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Equity Shot: Judging Uber’s less-than-grand opening day

Posted by on May 10, 2019 in alex wilhelm, carsharing, China, Commuting, Equity podcast, initial public offering, Kate Clark, Lyft, Postmates, Startups, TC, TechCrunch, transport, Uber, unicorn, United States, Venture Capital | 0 comments

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

We are back, as promised. Kate Clark and Alex Wilhelm re-convened today to discuss the latest from the Uber IPO. Namely that it opened down, and then kept falling.

A few questions spring to mind. Why did Uber lose ground? Was it the company’s fault? Was it simply the macro market? Was it something else altogether? What we do know is that Uber’s pricing wasn’t what we were expecting and its first day was not smooth.

There are a whole bunch of reasons why Uber went out the way it did. Firstly, the stock market has had a rough week. That, coupled with rising U.S.-China tensions made this week one of the worst of the year for Uber’s monstrous IPO.

But, to make all that clear, we ran back through some history, recalled some key Lyft stats, and more.

We don’t know what’s next but we will be keeping a close watch, specifically on the next cohort of unicorn companies ready to IPO (Postmates, hi!).

Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercast, Pocket Casts, Downcast and all the casts.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Equity Shot: Pinterest and Zoom file to go public

Posted by on Mar 22, 2019 in alex wilhelm, Bessemer Venture Partners, ceo, Cisco, economy, Equity podcast, Eric Yuan, Finance, FirstMark Capital, Kate Clark, katy perry, Lyft, money, photo sharing, Pinterest, Startups, TC, TechCrunch, Uber, unicorn, Venture Capital, video conferencing, web conferencing, WebEX, zoom | 0 comments

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

What a Friday. This afternoon (mere hours after we released our regularly scheduled episode no less!), both Pinterest and Zoom dropped their public S-1 filings. So we rolled up our proverbial sleeves and ran through the numbers. If you want to follow along, the Pinterest S-1 is here, and the Zoom document is here.

Got it? Great. Pinterest’s long-awaited IPO filing paints a picture of a company cutting its losses while expanding its revenue. That’s the correct direction for both its top and bottom lines.

As Kate points out, it’s not in the same league as Lyft when it comes to scale, but it’s still quite large.

More than big enough to go public, whether it’s big enough to meet, let alone surpass its final private valuation ($12.3 billion) isn’t clear yet. Peeking through the numbers, Pinterest has been improving margins and accelerating growth, a surprisingly winsome brace of metrics for the decacorn.

Pinterest has raised a boatload of venture capital, about $1.5 billion since it was founded in 2010. Its IPO filing lists both early and late-stage investors, like Bessemer Venture Partners, FirstMark Capital, Andreessen Horowitz, Fidelity and Valiant Capital Partners as key stakeholders. Interestingly, it doesn’t state the percent ownership of each of these entities, which isn’t something we’ve ever seen before.

Next, Zoom’s S-1 filing was more dark horse entrance than Katy Perry album drop, but the firm has a history of rapid growth (over 100 percent, yearly) and more recently, profit. Yes, the enterprise-facing video conferencing unicorn actually makes money!

In 2019, the year in which the market is bated on Uber’s debut, profit almost feels out of place. We know Zoom’s CEO Eric Yuan, which helps. As Kate explains, this isn’t his first time as a founder. Nor is it his first major success. Yuan sold his last company, WebEx, for $3.2 billion to Cisco years ago then vowed never to sell Zoom (he wasn’t thrilled with how that WebEx acquisition turned out).

Should we have been that surprised to see a VC-backed tech company post a profit — no. But that tells you a little something about this bubble we live in, doesn’t it?

Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercast, Pocket Casts, Downcast and all the casts.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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4 days left to save on tickets to TC Sessions: Robotics + AI 2019

Posted by on Mar 11, 2019 in aria insights, Artificial Intelligence, cybernetics, Events, peter barrett, playground global, robot, Robotics, TC, tc sessions robotics 2019, TC Sessions: Robotics + AI 2019, TC Sessions: Robotics+AI 2019, TechCrunch, Technology, uc-berkeley | 0 comments

When you love anything and everything related to robots and artificial intelligence, the only thing better than going to TechCrunch Sessions: Robotics + AI is saving $100 on the price of admission. But our $249 early-bird price flies the proverbial coop in just four days, on March 15, so buy your ticket now and keep that Benjamin in your wallet where it belongs.

Our day-long immersive program — which takes place at UC Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall on April 18 — includes robot demos, workshops and interviews with the leading founders, investors, researchers and technologists in the field. We expect more than 1,000 attendees, which makes TC Sessions: Robotics + AI an outstanding opportunity to learn, share, network and build community.

What kind of programming can you expect? Excellent question. For starters, Alexei Efros from UC Berkeley and Hany Farid from Dartmouth College will address a crucial issue at the crossroads of artificial intelligence, reality and public trust. Don’t miss their presentation entitled, “This Reality Does Not Exist: Trust in an Age of Synthetic Media.”

If you love drones, you’ll love the conversation with DroneSeed’s Grant Canary, Aria Insights’ Laura Major and DJI’s Arnaud Thiercelin. They’ll discuss how people are using drones to stop poachers, deliver packages and inspect pipelines. They’ll also drone on — pun totally intended — about what’s coming next.

Come prepared for our investor Q&A session with Peter Barrett (Playground Global), Hidetaka Aoki (Global Brain) and Helen Liang (FoundersX Ventures). This is your chance to ask questions of some of the greatest investors in robotics and AI.

We’ve packed a lot of programming into our agenda, and we’ll be announcing special guests and adding a few more names to our schedule over the next few weeks. Be sure to check back for updates.

If you really want to make an impression and place your early-stage startup in front of the top influencers in robotics and AI, why not buy a demo table? Bring your posse, because the price includes three attendee passes.

TechCrunch Sessions: Robotics + AI takes place at UC Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall on April 18, 2019. Student tickets cost a mere $45. As for the rest of you, don’t delay. You have only four days left to buy an early-bird ticket and save $100. Go get ‘er done!


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Alibaba challenger Pinduoduo is bringing imported goods to rural homes

Posted by on Feb 26, 2019 in alibaba, alibaba group, Amazon, Asia, China, E-Commerce, eCommerce, game publisher, Hangzhou, JD.com, netease, online marketplaces, pinduoduo, taobao, TechCrunch, Tencent, viral marketing, WeChat | 0 comments

Pinduoduo, the latest challenger to China’s ecommerce dominators Alibaba and JD.com, wants to bring affordable, imported items to shoppers in China’s smaller cities and rural areas.

The three-year-old Tencent-backed ecommerce upstart is recruiting importers to set up shop on its marketplace, shows a message on its website. The business is known for offering cheap, sometimes counterfeit goods that initially appealed to users from the less prosperous parts of China but have gradually garnered more price-sensitive urbanites. Its rise is closely linked to Tencent’s popular WeChat messenger, which lets it toy with viral marketing schemes like group deals, a level of access that’s unavailable to, say, Tencent rival Alibaba. Furthermore, the app’s focus on direct sales between manufacturers and consumers helps to keep costs down.

Pinduoduo’s social group-buying model works so well that it’s rapidly closing in on its larger rivals. It claimed 232 million monthly active users by the end of September. That represents only a fraction of Alibaba’s 700 million user base but the newcomer is growing at over 200 percent year-over-year. Pinduoduo already eclipsed JD.com in terms of market penetration according to data analytics company Jiguang. Over the past year, Pinduoduo was installed on 27.4 percent of all mobile devices in China, placing it ahead of JD.com which stood at 23.9 percent and behind Alibaba’s Taobao at 52.5 percent.

And now Pinduoduo becomes attuned to China’s booming cross-border business. People’s cravings for imported, higher-quality goods are surging along with their increasing disposable income. That new demand gives rise to a bountiful supply of “daigou”, or purchasing agents who send overseas goods to Chinese shoppers, and inspires ecommerce operators like Alibaba and JD.com to start their own cross-border businesses. The lucrative sector, estimated by market researcher iiMedia to have generated 9 trillion yuan ($1.34 trillion) in transactions last year, has even drawn unexpected players like NetEase. The Hangzhou-based firm is best known as one of China’s top game publisher but it’s made a dent in cross-border shopping in recent years with its Kaola service, which is reportedly buying Amazon China’s import unit.

TechCrunch has reached out to Pinduoduo for more information on its overseas shopping scheme and will update the story if we hear back. What we know for sure is that the ecommerce site plans to take on 500,000 small and medium-sized merchants for its overseas channel within the next three years, the company’s vice president Li Yuan announced at a November event. Pinduoduo was already delivering imported goods to customers, a business that it said had seen surging transactions last year. Consumers in the countryside have never been more ready to shop online, as Beijing is making a big push to grow digital payments in these regions.

Pinduoduo has yet to make a profit, and the cost of battling Alibaba and JD.com became more evident after it recently announced to raise more than $1 billion just six months after a $1.63 billion initial public offering in the U.S. Time will tell whether cross-border ecommerce — where it plans to replicate its direct sales model — will help it gain an upper hand over the industry giants.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Transportation Weekly: Amazon’s secret acquisition and all the AV feels

Posted by on Feb 8, 2019 in Amazon, Anthony Levandowski, Argo AI, aurora, Automotive, carsharing, Chris Urmson, Craft Ventures, Daimler, david sacks, Elon Musk, Google, Kirsten Korosec, Lead Edge Capital, Maxwell Technologies, Megan Rose Dickey, mike volpi, myTaxi, self driving cars, Sequoia, starship technologies, t.rowe price, TC, TechCrunch, Tesla, Transportation, Tusk Ventures, Uber, valor equity partners, waymo | 0 comments

Welcome to Transportation Weekly; I’m your host Kirsten Korosec, senior transportation reporter at TechCrunch. I cover all the ways people and goods move from Point A to Point B — today and in the future — whether it’s by bike, bus, scooter, car, train, truck, robotaxi or rocket. Sure, let’s include hyperloop and eVTOLs, or air taxis, too.

Yup, another transportation newsletter. But I promise this one will be different. Here’s how.

Newsletters can be great mediums for curated news — a place that rounds up all the important articles a reader might have missed in any given week. We want to do a bit more.

We’re doubling down on the analysis and adding a heaping scoop of original reporting and well, scoops. You can expect Q&As with the most interesting people in transportation, insider tips, and data from that white paper you didn’t have time to read. This isn’t a lone effort either. TechCrunch senior reporter Megan Rose Dickey, who has been writing about micro mobility since before the scooter boom times of 2017, will be weighing in each week in our “Tiny But Mighty Mobility” section below. Follow her @meganrosedickey.

Consider this a soft launch. There might be content you like or something you hate. Feel free to reach out to me at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share those thoughts, opinions, or tips.

Eventually, we’ll have a way for readers to sign up and have Transportation Weekly delivered each week via email. For now, follow me on Twitter @kirstenkorosec to ensure you see it each week.

Now, let’s get to the good stuff.


ONM …

There are OEMs in the automotive world. And here, (wait for it) there are ONMs — original news manufacturers.


This is where investigative reporting, enterprise pieces and analysis on transportation will live.

We promised scoops in Transportation Weekly and here is one. If you don’t know journalist Mark Harris, you should. He’s an intrepid gumshoeing reporter who TechCrunch has been lucky enough to hire as a freelancer. Follow him @meharris.

Amazon quietly acquired robotics company Dispatch to build Scout

dispatch-amazon-scout
Remember way back in January when Amazon introduced Scout, their autonomous delivery bot? There was speculation at the time that Amazon had bought the Estonian-based company Starship Technologies. Harris did some investigating and discovered some of the intellectual property and technology behind Scout likely came from a small San Francisco startup called Dispatch that Amazon stealthily acquired in 2017.

It’s time to stop thinking about Amazon as just an e-commerce company. It’s a gigantic logistics company, probably the biggest on the planet, with a keen interest — and the cash to pursue those interests — in automation. Think beyond Scout. In fact, wander on down this post to the deal of the week.


Dig In

Each week, transportation weekly will spend a little extra time on an approach, policy, tech or the people behind it in our ‘Dig In” section. We’ll run the occasional column here, too.

This week features a conversation with Dmitri Dolgov, the CTO and VP of engineering at Waymo, the former Google self-driving project that spun out to become a business under Alphabet.

waymo-google-10-years

Ten years ago, right around now, about a dozen engineers started working on Project Chauffeur, which would turn into the Google self-driving project and eventually become an official company called Waymo. Along the way, the project would give rise to a number of high-profile engineers who would go on to create their own companies. It’s a list that includes Aurora co-founder Chris Urmson, Argo AI co-founder Bryan Salesky and Anthony Levandowski, who helped launch Otto and more recently Pronto.ai.

What might be less known is that many of those in the original dozen are still at Waymo, including Dolgov, Andrew Chatham, Dirk Haehnel, Nathaniel Fairfield and Mike Montemerlo.

Dolgov and I talked about the early days, challenges and what’s next. A couple of things that stood out during our chat.

There is a huge difference between having a prototype that can do something once or twice or four times versus building a product that people can start using in their daily lives. And it is, especially in this field, very easy to make progress on these kinds of one-off challenges.

Dolgov’s take on how engineers viewed the potential of the project 10 years ago …

I also use our cars every day to get around, this is how I got to work today. This is how I run errands around here in Mountain View and Palo Alto.


A little bird …

We hear a lot. But we’re not selfish. Let’s share.
blinky-cat-birdAn early investor, or investors, in Bird appear to be selling some of their shares in the scooter company, per a tip backed up by data over at secondary trading platform EquityZen. That’s not crazy considering the company is valued at $2 billion-ish. Seed investors should take some money off the table once a company reaches that valuation.

We’ve heard that David Sacks at Craft Ventures hasn’t sold a single Bird share. We hear Tusk Ventures hasn’t sold, either. That leaves a few others, including Goldcrest Capital, which was the lone seed investor, and then Series A participants Lead Edge Capital, M13, and Valor Equity Partners.

Got a tip or overheard something in the world of transportation? Email me or send a direct message to @kirstenkorosec.

While you’re over at Twitter, check out this cheeky account @SDElevator. We can’t guarantee how much of the content is actually “overheard” and how much is manufactured for the laughs, but it’s a fun account to peruse from time to time.

Another new entrant to the mobility parody genre is @HeardinMobilty.


Deal of the week

There’s so much to choose from this week, but Aurora’s more than $530 million Series B funding round announced Thursday morning is the winner.

The upshot? It’s not just that Aurora is now valued at more than $2.5 billion. The primary investors in the round — Sequoia as lead and “significant” investments from Amazon and T. Rowe Price — suggests Aurora’s full self-driving stack is headed for other uses beyond shuttling people around in autonomous vehicles. Perhaps delivery is next.

And believe it or not, the type of investor in this round tells me that we can expect another capital raise. Yes, Aurora has lots of runway now as well as three publicly named customers. But investors like Sequoia, which led the round and whose partner Carl Eschenbach is joining Aurora’s board, T. Rowe Price and Amazon along with repeaters like Index Ventures (general partner Mike Volpi is also on the board) have patience, access to cash and long-term strategic thinking. Expect more from them.

Other deals that got our attention this week:


Snapshot

Speaking of deals and Tesla … the automaker’s $218 million acquisition this month of Maxwell Technologies got me thinking about companies it has targeted in the past.

So, we went ahead and built a handy chart to provide a snapshot view of some of Tesla’s noteworthy acquisitions. tesla-acquisitions-chart1

One note: Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted in 2018 that the company had acquired trucking carrier companies to help improve its delivery logistics. We’ve dug in and have yet to land on the company, or companies, Tesla acquired.

The deals that got away are just as interesting. That list includes a reported $325 million offer to buy Simbol Materials, the startup that was extracting small amounts of lithium near the Salton Sea east of San Diego.


Tiny but mighty mobility

Between Lime’s $310 million Series D round and the seemingly never-ending battle to operate electric scooters in San Francisco, it’s clear that micro mobility is not so micro.

Lime, a shared electric scooter and bikeshare startup, has now raised north of $800 million in total funding, surpassing key competitor Bird’s total funding of $415 million. Thanks to this week’s round of funding, Lime’s micromobility business is now worth $2.4 billion.

Lime currently operates its bikes and scooters in more than 100 cities worldwide. Over in San Francisco, however, Lime has yet to deploy any of its modes of transportation. Since last March, there’s been an ongoing battle among scooter operators to deploy their services in the city. The city ultimately selected Skip and Scoot for the pilot programs, leaving the likes of Lime, Uber’s JUMP and Spin to appeal the decision.

A neutral hearing officer has since determined SF’s process for determining scooter operators was fair, but the silver lining for the likes of JUMP, Spin and most likely, Lime, is that the city may open up its pilot program to allow additional operators beginning in April.


Notable reads

Two recent studies got my attention.

The first is from Bike Pittsburgh, an advocacy group and partner of Uber, that published the findings from its latest AV survey based on responses from local residents. The last time they conducted a similar survey was in 2017.

The takeaway: people there, who are among the most exposed to autonomous vehicles due to all the AV testing on public roads, are getting used to it. A bit more than 48 percent of respondents said they approve of public AV testing in Pittsburgh, down slightly from 49 percent approval rating in 2017. 

  • 21.21% somewhat approve
  • 11.62% neutral
  • 10.73% somewhat disapprove
  • 8.73% disapprove

One standout result was surrounding responses about the fatal accident in Tempe, Arizona involving a self-driving Uber that struck and killed pedestrian Elaine Herzberg in March 2018. Survey participants were asked “As a pedestrian or a bicyclist how did this change event and it’s outcome change your opinion about sharing the road with AVs?”

Some 60 percent of respondents claimed no change in their opinion, with another 37 percent claiming that it negatively changed their opinion. Nearly 3 percent claimed their opinion changed positively toward the technology.

Bike Pittsburgh noted that the survey elicited passionate open-ended responses. 

“The incident did not turn too many people off of AV technology in general,” according to Bike Pittsburgh. “Rather it did lead to a growing distrust of the companies themselves, specifically with Uber and how they handled the fatality.”

The other study, Securing the Modern Vehicle: A Study of Automotive Industry Cybersecurity Practices, was released by Synopsys, Inc.and SAE International.

The results, based on a survey of global automotive manufacturers and suppliers conducted by Ponemon Institute, doesn’t assuage my concerns. If anything, it puts me on alert.

  • 84% of automotive professionals have concerns that their organizations’ cybersecurity practices are not keeping pace with evolving technologies
  • 30% of organizations don’t have an established cybersecurity program or team
  • 63% test less than half of the automotive technology they develop for security vulnerabilities.

Testing and deployments

Pilots, pilots everywhere. A couple of interesting mobility pilots and deployments stand out.

Optimus Ride, the Boston-based MIT spinoff, has made a deal with Brookfield Properties to provide rides in its small self-driving vehicles at Halley Rise – a new $1.4 billion mixed-use development in Virginia. 

This is an example of where we see self-driving vehicles headed — for now. Small deployments that are narrowly focused in geography with a predictable customer base are the emerging trend of 2019. Expect more of them.

And there’s a reason why, these are the kinds of pilots that will deliver the data needed to improve their technology, as well as test out business models —gotta figure out how to money with AVs eventually — hone in fleet operational efficiency, placate existing investors while attracting new ones, and recruit talent.

Another deployment in the more conventional ride-hailing side of mobility is with Beat, the startup that has focused its efforts on Latin America.

Beat was founded by Nikos Drandakis in 2011 initially as Taxibeat. The startup acquired by Daimler’s mytaxi in February 2017 and Drandakis still runs the show. The company was focused on Europe but shifted to Latin America, and it’s made all the difference. (Beat is still available in Athens, Greece.) Beat has launched in Lima, Peru, Santiago, Chile and Bogota, Colombia and now boasts 200,000 registered drivers. 

Now it’s moving into Mexico, where more competitors exist. The company just started registering and screening drivers in Mexico City as it prepares to offer rides for passengers this month. 

TechCrunch spoke at length with Drandakis. Look out for a deeper dive soon.

Until next week, nos vemos.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Waymo CTO on the company’s past, present and what comes next

Posted by on Feb 8, 2019 in Anthony Levandowski, Argo AI, Artificial Intelligence, aurora, Automotive, avs, Chris Urmson, Google, Larry Page, sebastian thrun, self-driving car, TC, TechCrunch, Transportation, waymo | 0 comments

A decade ago, about a dozen or so engineers gathered at Google’s main Mountain View campus on Charleston Road to work on Project Chauffeur, a secret endeavor housed under the tech giant’s moonshot factory X.

Project Chauffeur — popularly know as the “Google self-driving car project” — kicked off in January 2009. It would eventually graduate from its project status to become a standalone company called Waymo in 2016.

The project, originally led by Sebastian Thrun, would help spark an entire ecosystem that is still developing today. Venture capitalists took notice and stampeded in, auto analysts shifted gears and regulators, urban planners and policy wonks started collecting data and considering the impact of AVs on cities.

The project would also become a springboard for a number of engineers who would go on to create their own companies. It’s a list that includes Aurora co-founder Chris Urmson, Argo AI co-founder Bryan Salesky and Anthony Levandowski, who helped launch Otto and more recently Pronto.ai.

What might be less known is that many who joined in those first weeks are still at Waymo, including Andrew Chatham, Dmitri Dolgov, Dirk Haehnel, Nathaniel Fairfield and Mike Montemerlo. Depending on how one defines “early days,” there are others like Hy Murveit, Phil Nemec and Dan Egnor, who have been there for eight or nine years.

Dolgov, Waymo’s CTO and VP of engineering, chatted recently with TechCrunch about the early days, its 10-year anniversary and what’s next.

Below is an excerpt of an interview with Dolgov, which has been edited for clarity and length.

TC: Let’s go back to the beginning of how you got started. Take me to those first days at the Google self-driving project.

DOLGOV: When I think about what drew me to this field, it’s always been three main things: the impact of the technology, the technology itself and the challenges as well as the people you get to work with. It’s pretty obvious, at this point, that it can have huge implications on safety, but beyond that, it can impact efficiency and remove friction from transportation for people and things.

There is this sense of excitement that never seems to die off. I remember the first time I got to work on a self-driving car. And it was the first time when the car drove itself using software that I had written, you know, just earlier in the day. So this was back in 2007. And that completely blew my mind. (Dolgov participated in the DARPA Urban Challenge in November 2007 before the Google project launched.)

TC: What were these 10, 100-mile challenges that (Google co-founder) Larry Page came up with? Can you describe that to me a little bit?

DOLGOV: This was probably the main milestone that we created for ourselves when we started this project at Google in 2009. And the challenge was to drive 10 routes, each one was 100 miles long. And you had to drive each one from beginning to end without any human intervention.

These were really well-defined very clearly, crisply defined routes. So in the beginning, you’d engage the self-driving mode of a car, and then had to finish the whole 100 miles on its own.

The routes were intentionally chosen to sample the full complexity of the task. In those early days, for us, it was all about understanding the complexity of the problem. All of the routes were in the Bay Area. We had some driving in urban environments, around Palo Alto, we had one that spent a lot of time on the freeways and went to all of the bridges in the Bay Area. We had one that went from Mountain View to San Francisco, including driving through Lombard Street. We had one that went around Lake Tahoe.

We tried to cover as much of the complexity of the environment as possible. And what’s really great about that task is that it really helped us very quickly understand the core complexity of the space.

TC: How long did it take to complete these challenges?

DOLGOV: It took us until the fall of 2010.

TC: It’s kind of amazing to think that the project was able to complete these challenges in 2010, and yet, there still seems to be so much more work to complete on this task.

DOLGOV: Right. But I think this is the nature of the problem. There is a huge difference between having a prototype that can do something once or twice or a handful of times versus building a product that people can start using in their daily lives. And it is, especially in this field, when we started, it’s very easy to make progress on these kinds of one-off challenges.

But what really makes it hard is an incredible level of performance that you need from your system in order to make it into a product. And that’s number one. And number two, is the very long tail of complexity of the types of problems that you encounter. Maybe you don’t see them 99 percent of the time, but you still have to be ready for that 1 percent or 1.1 percent.

TC:  When you think back to those early days — or maybe even more recently — was there ever a moment when there was a software problem, or even a hardware problem that seemed insurmountable and that maybe the tech just wasn’t quite there yet?

DOLGOV: In the early days, we had all kinds of problems that we faced. In the early history of this project, we only set out to solve some problems without really knowing how we were going to get there.

You start working on the problem, and you make progress towards this. Thinking back to how these past few years have felt to me, it’s been much less of a here’s one problem, or a small number of really hard problems and we kind of hit a wall.

Instead, it’s been more like hundreds of really hard problems. None of them feel like a brick wall because, you know, the team is amazing, the technology is really powerful and you make progress on them.

But you’re always juggling like, hundreds of these types of really complex problems, where the further you get into solving each one of them, the more you realize just how hard it really is.

So it’s been a really interesting mix. On one hand, the problem getting more difficult, the more you learn about it. But on the other hand, technology making more rapid progress and breakthroughs happening at a higher rate than you would have originally anticipated.

TC: When did you realize that this project had changed (beyond the official announcements)? When did you realize it could be a business, that it was something that could be a lot more than just solving this problem?

DOLGOV: I would describe it as more of an evolution of our thinking and investing more effort into more clearly defining the product and commercial applications of this technology.

When we started, in that very first phase, the question was, “is this even feasible? Is the technology going to work?” I think it was pretty clear to everybody that if the technology succeeded then there was going to be tremendous impact.

It wasn’t exactly clear what commercial application or what product would deliver that impact. But there was just so many ways that this technology would transform the world that we didn’t spend much time worrying about that aspect of it.

When you think about it, what we’re building here is a driver: our software, our hardware — the software that runs in the car, the software that runs in the cloud. We look at the entirety of our technology stack as a driver.

There are about 3 trillion miles in the U.S. that are driven by people. In some cases, they drive themselves, in some cases, they drive other people, in some cases, they drive goods. Once you have the technology that is “the driver,” you can deploy it in all these situations. But they have their pros and cons.

Over time, our thinking on ‘what are the most attractive ones?’ and ‘in what order do we tackle them?’ has matured.

This is what they’re doing today as a result of all of that work. Ride hailing is the first commercial application that we’re pursuing. Beyond that we are working on long-haul trucking, long-range deliveries. We’re interested, at some point, deploying the technology in personally owned cars, local deliveries, public transportation and so forth and so on.

TC: What application are you most excited about? The one that you think maybe is overlooked or one you’re personally the most excited about?

DOLGOV: I’m super excited about seeing the technology and the driver being deployed in, you know, across the globe and across different commercial applications. But I think the one that I am the most excited about is the one we’re pursuing as our number one target right now, which is ride hailing.

I think it has the potential to affect positively the highest number of people in the shortest amount of time.

I also use our cars every day to get around; this is how I got to work today. This is how I run errands around here in Mountain View and Palo Alto. It’s wonderful to be able to experience these cars and it just removes a lot of the friction out of transportation.

TC: So you you take a self-driving car to work every day right now?

DOLGOV: Yes, but in California, they still have people in them. 

TC: How long have you been doing that?

DOLGOV: Awhile. Actually, it seems like forever.

I’ve always spent time in the cars. I think it’s really important to experience the product that you’re building and have direct experience with the technology. This was obviously the case in the early days of the project when there was a small group of us doing everything.

As the team grew, I would still make sure I would experience the technology and go on test rides at least weekly, if not more frequently.

When we started pursuing the ride-hailing application, and we built an app for it, and we built out infrastructure to make it into a user-facing product, I was one of the earlier testers.

That must have been three years ago.

TC: Did you expect it to be at this point that you are right now, 10 years ago, did you expect like 10 years from now, this is where we’re going to be? Or did it happen faster or slower than you anticipated?

DOLGOV: So for me, I think on one hand, I would not have predicted some of the breakthroughs in the technology on the hardware front, on the software and AI and machine learning back in 2009. I think the technology today is much more powerful than I would have probably said in 2009.

On the another hand, the challenge of actually building a real product and deploying it so that people can use it has turned out to be more difficult than I expected. So it’s kind of a mix.

TC: What were some of those technological breakthroughs?

DOLGOV: There were a number of things. LiDARs and radars became much more powerful.

And by powerful, I mean longer range, higher resolution and more features, if you will, in terms of the things that they can measure — richer returns of the properties of the environment. So that’s on the sensing side.

Compute, especially in the hardware-accelerated parallel computation, that’s been very powerful for the advancement of neural networks. That has been a huge boost.

Then there’s deep learning, and the neural nets themselves have led to a number of breakthroughs.

TC: Yeah, with the last two examples you gave, I think of those as being breakthroughs more recently, in just the last few years. Is that about the time frame?

DOLGOV: We’ve always used machine learning on this project, but it was a different kind of machine learning than today.

I think in 2012 is probably when, on our project, there was meaningful effort and when we were working together with Google on both the self-driving technology and deep learning.

Arguably, at the time Google was the only company in the world seriously investing in both the self driving and deep learning.

At that point, we didn’t have the hardware to be able to run those nets on the car, in real time. But there were very interesting things you could do in the cloud.

For deep learning, 2013 was a pretty big year. I think this is when ImageNet won a big competition and it was a breakthrough for deep learning. It outperformed all the other approaches in the computer vision competition.

TC: In 2009, could you imagine a world in 2019, where numerous self-driving vehicle companies would be testing on roads in California? Was that something that seemed plausible?

DOLGOV: No, no that’s not the picture I had in mind in 2009 or 2010.

In those early days of the project, people kind of laughed at us. I think the industry made fun of this project and there were multiple funny spoofs on the Google self-driving car project.

It’s been pretty amazing to go from, ‘oh there is small, group of crazy folks trying to do this science fiction thing at Google’ to this becoming a major industry that we have today with dozens, if not hundreds, of companies pursuing this.

Google’s self-driving Lexus RX 450h

TC: What will be the tipping point that will get folks on board with self-driving vehicles in their city? Is it a matter of just pure saturation? Or is it something else that all the companies, Waymo included, are responsible of helping usher in?

DOLGOV: It seems like there’s always a spectrum of people’s attitudes towards new technology and change. Some of the negative ones are more visible. But actually, my experience over the last 10 years, the positive attitude and the excitement has been overwhelmingly stronger.

What I have seen over and over again, in this project that really is very powerful, and that is powerful and changes people’s attitudes from, uncertainty and anxiety to excitement and comfort and trust is being able to experience the technology.

You get people into one of our cars and then go for a ride. Even people who are anxious about getting into a car with nobody behind the wheel, once they experience it and once they understand how useful of a product it is, and how well the car behaves, and they starting trusting it, that really leads to change.

As the technology rolls out and more people get to experience it firsthand, that will help.

TC: Are the biggest challenges in 2009 the same as today? What are the final cruxes that remain?

DOLGOV: In 2009, all the challenges were all about one-off problems we needed to solve and today it’s all about turning it into a product.

It’s about the presentation of this self-driving stack and about building the tools and the framework for evaluation and deployment of the technology. You know, what has stayed true is that it’s all about the speed of iteration and the ability to learn new things and solve new technical problems as we discover them.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Startups Weekly: Even Gwyneth Paltrow had a hard time raising VC

Posted by on Feb 2, 2019 in Airbnb, alex wilhelm, Andreessen Horowitz, Bessemer Venture Partners, collibra, connie loizos, CrunchBase, Entertainment, felix capital, forerunner ventures, founders fund, Frederic Court, funding, Goldman Sachs, gwyneth paltrow, hitRECord, James Beriker, jeff clavier, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, lucas matney, maverick capital, Mike Maples, munchery, Partech, Pinterest, sam altman, Sapphire Ventures, Softbank, Startups, TechCrunch, upfront ventures, Venture Capital, wellington management, Y Combinator | 0 comments

I spent the week in Malibu attending Upfront Ventures’ annual Upfront Summit, which brings together the likes of Hollywood, Silicon Valley and Washington, DC’s elite for a two-day networking session of sorts. Cameron Diaz was there for some reason, and Natalie Portman made an appearance. Stacey Abrams had a powerful Q&A session with Lisa Borders, the president and CEO of Time’s Up. Of course, Gwyneth Paltrow was there to talk up Goop, her venture-funded commerce and content engine.

“I had no idea what I was getting into but I am so fulfilled and on fire from this job,” Paltrow said onstage at the summit… “It’s a very different life than I used to have but I feel very lucky that I made this leap.” Speaking with Frederic Court, the founder of Felix Capital, Paltrow shed light on her fundraising process.

“When I set out to raise my Series A, it was very difficult,” she said. “It’s great to be Gwyneth Paltrow when you’re raising money because people take the meeting, but then you get a lot more rejections than you would if they didn’t want to take a selfie … People, understandably, were dubious about [this business]. It becomes easier when you have a thriving business and your unit economics looks good.”

In other news…

The actor stopped by the summit to promote his startup, HitRecord . I talked to him about his $6.4 million round and grand plans for the artist-collaboration platform.

Backed by GV, Sequoia, Floodgate and more, Clover Health confirmed to TechCrunch this week that it’s brought in another round of capital led by Greenoaks. The $500 million round is a vote of confidence for the business, which has experienced its fair share of well-publicized hiccups. More on that here. Plus, Clutter, the startup that provides on-demand moving and storage services, is raising at least $200 million from SoftBank, sources tell TechCrunch. The round is a big deal for the LA tech ecosystem, which, aside from Snap and Bird, has birthed few venture-backed unicorns.

Pinterest, the nine-year-old visual search engine, has hired Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase as lead underwriters for an IPO that’s planned for later this year. With $700 million in 2018 revenue, the company has raised some $1.5 billion at a $12 billion valuation from Goldman Sachs Investment Partners, Valiant Capital Partners, Wellington Management, Andreessen Horowitz, Bessemer Venture Partners and more.

Kleiner Perkins went “back to the future” this week with the announcement of a $600 million fund. The firm’s 18th fund, it will invest at the seed, Series A and Series B stages. TCV, a backer of Peloton and Airbnb, closed a whopping $3 billion vehicle to invest in consumer internet, IT infrastructure and services startups. Partech has doubled its Africa VC fund to $143 million and opened a Nairobi office to complement its Dakar practice. And Sapphire Ventures has set aside $115 million for sports and entertainment bets.

The co-founder of Y Combinator will throw a sort of annual weekend getaway for nerds in picturesque Boulder, Colo. Called the YC 120, it will bring toget her 120 people for a couple of days in April to create connections. Read TechCrunch’s Connie Loizos’ interview with Altman here.

Consumer wellness business Hims has raised $100 million in an ongoing round at a $1 billion pre-money valuation. A growth-stage investor has led the round, with participation from existing investors (which include Forerunner Ventures, Founders Fund, Redpoint Ventures, SV Angel, 8VC and Maverick Capital) . Our sources declined to name the lead investor but said it was a “super big fund” that isn’t SoftBank and that hasn’t previously invested in Hims.

Five years after Andreessen Horowitz backed Oculus, it’s leading a $68 million Series A funding in Sandbox VR. TechCrunch’s Lucas Matney talked to a16z’s Andrew Chen and Floodgate’s Mike Maples about what sets Sandbox apart.

Here’s your weekly reminder to send me tips, suggestions and more to kate.clark@techcrunch.com or @KateClarkTweets

In a new class-action lawsuit, a former Munchery facilities worker is claiming the startup owes him and 250 other employees 60 days’ wages. On top of that, another former employee says the CEO, James Beriker, was largely absent and is to blame for Munchery’s downfall. If you haven’t been keeping up on Munchery’s abrupt shutdown, here’s some good background.

Consolidation in the micromobility space has arrived — in Brazil, at least. Not long after Y Combinator-backed Grin merged its electric scooter business with Brazil-based Ride, it’s completing another merger, this time with Yellow, the bike-share startup based in Brazil that has also expressed its ambitions to get into electric scooters.

If you enjoy this newsletter, be sure to check out TechCrunch’s venture-focused podcast, Equity. In this week’s episode, available here, Crunchbase editor-in-chief Alex Wilhelm, TechCrunch’s Silicon Valley editor Connie Loizos and Jeff Clavier of Uncork Capital chat about $100 million rounds, Stripe’s mega valuation and Pinterest’s highly anticipated IPO.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Announcing TC Sessions: Mobility, a one-day event on the future of mobility and transportation

Posted by on Jan 29, 2019 in AOL, blogs, detroit, digital media, Forward, henry ford, san jose, TC, TechCrunch, websites, west coast, world wide web | 0 comments

Mobility is changing and the world with it. Technology is upending century-old establishments, creating new lifestyles and routines. Regions across the globe are trying to replicate Silicon Valley, but all the while Silicon Valley has been replicating a different innovative American city: Detroit. Countless companies have sprung up around the Bay Area focused on the challenges around the industry. And the auto industry noticed, opening and expanding facilities on the West Coast. With its abundance of engineers and resources, Silicon Valley is uniquely suited to lead the mobility disruption.

TechCrunch is excited to announce a one-day event on July 10, 2019 in San Jose, CA that’s centered around future of mobility and transportation – TC Sessions: Mobility.

TC Sessions: Mobility will present a day of programming with the best founders, investors, and technologists who are hell-bent on inventing a future Henry Ford could have never imagined. These thinkers know that before autonomous vehicles are deployed as service, revolutionaries must forge rivers of regulation, consumer sentiment, embedded business thinking, and, perhaps most importantly, solutions to profound technological challenges. And that doesn’t include forging the relationships necessary outside of the industry, in fields such as blockchain, AI, satellite navigation and mobile networks.

The auto establishment and up-and-comers alike face similar questions. What’s the best way for mobility companies to navigation regulations and government bodies? How does a company scale manufacturing from MVP to thousands a week? And of course, every company developing autonomous vehicles need to examine the trolley problem — the ethical conundrum around who should autonomous vehicles hit in an accident, when unavoidable.

TC Sessions: Mobility is the latest in TechCrunch’s growing series of Sessions events that feature a deep dive into a specific topic. In the past, TechCrunch hosted similar events on robotics, the blockchain, and social justice. Through intimate interviews and in-depth discussions, attendees of TC Session events hear from the top individuals and companies pushing their respective field forward.

Through the coming weeks, TechCrunch will announce the participants of TechCrunch Mobility’s fireside chats, panels, and workshops.


Tickets
Early Bird Tickets are available now for $195 – that’s $100 savings before prices go up. Students can book a ticket for just $45 here.

Speakers/Demo Applications
We’re always looking for speakers/demos for our events. Apply here.

Sponsorship Opportunities
Fill out this form and someone from our sales team will get right back to you about sponsorship opportunities for this event.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Coinbase acquihires San Francisco startup Blockspring

Posted by on Jan 17, 2019 in Andreessen Horowitz, AOL, api, author, ceo, coinbase, CrunchBase, cryptocurrencies, cryptocurrency, disclosure, funding, Fundings & Exits, Information technology, Keystone Capital, San Francisco, TC, TechCrunch, Technology, world wide web, Y Combinator | 0 comments

Coinbase is continuing its push to suck up talent after the $8 billion-valued crypto business snapped up Blockspring, a San Francisco-based startup that enables developers to collect and process data from APIs.

The undisclosed deal was announced by Blockspring on its blog, and confirmed to TechCrunch by a Coinbase representative. Coinbase declined to comment further.

Blockspring started out as a serverless data business, but it pivoted into a service that lets companies use API data. That includes purposes such as building list and repositories for recruitment, marketing sales, reporting and more. Pricing starts from $29 per month and Blockspring claims to work with “thousands” of companies.

That startup graduated Y Combinator and, according to Crunchbase, it had raised $3.5 million from investors that include SV Angel and A16z, both of which are Coinbase investors. Those common investors are likely a key reason for the deal, which appears to be a talent acquisition. The Blockspring team will join Coinbase, but it will continue to offer its existing products “for current and new customers as they always have.”

“Joining Coinbase was a no-brainer for a number reasons including its commitment to establishing an open financial system and the strength of its engineering team, led by Tim Wagner (formerly of AWS Lambda). Making the technical simple and accessible is what we’ve always been about at Blockspring. And now we’ll get to push these goals forward along with the talented folks at Coinbase to make something greater than we could on our own,” wrote CEO Paul Katsen.

Coinbase raised $300 million last October to take it to $525 million raised to date from investors. While it may not be a huge one, the Blockspring deal looks to be its eleventh acquisition, according to data from Crunchbase. Most of those have been talent grabs, but its more substantial pieces of M&A have included the $120 million-plus deal for Earn.com, which installed Balaji Srinivasan as the company’s first CTO, the acquisition of highly-rated blockchain browser Cipher, and the purchase of securities dealer Keystone Capital, which boosted its move into security tokens.

In addition to buying up companies, Coinbase also makes investments via its early-stage focused Coinbase Ventures fund.

Disclosure: The author owns a small amount of cryptocurrency. Enough to gain an understanding, not enough to change a life.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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And the winner of Startup Battlefield at Disrupt Berlin 2018 is… Legacy

Posted by on Nov 30, 2018 in Battlefield, Disrupt, disrupt berlin, disrupt berlin 2018, Europe, Imago AI, legacy, Startup Battlefield, Startups, TechCrunch, TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin 2018 | 0 comments

At the very beginning, there were 13 startups. After two days of incredibly fierce competition, we now have a winner.

Startups participating in the Startup Battlefield have all been hand-picked to participate in our highly competitive startup competition. They all presented in front of multiple groups of VCs and tech leaders serving as judges for a chance to win $50,000 and the coveted Disrupt Cup.

After hours of deliberations, TechCrunch editors pored over the judges’ notes and narrowed the list down to five finalists: Imago AI, Kalepso, Legacy, Polyteia and Spike.

These startups made their way to the finale to demo in front of our final panel of judges, which included: Sophia Bendz (Atomico), Niko Bonatsos (General Catalyst), Luciana Luxandru (Accel), Ida Tin (Clue), Matt Turck (FirstMark Capital) and Matthew Panzarino (TechCrunch).

And now, meet the Startup Battlefield winner of TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin 2018.

Winner: Legacy

Legacy is tackling an interesting problem: the reduction of sperm motility as we age. By freezing men’s sperm, this Swiss-based company promises to keep our boys safe and potent as we get older, a consideration that many find vital as we marry and have kids later.

Read more about Legacy in our separate post.

Runner-Up: Imago AI

Imago AI is applying AI to help feed the world’s growing population by increasing crop yields and reducing food waste. To accomplish this, it’s using computer vision and machine learning technology to fully automate the laborious task of measuring crop output and quality.

Read more about Imago AI in our separate post.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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