Jan
08
2021
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Extra Crunch roundup: 2 VC surveys, Tesla’s melt up, The Roblox Gambit, more

This has been quite a week.

Instead of walking backward through the last few days of chaos and uncertainty, here are three good things that happened:

  • Google employee Sara Robinson combined her interest in machine learning and baking to create AI-generated hybrid treats.
  • A breakthrough could make water desalination 30%-40% more effective.
  • Bianca Smith will become the first Black woman to coach a professional baseball team.

Despite many distractions in our first full week of the new year, we published a full slate of stories exploring different aspects of entrepreneurship, fundraising and investing.

We’ve already gotten feedback on this overview of subscription pricing models, and a look back at 2020 funding rounds and exits among Israel’s security startups was aimed at our new members who live and work there, along with international investors who are seeking new opportunities.

Plus, don’t miss our first investor surveys of 2021: one by Lucas Matney on social gaming, and another by Mike Butcher that gathered responses from Portugal-based investors on a wide variety of topics.

Thanks very much for reading Extra Crunch this week. I hope we can all look forward to a nice, boring weekend with no breaking news alerts.

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist


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The Roblox Gambit

In February 2020, gaming platform Roblox was valued at $4 billion, but after announcing a $520 million Series H this week, it’s now worth $29.5 billion.

“Sure, you could argue that Roblox enjoyed an epic 2020, thanks in part to COVID-19,” writes Alex Wilhelm this morning. “That helped its valuation. But there’s a lot of space between $4 billion and $29.5 billion.”

Alex suggests that Roblox’s decision to delay its IPO and raise an enormous Series H was a grandmaster move that could influence how other unicorns will take themselves to market. “A big thanks to the gaming company for running this experiment for us.”

I asked him what inspired the headline; like most good ideas, it came to him while he was trying to get to sleep.

“I think that I had ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ somewhere in my head, so that formed the root of a little joke with myself. Roblox is making a strategic wager on method of going public. So, ‘gambit’ seems to fit!”

8 investors discuss social gaming’s biggest opportunities

girl playing games on desktop computer

Image Credits: Erik Von Weber (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

For our first investor survey of the year, Lucas Matney interviewed eight VCs who invest in massively multiplayer online games to discuss 2021 trends and opportunities:

  • Hope Cochran, Madrona Venture Group
  • Daniel Li, Madrona Venture Group
  • Niko Bonatsos, General Catalyst
  • Ethan Kurzweil, Bessemer Venture Partners
  • Sakib Dadi, Bessemer Venture Partners
  • Jacob Mullins, Shasta Ventures
  • Alice Lloyd George, Rogue
  • Gigi Levy-Weiss, NFX

Having moved far beyond shooters and sims, platforms like Twitch, Discord and Fortnite are “where culture is created,” said Daniel Li of Madrona.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez uses Twitch to explain policy positions, major musicians regularly perform in-game concerts on Fortnite and in-game purchases generated tens of billions last year.

“Gaming is a unique combination of science and art, left and right brain,” said Gigi Levy-Weiss of NFX. “It’s never just science (i.e., software and data), which is why many investors find it hard.”

How to convert customers with subscription pricing

Giant hand and magnet picking up office and workers

Image Credits: C.J. Burton (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Startups that lack insight into their sales funnel have high churn, low conversion rates and an inability to adapt or leverage changes in customer behavior.

If you’re hoping to convert and retain customers, “reinforcing your value proposition should play a big part in every level of your customer funnel,” says Joe Procopio, founder of Teaching Startup.

What is up with Tesla’s value?

Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX and chief executive officer of Tesla Inc., arrives at the Axel Springer Award ceremony in Berlin, Germany, on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020. Tesla Inc. will be added to the S&P 500 Index in one shot on Dec. 21, a move that will ripple through the entire market as money managers adjust their portfolios to make room for shares of the $538 billion company. Photographer: Liesa Johannssen-Koppitz/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Image Credits: Bloomberg (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Alex Wilhelm followed up his regular Friday column with another story that tries to find a well-grounded rationale for Tesla’s sky-high valuation of approximately $822 billion.

Meanwhile, GM just unveiled a new logo and tagline.

As ever, I learned something new while editing: A “melt up” occurs when investors start clamoring for a particular company because of acute FOMO (the fear of missing out).

Delivering 500,000 cars in 2020 was “impressive,” says Alex, who also acknowledged the company’s ability to turn GAAP profits, but “pride cometh before the fall, as does a melt up, I think.”

Note: This story has Alex’s original headline, but I told him I would replace the featured image with a photo of someone who had very “richest man in the world” face.

How Segment redesigned its core systems to solve an existential scaling crisis

Abstract glowing grid and particles

Image Credits: piranka / Getty Images

On Tuesday, enterprise reporter Ron Miller covered a major engineering project at customer data platform Segment called “Centrifuge.”

“Its purpose was to move data through Segment’s data pipes to wherever customers needed it quickly and efficiently at the lowest operating cost,” but as Ron reports, it was also meant to solve “an existential crisis for the young business,” which needed a more resilient platform.

Dear Sophie: Banging my head against the wall understanding the US immigration system

Image Credits: Sophie Alcorn

Dear Sophie:

Now that the U.S. has a new president coming in whose policies are more welcoming to immigrants, I am considering coming to the U.S. to expand my company after COVID-19. However, I’m struggling with the morass of information online that has bits and pieces of visa types and processes.

Can you please share an overview of the U.S. immigration system and how it works so I can get the big picture and understand what I’m navigating?

— Resilient in Romania

The first “Dear Sophie” column of each month is available on TechCrunch without a paywall.

Revenue-based financing: The next step for private equity and early-stage investment

Shot of a group of people holding plants growing out of soil

Image Credits: Hiraman (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

For founders who aren’t interested in angel investment or seeking validation from a VC, revenue-based investing is growing in popularity.

To gain a deeper understanding of the U.S. RBI landscape, we published an industry report on Wednesday that studied data from 134 companies, 57 funds and 32 investment firms before breaking out “specific verticals and business models … and the typical profile of companies that access this form of capital.”

Lisbon’s startup scene rises as Portugal gears up to be a European tech tiger

Man using laptop at 25th of April Bridge in Lisbon, Portugal

Image Credits: Westend61 (opens in a new window)/ Getty Images

Mike Butcher continues his series of European investor surveys with his latest dispatch from Lisbon, where a nascent startup ecosystem may get a Brexit boost.

Here are the Portugal-based VCs he interviewed:

  • Cristina Fonseca, partner, Indico Capital Partners
  • Pedro Ribeiro Santos, partner, Armilar Venture Partners
  • Tocha, partner, Olisipo Way
  • Adão Oliveira, investment manager, Portugal Ventures
  • Alexandre Barbosa, partner, Faber
  • António Miguel, partner, Mustard Seed MAZE
  • Jaime Parodi Bardón, partner, impACT NOW Capital
  • Stephan Morais, partner, Indico Capital Partners
  • Gavin Goldblatt, managing partner, Portugal Gateway

How late-stage edtech companies are thinking about tutoring marketplaces

Life Rings flying out beneath storm clouds are a metaphor for rescue, help and aid.

Image Credits: John Lund (opens in a new window)/ Getty Images

How do you scale online tutoring, particularly when demand exceeds the supply of human instructors?

This month, Chegg is replacing its seven-year-old marketplace that paired students with tutors with a live chatbot.

A spokesperson said the move will “dramatically differentiate our offerings from our competitors and better service students,” but Natasha Mascarenhas identified two challenges to edtech automation.

“A chatbot won’t work for a student with special needs or someone who needs to be handheld a bit more,” she says. “Second, speed tutoring can only work for a specific set of subjects.”

Decrypted: How bad was the US Capitol breach for cybersecurity?

Image Credits: Treedeo (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

While I watched insurrectionists invade and vandalize the U.S. Capitol on live TV, I noticed that staffers evacuated so quickly, some hadn’t had time to shut down their computers.

Looters even made off with a laptop from Senator Jeff Merkley’s office, but according to security reporter Zack Whittaker, the damages to infosec wasn’t as bad as it looked.

Even so, “the breach will likely present a major task for Congress’ IT departments, which will have to figure out what’s been stolen and what security risks could still pose a threat to the Capitol’s network.”

Extra Crunch’s top 10 stories of 2020

On New Year’s Eve, I made a list of the 10 “best” Extra Crunch stories from the previous 12 months.

My methodology was personal: From hundreds of posts, these were the 10 I found most useful, which is my key metric for business journalism.

Some readers are skeptical about paywalls, but without being boastful, Extra Crunch is a premium product, just like Netflix or Disney+. I know, we’re not as entertaining as a historical drama about the reign of Queen Elizabeth II or a space western about a bounty hunter. But, speaking as someone who’s worked at several startups, Extra Crunch stories contain actionable information you can use to build a company and/or look smart in meetings — and that’s worth something.

Sep
22
2020
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Uber for Business introduces a couple of commuting options to get to the office during the pandemic

Uber for Business, the business side of the consumer ridesharing service, has typically focused on helping companies track their Uber expenses, but during a pandemic, needs have changed. It’s no longer about getting employees to and from the airport or shuttling an important client from the hotel to the office, it’s about getting essential personnel to the office safely, and to that end, Uber introduced a couple of new business commuting options today.

“Uber for Business is really about how we allow organizations of all shapes and sizes around the world to leverage the great consumer technology that Uber makes available, for business purposes,” Ronnie Gurion, global head at Uber for Business told TechCrunch.

While the business side of the house helps employees charge business-related Uber rides to their employers, it can now help them choose a couple of commuting options beyond the standard ridesharing everyone has access to, regardless of who is paying the bill.

For starters, the company is introducing Employee Group Rides. Group might be an overstatement, as it involves two employees in the same area sharing an Uber for the purpose of getting to or from work. It works in a similar fashion to the way Uber Pool worked, except it only involves matching employees at the same company.

In terms of safety, Gurion says that Uber sees this as a “transit bubble” with employees who are working together anyway willing to share a car together. “We’re seeing that companies are finding this option to be more attractive because they are comfortable putting more than one person in the same office in the same car, when they’re going to be in the same office together anyway, once they get to the office. So, it makes things a little more socially distant or creates a social transit bubble, so to speak, to get people to and from the office,” he explained.

Uber Business Charter in Uber app

Image Credits: Uber

The second option is called Business Charter, and this involves Uber connecting the customer to a third-party fleet partner, who can pick up multiple employees and bring them to the office.

“A company can come and create a commute program with Uber across sedans, SUVs, vans and buses, and based on the employee base and commuting data, it might order 20 sedans and X number of our [larger] vehicles, and decide how to deploy them — and we can do that, and those vehicles will only accept rides from that employer,” Gurion said.

As for commuting during the pandemic, Gurion points out that these programs are being introduced in the EMEA, APAC and North American regions for starters, and that each of these geographies is in different places in terms of COVID. “Not every market looks like the U.S. There are a wide range of situations, but core safety issues are relevant everywhere,” he said.

While Uber has instituted a safety program to help ensure both drivers and passengers are wearing masks, and has devoted $50 million to providing cleaning supplies to drivers, they don’t have a formal testing program in place for drivers, Gurion said. How comfortable employees are with these arrangements will likely depend on individual preferences.

In addition to these commuting options, Uber for Business also offers Uber Eats for Business, a food delivery service geared for business users, and Uber Direct, a package delivery platform.

Apr
03
2020
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In the wake of COVID-19, UK puts up £20M in grants to develop resilience tech for critical industries

Most of the world — despite the canaries in the coal mine — was unprepared to cope with the coronavirus outbreak that’s now besieging us. Now, work is starting to get underway both to help manage what is going on now and better prepare us in the future. In the latest development, the UK government today announced that it will issue £20 million ($24.5 million) in grants of up to £50,000 each to startups and other businesses that are developing tools to improve resilience for critical industries — in other words, those that need to keep moving when something cataclysmic like a pandemic hits.

You can start your application here. Unlike a lot of other government efforts, this one is aimed at a quick start: you need to be ready to kick of your project using the grant no later than June 2020, but earlier is okay, too.

Awarded through Innovate UK, which part of UK Research and Innovation (itself a division of the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), the grants will be available to businesses of any size as long as they are UK-registered, and aim to cover a wide swathe of industries that form the core fabric of how society and the economy can continue to operate.

“The Covid-19 situation is not just a health emergency, but also one that effects the economy and society. With that in mind, Innovate UK has launched this rapid response competition today seeking smart ideas from innovators,” said Dr Ian Campbell Executive Chair, Innovate UK, in a statement. “These could be proposals to help the distribution of goods, educate children remotely, keep families digitally connected and even new ideas to stream music and entertainment. The UK needs a great national effort and Innovate UK is helping by unleashing the power of innovation for people and businesses in need.”

These include not just what are typically considered “critical” industries like healthcare and food production and distribution, but also those that are less tangible but equally important in keeping society running smoothly, like entertainment and wellbeing services:

  • community support services
  • couriers and delivery (rural and/or city based)
  • education and culture
  • entertainment (live entertainment, music, etc.)
  • financial services
  • food manufacture and processing
  • healthcare
  • hospitality
  • personal protection equipment
  • remote working
  • retail
  • social care
  • sport and recreation
  • transport
  • wellbeing

The idea is to introduce new technologies and processes that will support existing businesses and organizations, not use the funding to build new startups from scratch. Those getting the funding could already be businesses in these categories, or building tools to help companies that fall under these themes.

The grants were announced at a time where we are seeing a huge surge of companies step up to the challenge of helping communities and countries cope with COVID-19. That’s included not only those that already made medical supplies increase production, but a number of other businesses step in and try to help where they can, or recalibrate what they normally do to make their factories or other assets more useful. (For example, in the UK, Rolls Royce, Airbus and the Formula 1 team are all working on ventilators and other hospital equipment, a model of industry retooling that has been seen in many other countries, too.)

That trend is what helped to inspire this newest wave of non-equity grants.

“The response of researchers and businesses to the coronavirus outbreak have been remarkable,” said Science Minister Amanda Solloway in a statement. “This new investment will support the development of technologies that can help industries, communities and individuals adapt to new ways of working when situations like this, and other incidents, arise.”

The remit here is intentionally open-ended but will likely be shaped by some of the shortcomings and cracks that have been appearing in recent weeks while systems get severely stress-tested.

So, unsurprisingly, the sample innovations that UK Innovate cites appear to directly relate to that. They include things like technology to help respond to spikes in online consumer demand — every grocery service in the online and physical world has been overwhelmed by customer traffic, leading to sites crashing, people leaving stores disappointed at what they cannot find, and general panic. Or services for families to connect with and remotely monitor vulnerable relatives: while Zoom and the rest have seen huge surges in traffic, there are still too many people on the other side of the digital divide who cannot access or use these. And better education tools: again, there are thousands of edtech companies in the world, but in the UK at least, I wouldn’t say that the educational authorities had done even a small degree of disaster planning, leaving individual schools to scramble and figure out ways to keep teaching remotely that works for everyone (again not always easy with digital divides, safeguarding and other issues).

None of this can cure coronavirus or stop another pandemic from happening — there are plenty of others that are working very squarely on that now, too — but these are equally critical to get right to make sure that a health disaster doesn’t extend into a more permanent economic or societal one.

More information and applications are here.

Feb
04
2020
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Emerge raises $20M to take its digital freight marketplace for truckers up a gear

Trucking is currently the most popular mode of transporting freight in the U.S., accounting for around $12.5 billion of the $17 billion freight market, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. But with thousands of small and single-vehicle operators and legacy (often paper-based) systems underpinning communications, it’s also one of the most inefficient.

Now there are signs that this is changing. A startup out of Phoenix, Ariz. called Emerge, which has built a platform for shippers and brokers to find and allocate truck freight more effectively across the long tail of available truck-based carriers (a little like a Flexport but for trucks), is announcing a round of $20 million, funding it will use to continue building out its technology, as well as to keep expanding business.

The Series A — led by NewRoad Capital Partners, with previous investors Greycroft and 9Yards Capital also participating — comes on the heels of some already strong traction for Emerge. Since being founded in 2018 by brothers Andrew and Michael Leto, the company has processed more than $1 billion in freight with 1,500% year-over-year growth between 2018 and 2019. Emerge has now raised just over $40 million and we understand that its valuation is currently at more than $100 million. 

Some of its traction so far is down to the founders. Both are vets of the trucking industry whose previous company, a multimodal shipment visibility/supply chain solutions platform called 10-4, sold to Trimble in a $400 million deal. And some of that is down to the gap in the market that Emerge is filling.

“Gap” is actually the operative word here. How shipments are booked on trucks today is quite inefficient, with orders often leaving empty spaces on truck beds that could be filled with goods going in the same direction; and in about 20% of all journeys carrying no load at all.

Part of the reason for this is the antiquated way that shippers book space on trucks, and part of the reason is because there is just simply too much fragmentation in the system, with 80% of all shipments today contract-based and the remaining 20% operating as a “spot market” and booked on the fly, and neither of them particularly efficient when it comes to truck occupancy. (Most of the latter spot market is booked through spreadsheets and email, Michael Leto, the CEO, said in an interview.)

Emerge’s solution is something of a stick-and-carrot approach that reminds me a little also of how advertising exchanges work.

A shipper that wants to use the Emerge platform essentially activates/lists its entire inventory of truck providers on the platform to get started. That list and inventory, in turn, become part of a bigger database of other providers: and again, this is a long-tail approach, with typically the trucking companies on the platform having no more than 200 trucks (and often fewer) in their fleets.

Then, when a shipper goes to Emerge to book a shipment, options are provided that might include previous truckers, but might also include others. The idea is that this provides a more efficient picture, and that in turn gets passed on as cost savings to the customers, who can typically reduce shipping costs by as much as 20% using the platform.

If the cost savings and expanded choice are the carrots, the stick comes in the form of the requirement to upload truck data and share it with other shippers: you can’t use the system without doing it.

“But it’s a network effect,” Leto explained when I asked if Emerge ever saw resistance to the model. “We allow these companies to share capacity to drive efficiencies, and to drive and lower costs with less deadhead miles. There are a lot of benefits to capacity sharing.” It doesn’t seem to have deterred too many in any case. There are currently some 30,000 carrier profiles on the platform, and 12,000 transportation entities — including carriers, brokers or other shippers — transacted in Q4 alone, speaking to activity on the platform being strong. 

Emerge is not the only company that has identified the opportunity in providing a better and more updated platform to communicate and book space in the fragmented truck market. Sennder out of Berlin — which last year raised a sizeable round of funding — has also built a platform to centralise communications around booking shipments. It, however, seems to have less of an emphasis on encouraging shippers to take the lead in expanding that network effect that Leto describes.

Others that are tackling the wider shipping and logistics market and trying to improve how it runs include Sendy out of Kenya, which recently also announced a $20 million raise; Flexport, which now has a $3.2 billion valuation; Zencargo, which has also raised $20 million; and FreightHub ($30 million), Bringg ($25 million) and NEXT ($97 million).

But within that, Emerge’s performance so far, coupled with the Leto brothers’ history as founders, is giving the startup some extra mileage as we enter the next phase of what trucking might hold, which could include a critical mass of autonomous and electric vehicles on pre-defined routes.

“Uniquely, Emerge combines an exciting new technology designed to serve existing, unmet market need with experienced industry operators and entrepreneurs,” said Tracy Black of NewRoad in a statement. “Andrew and Michael are building the most innovative marketplace we’ve seen in the freight and digital marketplace industry — bringing contracts and carriers together to create new capacity. We are excited to be leading their Series A and I am thrilled to join the board to support their growth.”

Jul
31
2019
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Calling all hardware startups! Apply to Hardware Battlefield @ TC Shenzhen

Got hardware? Well then, listen up, because our search continues for boundary-pushing, early-stage hardware startups to join us in Shenzhen, China for an epic opportunity; launch your startup on a global stage and compete in Hardware Battlefield at TC Shenzhen on November 11-12.

Apply here to compete in TC Hardware Battlefield 2019. Why? It’s your chance to demo your product to the top investors and technologists in the world. Hardware Battlefield, cousin to Startup Battlefield, focuses exclusively on innovative hardware because, let’s face it, it’s the backbone of technology. From enterprise solutions to agtech advancements, medical devices to consumer product goods — hardware startups are in the international spotlight.

If you make the cut, you’ll compete against 15 of the world’s most innovative hardware makers for bragging rights, plenty of investor love, media exposure and $25,000 in equity-free cash. Just participating in a Battlefield can change the whole trajectory of your business in the best way possible.

We chose to bring our fifth Hardware Battlefield to Shenzhen because of its outstanding track record of supporting hardware startups. The city achieves this through a combination of accelerators, rapid prototyping and world-class manufacturing. What’s more, TC Hardware Battlefield 2019 takes place as part of the larger TechCrunch Shenzhen that runs November 9-12.

Creativity and innovation no know boundaries, and that’s why we’re opening this competition to any early-stage hardware startup from any country. While we’ve seen amazing hardware in previous Battlefields — like robotic armsfood testing devicesmalaria diagnostic tools, smart socks for diabetics and e-motorcycles, we can’t wait to see the next generation of hardware, so bring it on!

Meet the minimum requirements listed below, and we’ll consider your startup:

Here’s how Hardware Battlefield works. TechCrunch editors vet every qualified application and pick 15 startups to compete. Those startups receive six rigorous weeks of free coaching. Forget stage fright. You’ll be prepped and ready to step into the spotlight.

Teams have six minutes to pitch and demo their products, which is immediately followed by an in-depth Q&A with the judges. If you make it to the final round, you’ll repeat the process in front of a new set of judges.

The judges will name one outstanding startup the Hardware Battlefield champion. Hoist the Battlefield Cup, claim those bragging rights and the $25,000. This nerve-wracking thrill-ride takes place in front of a live audience, and we capture the entire event on video and post it to our global audience on TechCrunch.

Hardware Battlefield at TC Shenzhen takes place on November 11-12. Don’t hide your hardware or miss your chance to show us — and the entire tech world — your startup magic. Apply to compete in TC Hardware Battlefield 2019, and join us in Shenzhen!

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Hardware Battlefield at TC Shenzhen? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

Apr
02
2019
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Microsoft teams up with BMW for the IoT-focused Open Manufacturing Platform

Car companies are making big investments in technology to help ensure that they are not cut out of the next generation of transportation and automotive manufacturing, and today came the latest development in that trend.

The BMW Group and Microsoft announced they would team up in a new effort called the Open Manufacturing Platform, aimed at developing and encouraging more collaborative IoT development in the manufacturing sector, focusing on smart factory solutions and building standards to develop them in areas like machine connectivity and on-premises systems integration.

The two companies have not disclosed how much they intend to invest in the project — we have sent a message to ask. The plan will be to bring in more manufacturers and suppliers — the goal, they say, is to have between four and six others with them, working on 15 use cases by the end of this year — working with open source components, open industrial standards and open data to develop both hardware and software that runs on it.

The two say that future partners do not have to be from within the automotive industry.

The OMP will be built on Microsoft’s industrial IoT platform — part of its Azure cloud business. But this is a natural progression of how Microsoft and BMW were already working together. BMW already has 3,000 machines running on Azure cloud, IoT and AI services in its existing robots and in-factory autonomous transport systems, and it said it will be contributing some of the technology that it had already built — for example around its self-driving systems — into the group as part of the effort.

“Microsoft is joining forces with the BMW Group to transform digital production efficiency across the industry,” Scott Guthrie, executive vice president, Microsoft Cloud + AI Group, said in a presentation in Germany today. “Our commitment to building an open community will create new opportunities for collaboration across the entire manufacturing value chain.”

“Mastering the complex task of producing individualized premium products requires innovative IT and software solutions,” added Oliver Zipse, member of the Board of Management of BMW AG, Production, a statement. “The interconnection of production sites and systems as well as the secure integration of partners and suppliers are particularly important. We have been relying on the cloud since 2016 and are consistently developing new approaches. With the Open Manufacturing Platform as the next step, we want to make our solutions available to other companies and jointly leverage potential in order to secure our strong position in the market in the long term.”

The problem that Microsoft and BMW are going after here is a longstanding one. Much of the computing in the world of IT has been built around open standards, or in any event on very widely-used proprietary platforms that can interface with each other. The same does not go in the world of manufacturing, where proprietary systems are specific to each manufacturer, making them difficult to modify and often impossible to use in conjunction with other proprietary systems.

That ultimately slows down how things have been able to evolve, and will mean that implementing new generations of technology becomes expensive or even in some cases impossible. And given the speed with which things are moving, and the increasing sophistication of the machines that are being built (cars as “hardware”), something had to change.

That is what BMW and Microsoft are addressing. For BMW it will give it a hand in helping shape how standards develop, and for Microsoft it will give it a potential window into expanding its business in this enterprise sector.

The collaborative approach has been a big one for tech companies hoping to find a common way forward in the future of computing. Microsoft may own a lot of proprietary platforms that are not open source, but it’s making efforts to collaborate more in a number of other ways. It works with SAP, Adobe, WPP and others on the Open Data Initiative; with Intel, Google and others it’s working on an open standard for connecting data centers; it’s part of an open standard initiative for software licensing; and it’s part of a new cross-licensing patent database.

Jan
08
2019
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Baidu announces Apollo Enterprise, its new platform for mass-produced autonomous vehicles

Baidu made several big announcements about Apollo, its open-source autonomous vehicle technology platform, today at CES. The first is the launch of Apollo Enterprise for vehicles that will be put into mass production. The company claims that Apollo is already used by 130 partners around the world. One of its newest partners, Chinese electric vehicle startup WM Motors, plans to deploy level 3 autonomous vehicles by 2021.

Apollo Enterprise’s main product lines will include solutions for highway autonomous driving; autonomous valet parking; fully autonomous mini-buses; an intelligent map data service platform; and DuerOS (Baidu’s voice assistant) for cars.

Baidu also released Apollo 3.5, the latest version of its platform, which now supports “complex urban and suburban driving environments.” Apollo 3.5 is already used by customers, including Udelv, an autonomous delivery van startup that recently partnered with Walmart to test grocery deliveries. Baidu says up to 100 self-driving vehicles based on Apollo 3.5 will be deployed in the San Francisco Bay Area and other regions in the United States.

In China, Baidu plans to launch 100 robo-taxis that will cover 130 miles of city roads in Changsha, the capital city of Hunan province. The robo-taxis will use Baidu’s V2X (i.e. vehicle-to-everything) technology, to enable them to communicate with road infrastructure, like traffic lights.

CES 2019 coverage - TechCrunch

Jan
08
2019
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Daily Crunch: The age of quantum computing is here

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

1. IBM unveils its first commercial quantum computer

The 20-qubit system combines the quantum and classical computing parts it takes to use a machine like this for research and business applications into a single package. While it’s worth stressing that the 20-qubit machine is nowhere near powerful enough for most commercial applications, IBM sees this as the first step towards tackling problems that are too complex for classical systems.

2. Apple’s trillion-dollar market cap was always a false idol

Nothing grows forever, not even Apple. Back in August we splashed headlines across the globe glorifying Apple’s brief stint as the world’s first $1 trillion company, but in the end it didn’t matter. Fast-forward four months and Apple has lost more than a third of its stock value, and last week the company lost $75 billion in market cap in a single day.

3. GitHub Free users now get unlimited private repositories

Starting today, free GitHub users will now get unlimited private projects with up to three collaborators. Previously, GitHub had a caveat for its free users that code had to be public if they didn’t pay for the service.

Photo credit: Chesnot/Getty Images

4. Uber’s IPO may not be as eye-popping as we expected

Uber’s public debut later this year is undoubtedly the most anticipated IPO of 2019, but the company’s lofty valuation (valued by some as high as $120 billion) has some investors feeling uneasy.

5. Amazon is getting more serious about Alexa in the car with Telenav deal

Amazon has announced a new partnership with Telenav, a Santa Clara-based provider of connected car services. The collaboration will play a huge role in expanding Amazon’s ability to give drivers relevant information and furthers the company’s mission to bake Alexa into every aspect of your life.

6. I used VR in a car going 90 mph and didn’t get sick

The future of in-vehicle entertainment could be VR. Audi announced at CES that it’s rolling out a new company called Holoride to bring adaptive VR entertainment to cars. The secret sauce here is matching VR content to the slight movements of the vehicle to help those who often get motion sickness.

7. Verizon and T-Mobile call out AT&T over fake 5G labels

Nothing like some CES drama to start your day. AT&T recently shared a shady marketing campaign that labeled its 4G networks as 5G and rivals Verizon and T-Mobile are having none of it.

Nov
01
2018
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DeepMap, a maker of HD maps for self-driving, raised at least $60M at a $450M valuation

As car and tech companies continue to make inroads on vehicles and services to build autonomous driving systems, a startup that is creating high-definition maps to help these vehicles move around has quietly picked up a significant round of funding.

DeepMap — a Palo Alto startup co-founded by James Wu and Mark Wheeler, who previously helped build maps and more at Google, Apple and Baidu — has raised a significant round of growth funding at a valuation of at least $475 million to expand its technology stack and its reach into more markets beyond its current footprint of the U.S. and China.

Founded in 2016, DeepMap has been relatively quiet since raising $25 million in 2017, but news about this round has been trickling out for the last few months. In July, the company filed papers for a $60 million Series B round. In August, it noted that Nvidia had joined the round, which by that point was “oversubscribed” but still not closed.

And today, Generation Investment Management — the VC firm that counts former Vice President Al Gore and others among its co-founders — also confirmed that it is part of that Series B, along with previous investors Andreessen Horowitz, Accel Partners and GSR Ventures, and new investor Robert Bosch Venture Capital. PitchBook notes that the round puts the valuation of DeepMap at $450 million post-money. However, with Generation added to the mix, both the size of the Series B and the valuation might be higher.

We’ve asked and Generation and DeepMap are not disclosing those details, but they have said that the investment is being made because the interests of the startup are in line with that of the VC.

“DeepMap and Generation share the deeply-held belief that autonomous vehicles will lead to environmental and social benefits,” said Wu, who is the CEO of DeepMap (Wheeler is the CTO), in a statement. “We are delighted to work with the talented team at Generation. We consider Generation to be a value-added investor, whose insights and mission-aligned network will be of great advantage as we scale, especially in Europe.”

DeepMap is not exactly in stealth mode, but it also doesn’t disclose much about what it is working on specifically, nor how the funding will be used. (But it is hiring, mostly in engineering roles, in Palo Alto and Beijing.)

Companies like Waymo are expanding their autonomous driving tests, Lyft is buying companies to help ingest more driving data more easily and just this week Baidu announced new car plans with Volvo and Ford, but there are still some crucial pieces that need to be put in place for self-driving to become a wide-scale reality, and one of them is building systems that have an accurate reading of the roads they are driving on.

HD mapping will play a key role in that regard, helping make systems more accurate with real-time localization features that respond to road types and driving conditions. DeepMap says that it provides centimeter-specific accuracy using “real-world data, not models” and the ability to incorporate 3D landmark features and full 3D environments using “true LiDAR intensity and RGB values data” for simulation tools.

While DeepMap does not detail its products on its site, one report describes its offering as including hardware tools, software solutions, field data collection services, and a service that is able to translate the self-driving fleet data that companies are now in the process of collecting “into their own personalized HD maps.” The same report claimed that DeepMap charges about $5,000 per kilometer for mapping services in the U.S.

DeepMap is also not the only company working on addressing this need for better and more accurate mapping: mapping startup Camera is also raising money to build its service; DeepMap’s investor Nvidia is also working on this problem; and lvl5 is another name we’ve also seen mentioned in this context.

The funding, and these partnerships, will likely help DeepMap cement its position on the map, so to speak, as all of these continue to grow.

“DeepMap is perfectly placed to address the imminent needs of autonomous vehicles. These vehicles will require HD maps and localization modules which are real-time, scalable, economically-viable, and machine-readable, something which DeepMap can deliver through its unique approach,” said Lilly Wollman, co-head of Generation’s Growth Equity team, in a statement. “We are very excited to partner with one of the most technically impressive and experienced teams in the industry.”

May
30
2018
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Here’s Mary Meeker’s essential 2018 Internet Trends report

Want to understand all the most important tech stats and trends? Legendary venture capitalist Mary Meeker has just released the 2018 version of her famous Internet Trends report. It covers everything from mobile to commerce to the competition between tech giants. Check out the full report below, and we’ll add some highlights soon. Then come back for our slide-by-slide analysis of the most important parts of the 294 page report.

  • Internet adoption: As of 2018, half the world population, or about 3.6 billion people, will be on the internet. That’s thanks in large part to cheaper Android phones and Wifi becoming more available, though individual services will have a tougher time adding new users as the web hits saturation.
  • Mobile usage: While smartphone shipments are flat and internet user growth is slowing, U.S. adults are spending more time online thanks to mobile, clocking 5.9 hours per day in 2017 versus 5.6 hours in 2016.
  • Mobile ads: People are shifting their time to mobile faster than ad dollars are following, creating a $7 billion mobile ad opportunity, though platforms are increasingly responsible for providing safe content to host those ads.
  • Crypto: Interest in cryptocurrency is exploding as Coinbase’s user count has nearly quadrupled since January 2017
  • Voice: Voice technology is at an inflection point due to speech recognition hitting 95% accuracy and the sales explosion for Amazon Echo which went from over 10 million to over 30 million sold in total by the end of 2017.
  • Daily usage – Revenue gains for services like Facebook are tightly coupled with daily user growth, showing how profitable it is to become a regular habit.
  • Tech investment: We’re at an all-time high for public and private investment in technology, while the top six public R&D + capex spenders are all technology companies.

Mary Meeker, analyst with Morgan Stanley, speaks during the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2010. This year’s conference, which runs through Nov. 17, is titled “Points of Control: The Battle for the Network Economy.” Photographer: Tony Avelar/Bloomberg via Getty Images

  • Ecommerce vs Brick & Mortar: Ecommerce growth quickens as now 13% of all retail purchases happen online and parcel shipments are rising swiftly, signaling big opportunities for new shopping apps.
  • Amazon: More people start product searches on Amazon than search engines now, but Jeff Bezos still relies on other surfaces like Facebook and YouTube to inspire people to want things.
  • Subscription services: They’re seeing massive adoption, with Netflix up 25%, The New York Times up 43%, and Spotify up 48% year-over-year in 2017. A free tier accelerates conversion rates.
  • Education: Employees seek retraining and education from YouTube and online courses to keep up with new job requirements and pay off skyrocketing student loan debt.
  • Freelancing: Employees crave scheduling and work-from-home flexibility, and internet discovery of freelance work led it to grow 3X faster than total workforce growth. The on-demand workforce grew 23% in 2017 driven by Uber, Airbnb, Etsy, Upwork, and Doordash.
  • Transportation: People are buying fewer cars, keeping them longer, and shifting transportation spend to rideshare, which saw rides double in 2017.
  • Enterprise: Consumerization of the enterprise through better interfaces is spurring growth for companies like Dropbox and Slack.
  • China: Alibaba is expanding beyond China with strong gross merchandise volume, though Amazon still rules in revenue.
  • Privacy: China has a big opportunity as users there are much more willing to trade their personal data for product benefits than U.S. users, and China is claiming more spots on the top 20 internet company list while making big investments in AI.
  • Immigration: It is critical to a strong economy, as 56% of top U.S. companies were founded by a first- or second-generation immigrant.

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