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| May 24, 2019

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XPRIZE seeks high-tech solutions to California’s fire problems

May 14, 2019 |

The fire season is just a few weeks away here in California, and it’s expected to be worse than ever. But there’s a new plan in the works to help catch fires before they get out of control. XPRIZE is organizing a public competition for technology that can quickly find and extinguish wildland fires.

Announced by Gov. Gavin Newsom and XPRIZE founder Peter Diamandis on Friday at the Near Future Summit in San Diego, the competition will be open to any company and inventor in the world.

“It’ll be head-to-head between companies, and if one can detect and extinguish a fire in a repeatable fashion, then it becomes technology that every farm, every piece of land [can get],” Diamandis explained on stage. “Let’s reinvent what has been an old form of fire suppression — of people putting themselves in danger.”

Instead of the remote (and decaying) fire lookouts like the one that Jack Kerouac lived in on Desolation Peak, this wildland firefighter turned tech writer imagines Internet of Things devices and satellites helping to pick up even small smoke or heat trails, perhaps combined with some drones that can go dump precision-guided buckets of water.

XPRIZE competitions are designed to attract outside investment for new approaches to major problems, with its ambitious goals typically taking many years for anyone to win. So far, the nonprofit entity has successfully fostered results around space flight, health care and pollution cleanup among many other areas. The fire prize is currently finding sponsors to support the full program and has already raised an initial half-million dollars in funding from Dick Merkin, the CEO of Heritage Provider Network, to develop the plan.

The problem that this prize addresses has only been getting more obvious. Climate change, urban sprawl into naturally burning ecosystems, and an overly successful historical approach to limiting wildland fires have all contributed to bigger and more damaging conflagrations in recent decades.

Today, California is full of kindling-like new plant growth from the wet winter we just had, and it is just about dried out and ready to burn when the next lightning storm, mechanical spark, cigarette butt or willful arsonist shows up.

The winner of the prize will not be able to solve all of the bigger problems, of course, but detection and fast suppressions will at least buy humans time to figure out the other parts while preventing much of the state from going up in smoke.

“Just since 2015 we’ve had ten of the most destructive wildfires in California’s entire history,” Newsom highlighted. “You look at the last 24 months, all those headlines… We lost 139 lives to 16,600 wildfires. We lost over 32,000 structures in this state. [We’re] still trying to calculate the destruction in terms of costs. Just the debris removal costs currently in Paradise… are now close to three billion dollars.”

Meanwhile, like much else in the state, firefighting infrastructure is stuck in the middle of last century.

Gavin Newsom at the near future summit

“I mean, we’re still trying to get old-time cameras out there in the forest,” Newsom continued. “We still have an analog 911 system in the state of California. We have 234 of these Cal Fire forest stations. Over half of them are more than 50 years old, or dilapidated, falling down. People can’t even be pre-positioned out there. It is hard to describe how antiquated we are in this response. The first responders do an extraordinary job, and the mutual aid from around the world is second to none. But we shouldn’t just be celebrating that heroism on the back end. We should be celebrating the heroism and ingenuity on the front end.”

Diamandis offered a few more ideas for what a successful prize competitor might offer.

“You should be able to say in this 500 acres of forest land, there should not be a fire over ten times the size of a camp fire…. If something gets spotted by infrared by satellites, and drones, that is bigger than that, [then] put it out immediately. Autonomously. The concept is a fire detection and extinguishing XPRIZE. Can we find it and put it out before it grows? How it gets put out, is it drones, is water cannons, who knows? That’s our hope, and our working with you, you got plenty of test facilities here.”

He and Newsom also highlighted the economic angles and the physical proximity of the problem, noting geographic areas like the East Bay Hills where (to my knowledge) some of the wealthy and tech-focused Near Future attendees live — which could help with fundraising for the prize.

“They’re not insuring folks in what they call this wildland urban interface any longer,” Newsom noted. “Eleven million Californians live in that wildland-urban interface. You’re seeing your deductibles go up, your premiums go up — or they’re simply not renewing it because they cannot absorb these losses anymore.”

The governor has also been busy debating other ways to plan against fires as he unveils his first state budget. The prize concept, which he has talked about before, is in this light a handy way to save taxpayer dollars, while potentially getting far better tools than the state could build or buy today. If successful, it could also produce solutions for the many other fire-prone parts of the world.

TechCrunch

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

May 13, 2019 |

Another day, another episode of Equity. This time it was an emergency episode, because Uber (finally) went public and a lot of financial folks were quite looking forward to how it would perform on opening day. Turns out it didn’t do so well.

Kate and Alex had a lot of questions about why? Was it the company’s fault? Was it simply the macro market? Was it something else altogether? And then there was the fact that it wasn’t a great week for the stock market or U.S.-China trade relations.

But don’t cry for Uber. As Kate Clark reported, the ride-hailing company still has $ 8.1 billion to play with to grow itself into a more profitable company.

And now we watch as Uber navigates the public markets.

Kate: Uber was a different story [than Lyft]. I think we expected a really similar pricing scheme, but we saw Uber set a price range of 44 to $ 50 per share. And they ultimately priced at $ 45 per share only to sink pretty significantly right off the bat. They began trading this morning at $ 42 a share and now they’re-

Alex: Shocking.

Kate: Yeah. Now they’re, what? Floating at around $ 41. So they’re dropping. I think everybody is a little bit surprised by that.

Alex: Yeah. So the reason why we thought they were going to raise their range was because it felt a bit conservative. The 44 to $ 50 per share IPO target range for Uber felt like almost a mulligan. Like, “We’ll put it out there. We’ll get 3X demanded at the top end. We’ll raise the range four or five bucks a share, price it towards the top into that, get the valuation where we want it.”

Alex: And to see them price it 45 is shocking.

For access to the full transcription, become a member of Extra Crunch. Learn more and try it for free. 

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After burning through $1 billion, Jawbone’s Hosain Rahman has raised $65 million more

May 12, 2019 |

Not everyone gets a second chance in Silicon Valley. Entrepreneur Hosain Rahman has been given many more than that. Though his last company, Jawbone, which produced wireless speakers and Bluetooth earpieces, went kaput in 2017 after burning up $ 1 billion in venture funding over the course of ten years, Rahman has managed to raise $ 65.4 million for his new company. So shows a new SEC filing that, coincidentally or otherwise, was processed late yesterday while most of the world’s attention was focused on Uber’s IPO.

The company, Jawbone Health, isn’t brand new. According to reports of two years ago and Rahman’s LinkedIn bio, he began working in earnest on his newest endeavor when the original Jawbone was running on fumes in the summer of 2017.

In fact, according to LinkedIn, Jawbone Health now employs 51 people, including some who worked with Rahman previously. Among these is the new outfit’s VP of engineering, Jonathan Hummel, who’d been a senior engineering manager at Jawbone during the last two years of its life. Others are new to the organization because of its focus on healthcare. These include Yaniv Kerem, Jawbone Health’s VP of Informatics, whose last job was as an emergency medical physician with Kaiser Permanente.

Certainly, the company has a very different mission than even the wearable fitness trackers that Jawbone began making as a kind of Hail Mary pass, and whose failure signaled to some the end of the wearables industry — though it was really just the end of Jawbone.

As Rahman told reporter Kara Swisher last fall, what Jawbone Health is selling is a “personalized subscription service where we take all of this continuous health data about you and we combine that with a lot of machine intelligence . . .”

The idea is to prevent the avoidable diseases that wind up killing two-thirds of us owing to bad-decision making and plain-old inattention. “If you catch that stuff early and you change your behavior or whatnot, you can push out half of those deaths and save 70 percent of the cost,” he told her, adding that Jawbone Health is making its own devices, which will will come free with the service.

Still, one obvious concern for the new company is competition. Where Jawbone made attractive, wireless speakers ahead of many other companies whose products now litter our homes, Rahman is seemingly late to the party with Jawbone Health. There are already rings that track sleep activity and heart rate; bracelets that come with built-in accelerometers, heart rate sensors, and temperature sensors; and even textiles that unlock biometric insights.

That’s saying nothing of the Apple Watch, which has already put plenty of startups out of business.

Rahman says one of Jawbone Health’s biggest differentiators is that the product and service are “clinical grade.” That may be a selling point for some consumers, though we’d imagine most won’t really care. After all, humans don’t have the best track record when it comes to taking care of themselves.

Either way, the new funding, atop so much lost capital already, is sure to frustrate some founders who’ve been given fewer opportunities. It may also confuse others who’ve either worked with or funded Rahman in the past.

Then again, Rahman wouldn’t be the first founder to bounce back from failure, and he has plenty to prove. His new backers may well be counting on it.

According to the filing, Jawbone Health is backed by SignalFire and Refactor Capital in the Bay Area, and Polymath Ventures in Dubai. In his sit-down with Swisher, Rahman had also said that Meraas in Dubai is an investor. Indeed, he described it as the company’s “primary” investor.

We’ll have more on the company soon.

TechCrunch

These companies may smooth startups’ path to the public market — if they don’t kill each other first

May 11, 2019 |

This morning, the SEC approved as the U.S.’s 14th stock exchange Long Term Stock Exchange (LTSE), an outfit that was conceived in 2012 by “Lean Startup” author Eric Ries as a place where public market shareholders who hold onto their shares through thick and thin would be rewarded for their loyalty.

Ries thinks such rewards are important because he believes in public markets. Among other things, by establishing a common currency, being publicly traded enables companies to more easily acquire other companies. It enables employees to more freely sell their shares. It also allows retail investors to participate in the growth of tech companies — growth from which they’ve largely been shut out in recent years as the average time a company remains private has stretched to roughly 12 years.

Indeed, Ries’s biggest issue with public market shareholders is their focus on short-term results, citing it as the biggest reason that startups remain privately held for so long. After all, it’s hard to innovate when you’re being sued over disappointing earnings.

Whether LTSE can usher in rules that encourage both companies and shareholders to focus on the longer term remains to be seen. LTSE has not received approval over any kind of listings standards. It hasn’t even submitted these yet.

While ideally, the exchange wants to welcome “values-based” companies that limit executive bonuses and grant more voting power to shareholders who hang on for the ride, Ries seems to recognize that he may have to settle for less owing to some pushback, including by the Council of Institutional Investors, a group of institutions that fear long-term voting could ultimately empower founders and company insiders at the expense of other shareholders.

During a call today, he told us that LTSE won’t necessarily give more voting power to shareholders. “These rewards could be voting or other things,” he said.

Certainly, Ries will benefit if LTSE takes off. While numerous reports today note that famed VC Marc Andreessen is one of LTSE’s financial backers, the biggest shareholder right now is Ries himself, who owns 30 percent of the for-profit company, according to government filings.

Other major shareholders include John Bautista, a cofounder of Long Term Stock Exchange who is also an attorney with the law firm Orrick; Founders Fund, which owns 14 percent of the company; Collaborative Fund, which owns 7.8 percent; and Obvious Ventures, which owns 6.7 percent. The company has raised roughly $ 19 million altogether to date.

Ries is hardly alone wanting companies to be able to go public sooner without worrying about activist investors. We’d written about the case for tenured voting in late 2017, noting then that concept has been around for decades. But while it resonates with founders, few others have embraced the idea. Back in the 1980s, for example, U.S. stock exchanges determined that tenured voting was unnecessarily complicated and too hard to track. Meanwhile, bankers don’t like the idea because anything that looks different to the market is harder to sell.

Interestingly, another Andreessen-backed startup to make headlines this week — Carta — seems like a bet that LTSE won’t realize its vision completely. The seven-year-old, San Francisco-based startup largely helps private company investors, founders, and employees manage their equity and ownership. But it just raised $ 300 million in Series E funding at a $ 1.7 billion valuation led by Andreessen Horowitz and the reason for that, it says: its plans to become what Carta CEO Henry Ward describes as the world’s largest marketplace for private company shares.

Carta paints the evolution as a natural one, now that so many startups and institutional investors use its platform already. And investors seem to agree that Carta has more pieces in place than any platform before it. As VC Om Malik of True Ventures told us yesterday, citing Carta’s “data density” and “clarity” into the goings-on of the many participants on its platform: “That’s one company I wish I was a stockholder in, I like it that much.”

In fact, Ward talks about Carta democratizing access to the private market. Yet it seems more interested in becoming a hub for startups and institutional investors to get their private company trades done. (At least, Ward, with whom we spoke last week, did not answer simple questions about who will be able to use the platform in the future.)

Whether either company realizes its bold ambitions will take time to know. In the meantime, it will be interesting to understand whether together LTSE and Carta can become a safer, smoother, less stressful path for startups to go public, or instead the two wind up competing for mindshare, with Carta hoping companies will stay private, while LTSE is pushing for them to get out in the world — and onto its exchange.

We reached out to Andreessen Horowitz earlier today for its thoughts on the matter. It has yet to respond.

TechCrunch

Chelsea Manning released from jail as grand jury expires

May 10, 2019 |

Chelsea Manning walked free today for the first time after spending two months in Virginia’s Alexandria Detention Center for refusing to cooperate with a grand jury probing her relationship with WikiLeaks. Gizmodo first reported news that Manning left the facility today.

Manning was found to be in contempt of court, remaining in custody until the Eastern District of Virginia grand jury expired. Before her release, Manning was issued another subpoena for a second grand jury for Thursday May 16.

“Chelsea will continue to refuse to answer questions, and will use every available legal defense to prove to District Judge Trenga that she has just cause for her refusal to give testimony,” her legal team shared in a blog post.

Manning has consistently signaled her ongoing unwillingness to cooperate with the federal grand jury. That makes it entirely possible that she could be returned to custody at the detention center next week when she appears for her latest subpoena.

“I don’t have anything to contribute to this, or any other grand jury,” Manning said last month. “While I miss home, they can continue to hold me in jail, with all the harmful consequences that brings. I will not give up.”

TechCrunch

Pearl, the healthcare spinout from LA-based AI startup, GumGum, raises $11 million

May 9, 2019 |

GumGum, the Los Angeles-based startup that’s spent the past decade applying machine learning technologies to advertising and sports, has spun out a new healthcare startup focused on the dental industry called Pearl.

The company has raised $ 11 million in financing from undisclosed strategic investors and Craft Ventures, the investment firm set up by former Yammer founder, David Sacks.

GumGum’s co-founder, Ophir Tanz, stepped down from the adtech giant to run the new startup last month, while GumGum’s president and chief operating officer, Phil Schraeder took the reins as chief executive at GumGum.

“This idea was seeded within GumGum,” says Tanz. “I started the process of collecting dental x-rays over three years ago.”

GumGum’s strategy has been to build out a holding company of computer vision driven businesses, Tanz says. Both its portfolio of services for advertising and for sports franchises have become profitable on their own, and the opportunity in healthcare was too tempting of a target to pass up.

For Tanz, the decision to set up Pearl as a separate business was necessary for the new company to be able to focus on a huge opportunity to transform a portion of the healthcare industry that has remained largely untouched by machine learning applications.

It’s also a space that’s ripe for technology to come in and give a more clear-eyed assessment of patient health than the industry standard currently provides.

“We are isolated from the larger health-care system. So when evidence-based policies are being made, dentistry is often left out of the equation,” Jane Gillette, a dentist in Bozeman, Montana, who works closely with the American Dental Association’s Center for Evidence-Based Dentistry, told “The Atlantic” recently. “We’re kind of behind the times, but increasingly we are trying to move the needle forward.”

Pearl may be one way to move that needle.

It’s also a return to the family business, for Tanz, whose father worked as a dentist for decades.

“The thing with dentistry is that it’s always somehow the forgotten medicine, but it’s such a massive market opportunity,” says Tanz. 

Machine learning in the dental business can achieve four main objectives, says Tanz. It can reduce fraud for insurers, validate the performance of dentists in networks that are being created through the consolidation of small practices by large private equity firms, and automate workflows inside the dental office.

Imagine having diagnostics tools integrated with medical devices through software that can be distributed and updated remotely, giving practitioners the best quality information. That’s the goal for Pearl, Tanz says.

Eventually, the company will look to expand to other verticals within healthcare, but for now, the new money is focused on building out its toolkit for teeth.

“We’ll expand beyond dental eventually,” says Tanz. “We’re going to be focused on dentistry and the dental category and the laboratory for quite a while.”

The company is coming to market with three products: “Second Opinion”, which scans x-rays and identifies pathologies and anatomy to ensure a proper diagnosis; “Practice Intelligence”, which delivers advanced analytics for dental practices and groups to deal with patients more effectively; and “Smart Margin”, which provides feedback on intraoral scans for dental restoration and manufacturers.

“Pearl will have an immediate positive impact on the dental category,” said Tanz, “It will streamline tedious, repetitive tasks, enhance profitability across dentistry, and, most importantly, it will improve the standard of care by validating diagnoses, removing large elements of uncertainty from the dental equation.”

TechCrunch

Binance says more than $40 million in bitcoin stolen in ‘large scale’ hack

May 8, 2019 |

Cryptocurrency exchange Binance has confirmed a “large scale” data breach, in which hackers stole more than $ 40 million in cryptocurrency

In a statement, the company said hackers stole API keys, two-factor codes and other information in the attack.

Binance traced the cryptocurrency theft — more than 7,000 bitcoins at the time of writing — to a single wallet after the hackers stole the contents of the company’s bitcoin hot wallet. Binance, the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange by volume, said the theft impacted about 2 percent of its total bitcoin holdings.

“All of our other wallets are secure and unharmed,” said the statement.

“The hackers had the patience to wait, and execute well-orchestrated actions through multiple seemingly independent accounts at the most opportune time,” the statement read. “The transaction is structured in a way that passed our existing security checks. It was unfortunate that we were not able to block this withdrawal before it was executed.”

“Once executed, the withdrawal triggered various alarms in our system. We stopped all withdrawals immediately after that,” the statement said.

Binance said its secure asset fund for users (SAFU) will cover user losses.

Until the company’s investigation is complete, deposits and withdrawals will remain suspended but trading will remain open.

Binance chief executive Changpeng Zhao is set to hold a Twitter ask-me-anything session in the coming hours. TechCrunch will bring you more once we have it.

Read more:

TechCrunch

Apple Watch may be getting more independent at WWDC

May 7, 2019 |

Apple may be preparing some tweaks to watchOS that will leave you fumbling for your phone less often.

Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman just published a long list of software tweaks his sources say are coming to iOS, watchOS and macOS at WWDC. One of the most interesting takeaways from the report is that Apple is reportedly planning to remove one of the final Watch/iPhone dependencies and will be bolstering up some of its stock apps.

Apple may be adding a watchOS version of the App Store to the wrist computer, allowing users to add third-party capabilities to the Watch without having to delve into the Watch app on their iPhones.

Additionally, Bloomberg reports that watchOS will be getting version of some iOS stock apps that weren’t previously available, including the Calculator app, Voice Memos, Apple Books (for audiobooks) and functionality to send Animoji/Memoji stickers. The company will reportedly also be adding a pair of health apps, one called “Dose,” that helps users keep track of taking pills and “Cycles” an app to track menstrual cycles.

WWDC begins June 3, TechCrunch will be there to provide you with all of the updates to Apple’s software ecosystem.

TechCrunch

Thunes raises $10M to make financial services more accessible in emerging markets

May 6, 2019 |

Cross-border fintech continues to be an area of interest for venture capitalists. The latest deal sees GGV Capital — the U.S-China firm that’s backed Xiaomi, Airbnb, Square and others — lead a $ 10 million investment in Singapore-based startup Thunes.

Other investors in the Series A round are not being disclosed at this point.

Thunes — which is slang for money in French and is pronounced ‘tunes’ — is not your typical startup. Its service is a b2b play that provides payment solutions for companies and services that deal with consumers and need new features, increased interoperability and flexibility for users. It makes money on a fee basis per transaction and, in the case of cross border, a small markup on exchange rates using mid-market rates for reference.

The company was founded in February of this year when TransferTo, a company that provided services like mobile top-up cross-border split itself in two. Thunes is the b2b play that uses TransferTo’s underlying technology, while DT One was spun out to cover the consumer business of top-up and mobile rewards.

The investment, then, is a first outside raise for Thunes, which had previously been financed by TransferTo, which is a profitable business, according to Thunes executive chairman Peter De Caluwe, who led payments startup Ogone to a €360 million acquisition in 2013.

De Caluwe, who is also CEO of DT One, told TechCrunch that Thunes reached $ 3 billion in payment volumes over the last 12 months. His goal for this year is double that to $ 6 billion and already, he said, it is “on track to get there.” (Steve Vickers, who previously managed Xiaomi in Southeast Asia and has worked with Grab, is Thunes CEO.)

Thunes works with customers across the world in North America, Central America, Latin America, Africa, Europe and Asia, but it is looking particularly at Southeast Asia and the wider Asia continent for growth with this new capital. It is not a consuming facing brand, but its biggest customers include Western Union, PayPal and Mpesa — where it has worked to connect the two payment interfaces in Africa — and India’s Paytm and ride-hailing company Grab, which it helps to pay drivers.

In the case of Grab — the $ 14 billion company backed by SoftBank’s Vision Fund — De Caluwe said Thunes helps it to pay “millions” of drivers per day. Grab uses Thunes’ real-time payment system to help drivers, many of whom need a daily paycheck, to convert their earnings to money in Grab’s wallet, their bank account or cash pick-up locations.

It’s hard to define exactly what Thunes’ role is, but De Caluwe roughly calls it “the swift of the emerging markets.” That’s to mean that it enables interoperability between different wallets, banks in different countries and newer payment systems, too. It also provides feature — like the instant payout option used by Grab — to enable this mesh of financial endpoints to work efficiently — because right now the proliferation of mobile wallets can feel siloed to the ‘regular’ banking infrastructure.

De Caluwe said that Thunes will work to add more destinations, support for more countries, more partners and more features. So growth across the board with this money. It is also looking to increase its team from the current headcount of 60 to around 110 by the end of this year.

Singapore is HQ but Thunes also has staff located in London and Nairobi offices, with some employees in the U.S. — they share a Miami office with DT One — and others remote in India and Indonesia. A Dubai office, covering the important and lucrative Middle East region, is in the process of being opened.

The company is also looking to raise additional capital to support continued growth. De Caluwe, who has spent time working at Telenor and Naspers-owned PayU, said a Series A+ and Series B is tentatively timed for the end of this year or early next year. The Thunes executive chairman sees massive potential since he believes the company “doesn’t have much competition.”

That’s echoed by GGV managing partner Jenny Lee .

“In China and the U.S, currency is homogenous and payment systems are established,” Lee told TechCrunch in an interview. “But in Southeast Asia right now, a huge number of the population is just getting on the internet and there are not a lot of established players.”

GGV has just opened its first office in Singapore — Lee herself is Singaporean — and the company intends to make fintech a major focus of its deals in the region. To date, Thunes is just its second investment in Southeast Asia, so there is certainly more to come.

TechCrunch

Great teams, UBI, data retention policies, and Amazon HQ2

May 5, 2019 |

3 key secrets to building extraordinary teams

David Cancel, the CEO and founder of Drift, wrote a deep dive on how to think about finding and recruiting the kinds of people who build incredible startups. Among the factors he looks at:

Scrappiness (Importance: 35%)

The four most telling words a new hire can say: “I’ll figure it out.” If you find someone who says that (and can follow through on it), you know you’ve found someone with drive — someone who will plunge headfirst into any challenge and help move the company forward. But to clarify, the type of drive I look for in new hires is different from traditional ambition. Because traditionally ambitious people, while hard workers, tend to obsess over their own personal rise up the corporate ladder. They always have an eye on that next title change, from manager to director, director to VP, or VP to C-suite, and that influences how they perform. That’s why a decade ago, while running my previous company Performable, I added a new requirement to our job descriptions: “Scrappiness.” Today, it’s one of our leadership principles at Drift.

Scrappy people don’t rely on titles or defined sets of responsibilities. Instead, they do whatever it takes to get the job done, even when no one is looking, and even if the tasks they’re performing could be considered “beneath their title.”

Takeaways from F8 and Facebook’s next phase

We had a greatly informative conference call with our very own Josh Constine and Frederic Lardinois, who were checking in from Facebook’s F8 conference in San Jose this week. In case you weren’t able to join us, the transcript and audio have been posted for Extra Crunch members:

TechCrunch