venture scene with a splash, landing a feature story in TechCrunch, in early 2013, and touting his connections and his youth — he was 27 at the time — as advantages he enjoyed over older VCs who might not have a shot at the same companies. Two years later, BusinessWeek dubbed him Silicon Valley’s “party animal,” as his firm became renowned in the Bay Area for “throwing bashes for entrepreneurs,” including expensive parties at San Francisco’s Oracle Park baseball field (known at the time as AT&T Park). Rothenberg, a self-described former math Olympian who attended Stanford before getting an MBA from Harvard Business School, said at the time, “The way we build a scalable network is by hosting a lot of events.” He seemed to dismiss questions about how they were paid for, but he did tell BusinessWeek that he provided some of the earliest funding to Robinhood, the stock-trading app that was most recently valued at $7.6 billion and whose cofounders and CEOs attended Stanford at the same time as Rothenberg. It was an auspicious start, in short. Alas, by the summer of 2016, the firm’s employees were scattering to the winds, and investigators were beginning to take notes.

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E-commerce giant Flipkart is planning to launch a hyperlocal service that would enable customers to buy items from local stores and have those delivered to them in an hour and a half or less. Yatra, an online travel and hotel ticketing service, is exploring a new business line altogether: Supplying office accessories. Flipkart and Yatra are not the only firms eyeing new business categories. Dozens of firms in the country have branched out by launching new services in recent weeks, in part to offset the disruption the COVID-19 epidemic has caused to their core offerings. Swiggy and Zomato, the nation’s largest food delivery startups, began delivering alcohol in select parts of the country last month. The move came weeks after the two firms, both of which are seeing fewer orders and had to let go hundreds of employees, started accepting orders for grocery items in a move that challenged existing online market leaders BigBasket and Grofers. Udaan, a business-to-business marketplace, recently started to accept bulk orders from some housing societies and is exploring more opportunities in the business-to-commerce space, the startup told TechCrunch. These shifts came shortly after New Delhi announced a nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of the coronavirus. The lockdown meant that all public places including movie theaters, shopping malls, schools, and public transport were suspended. Instead of temporarily halting their businesses altogether, as many have done in other markets, scores of startups in India have explored ways to make the most out of the current unfortunate spell. “This pandemic has given an opportunity to the Indian tech startup ecosystem to have a harder look at the unit-economics of their businesses and become more capital efficient in the shorter and longer-term,” Puneet Kumar, a growth investor in Indian startup ecosystem, told TechCrunch in an interview. Of the few things most Indian state governments have agreed should remain open include grocery shops, and online delivery services for grocery and food. People buy groceries at a supermarket during the first day of the 21-day government-imposed nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Bangalore on March 25, 2020. (Photo by MANJUNATH KIRAN/AFP via Getty Images) E-commerce firms Snapdeal and DealShare began grocery delivery service in late March. The move was soon followed by social-commerce startup Meesho, fitness startup Curefit, and BharatPe, which is best known for facilitating mobile payments between merchants and users. Meesho’s attempt is still in the pilot stage, said Vidit Aatrey, the Facebook-backed startup’s co-founder and chief executive. “We started grocery during the lockdown to give some income opportunities to our sellers and so far it has shown good response. So we are continuing the pilot even after lockdown has lifted,” he said. ClubFactory, best known for selling low-cost beauty items, has also started to deliver grocery products, and so has NoBroker, a Bangalore-based startup that connects apartment seekers with property owners. And MakeMyTrip, a giant that provides solutions to book flight and hotel tickets, has entered the food delivery market. Another such giant, BookMyShow, which sells movie tickets, has in recent weeks rushed to support online events, helping comedians and other artists sell tickets online. The Mumbai-headquartered firm plans to make further inroads around this business idea in the coming days. For some startups, the pandemic has resulted in accelerating the launch of their product cycles. CRED, a Bangalore-based startup that is attempting to help Indians improve their financial behavior by paying their credit card bill on time, launched an instant credit line and apartment rental services. Kunal Shah, the founder and chief executive of CRED, said the startup “fast-tracked the launch” of these two products as they could prove immensely useful in the current environment. For a handful of startups, the pandemic has meant accelerated growth. Unacademy, a Facebook-backed online learning startup, has seen its user base and subscribers count surge in recent months and told TechCrunch that it is in the process of more than doubling the number of exam preparation courses it offers on its platform in the next two months. Since March, the number of users who access the online learning service each day has surged to 700,000. “We have also seen a 200% increase in viewers per week for the free live classes offered on the platform. Additionally there has been a 50% increase in paid subscribers and over 50% increase in average watchtime per day among our subscribers,” a spokesperson said. As with online learning firms, firms operating on-demand video streaming services have also seen a significant rise in the number of users they serve. Zee5, which has amassed over 80 million users, told TechCrunch last week that in a month it will introduce a new category in its app that would curate short-form videos produced and submitted by users. The firm said the feature would look very similar to TikTok. The pandemic “has also accelerated the adoption of online services in India across all demographics. Many who would not have considered buying goods and services online are starting to adopt the online platforms for basic necessities at a faster pace,” said venture capitalist Kumar. “As far as expansion into adjacent categories is concerned, some of this was a natural progression and startups were slowly moving in that direction anyway. The pandemic has forced people to get there faster.” Roosh, a Mumbai-based game developing firm founded by several industry veterans, launched a new app ahead of schedule that allows social influencers to promote games on platforms such as Instagram and TikTok, Deepak Ail, co-founder and chief executive of Roosh, told TechCrunch. ShareChat, a Twitter-backed social network, recently acquired a startup called Elanic to explore opportunities in social-commerce. OkCredit, a bookkeeping service for merchants, has been exploring ways to allow users to purchase items from neighborhood stores. And NowFloats, a Mumbai-based SaaS startup that helps businesses and individuals build an online presence without any web developing skills, is on-boarding doctors to help people consult with medical professionals. Startups are not the only businesses that have scrambled to eye new categories. Established firms such as Carnival Group, which is India’s third-largest multiplex theatre chain, said it is foraying into cloud kitchen business. Amazon, which competes with Walmart’s Flipkart in India, has also secured approval from West Bengal to deliver alcohol in the nation’s fourth most populated state. The e-commerce giant is also exploring ways to work with mom and pop stores that dot tens of thousands of cities and towns of India. Last week, the American giant launched “Smart Stores” that allows shoppers to walk to a participating physical store, scan a QR code, and pick and purchase items through the Amazon app. The firm, which is supplying these mom and pop stores with software and QR code, said more than 10,000 shops are participating in the Smart Stores program.

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Hey everybody, welcome back to Week in Review. Last week, I wrote about Apple’s App Store controversy, which I’m kind of revisiting this week through the lens of how Apple’s WWDC announcements tease a change to what apps fundamentally look like in the future. If you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox here, and follow my tweets here. The Big Story Apple’s App Store has had a controversial month with developers demanding changes to how apps are monetized, but as Apple detailed the next versions of its operating systems at WWDC, it’s clear they believe third-party apps themselves have room to be fundamentally revamped. This week at WWDC, Apple debuted App Clips, a snappy new segment of third party experiences that scales down the idea of an app around just a single feature or two. A user can quickly call up an App Clip via a URL, NFC tag or visual code and download when the right context arises. In a lot of ways it’s just another notification type pinned to more limitations for devs, but the thinking behind it follows Apple’s continued interests to shove third-party integrations deeper inside the operating system itself. We’ve operated an an app paradigm for such a long time, but as Apple thinks about future platforms like AR glasses, it’s kind of clear that grid-based apps aren’t very efficient. The company has learned this pretty slowly with the Apple Watch, but sometimes it’s almost better for third-party experiences to feel like addendums to stock apps rather than operate as dedicated siloed platforms. Complications have been huge for the Apple Watch, but they also highlight how devices with limited screen real estate aren’t great platforms for developers to compete with the device maker. There’s a lot of room for Apple to transform not only how apps are sold and discovered but how they fundamentally operate. It’s clear that Apple is interested in a more contextually rich third-party experience inside iOS. The creation of an internal app store buried within iMessage in iOS 10 was the most aggressive implementation of this, though follow-up on that initiative has been fairly light. This could be extended to other stock apps to augment offerings with third-party tweaks, but Apple would have to move past their reluctance to ship experiences that aren’t good enough their own. The idea of grid-based applications on a home screen isn’t always efficient for users, and while the App Store has delivered huge revenues to the company, it’s clear that Apple is still thinking about how to streamline that experience. Widgets and App Clips focus users on an app’s actual utility, and I’m curious whether that’s actually a good thing for developers. I’d imagine the more time users spend using these bite-sized experiences, the less time they’ll actually click on those apps, dampening those developers’ opportunities to build sustainable platforms. These miniature experiences Apple is pushing developers toward piggyback off a trend that’s long reigned supreme in China. WeChat’s mini-program network is unlike anything that exists in the US. WeChat has long dominated and intrigued Western companies, and while there have been efforts for years to rethink the format of third-party integrations on mobile, few have had success in replacing core functionality that exists in apps downloaded from app stores. It’s unclear whether Apple has any sizable threats who could take this path. Facebook has scaled back their developer platform ambitions significantly in the aftermath of Cambridge Analytica and its developers have been burned enough that Facebook seem ill-positioned to make a play here anytime soon. An exception might be Messenger though its team will have to move past its failed chatbot efforts of several years ago. Earlier this month, Snap announced that it would be integrating lightweight apps into the chat section of Snapchat. The feature launched with just a handful of third party experiences and was integrated into the same section that Snapchat serves up its launcher for mini games. App Clips, Widgets, Siri Suggestions and a host of more minute features paint a vision of more aggressive efforts to bring app experiences closer to the silicon, pulling them outside of the app grid and getting to the gist of their utility. As Apple identifies opportunities to put context at the forefront of how third-party integrations are accessed, how much can they drive developers to their vision of the future without also alienating them? iOS 14’s App Clips will save you from always needing ‘an app for that’ Trending Amazon buys Zoox Amazon is the latest tech giant to buy its way into the self-driving car industry. The company announced Friday that it would acquire the autonomous car startup Zoox. The company raised around $1 billion and the Financial Times reports that Amazon is getting its hands on the company for $1.2 billion. Read more here. Microsoft kills Mixer The race to take down Amazon’s Twitch got a lot more interesting this week when Microsoft shared it was bowing out of the game-streaming race and shutting down its Twitch competitor, Mixer. The service had started with a long road ahead of it which Microsoft aimed to shorten by acquiring exclusive streaming rights to some of the world’s top gaming personalities. Apparently, that wasn’t enough. Read more about it here. Facebook kills Oculus Go This week, I wrote about how Facebook was killing off the cheapest VR device it sells, the $149 Oculus Go headset. The device has already been sold out for weeks, but Facebook’s discontinuation of the two-year-old device comes as a surprise given previous company statements that insinuated it would receive updates down the line. Read more here. Extra Crunch Investors and entrepreneurs are shifting their chats to Zoom, so we’re taking note and hosting live Q&A discussions for our Extra Crunch subscribers with some of tech’s most visible figures. We’ll be hosting these Extra Crunch live chats over the next several weeks. Announcing the Extra Crunch Live event series Later this month, we’ll be talking with Hans Tung and Jeff Richards of GGV Capital Tuesday, June 30 at 12:30pm PT / 3:30pm ET Hans Tung and Jeff Richards are managing partners at GGV Capital, a global VC firm that invests in startups from seed through growth-stage. The firm has invested in well-known companies like Slack, Square, Peloton, Zendesk, Hashicorp, ByteDance, and Airbnb. During our conversation we’ll examine how the duo’s investment appetite has changed in recent months, what it means to be a globally-focused investor amidst a pandemic, and how their mom-and-pop shop investment thesis is working out.

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posted 6 days ago on techcrunch
In the war between subscription video on-demand (SVOD) services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, Starz has been growing on the sidelines and fighting to be the preferred add-on for consumers on top of their primary subscription. That journey has required the longtime premium cable TV network to rethink its target audience, content strategy and pricing. It now has more than a million subscribers on its direct-to-consumer video platform and roughly seven million subscribers when including all the users of other SVOD services in the U.S. who pay for Starz as an add-on. I recently spoke to Jeffrey Hirsch, the company’s CEO since last September (and COO before that), about how he defines Starz’ overall strategy now and the process through which his team determined new pricing, new content strategy and international expansion. Below is our conversation, edited for length and clarity: TechCrunch: Who do you think of as Starz’ core audience? Jeffrey Hirsch: What we found from the data was women were driving our transition from the old world to the new world. We did a bunch of research and realized that women are twice as likely to buy apps under $10, their lifetime value is higher, they are more loyal and they become a guerilla marketing engine for the company. We refined our programming strategy domestically to focus premium content on the female audience. There’s three kinds of demos underneath that: There is a general female point of view, there is an African American female point of view and there is a Latina point of view. If you look at our programming, we got there based on the strength of our show “Power,” which is our biggest show and is 65% African American female, and then “Outlander,” which is over 80% female.

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The Trump administration’s decision to extend its ban on issuing work visas to the end of this year “would be a blow to very early-stage tech companies trying to get off the ground,” Silicon Valley immigration lawyer Sophie Alcorn told TechCrunch this week. In 2019, the federal government issued more than 188,000 H-1B visas — thousands of workers who live in the San Francisco Bay Area and other startup hubs hold H-1B and H-2B visas or J and L visas, which are explicitly prohibited under the president’s ban. Normally, the government would process tens of thousands of visa applications and renewals in October at the start of its fiscal year, but the executive order all but guarantees new visas won’t be granted until 2021. Four TechCrunch staffers analyzed the president’s move in an attempt to see what it portends for the tech industry, the U.S. economy and our national image: Danny Crichton Natasha Mascarenhas Zack Whittaker Alex Wilhelm Danny Crichton: Trump’s ban is a “self-inflicted” blow to our precarious economy America’s economic supremacy is increasingly precarious. Outsourcing and offshoring led to a generational loss of manufacturing skills, management incompetence killed off many of the country’s leading businesses and the nation now competes directly with China and other countries in critical emerging industries like 5G, artificial intelligence and the other alphabet soup of technological acronyms. We have one thing going for us that no other country can rival: our ability to attract top talent. No other country hosts more immigrants, nor does any other country capture the imagination of a greater portion of the world’s top minds. America — whether Silicon Valley, Wall Street, Hollywood, Harvard Square or anywhere in between — is where smart people congregate. Or at least, it was. The coronavirus was the first major blow, partially self-inflicted. Remote work pushed employers toward keeping workers where they are (both domestically and overseas) rather than centralizing them in a handful of corporate HQs. Meanwhile, students — the first step for many talented workers to enter the United States — are taking a pause, fearing renewed outbreaks of COVID-19 in America while much of the rest of the developed world reopens with few cases. The second blow was entirely self-inflicted. Earlier this week, President Donald Trump announced that his administration would halt processing critical worker visas like the H-1B due to the current state of the American economy.

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When “The Politician” debuted on Netflix last year, it divided the hosts of the Original Content podcast. After season two, we were more united: The show is not good. To be clear, “The Politician” is still pretty entertaining, thanks to a consistent dedication to packing as many ridiculous plot twists as possible into any given episode. But the glibness of its approach to contemporary politics feels emptier than ever. As teased at the end of season one, the show has jumped forward a few years from titular politician Payton Hobart’s contentious election for student body president. Payton (played by Ben Platt) is now a student at NYU, and he’s launched a longshot campaign for the seat currently occupied by veteran New York State Senator Dede Standish (Judith Light). While Platt’s performance remains compelling — especially in the rare moments when he gets a chance to sing — Payton still feels like a teenager playacting as a real politician, and his climate change-focused platform feels only distantly related to the concerns of real-world environmental activists. Even worse, Payton is sidelined for stretches of the show as its writers become increasingly obsessed with Standish’s complicated love life. Theoretically, there’s nothing wrong with a series that wants to explore non-traditional relationships, but we couldn’t escape the suspicion that they just thought it was hilarious to make Platt, Light and Bette Middler (playing Standish’s chief of staff Hadassah Gold) say the word “throuple” as often as possible. Before we get to our review, we also discuss our excitement (particularly Anthony’s) after seeing the first trailer for “Foundation,” an adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s classic science fiction series coming to Apple TV+ next year. You can listen to our review in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also follow us on Twitter or send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!) And if you’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down: 0:00 Intro 1:30 “Foundation” discussion 12:02 “The Politician” review 29:29 “The Politician” spoiler discussion

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posted 6 days ago on techcrunch
The Station is a weekly newsletter dedicated to all things transportation. Sign up here — just click The Station — to receive it every Saturday in your inbox. Hi friends and first-time readers. Welcome back to The Station, a newsletter dedicated to all the present and future ways people and packages move from Point A to Point B. I’m your host Kirsten Korosec, senior transportation reporter at TechCrunch. Remember please reach out and email me at [email protected] to share thoughts, criticisms, offer up opinions or tips. You can also send a direct message to me at Twitter — @kirstenkorosec. Typically this space is where I philosophize about a specific event and emerging transportation trend. This week, let’s all take a pause to remember Jessi Combs, who was officially and posthumously declared to hold the fastest land speed record by a woman. The Guinness Book of World Records certified this week the 522.783 mph land speed record that Combs achieved August 27, 2019 in the Alvord Desert in Oregon. Combs died after her vehicle crashed during that run. It’s the first time a new record has been set in this category in more than 40 years. Kitty O’Neil held the record with her 512.7 mph run set back in 1976. Here’s to you Jessi, the fastest woman on earth. Did anyone have trouble keeping up with all the deals, virtual automotive reveals and policy decisions this week? Yeah. Me too. Let’s get to it. Vamos. Micromobbin’ A couple of cities are emerging as new battlegrounds for the shared e-scooter market. New York City is a biggie. This week, the New York City Council approved a bill that will require the New York Department of Transportation to create a pilot program for the operation of shared electric scooters in the city. The DOT now has until October 15, 2020 to issue a request for proposals to participate in a shared e-scooter pilot program. The pilot program must launch by March 1, 2021. The NY council will continue to work with DOT on determining where to set up the pilot (this is the important part). If the pilot program limits the service area it could prove a failure, several e-scooter companies and advocates told me. We know it won’t include Manhattan. That leaves four other boroughs. Just about every e-scooter company — and a number of other less known players — are planning to apply for the permit.  The next nine months promises a lot of lobbying activity. These firms are already busy, according to our sources. Stay tuned! The NY city council also approved two laws about the use of privately owned electric bikes and scooters. Meanwhile, Apple has finally added a new biking feature to Maps. The newest version of iOS is bringing a host of new features to Maps, including a dedicated cycling option that will optimize paths for bicyclists and even let users know if the route includes challenging hills. Apple Maps has included public transit and walking in previous iterations. But the biking option has been the most requested, according to Apple senior director Stacey Lysik. Deal of the week Amazoooooxxxxx. Zamazon? It’s a thing now. In case you missed it, Amazon acquired Zoox. There have been rumors, speculation and reports about the fate of self-driving vehicle startup for months now. The WSJ had the first report in May that Amazon was in talks to acquire the self-driving company. The official announcement, which was issued Friday morning, didn’t reveal much about the terms of the deal except that Zoox CEO Aicha Evans and co-founder and CTO Jesse Levinson will continue to lead Zoox as a standalone business. As you might expect, there was nary a financial figure in sight. The Financial Times put the deal at $1.2 billion and The Information pegged it at “more than $1 billion.” Either way, the acquisition price was well below the $3.2 billion valuation Zoox had achieved two years before. It wasn’t a secret that Zoox was struggling to raise a large enough round. As I’ve stated numerous times before, Zoox has the kind of ambitions that require a mountain of capital. And by mountain, I mean far north of $1 billion. The company isn’t just building the full self-driving stack — essentially the suite of hardware and software that replaces a human driver. It took on the design and development of a new bidirectional electric vehicle with no steering wheel  and it plans to operate a ride-hailing service as well. The upshot: Zoox didn’t have a lot of options. Many automakers, Tier 1 suppliers and tech companies had already formed their various alliances and partnerships, leaving Zoox on its own. Amazon certainly has the resources to help it hit its lofty goals. That is, IF Amazon doesn’t change those goals for Zoox. For now, Amazon is publicly sticking to Zoox’ mission to build and operate a fleet of robotaxis. And we can expect more Amazon flexing in the transportation industry. The e-commerce announced this week a $2 billion Climate Pledge Fund to invest in sustainable technologies and services that will help the company reach its commitment to be net-zero carbon in its operations by 2040. Some of that coin will go towards automation and transportation. Other deals that got our attention …. Self-driving truck startup TuSimple has hired investment bank Morgan Stanley to help it raise $250 million, multiple sources told me. Morgan Stanley recently sent potential investors an informational packet, which I also viewed, that provides a snapshot of the company and an overview of its business model, as well as a pitch on why the company is poised to succeed. TuSimple has raised about $298 million with a valuation of more than $1 billion. Its backers include Sina, operator of China’s biggest microblogging site Weibo, Hong Kong-based investment firm Composite Capital, Nvidia, UPS, CDH Investments, Lavender Capital and Tier 1 supplier Mando Corporation. ADAM CogTech, an Israeli automotive software startup, raised $2 million from Mobilion Ventures, the company said. Mobilion is an early-stage fund that invests in smart mobility, focusing on Israeli and global after-market innovation. Amazon’s $575 million investment into UK food delivery startup Deliveroo has been cleared by the country’s competition regulator. The investment, which was announced more than a year ago, gave Amazon a 16% stake in Deliveroo. Now that CMA has provisionally cleared the deal, it is open for public comments until July 10. A final decision is expected August 6. Cazoo, the British online used car marketplace, raised £25 million at a valuation in excess of $1 billion. Draper Esprit joined existing investors in the round, a group that includes DMG Ventures and General Catalyst. Cazoo has raised more than £200 million to date. DriveU.auto, an Israeli startup that spun out of video transmission technology company LiveU, came out of stealth with $4 million in new funding. The startup has developed a connectivity platform for teleoperations. The funding round was led by RAD group co-founder Zohar Zisapel and included participation from Two Lanterns Venture Partners, Yigal Jacoby, Kaedan Capital and other private investors. Francisco Partners is an existing shareholder. Lucid Motors gave up majority ownership to Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund in exchange for the $1.3 billion investment it closed last year, according to information disclosed in a new lawsuit, the Verge reported. Wired Middle East previously reported the PIF had taken a 67% stake. However, this is the first time an acknowledgment from the company has been made public. Shift Technologies, an online used car marketplace, is in talks to merge with blank-check company Insurance Acquisition Corp., Bloomberg reported. Shift is aiming to be valued at more than $500 million in the deal. Third Wave Automation, a startup developing autonomous forklift technology, emerged from stealth with $15 million in equity financing, VentureBeat reported. Volkswagen is in talks to buy Europcar Mobility Group, the French car rental company that has a market capitalization of 390 million euros ($441 million) and net debt as of more than 1 billion euros, Reuters reported. Truckin’ Trucks have popped up a lot this week, so I figured, heck let’s dig in a bit. The big trendy discussion is about how robotaxis are OUT and autonomous Class 8 trucks are IN. This move towards trucking has actually been happening for awhile now. The niche subcategory in the autonomous vehicle industry was rather empty in 2015 when TuSimple was founded. Then self-driving truck startup Otto came along. Uber’s 2016 acquisition of Otto certainly brought some attention to the sector. But a number of other startups had also thrown their respective hats into the trucking ring, including Embark and the now defunct Starsky Robotics. Today, this sub-industry includes Ike, Kodiak Robotics and Waymo . This week, Amazon-backed Aurora received some press for its “shift” to trucking based off of an interview with co-founder Sterling Anderson during The Information’s Autonomous Vehicle Summit. Let’s be clear, the company has been publicly talking about trucks since at least October 2019. The notable bit is that Anderson shared more about its work with trucks and was clearly bullish on the potential in the marketplace. Together, his comments suggest that the company is prioritizing the development of autonomous trucks over cars. But the company designed a full self-driving stack meant to have a variety of applications, not just passenger cars. In a tweet after the interview, Anderson summarized its whole approach. We’re compelled by a product path that goes from middle mile to last mile to mobility services. If you can swing this technically, it allows for an elegant transition from the largest market (today) with the best unit economics and lowest level of service requirements to smaller, but rapidly growing markets with more challenging unit economics and level of service needs” In other truckin’ news … The California Air Resources Board adopted a new rule to phase out the most polluting vehicles on the road today. The rule will require truck manufacturers to transition from diesel trucks and vans to electric zero-emission trucks beginning in 2024. By 2045, every new truck sold in California will be zero-emission. Russian-Finnish company Zyfra is using 5G technology to replace Wi-Fi/mesh networks used for autonomous mining dump trucks, CNET’s Roadshow reports. Notable reads and other tidbits AVs, ride-hailing, electric vehicles and more! Autonomous vehicles … Didi Chuxing said Saturday (today) that its on-demand robotaxi service will start picking up riders in Shanghai, China. Passengers may start requesting on-demand rides for free on autonomous vehicles within a designated open-traffic area that covers Shanghai’s Automobile Exhibition Center, the local business districts, subway stations and hotels in downtown Shanghai, the company said in a press release. Lyft is using data collected from drivers on its ride-hailing app to accelerate the development of self-driving cars. Lyft’s Level 5 self-driving car program is using the data to build 3D maps, understand human driving patterns and improve simulation tests. The program is taking data from select vehicles in its Express Drive program, which provides rental cars and SUVs to drivers on its platform as an alternative to options like long-term leasing Waymo and Volvo Car Group announced Thursday an “exclusive” partnership to integrate Waymo’s self-driving software into a new electric vehicle designed for ride-hailing. Not a ton of detail about the deal or what “exclusive” means. We know that Volvo and Uber still have a partnership. The deal with Waymo involves integrating its self-driving stack into an “all-new mobility-focused electric vehicle platform for ride hailing services.”  The partnership also includes other subsidiaries under Volvo Car Group, including electric performance brand Polestar and Lynk & Co. International, a point that Volvo Car Group CTO Henrik Green specifically noted in his prepared statement. Mercedes-Benz and Nvidia announced a partnership to bring “software-defined” vehicles to market. The automaker’s next-generation vehicles will have a software-centric computing architecture based on Nvidia’s Drive AGX Orin computer system-on-a-chip. The underlying architecture will be standard in Mercedes vehicles, starting sometime toward the end of 2024. It’s electric … Apple has added a routing feature to Maps that’s designed for electric vehicle owners. The EV routing feature, which will be available in the newest version of iOS, will show charging stations compatible to a user’s electric vehicle along their route. TechCrunch’s Romain Dillet got a bit more information on this feature. He tells me that users will be able to enter their car model in the app, which will provide stops. The user can tap on the stops to see if the charging station is free or not. On sidenote, Apple is also releasing a feature that will prompt you to raise your phone and scan buildings across the street to refine your location. This feature is based on Look Around, a Google Street View-inspired feature that lets you look around as if you were walking down the street. Arrival revealed a zero-emission bus, the next step in the company to become a major electric transportation company, the Verge reported. Ars Technica digs into one Ohio city’s plan to get more people to buy electric cars. Hint: it worked. Lordstown Motors unveiled an electric pickup truck prototype with four in-wheel hub motors and a few other features all aimed squarely at attracting contractors and other buyers in the commercial market. The Ohio startup didn’t get too deep into the details about the electric pickup truck known as Endurance. But we know a few more bits such as a $52,500 base price and some partnerships. Tesla CEO Elon Musk said on Twitter that September 15 is the “tentative date” for the “Tesla Shareholder Meeting & Battery Day,” which will include the usual shareholder meeting as well as a tour of the automaker’s cell production system for the batteries that provide the power for its vehicles. Speaking of Tesla … the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has opened a preliminary investigation into allegations of failing touchscreens on Tesla’s older Model S vehicles. Ride-hailing … Lyft has agreed to settle a lawsuit from the U.S. Department of Justice that alleges the ridesharing company discriminated against disabled people — specifically those who use foldable wheelchairs or walkers. Miscellaneous … Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs plans to spin out some of its smart city ideas into separate companies focused on mass timber construction, affordable electrification and planning tools optimized with machine learning and computation design, CEO Daniel Doctoroff said at Collision from Home conference, VentureBeat reported. Ford’s Michigan Central is collaborating with Brooklyn-based Newlab to launch two “Innovation Studios” focused on solving complex transportation industry problems related to connectivity, autonomy and electrification. A corporate studio sponsored by Ford will kick off this summer to address macro mobility issues. A second civic studio will follow focusing on more immediate mobility issues in the neighborhoods around Michigan Central Station. In 2018, Ford acquired 1.2 million square feet in Corktown, Detroit’s oldest neighborhood, including the historic Michigan Central Station, with plans to establish a new mobility innovation district called Michigan Central. The first work spaces are expected to open within Michigan Central in 2022. GM turned to 3D printing for a C8 Corvette prototype. In the end, 75% of the vehicle was 3D printed, Car and Driver reported. See ya’ll next week!

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Editor’s note: Get this free weekly recap of TechCrunch news that any startup can use by email every Saturday morning (7am PT). Subscribe here. While the US tech industry relentlessly tries to do business with the rest of the world, this week it became further embroiled in national politics. High-skill immigration visas have been suspended until the end of the year by the Trump administration, precluding thousands of present and future startup employees and founders from coming to the US and building companies here. Instead, the suspension is another accelerant to the global remote work trend that had already been a thing for many of us this decade, that has just been pushed to the mainstream because of the pandemic. For anyone trying to find great people to hire, the next funding check, or new markets, virtual solutions are often the only solutions available today. Our resident immigration law expert, Sophie Alcorn, has been covering the issue in-depth this week, including an explainer about the crucial role of immigration in the economy for TechCrunch, and for Extra Crunch, an overview of what you can do if you’re affected. For subscribers, she also wrote about the impact of the Supreme Court overturning Trump’s termination of DACA. On a personal note, our global editorial staff is looking forward to resuming our global events schedule as soon as possible regardless of these national political issues. We’re here for the startup world. In the meantime, here’s Alex Ames on how we’re connecting virtual Disrupt attendees this year. Image Credits: Nigel Sussman (opens in a new window) New York tech after the pandemic The big industries and big-city amenities that have made New York City what it is are going to help power it forward even as more people and jobs appear to be heading away from city centers. At least that’s my takeaway from reading the 11 investors who Anthony Ha talked to this week in an Extra Crunch survey about the future of the startup hub. First, even if you can work from anywhere, millions of people will prefer that place to be New York — with the big-city housing supply, networking opportunities and amenities to attract people like before. Second, many key industries like finance, real estate, enterprise software, health care, media and other consumer products are not dying but being reinvented, and appear to be maintaining their centers in the city. Here’s Alexa von Tobel of Inspired Capital: I’ve seen NYC grow into the powerful startup hub it’s become over the last decade, and I think that momentum will continue. Now that we’ve learned high productivity is indeed possible remotely, we expect to see companies maintain some element of a remote workforce within their broad hiring plans. But for startups in their earliest stages, I think there’s still a power to sitting side by side as you build a business. When founders are making their first hires and inking their first deals, NYC remains an incredible place to do that. Some of those industry reinventions are more exciting than others. In a separate survey, Anthony talked to 5 investors who have tended to focus on advertising and marketing tech… the good news is that advertising and marketing costs are dropping and tech-driven efficiency is improving for the world. For founders in the space, though, the challenges have only grown as the pandemic has forced more ad budget cuts on top of shifts to the largest platforms. As John Elton of Greycroft put it: Only the next technology breakthrough will provide fertile ground for the next wave of innovation, just as mobile and internet breakthroughs gave rise to today’s giants. Perhaps machine learning is that type of breakthrough, so we are looking at companies that use machine learning to dramatically improve what is possible in the space. The issue there is the scaled players are also very good at machine learning, so it may not be a technology that provides the same opportunity as prior disruptions. TIm O’Reilly O’Reilly talks investing beyond the VC financial bubble Tim O’Reilly has been going a different route from much of Silicon Valley in recent years. While his publishing company, series of conferences, essays and investments have helped to shape the modern internet for decades, he says that venture capital has gone wrong. Here’s more from an interview on with Connie Loizos on TechCrunch this week: [I]’ve been really disillusioned with Silicon Valley investing for a long time. It reminds me of Wall Street going up to 2008. The idea was, ‘As long as someone wants to buy this [collateralized debt obligation], we’re good.’ Nobody is thinking about: Is this a good product? So many things that what VCs have created are really financial instruments like those CDOs. They aren’t really thinking about whether this is a company that could survive on revenue from its customers. Deals are designed entirely around an exit. As long as you can get some sucker to take them, [you’re good]. So many acquisitions fail, for example, but the VCs are happy because — guess what? — they got their exit. His firm, O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures, has instead been focused in recent years on funding founders who are creating a product that is valued by customers and generates sustainable cash flow, on terms that incentivize organic growth.   They wrote your first check Last week we launched a new effort to highlight investors who were the first to back your big and (increasingly) successful idea. It’s gotten a great response so far. From Danny Crichton: Well, the TechCrunch community came through, since in just a few days, we’ve already received more than 500 proposals from founders recommending VCs who wrote their first checks and who have been particularly helpful in fundraising and getting a round closed. If you haven’t submitted a recommendation, please help us using the form linked here. The short survey takes five minutes, and could save founders dozens of hours armed with the right intel. Our editorial team is carefully processing these submissions to ensure their veracity and accuracy, and the more data points we have, the better the List can be for founders. Check out Danny Crichton’s full post on TechCrunch for answers to questions that we’ve gotten frequently so far. Across the week TechCrunch: A look at tech salaries and how they could change as more employees go remote Apple will soon let developers challenge App Store rules China’s GPS competitor is now fully launched GDPR’s two-year review flags lack of ‘vigorous’ enforcement The Exchange: IPO season, self-driving misfires and a fintech letdown Extra Crunch: What went wrong with Quibi? Four perspectives: Will Apple trim App Store fees? 4 enterprise developer trends that will shape 2021 Ideas for a post-COVID-19 workplace Plaid’s Zach Perret: ‘Every company is a fintech company’ Volcker Rule reforms expand options for raising VC funds Around TechCrunch Register for next week’s Pitches & Pitchers session Join GGV’s Hans Tung and Jeff Richards for a live Q&A: June 30 at 3:30 pm EDT/12:30 pm PDT Airtable’s Howie Liu to join us at Disrupt 2020 Zoom founder and CEO Eric Yuan will speak at Disrupt 2020 How to supercharge your virtual networking at Disrupt 2020 #EquityPod From Alex Wilhelm: Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines. This week was a bit feisty, but that’s only because Danny Crichton and Natasha Mascarenhas and I were all in pretty good spirits. It would have been hard to not be, given how much good stuff there was to chew over. We kicked off with two funding rounds from companies that had received a headwind from COVID-19: Away raises new capital, reported to be $30 million to $40 million after revenue declines Sonder raises $170 million at a higher $1.3 billion valuation after seeing its hospitality business recover Those two rounds, however, represented just one side of the COVID coin. There were also companies busy riding a COVID-tailwind to the tune of new funds: Hopin raised a $40 million Series A as its virtual events business accelerated DoNotPay raised an $18 million round at an $80 million valuation But we had room for one more story. So, we talked a bit about Robinhood, its business model and the recent suicide of one of its users. It’s an awful moment for the family of the human we lost, but also a good moment for Robinhood to batten the hatches a bit on how its service works. How far the company will go, however, in limiting access to certain financial tooling, will be interesting to see. The company generates lots of revenue from its order-flow business, and options are a key part of those incomes. Robinhood is therefore balancing the need to protect its users and make money from their actions. How they thread this needle will be quite interesting. All that and we had a lot of fun. Thanks for tuning in, and follow the show on Twitter! Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify and all the casts.

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