General News

The IPO market is heating up again, but it won’t change how fast companies go public

TechCrunch - Tue, 04/23/2019 - 19:13

It’s been an exciting couple of months for startup employees and public market shareholders alike, as a growing number of brands that have talked about going public for some time are finally marching out the door and, on the whole, receiving enthusiastic receptions. Lyft, Zoom, PagerDuty, and Pinterest all priced above their marketed ranges in splashy public offerings. Uber is meanwhile veering toward what’s expected to be the biggest IPO in years by seeking what’s rumored to be a $100 billion valuation.

But industry watchers hoping that companies might start going public sooner as they once did may be in for some disappointment. At least, according to industry players with whom we’ve spoken, a broader shift isn’t likely to happen soon – – if ever — again. In fact, absent a dramatic development, it’s far more likely that startups will continue staying private as long as they possibly can.

The numbers largely tell the story. According to the investment bank Scenic Advisement, private investors doused technology and biotech companies with $130.9 billion last year — far outpacing the $50.3 billion raised via IPOs and follow-on offerings. Meanwhile, says Scenic, the total value of private market investment surged 57.8 percent in 2018, the tenth consecutive year in which private share sales were worth more than those in public markets. That trend continues, too, with venture investment flows far outpacing public-market fundraising so far in 2019.

Consider that Lyft raised $4.91 billion in the private market versus the roughly $2.34 billion it picked up in its recent IPO. Dropbox, which went public last year, raised $756 million in its IPO, versus the $1.7 billion it raised privately. Uber has raised almost $20 billion privately and is expected to raise around $10 billion in its upcoming offering. (There have also been companies that buck this trend. Zoom raised $161 million privately and raised $750 million when it went public last week. DocuSign, which went public last year, also raised more in its IPO — $630 million — than the $550 million investors had funneled into the company when it was still privately held.)

Altogether, IPO proceeds totaled $47 billion last year, compared with $130 billion provided to privately held companies, and that ratio might not change much in 2019 despite the current IPO hoopla. “In the early part of this decade, there was relative parity between how much money was raised in venture and how much was raised through IPOs,” says Shriram Bhashyam, a founder and advisor at the secondary trading platform EquityZen. “But private funding has been outpacing IPO proceeds for a few years, and that gap is continuing to grow.”

Even if not all privately held startups are eventual public market candidates, it “gives you an idea directionally” of how the public and private markets are continuing to shift, he suggests.

The public market exchanges readily acknowledge the change. We talked last week with Jeff Thomas, who oversees Nasdaq’s operations for the Western U.S. and who previously spent several years as a president with Nasdaq Private Market, which the exchange formed in 2013 to offer companies alternative liquidity solutions while remaining private.

Thomas talked at length about companies no longer needing to go public in order to access capital, noting there’s a “ton of capital” flooding into private companies and predicting much more is coming. (Note: the $130 billion invested in startups last year broke the previous record of $105 billion plugged into startups in 2000.)

The appeal of staying private is well-known and well-documented. Aside from the easy money available, founders can avoid the scrutiny of research analysts and regulators, not to mention sometimes short-sighted public market shareholders who aren’t afraid to take action when they feel cheated. Lyft is already being sued by shareholders who are angry the company’s shares are down roughly 25 percent from their opening day peak.  As Bloomberg recently reported, Snap was sued within 10 weeks of going public; Blue Apron was sued within seven weeks of its IPO.

Still, the public markets aren’t going anywhere, also for well-understood reasons. Even as they shrink compared with the public market, companies that can go public will continue to do so because it’s easier for them to acquire other companies once their shares are converted to common shares, because companies will lose employees if they don’t go public (most private companies limit how much equity employees can sell), and because there’s still a certain cache associated with being a publicly traded company. The last is especially important when it comes to charming other companies into partnerships. “Being a publicly traded company and being able to provide visibility into your balance sheet is very helpful in customer development,” says Thomas.

Taking a company public is also one way to tackle income inequality, which has worsened as more private companies investors — already the wealthiest investors in the world — have enjoyed near exclusive access to companies during some of their fastest growing years.

It may not be top of mind for chief executives, but it’s an important point that will hopefully resonate more as these trend lines, and their consequences, grow clearer. “There are now so few people who can participate in the private market on a relative basis,” says Thomas. “America stands for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, including having enough money to pay for college and retirement.” The ongoing shift toward staying private longer is “making it much harder for individuals to pursue that dream,” he adds.

It’s why the Securities and Exchange Commission under current chair Jay Clayton wants to make it easier for individuals like mom-and-pop investors to invest in private companies.

Whether Clayton gets his way remains an open question. If there’s any consolation in the meantime, it may be that mutual fund investors, including T. Rowe Price and Fidelity, have continued pouring more of their own assets into startups, recognizing that if they want alpha, the private market is where they’re going to find it. Private shares are still a small fraction of their assets, but for everyday investors who want access to more of the buzziest startups as they are coming up, it may have to suffice. Still.

Categories: General News

‘Avengers: Endgame’ is a very silly movie, but it ends in exactly the right way

TechCrunch - Tue, 04/23/2019 - 17:41

With just a few days until the release of “Avengers: Endgame,” Marvel fans everywhere are probably wondering A) Who dies?? and B) Will this actually resolve the cliffhanger ending of “Infinity War” in a satisfying way?

So, just to get it out of the way: A) I’m not telling, and B) Kind of? Mostly? It depends?

Certainly, if you’re like me and found yourself fatigued by the constant, overcrowded battles of “Infinity War,” the beginning of “Endgame” will come as an enormous relief. There’s a brief flicker of action, then we get plenty of time to deal with the fallout from “Infinity War.” (And if you don’t already know how that movie ends, why are you reading this review?)

We see that half the population of Earth, and the universe, really died after Thanos’ magical finger snap, leaving the original Avengers team and a few other heroes to try to rebuild and move on. There’s plenty about the aftermath that simply gets hand-waved away with a few shots of empty streets and grieving extras — but we get to spend time with characters like Iron Man, Captain America and the Hulk to see how they’ve responded and changed in the wake of universal catastrophe.

Marvel Studios’ AVENGERS: ENDGAME ©Marvel Studios 2019

Of course, they’re not sitting around moping for the entire three-hour (!) runtime. Eventually, a plan is hatched to reverse what Thanos has done. And while I’m going to stay as vague as possible about that plan, I think it’s safe to say that the results are textbook fan service.

After all, as its name makes clear, “Endgame” is meant to serve as the culmination of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, and as a final act for some of its most famous heroes. The film’s middle stretch feels very much like a farewell tour, working overtime to remind viewers of everything they like about these characters and their stories.

Diehard Marvel fans, I suspect, will eat it up. Casual viewers may not be quite as thrilled.

Personally, I was delighted when I realized what the filmmakers were going to do. But as these sequences went on, and on, and on, my enthusiasm waned. By the time the grand finale began, virtually all the goodwill built up during the film’s beginning had evaporated.

So by the simple metric of whether “Endgame” finds a way to reverse the ending of “Infinity War” in a way that doesn’t feel cheap or cynical, I’m afraid I’d say it’s a failure. And I’m not sure I can claim that the ending is any less cynical or sentimental.

For this viewer, however, that ending absolutely works — so effectively that it not only salvages the movie, not only helps me forgive the draggy bits, but even makes me think of “Infinity War” more warmly.

See, as the MCU has gone on, it’s become increasingly difficult to regard the whole enterprise without skepticism — as something other than an excuse to create one guaranteed blockbuster that inevitably leads into the next big hit. And although some of those blockbusters are very good indeed, Marvel’s weakest moments feel like obvious concessions to this strategy, with stories that can either grind to a halt introducing new characters and subplots, or get dragged out needlessly in sequel after sequel.

But in the closing minutes of “Endgame,” I forgot all that. As our heroes arrived for a final, desperate battle, it felt like the triumphant climax that every single one of these films has been building up to.

And when the end came, it didn’t feel like an excuse to conveniently shuffle certain actors offstage. Instead, Marvel found a natural endpoint for the characters’ stories. And in one case — the film’s final shot — it didn’t just feel natural. It felt perfect.

There will be more Marvel movies. The Avengers will, inevitably, return — at least in some form. But I was thrilled and moved with the way some of them said goodbye here.

Just got out of an Endgame press screening and my jaw literally aches from holding in loud sobs

— Anthony Ha (@anthonyha) April 23, 2019

Categories: General News

Jack Dorsey just met with Trump to talk about the health of Twitter’s public discourse

TechCrunch - Tue, 04/23/2019 - 16:36

Twitter’s co-founder and CEO historically doesn’t have the most discerning tastes when it comes to who he decides to engage with. Fresh off the podcast circuit, today a thoroughly beardy Jack Dorsey sat down with President Trump for his most high-profile tête-à-tête yet.

Unlike his recent amble onto the Joe Rogan show, Dorsey’s 30-minute meeting with Trump happened behind closed doors. Motherboard reported the meeting just before Trump tweeted about it.

Great meeting this afternoon at the @WhiteHouse with @Jack from @Twitter. Lots of subjects discussed regarding their platform, and the world of social media in general. Look forward to keeping an open dialogue! pic.twitter.com/QnZi579eFb

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 23, 2019

Unless either of the men decides to share more about what they discussed we won’t know how things went down exactly, though it’s probably easy enough to guess. According to the Motherboard report, the initial internal Twitter email named “the health of the public conversation on Twitter” as the topic of the day.

Given that, we’d guess that Trump probably took the chance to bring up recent unfounded gripes about conservative censorship on the platform while Dorsey likely offered reassurances, active listening and other assorted gestures of noncommittal mildness.

According to the internal memo, Dorsey preemptively defended his decision to accept an invite from Trump. “Some of you will be very supportive of our meeting [with] the president, and some of you might feel we shouldn’t take this meeting at all,” Dorsey wrote in an email. “In the end, I believe it’s important to meet heads of state in order to listen, share our principles and our ideas.”

Update: Dorsey tweeted at Trump thanking him for the conversation. “Twitter is here to serve the entire public conversation, and we intend to make it healthier and more civil,” Dorsey wrote. “Thanks for the discussion about that.” The Washington Post reports Trump complained that the company unjustly “limited or removed some of his followers” in his session with the Twitter CEO. In fact, Trump was just tweeting about that earlier in the day.

“The best thing ever to happen to Twitter is Donald Trump.” @MariaBartiromo So true, but they don’t treat me well as a Republican. Very discriminatory, hard for people to sign on. Constantly taking people off list. Big complaints from many people. Different names-over 100 M…..

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 23, 2019

Jack Dorsey and Twitter ignored opportunity to meet with civic group on Myanmar issues

Categories: General News

Postmates has launched in 1,000 new cities since December

TechCrunch - Tue, 04/23/2019 - 16:06

Postmates is expanding like crazy ahead of an initial public offering expected later this year. The food delivery business has launched in 1,000 new cities since December, the company announced today.

San Francisco-based Postmates now operates its on-demand delivery platform, powered by a network of local gig economy workers, in 3,500 cities across all 50 states. Postmates does not yet operate in any international markets aside from Mexico City.

“We want to enable anyone to have anything delivered on demand and this latest expansion allows us to deliver on that promise across all 50 states in the US,” Postmates co-founder and chief executive officer Bastian Lehmann said in a statement.

The company says it now reaches 70 percent of U.S. households and delivers food from some 500,000 restaurants, helping it to compete with food-delivery powerhouses Uber Eats and DoorDash. Additionally, Postmates recently launched Postmates Party, a new feature that lets customers within the same neighborhood pool their orders.

Postmates is poised to follow Uber into the public markets. The company — which has raised more than $670 million in venture capital funding, including a $100 million pre-IPO financing in January that valued the business at $1.85 billion — filed confidentially for a U.S. IPO in February.

The company completes 5 million deliveries per month and was reportedly expected to record $400 million in revenue in 2018 on food sales of $1.2 billion. Uber Eats, for its part, was expected to begin reaching 70 percent of the U.S. households by the end of 2018 and reportedly has plans in the works to use drones to deliver food by 2021.

DoorDash, meanwhile, is a rocketship. The food delivery company is active in 3,300 cities and claims to be growing 325 percent year-over-year. The company recently closed a $400 million Series F financing at a $7.1 billion valuation. It’s likely to go public in the next year, too.

Food delivery service Postmates confidentially files to go public

Categories: General News

Manufacturing giant Aebi Schmidt hit by ransomware

TechCrunch - Tue, 04/23/2019 - 16:04

Aebi Schmidt, a European manufacturing giant with operations in the U.S., has been hit by a ransomware attack, TechCrunch has learned.

The Switzerland-based maker of airport maintenance and road cleaning vehicles had operations disrupted Tuesday following the malware infection, according to a source with knowledge of the incident.

Systems went down across the company’s international network, including its U.S. subsidiaries, but much of the damage was in the company’s European base. A number of systems connected to the Aebi Schmidt network across the world were left paralyzed. The source said systems necessary for manufacturing operations were inaccessible following the attack. The company’s email is also said to be affected.

It isn’t immediately known what kind of ransomware knocked the company’s systems offline.

The multinational manufacturing giant recently expanded its U.S. presence with the acquisition of M-B Companies, a maker of snow removal and cleaning machines, following earlier acquisitions of winter maintenance equipment maker Meyer Products and Swenson Products.

After several efforts to reach the company by email, phone or unsolicited LinkedIn messages, spokesperson Thomas Schiess confirmed a systems outage, specifically “e-mail system troubles,” in a Facebook message. “I can confirm that the availability of other systems was or may still be limited, our specialists are still working on resolving the issue, the cause is not yet clear,” he said, but would not comment further.

Aebi Schmidt is the latest company downed by ransomware in recent weeks.

Aluminum manufacturing giant Norsk Hydro was forced offline briefly following a ransomware attack in March. The company quickly recovered after it put in place its backup recovery process. It was a better response than drinks company Arizona Beverages, which was hit by ransomware a month later, causing its systems to shutter for a week — despite warnings from the FBI weeks earlier that the company was infected with malware lying dormant.

Arizona Beverages knocked offline by ransomware attack

Categories: General News

Singapore’s SalesWhale raises $5.3M to bring AI to sales and marketing teams

TechCrunch - Tue, 04/23/2019 - 16:00

SalesWhale, a Singapore-based startup that uses AI to help marketers and salespeople generate leads, has announced a Series A round worth $5.3 million.

The investment is led by Monk’s Hill Ventures — the Southeast Asia-focused firm that led SalesWhale’s seed round in 2017 — with participation from existing backers GREE Ventures, Wavemaker Partners and Y Combinator. That’s right, SalesWhale is one a select few Southeast Asian startups to have been through YC, it graduated back in summer 2016.

SalesWhale — which calls itself “a conversational email marketing platform” — uses AI-powered “bots” to handle email. In this case, its digital workforce is trained for sales leads. That means both covering the menial parts of arranging meetings and coordination, and the more proactive side of engaging old and new leads.

Back when we last wrote about the startup in 2017, it had just half a dozen staff. Fast-forward two years and that number has grown to 28, CEO Gabriel Lim explained in an interview. The company is going after more growth with this Series A money, and Lim expects headcount to jump past 70; SalesWhale is deliberating opening an office in California. That location would be primarily to encourage new business and increase communication and support for existing clients, most of whom are located in the U.S., according to Lim. Other hires will be tasked with increasing integration with third-party platforms, and particularly sales and enterprise services.

The past two years have also seen SalesWhale switch gears and go from targeting startups as customers, to working with mid-market and enterprise firms. SalesWhale’s “hundreds” of customers include recruiter Randstad, educational company General Assembly and enterprise service business Unit4. As it has added greater complexity to its service, so the income has jumped from an initial $39-$99 per seat all those years ago to more than $1,000 per month for enterprise customers.

SalesWhale’s founding team (left to right): Venus Wong, Ethan Lee and Gabriel Lim

While AI is a (genuine) threat to many human jobs, SalesWhale sits on the opposite side of that problem in that it actually helps human employees get more work done. That’s to say that SalesWhale’s service can get stuck into a pile (or spreadsheet) of leads that human staff don’t have time for, begin reaching out, qualifying leads and sending them on to living and breathing colleagues to take forward.

“A lot of potential leads aren’t touched” by existing human teams, Lim reflected.

But when SalesWhale reps do get involved, they are often not recognized as the bots they are.

“Customers are often so convinced they are chatting with a human — who is sending collateral, PDFs and arranging meetings — that they’ll say things like ‘I’d love to come by and visit someday,’ ” Lim joked in an interview.

“Indeed, a lot of times, sales team refer to [SalesWale-powered] sales assistant like they are a real human colleague,” he added.

Categories: General News

Why unicorns can raise $1 billion but can’t figure out diversity and inclusion

TechCrunch - Tue, 04/23/2019 - 16:00
Sarah McMillian Contributor Share on Twitter Sarah McMillian leads sales at Temboo. She has been recognized as a leader in diversity and inclusion by MIT, her alma mater, Complex and The Root, and advises tech companies on how to become more diverse and inclusive.

In the early 2000s, Hasbro revived its “My Little Pony” toy franchise. Of all the colorful creatures in Ponyville, my favorite were the unicorn ponies.

Unicorn ponies were magical, whimsical and, most importantly, rare. I identified with the latter.

I was 13 years old and had just been selected for a competitive math, science and computer science program. Of the 100 students in the program, I was one of two black girls. But, I was lucky. Just like the Earth ponies embraced the unicorns, my white and Asian classmates made me feel welcome.

I wish that was always my experience in the tech industry.

The tech industry is no more diverse than it was when I was 13. But more tech companies than ever have committed to becoming more diverse and inclusive.

So why doesn’t commitment always translate to Ponyville?

Goodbye Ponyville, hello world

Six years in my intensive math, science and computer science program almost prepared me to study at MIT. Multivariable calculus? Check. Getting over the fact that you’re not the smartest person at school? Check. Having to worry about being discriminated against by your classmates? Not check.

Here’s an example. My senior year, I was working with a team of 21 other students to develop a new medical device. Peer valuations determined part of my grade, which concerned me. I worried that some of my classmates’ feedback would be clouded by biases against black women. I felt pressured to be perceived as intelligent-but-not-intimidating, confident-but-not-aggressive and approachable-but-not-dense.

Though I largely received positive evaluations, not one, but two, of my teammates told me to “be less aggressive.”

I felt singled out and discouraged until I heard from some of my other black classmates. They’d been excluded from team meetings, and assigned the most menial tasks.

Creating diverse and inclusive tech companies starts with individuals.

How could this happen at MIT, a place that prides itself on being a diverse and inclusive center of innovation?

People discriminate. Institutions tolerate discrimination. People learn to tolerate the discrimination against them. It’s a simple, vicious cycle that few institutions and companies design against.

During the three years after I graduated from MIT, I became fed up with being treated as “less than.” It was time to find a unicorn.

Unicorn (noun)

uni·corn | \ ˈyü-nə-ˌkȯrn

  1. a mythical, usually white animal generally depicted with the body and head of a horse with long flowing mane and tail and a single often spiraled horn in the middle of the forehead
  2. a diverse and inclusive tech company
Following the Rainbow Trail

Finding a unicorn was not easy. My Google search yielded plenty of startups with billion-plus valuations. Few startups were very diverse or inclusive.

That’s why Temboo, a NYC-based industrial IoT startup, intrigued me:

  • A tech company led by a woman of color.
  • An engineering team with an equal number of women and men.
  • A product focused on accessibility and the democratization of programming.
  • A diverse team of employees from different cultural backgrounds.
  • And, most surprisingly, when I arrived for my first interview, I was greeted with a giant hug. This is New York. Random hugs don’t just happen.

Every person I met had a background and interests different from the next. Of all the companies I interviewed with, only Temboo asked why I chose to lead the black employee resource group at my previous position. Even the company’s physical space was different than most tech companies — an independent office nestled in the heart of the TriBeCa neighborhood of NYC.

When I made the decision to join the team, I was hopeful. Maybe this would be a place where I would be respected and appreciated for just being myself.

My Little Pony: NYC tales

During my first few months, I held onto the past lessons that taught me I needed to formulate an acceptable version of myself for my colleagues. However, with time, I understood that at Temboo, Sarah is enough.

My kinky hair could be braided or in an afro, but my hairstyle had no bearing on my perceived intelligence. I could openly critique the lack of diversity at the industrial IoT conferences we attend, and hear resounding agreement.

There were, admittedly, a few times I felt judged. My deep love of obscure reality TV shows and pumpkin-flavored foods is questionable.

I found my unicorn and I’m happier for it. Now, I want everyone working in tech to find their unicorn, so I’ve started to think about ways that I can help pass the torch.

Stuck in Bro-nyville

Most tech companies are following the same recommendations to become more diverse and inclusive:

  1. Diversify your talent pool.
  2. Create community with employee resource groups.
  3. Tie performance evaluations to diversity and inclusion goals.
  4. Call out the lack of diversity.

Take the example of this medium-sized tech company that was preparing to revamp its employee resource groups. The company invited me to speak on a panel, and share what I’d learned from leading the black employee resource group at my previous company.

For example, my team organized Microaggression Awareness Week. The results were tangible: the next week during an executive leadership meeting, a senior manager stopped to ask his peers if something he said was a microaggression.

But we could not convince the recruiting team to tie their performance ratings to diversity and inclusion goals. They did not want the burden of responsibility, and asked my team to come up with new ideas to attract more diverse talent.

Diverse and inclusive tech companies have better retention and financial performance.

Another panelist shared her experience of coming out in the workplace at 50 years old. After 18 years as a senior executive at a Fortune 500 company, she moved to a small tech company. The atmosphere was totally different. Jokes about someone’s sexual orientation were faux pax, and the company even built a float for the NYC Pride Parade. After a 30-year career, she finally felt safe enough to be herself at work.

The panel ended on an encouraging note, but issues remained. One of the company’s employees shared with me that in order to avoid discrimination, he goes by his Anglo-sounding middle name. His job is to lead diversity and inclusion initiatives.

How to grow a horn

Unfair behaviors like stereotyping, harassment and microaggressions are the primary reasons employees quit tech companies. Women, underrepresented minorities and LGBTQ employees bear the brunt of discrimination (Kapor Center).

Diverse and inclusive tech companies have better retention and financial performance. McKinsey examined the relationship between the diversity of company leadership and financial performance in 2014 and 2017: companies in the top quartile for gender diversity were 15-21 percent more likely to experience above-average profitability compared to companies in the fourth quartile. For ethnic and cultural diversity, the likelihood of above-average performance increased to 33-35 percent.

Creating diverse and inclusive tech companies starts with individuals. From management to junior employees, everyone needs to continually rethink, unlearn and relearn.

Rethink personal biases.

Unlearn habits of discrimination.

Relearn how to respect others who are different.

Companies help end workplace discrimination by signaling their intolerance. Temboo’s culture and practices are a great model.

Unicorns are magical, but diverse and inclusive tech companies are not. They ask the people who work there to redefine what is ordinary.

Categories: General News

Tumblr – finally – enables HTTPS for all accounts

TechCrunch - Tue, 04/23/2019 - 15:59

Better late than never, Tumblr has rolled out HTTPS across its entire site.

In a brief post on Tumblr’s engineering page, the company said all Tumblr sites will now have the web encryption setting enabled by default, though it admitted the move was “long-overdue.”

Tumblr, which like TechCrunch is owned by Verizon, has 464 million users and at the time of writing ranks in at 44 of the top 100 sites based on Alexa traffic data. Until the HTTPS switchover, it was the highest ranked site that didn’t enable HTTPS across its entire site.

The rollout followed an earlier effort to switch the site over to HTTPS in 2017, but required users to enable the feature.

HTTPS — the “s” stands for “secure” — ensures the website or app you’re using is encrypted, ensuring nobody can intercept and steal your data or modify the website. Millions of websites have embraced the web encryption standard in recent years amid concerns about privacy, tracking and surveillance.

Cybersecurity 101: How to browse the web securely and privately

Categories: General News

Check out all the demos from TC Sessions: Robotics + AI

TechCrunch - Tue, 04/23/2019 - 15:53

We’re incredibly proud of the programming we put together for this year’s TC Sessions: Robotics + AI. It’s my personal favorite TechCrunch event and I think this year’s way easily our best.

We had top names in the industry like Marc Raibert, Claire Delaunay, Colin Angle, Anthony Levondowski and Melonee Wise join us onstage. But a robotics event is nothing without actual robots, and this year’s demo lineup was every bit as stacked as our speaker list.

It was an exciting collection, from the latest version of Spot Mini to a mobility robot designed to help children with cerebral palsy walk.

Of course, we understand that not everyone was able to pack into Zellerbach Hall last Thursday. And even those who were will likely want a second look at the many robots we had onstage at the UC Berkeley event.

So here are the many impressive robots we had onstage.

Boston Dynamics SpotMini

Back by popular demand, Boston Dynamics’ SpotMini took to the stage to show off some impressive tricks. The version on our stage last week was the same as the production units the company is expected to sell later this year. CEO Marc Raibert also showcased some of Spot’s applications, from patrolling construction sites to opening doors during hostage situations.

NVIDIA Kaya and Carter

NVIDIA VP of Engineering Claire Delaunay joined us onstage to discuss the chip maker’s work to create a universally accessible robotics platform. Delaunay showcased two robots — Kaya and Carter — which are built on top of the Isaac platform. The reference robots are designed to help unlock the full potential for the Isaac SDK, which was made public at the event.

Trexo Robotics

Co-founder Manmeet Maggu opened with a personal story that led to the creation of Trexo. The Toronto-based startup started as a side project, building personal mobility devices for children with movement disorders such as cerebral palsy.

Berkeley SkyDeck Squishy and Kiwi

Hailing from a few blocks from the event, the Berkeley SkyDeck accelerator took to the stage to showcase two of their most exciting robotics startups. Squishy creates rugged exploration robots designed to be dropped from aircrafts, so they can go where humans can’t. Kiwi, meanwhile, already has a bustling business delivering hot meals to Berkeley residents.

iRobot Terra

iRobot’s first major new line in some time is precisely what you’d want from the maker of the Roomba. But why did it take the successful robotics company 10 years to create a robotic lawnmower? CEO Colin Angle explains.

Breeze Automation

This San Francisco-based startup made its public debut on our stage last week, discussing the soft, fabric-based robots it’s creating for the U.S. Navy and NASA.

Categories: General News

EBay beats with revenues of $2.6B and EPS of $0.67 as restructuring takes shape

TechCrunch - Tue, 04/23/2019 - 15:37

As eBay continues to work through a restructuring strategy, the e-commerce marketplace and online auction pioneer reported earnings for the first quarter of the year that should keep some of the more activist shareholders a little at bay. The company reported revenues of $2.6 billion and non-GAAP net income of $608 million, or diluted earnings per share of $0.67 ($0.57 EPS on a GAAP basis).

Both numbers, in fact, exceeded analysts’ estimates. On average, they had predicted eBay to report EPS of $0.63 per share (on a range of $0.58 to $0.64) on revenues of $2.58 billion (range of $2.55 billion to $2.63 billion).

“We delivered a solid first quarter with revenue and EPS,” said Devin Wenig, president and CEO of eBay Inc., in a statement. “Our initiatives to create a next generation payment and advertising experience are on track, we saw healthy buyer growth and disciplined cost control, and we continue to simplify the buying process while remaining focused on seller’s success.”

That doesn’t mean the company is really out of hot water, though: A year ago, eBay had $2.58 billion in sales, so today’s figures represent barely any growth in overall sales at the company, which has been struggling to compete against a plethora of brick-and-mortar companies that have seized the online opportunity, and of course its age-old competitor, Amazon. (Although eBay already hived off PayPal years ago, activist shareholders now argue that eBay should be restructured and broken up even further.)

Indeed, the guidance eBay is providing for the quarter and full year ahead speaks to those challenges. It expects in Q2 to post revenues of between $2.64 billion and $2.69 billion, growth of just two percent to four percent, with non-GAAP earnings per diluted share from continuing operations in the range of $0.61 – $0.63. Full-year revenues are projected by eBay to be between $10.83 billion and $10.93 billion, growth of between two and three percent.

The company has made a shift in its strategy in the last few months to focus back on its own inventory and leverage the tech it has in advertising to promote it better. A few weeks ago, we reported on how it was shutting down one of its advertising efforts, the eBay Commerce Network, in support of that strategy. It has also laid off several hundred people as it scales back some of those operations.

EBay said that in Q1, active buyers were up four percent across its platforms and now total 180 million global active buyers. (It has made a lot of moves to encourage more people to buy on the platform, such as adding new payment methods like Google Pay, and improving the process by which a buyer can report dissatisfaction with a purchase.)

Marketplace accounted for the bulk of revenues, at $2.2 billion of revenue and $21.6 billion of GMV. That GMV is actually down four percent on a year ago, even as marketplace revenues were up three percent.

StubHub accounted for $230 million of revenues, a flat figure on last year. Classifieds accounted for $256 million in sales. Advertising, meanwhile, will remain a big boat to turn around: this quarter it accounted for a mere $65 million of revenue, although that was up 110 percent year-over-year.

Categories: General News

Snapchat revives growth in Q1 beat with 190M users

TechCrunch - Tue, 04/23/2019 - 15:13

Snapchat appears to have turned the corner after a year of flat or negative user growth thanks to a strong Q1 2019 earnings report. It reached 190 million daily active users, up 2 percent from 186 million in Q4 2018 when it plateaued, but still down from 191 million a year ago. Snap added as many users in Q1 as in the past five quarters combined in part thanks to its newly reengineered Android app. Snap saw $320 million in revenue and -$0.10 non-GAAP EPS, beating Zack’s consensus estimates of $306 million and -$0.12 EPS, with revenue up 39 percent year-over-year.

One concern is Snapchat provided guidance of greater losses next quarter, ranging from $125 million to $150 million compared to this quarter’s $123 million. That’s because increased usage triggers higher Amazon AWS and Google Cloud bills for the company. Since Rest of World users only earn an average of $0.97 versus $2.81 for North American users, international growth could cost Snap money until it figures out how to make more off ads there. “If engagement trends continue in a positive direction, we expect to observe higher infrastructure costs despite improving unit costs for the underlying cloud services and user actions,” writes interim CFO Lara Sweet. This could delay Snapchat hitting profitability, which Spiegel had set of goal of reaching by the end of 2019.

The strong beat on earnings led Snap’s share to climb about 10 percent in after-hours trading to around $13.11 in after-hours trading, after closing at $11.99 earlier today. That’s up from a low of $5.07 in December. But the share price dropped back to be up 2 percent to $12.15 by 2:10pm pacific. That’s likely due to the share price more than doubling in recent months. Snap also only guided toward modest revenue growth to $335 million to $360 million in Q2.

Snap managed to add users in all its markets, growing 1 million in North America, 1 million in Europe and 2 million in the developing world, where the Android app is critical. The 25 percent smaller, 20 percent faster Android app generated a 6 percent increase in Snaps sent from low-end Android devices in the first week after they upgraded.

Snapchat fully rolls out reengineered Android app, boosting usage

One blemish on an otherwise powerful earnings report was that average revenue per use dropped below its Q3 2018 $0.85 level in Europe to $0.77. That may in part be due to usage increases spreading ad revenue thinner across users. But that’s a lucrative market where Snap will need to do better with advertisers. Snap saw a net loss of $310 million on $320 million in revenue, meaning it’s still deep in the hole and needs to manage how much it’s pouring into employee compensation and augmented reality hardware R&D that could take a decade to pan out.

Snap reiterated a stat shared at its big Partner Summit conference this month, which is that it now reaches 90 percent of all 13 to 24-year-olds and 75 percent of all 13 to 34-year-olds in the U.S. It claims that’s more 13 to 24-year-olds in the U.S. than Instagram. That stat could get advertisers to give Snapchat the time of day even if its total user count isn’t over 1 billion monthlies like Instagram, thanks to its international prominence.

With Android fixed, a product that remains differentiated thanks to ephemeral messaging and Discover, and losses coming under control, Snapchat looks like it may have finally ended its post-IPO slump. And now it finally has a coherent strategy for competing with Facebook’s clones, which I detail in my feature piece “To stop copycats, Snapchat shares itself.” Instead of taking the moral high road, it’s colonizing other apps with its Stories platform and ad network to recruit allies to fight the Zuckerberg empire.

To stop copycats, Snapchat shares itself

Snap may never be a billion-user company. But if it can keep teens who’ve adopted it as their messaging app entertained with media content while using its best-in-class ephemerality to attract downloads, it could survive until profitability. Then it can start looking to the future again as it prepares to battle the tech giants for the future of augmented reality eyewear.

 Come see Snap CEO Evan Spiegel speak at TechCrunch Disrupt SF on October 2nd-4th. Get your tickets here.

Categories: General News

Snapchat fully rolls out reengineered Android app, boosting usage

TechCrunch - Tue, 04/23/2019 - 15:11

After a year of its user count shrinking or staying flat, Snapchat is finally growing again, and more growth is likely on the way. That’s because it’s finally completed the rollout of Project Mushroom, aka a backend overhaul of its Android app that’s 25 percent smaller and 20 percent faster. Designed for India and other emerging markets where iPhones are too expensive, Snapchat saw an immediate 6 percent increase in the number of people on low-end devices sending Snaps within the first week of upgrading to the new Android app.

Snapchat revives growth in Q1 beat with 190M users as share price spikes

Snapchat grew from 186 million daily active users in Q4 2018 to 190 million in Q1 2019, adding 1 million in North America, 1 million in Europe and 2 million in the Rest of World, where the Android app makes the biggest difference despite rolling out near the end of the quarter. It has been a long wait, as Snap first announced the Android reengineering project in November 2017.

“As of the end of Q1, our new Android application is available to everyone,” Snap CEO Evan Spiegel wrote in his prepared remarks for today’s estimate-beating earnings report. “While these early results are promising, improvements in performance and new user retention will take time to compound and meaningfully impact our top-line metrics. There are billions of Android devices in the world that now have access to an improved Snapchat experience, and we look forward to being able to grow our Snapchat community in new markets.”

Some of the growth stemmed from tweaks to Snapchat’s ruinous redesign, including better personalized ranking of Stories and Discover content, as well as new premium video Shows. Now with the Android app humming, though, we might see significant growth in the Rest of World region in Q2.

Unfortunately, since Snapchat uses bandwidth and storage-heavy video, more usage also means more Amazon AWS and Google Cloud expenditures. That’s partly why Snapchat is predicting a slight increase in adjusted EBITDA losses from $123 million in Q1 to between $125 million and $150 million in Q2. Rest of World users only earn Snap about one-third as much money as North American users, but cost nearly as much to support.

We first highlighted Snap’s neglect of the international teen Android market when Instagram Stories launched in August 2016. Spiegel and Snap were too focused on cool American teens, squandering this market that was snapped up by Facebook’s Instagram and WhatsApp. Now Snapchat will have a much harder time winning emerging markets as they’re not the first to bring Stories there. But if it can double-down on ephemeral messaging, premium video and its augmented reality platform that are leagues ahead of Facebook’s offerings, it could finally creep toward that 200 million DAU milestone.

 Come see Snap CEO Evan Spiegel speak at TechCrunch Disrupt SF on October 2nd-4th. Get your tickets here.

Categories: General News

New Sesame Street-themed PSA encourages kids to reduce mobile device use

TechCrunch - Tue, 04/23/2019 - 15:10

Device addiction plagues us all — even Apple CEO Tim Cook. But children with phones and tablets are even more susceptible to the lures of apps and games, which often use psychological tricks to keep users logging in and regularly returning. A new PSA from Sesame Workshop and advocacy organization Common Sense aims to address kids’ unhealthy use of mobile devices by focusing on one particular problem: devices at the dinner table.

This is not the first time the #DeviceFreeDinner campaign has run — previous years’ spots featured Will Ferrell as a “distracted dad” on his phone at the table, ignoring his family’s conversations.

But this time around, the organization is teaming up with Sesame Workshop, which is lending its characters to a new PSA. The spot will feature the “Sesame Street” muppets modeling healthy mobile phone behavior by putting their devices away.

Phones are shut up in drawers, tablets placed on shelves, other devices are put in handbags — and, you know, thrown into garbage cans and stashed in pumpkins, as the case may be.

The muppets then gather around a table and happily chatter until they notice Cookie Monster is still on his phone, texting. (Don’t worry, their disapproval sees him eating the device in the end.)

The idea, explains kids advocacy organization Common Sense, is to raise awareness around media balance and encourage families to make the most of their time together.

It comes at a time when now one-third of kids ages 0 to 8 “frequently” use mobile devices, the nonprofit explains. But taking a break from devices is shown to have positive benefits, ranging from better nutrition and focus at home to fewer problems at school, Common Sense says.

Plus, it notes, simply putting the phone down is not enough — it shouldn’t be at the table at all, as research has shown that even the presence of a phone on the table can hurt the quality of conversations.

While Common Sense puts out a lot of material for children and families like this, Sesame Workshop’s involvement on the new PSA is particularly interesting given the company’s recent connection with Apple.

A new Sesame Workshop-produced show set to air on Apple’s soon-to-launch streaming service will teach kids coding basics — an agenda Apple regularly pushes to get its programming language, Swift, into the hands of the next generation of coders. 

In the show, the same “Sesame Street” characters who today are telling kids to put down their phones will instead tout the joys of coding to the preschool set.

The juxtaposition of a programming-focused Apple kids’ show and the new PSA are a perfect example of how complicated the issues around kids on devices have become. On the one hand, parents want to encourage their children to pursue STEM subjects — which often requires kids to regularly use computers and other devices to practice new skills, like coding with MIT’s Scratch or building for Minecraft. But on the other hand, parents see that when kids are given devices, addiction soon follows.

The real question for parents may be, instead, whether kids should have devices at all — or whether they should take their cues from tech billionaires and Silicon Valley parents who are ripping devices from their own children’s hands like they’re the modern-day equivalent of sugary breakfast cereal.

Perhaps Sesame Workshop should have chosen a side on this issue, rather than teaming with the billion-dollar company that’s now trying to distance itself from fault with regard to the device addiction problem at the same time it runs PSAs about kids’ device addiction.

Or maybe it’s just as confused at the rest of us are over where to draw the line.

Starting today, the new “Sesame Street”-themed PSAs will be distributed across networks and platforms, including NBC, Fox, Xfinity, Comcast, Charter, Cox, National Geographic, NCM, PBS, Univision, Telemundo, HITN and Xfinity Latino.

Categories: General News

The master list of PR DON’Ts (or how not to piss off the writer covering your startup)

TechCrunch - Tue, 04/23/2019 - 14:42

When it comes to working with journalists, so many people are, frankly, idiots. I have seen reporters yank stories because founders are assholes, play unfairly, or have PR firms that use ridiculous pressure tactics when they have already committed to a story.

There is so much bad behavior that I thought that it might be time to write up a list of “DON’Ts” on how not to work with journalists.

I compiled this list by polling TechCrunch’s entire writing staff for their pet peeves when it comes to working with PR folks and founders around startup pitches. The result was this list of 16 obnoxious annoyances.

The interesting thread that connects all of them is that these DON’Ts are almost universal across the staff — few of these annoyances seemed to be merely personal preference. Avoiding these behaviors won’t guarantee coverage of your startup, but they certainly will help you avoid killing your news story before it even gets considered for publication.

How to pitch to a (tech) journalist

DON’T change the capitalization of your startup multiple times

SEO is important, and so there are rules about how to capitalize things to maximize your exposure on Google and DDG. That’s important to get right, but for the love of god, figure out what the hell you want your startup’s name to be before you reach out to the press.

Categories: General News

How to pitch to a (tech) journalist

TechCrunch - Tue, 04/23/2019 - 14:42

Startup growth comes from many places, but one option is through “earned media” — stories and mentions in the press. Earned media is great, because the channel is nominally free, and it often can get many more of the right eyeballs than advertising. Minus some sleazy behavior in the journalism world, you should never have to pay a dime to get a story into print other than the work it takes to manage PR (and yes, of course, that can be very expensive, although it doesn’t have to be).

For these reasons, startups pitch writers a lot on stories about everything from their latest fundraise to new features in their apps. Yet despite that frequency, some founders (and PR folks) are extraordinarily good at pitching and find great success, while others seem to never get the attention of even the most workaholic writers.

The job of writers is to write stories, but writing your story is not their job.

Therefore, learning how to pitch a journalist, how to build a relationship with writers covering your startup and how not to mess up a story already in production is a critical skill for anyone looking to grow their business.

This guide is designed to help bridge the gap by covering relationship building, how to determine newsworthiness and the logistics of exclusives and embargoes. In addition, we’ve published a companion piece that lists and analyzes 16 DON’Ts that can suddenly find your committed story in the trash can.

The master list of PR DON’Ts (or how not to piss off the writer covering your startup)

Building relationships should always take precedent

The single greatest secret of building any venture, actually, the greatest secret of life, is that relationships are everything. We live in a free world, and no one is obligated to do anything for anyone. Venture capitalists aren’t obligated to write a check, partners aren’t obligated to sign a deal and customers never have to buy your product.

Categories: General News

Squarespace makes its first acquisition with Acuity Scheduling

TechCrunch - Tue, 04/23/2019 - 14:36

Squarespace is announcing its first acquisition today, a 13-year-old company called Acuity Scheduling that allows businesses to manage their online appointments.

Squarespace CEO Anthony Casalena noted that the company has been expanding beyond website building already — he said he now wants to provide tools around online presence (i.e. building a website), commerce and marketing.

To do that, Squarespace has been building its own products, but in this case, Casalena said it made more sense to just bring Acuity on-board, particularly because there’s already an integration between Acuity’s scheduling software and Squarespace’s page-building tools.

“What [CEO Gavin Zuchlinski] had built at Acuity is a great business,” he said. “It’s been growing pretty organically up until this point, with 45 employees who really understand the space and a very customer-centric culture. They have a great product. That would just be faster for us [to acquire them], versus building our own product.”

The plan is to build more integrations over time, while also continuing to support Acuity as a standalone product. The entire Acuity team is joining Squarespace, with Zuchlinski become vice president of Acuity within the larger company.

Asked whether this means we can expect Squarespace to make more acquisitions in the future, Casalena said, “I think we just are able to look at things that are going to be a little more meaningful right now … Our size kind of opened our perspective to what’s possible.”

This also comes as the email marketing product that Squarespace launched last year is coming out of beta with new features like campaign scheduling and improved analytics.

Squarespace expands its website-building platform with email marketing

Categories: General News

Group Nine hires Brian Lee to lead its commerce business

TechCrunch - Tue, 04/23/2019 - 14:00

Group Nine Media has hired Brian Lee as its first executive vice president of commerce.

Lee held a similar role at Maker Studios before its acquisition by Disney, and he also founded the New York-based accelerator SKIG. Group Nine — which was created by the merger of Thrillist, NowThis Media, The Dodo and Discovery-owned Seeker — says Lee’s job will include licensing, merchandising, affiliate advertising and direct-to-consumer products.

“Group Nine has some of the most loved and impactful brands, coupled with the ability to leverage a host of deeply powerful insights,” Lee said in a statement. “I believe we are uniquely positioned to make huge strides in this space and can’t wait to get started.”

When I met with Group Nine CEO Ben Lerer earlier this year, he laid out his vision for the company moving forward.

“We’re successfully building brands — not to be distributed over a paid TV pipe, not to sit back and watch on your TV passively,” Lerer said. “Instead, we’re building brands for the kind of content consumption that someone who’s grown up with a smartphone in their pocket patronizes. What we’re doing is shows and characters and telling stories that are meant to be delivered via Facebook, via YouTube, via Snapchat, via Twitter.”

That kind of strategy, where a publisher relies on third-party platforms to reach their audience, has been disastrous for other digital media companies, but Lerer sounded pretty confident, particularly as the company gets smarter about which shows to invest in: “We’re making less and less content that is disposable every month than we did the month before.”

That approach seems to tie into Group Nine’s commerce strategy. In today’s announcement, Lerer said, “We have some of the most engaging brands on mobile, built around deeply dedicated communities of loyal fans so it’s imperative that we make the most of the opportunities that presents.”

Citing Nielsen, Group Nine says its content reaches nearly 45 million Americans every day. Business Insider also reported recently that the company is in talks to merge with women’s lifestyle media company Refinery29.

Group Nine Media hires Stacy Green as its first chief people officer

Categories: General News

Luxury consignment e-tailer The RealReal to enter the unicorn club with new funding

TechCrunch - Tue, 04/23/2019 - 13:53

The RealReal, an online retailer for authenticated luxury consignment, has authorized the sale of up to $70 million in new shares, per a Delaware stock authorization filing discovered by the Prime Unicorn Index. If the company raises the entire amount, it would reach a valuation of $1.06 billion, cementing its status as the newest e-commerce unicorn.

The filing doesn’t guarantee The RealReal will sell the full amount of authorized shares. The company declined to comment on its fundraising plans.

The RealReal is led by founder and chief executive officer Julie Wainwright (pictured), the former CEO of Pets.com, a company now synonymous with the dot-com bust. It has raised quite a bit of capital to date — a total of $288 million from venture capital and private equity backers, including Great Hill Partners, Sandbridge Capital, PWP Growth Equity, Industry Ventures, Greycroft Partners and Canaan Partners. Most recently, The RealReal closed a Series G financing of $115 million in July 2018 that valued the business at $745 million, per PitchBook.

The RealReal has recently expanded its brick-and-mortar footprint and added additional e-commerce fulfillment centers as demand increased for its supply of second-hand luxury items. Founded in 2011, the company operates eight luxury consignment offices, where customers can receive free valuations of their luxury items. The RealReal is headquartered in San Francisco.

In a conversation with TechCrunch in 2017, Wainwright confirmed the company’s intent to go public at some point. With this upcoming round, The RealReal would be well placed for a 2020 initial public offering.

“That’s the goal,” Wainwright said during the interview. “We really aren’t in the mood to sell the business, we’re in the mood to go public at some point in the future.”

The RealReal competes with fellow second-hand e-tailers ThredUp and Poshmark . The latter is gearing up for a fall IPO, according to The Wall Street Journal. The online marketplace has tapped Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs to lead its offering after closing in on $150 million in revenue in 2018. ThredUp, another major player in the fashion retail market, hasn’t raised capital since 2015, but did begin opening physical stores in 2017 as part of its greater effort to compete with fellow venture-backed second-hand e-tailers.

The RealReal would also be the latest in a series of high-profile female-founded companies to gain unicorn status. Glossier tripled its valuation to $1.2 billion with a $100 million round earlier this year, followed by Rent the Runway, which attracted a $125 million investment at a $1 billion valuation, to name a few.

Rent the Runway hits a $1 billion valuation

Categories: General News

Locus Robotics raises $26 million for warehouse automation

TechCrunch - Tue, 04/23/2019 - 13:17

Warehouse automation is all the rage in robotics these days. No surprise then, that another emerging player just got a healthy slice of venture funding. Massachusetts-based Locus Robotics this week announced that it has secured a $26 million Series C. The round, led by Zebra Ventures and Scale Venture Partners, brings the startup’s total funding to around $66 million.

The five-year-old company produces robotic shelving designed to transfer bins inside of warehouses. Founder Bruce E. Welty was onstage at our robotics event back in 2017 demonstrating the technology.

It’s a similar principle to many other players in the space, including Amazon’s Kiva and Bay Area-based Fetch. And like those companies, Locus has garnered interest from some big players — most notably delivery giant, DHL.

The robotics automation space has heated up quite a bit in 2019. Colorado-based Canvas, which makes autonomous warehouse delivery carts, was acquired by Amazon last week. Even Boston Dynamics is looking at the category as a way forward for its own impressive technologies, putting its robot Handle to work in a fulfillment center.

“We have seen a massive uptick in demand for the flexible automation incorporated into Locus’s multi-bot solution, which is uniquely suited to address these challenges,” CEO Rick Faulk says in a release tied to the news. “Not only is our solution proven to dramatically improve productivity and drive down costs, but it is also a source of scalable labor that can be adapted to meet the demands of numerous product and customer profiles. This new funding will enable us to scale to meet growing demand for our revolutionary solution worldwide.”

Categories: General News

Alphabet’s Wing gets FAA permission to start delivering by drone

TechCrunch - Tue, 04/23/2019 - 12:59

Wing Aviation, the drone-based delivery startup born out of Google’s X labs, has received the first FAA certification in the country for commercial carriage of goods. It might not be long before you’re getting your burritos sent par avion.

The company has been performing tests for years, making thousands of flights and supervised deliveries to show that its drones are safe and effective. Many of those flights were in Australia, where in suburban Canberra the company recently began its first commercial operations. Finland and other countries are also in the works.

Wing, Alphabet’s drone delivery business, to begin a pilot in Finland in Spring 2019

Wing’s first operations, starting later this year, will be in Blacksburg and Christiansburg, Va.; obviously an operation like this requires close coordination with municipal authorities as well as federal ones. You can’t just get a permission slip from the FAA and start flying over everyone’s houses.

“Wing plans to reach out to the local community before it begins food delivery, to gather feedback to inform its future operations,” the FAA writes in a press release. Here’s hoping that means you can choose whether or not these loud little aircraft will be able to pass through your airspace.

Although the obvious application is getting a meal delivered quickly even when traffic is bad, there are plenty of other applications. One imagines quick delivery of medications ahead of EMTs, or blood being transferred quickly between medical centers.

I’ve asked Wing for more details on its plans to roll this out elsewhere in the U.S. and will update this story if I hear back.

Categories: General News