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| May 24, 2019

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Watch Rocket Lab launch its second orbital mission of 2019 late tonight

May 4, 2019 |

Fast-growing launch provider Rocket Lab is launching its second orbital payload of the year late tonight by our reckoning, early in the evening at the launch site in New Zealand. It will carry three experimental satellites to low Earth orbit, and you can watch it live.

The launch is Rocket Lab’s fifth orbital mission, and while it aims to eventually provide launches at a cadence of weeks, it’ll be some time before that’s possible — for now every couple months is what they can manage. But with $ 140 million in new funding, that should change pretty quickly.

The payloads going up tonight/tomorrow are:

  • SPARC-1: The Space Plug and Play Architecture Research CubeSat is an Air Force Research Lab they’ve been working on with the Swedish for years now. It’s a new design for a 6U craft with a reconfigurable orbital radio transceiver, intended to “support live experimentation with different waveforms and protocols useful to communications missions.” Plus a camera for checking out the scene up there.
  • Falcon ODE: This Orbital Debris Experiment will release two stainless steel ball bearings on known trajectories in space that will help calibrate ground-based debris-detection systems.
  • Harbinger: A scary-sounding small satellite and the heaviest single micro-sat to be lofted by Rocket Lab’s electron launch vehicle so far. This one, also from the Air Force, uses a synthetic aperture radar to observe Earth regardless of illumination or cloud cover. It’s a demonstrator for rapid production techniques and standardized parts meant to accelerate deployment of new spacecraft.

Fairing of the Falcon-ODE payload.

All told, its contents comprise 180 kilograms, or nearly 400 pounds, the heaviest load Electron has yet taken off with.

Lift-off is set for 6 PM local time in New Zealand, which corresponds to 11 PM Pacific time here in the U.S. If weather impinges on the opportunity, no worries — this launch window stays open for two weeks. You can watch the whole thing starting a few minutes before 11 at Rocket Lab’s website.

TechCrunch

YouTube confirms plans to make Originals available for free

May 3, 2019 |

YouTube Chief Business Officer Robert Kyncl reaffirmed the company’s plans to take its Originals out from behind the paywall, making them free and ad-supported.

Kyncl was speaking at YouTube’s annual Brandcast event, where the Google-owned company lays out its plans for advertisers (with lots of razzle dazzle provided by musicians and YouTube stars). Since last fall, the YouTube has acknowledged that it’s moving towards an ad-supported model for its Originals, and tonight, Kyncl said that all original programming moving forward will have an ad-supported window.

He didn’t say anything more about that window, but it sounds like YouTube isn’t fully abandoning paid subscriptions yet. Still, everything on its slate should be available for free at some point. That includes the first two seasons of the “Karate Kid” follow-up “Cobra Kai” — season one will be available for free from August 29 to September 11, and then season two will become available.

“While every other media company is racing to put their content behind the paywall, we’re headed in the opposite direction by making our original content available for free,” Kyncl said.

He also announced that “Cobra Kai” will be returning for a third season next year, as will Kevin Hart’s comedic fitness series “What The Fit.” And he said YouTube is also working on an Originals project with Justin Bieber, although the company isn’t sharing any other information about it.

In addition, the team behind the popular Dude Perfect YouTube channel is working on a documentary that goes behind-the-scenes of their tour this summer. Other projects that YouTube announced today (though they weren’t mentioned on-stage) include a documentary about Paris Hilton, expanded Lollapalooza coverage and YouTube’s first interactive special, “A Heist with Markiplier.”

In addition to Kyncl, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki spoke at the event, where she declared, “Primetime is now personal, and it’s happening on our cellphones. Every one of us has a new primetime.”

She also addressed the question of “responsibility,” which presumably refers to removing hate speech and misinformation from the platform Wojcicki described this as “my number one priority,” and said YouTube is removing millions of bad videos every quarter, most of which “have not received a single view.”

“I recognize that there is still work to be done, but we are committed to getting this right,” she said.

TechCrunch

A 30-mph e-bike to compete with cars in cities? Investors just bet $20 million on it

May 2, 2019 |

Bird and Lime are scooting along, backed by hundreds of millions in venture capital. But there are still plenty of companies hoping to dominate the still-nascent micro mobility market, given the financial opportunity it’s promising. Among them: Bond Mobility, a three-year-old Palo Alto, Calif.- and Zurich, Switzerland-based startup that says its “high-performance” dockless electric bikes will leave e-scooters in the dust.

Investors think the company might be right — at least, they think it might be right for a certain type of customer who wants to get to where she is going faster. DENSO’s New Mobility Group, which includes Toyota and SoftBank, just provided $ 20 million in Series A funding to the upstart, whose vehicles can travel at up to 30 miles per hour. That’s twice what electric scooter companies have decided is a safe speed.

Electric mopeds like that of Scoot have a top speed of 30 miles per hour and they only require a bit of in-app instruction. Yet Bond doesn’t see these as direct competitors, either, perhaps because they must be parked in legal parking spaces, whereas dockless electric bikes can be parked nearly anywhere (for better or worse).

Whether or not it’s a good idea to travel so fast on a bike in an urban environment is apparently up to the customer to decide. Though Bond’s bikes are only available for now in Zurich and in Bern, Switzerland, they are coming to the U.S. soon, says the company, and a loophole in California law may help. To wit, any motor bike that can’t go more than 30 miles per hour can be rented with just a car license in the golden state. Some states are even more lax when it comes to motorized vehicles.

It’s perhaps no coincidence that Bond’s founder, Kirt McMaster, has shown himself to be a bit of a risk-taker in the past. McMaster previously founded Cyanogen, a now discontinued open-source operating system for mobile devices that was based on the Android mobile platform and which burned through at least $ 115 million in venture capital, including from Andreessen Horowitz,  Tencent, and Benchmark, before shutting down in December of 2016.

By then, McMaster – –  who famously boasted once of Cyanogen, “We’re putting a bullet through Google’s head” —  was already gone. He was ousted months earlier and replaced by a new CEO for whom it was apparently too late to turn things around. Soon after, he set his sights on the world of transportation.

Of course, Bond — which operates in Switzerland as Smide and uses hardware from the Swiss e-bike company Stromer — has yet to prove that it can compete on U.S. soil, let alone elsewhere in Europe. But McMaster seemingly hasn’t lost his penchant for talking up his products in the meantime.  As he told Business Insider earlier today, in his view, the “speed e-bike is the apex predator” that may just kill better-funded “scooter guys” if all goes as planned.

McMaster is smart to try.  According to a recent McKinsey study, by 2030, the micro-mobility market in expected to reach $ 200 billion to $ 300 billion in the United States, $ 100 billion to $ 150 billion in Europe, and $ 30 billion to $ 50 billion in China.

Certainly, it’s a lot easier to scale up micro-mobility assets than any kind of car-based sharing business, as notes that same McKinsey study. Besides, Bond’s new backers have plenty of those types of bets already.

TechCrunch

AWS opens up its managed blockchain as a service to everybody

May 1, 2019 |
After announcing that they were launching a managed blockchain service late last year, Amazon Web Services is now opening that service up for general availability.

It was only about five months ago that AWS chief executive Andy Jassy announced that the company was reversing course on its previous dismissal of blockchain technologies and laid out a new service it would develop on top of open source frameworks like Hyperledger Fabric and Ethereum.

“Customers want to use blockchain frameworks like Hyperledger Fabric and Ethereum to create blockchain networks so they can conduct business quickly, with an immutable record of transactions, but without the need for a centralized authority. However, they find these frameworks difficult to install, configure, and manage,” said Rahul Pathak, General Manager, Amazon Managed Blockchain at AWS, in a statement. “Amazon Managed Blockchain takes care of provisioning nodes, setting up the network, managing certificates and security, and scaling the network. Customers can now get a functioning blockchain network set up quickly and easily, so they can focus on application development instead of keeping a blockchain network up and running.”

Already companies like AT&T Business, Nestlé and the Singaporean investment market, the Singapore Exchange, have signed on to use the company’s services.

With the announcement, AWS joins other big enterprise players like Azure from Microsoft and IBM in the blockchain as a service game.

TechCrunch

Jungle Ventures hits $175M first close on its third fund for Southeast Asia

April 30, 2019 |

Southeast Asia’s startup ecosystem is set to get a massive injection of funds after Jungle Ventures reached a first close of $ 175 million for its newest fund, TechCrunch has come to learn.

Executives at the Singapore-based firm anticipate that the new fund, which is Jungle’s third to date, will reach a final close of $ 220 million over the coming few months, a source with knowledge of the fund and its plans told TechCrunch. If it were to reach that figure, the fund would become the largest for startup investments in Southeast Asia.

Jungle Ventures declined to comment.

An SEC filing posted in December suggested the firm was aiming to raise up to $ 200 million with the fund. Its last fund was $ 100 million and it closed in November 2016. Founding partners Anurag Srivastava and Amit Anand started the fund way back in 2012 when it raised a (much smaller) $ 10 million debut fund.

Digging a little deeper, our source revealed that the new Jungle fund includes returning LPs World Bank affiliate IFC and Cisco Investments — both of which invested in Jungle’s $ 18 million early-stage ‘SeedPlus’ fund — and Singapore sovereign fund Temasek. One new backer that we are aware of is German financier DEG although we understand that Jungle has spent considerable time fundraising in the U.S. market, hence the SEC filing. Beyond Europe and the U.S, the firm is also said to have pitched LPs in Asia — as you’d expect — and the Middle East.

Jungle is focused on Series A and Series B deals in Southeast Asia with the occasional investment in India or the rest of the world where it sees global potential. One such example of that is Engineer.ai, which raised $ 29.5 million last November in a round led by Jungle and Lakestar with participation from SoftBank’s AI unit DeepCore.

Jungle Ventures founding partners (left to right): Anurag Srivastava and Amit Anand

The meat and drink of the fund is Southeast Asia, and past investments there include cloud platform Deskera (most recent round $ 60 million), budget hotel network Reddoorz (raised $ 11 million last year), fintech startup Kredivo (raised $ 30 million last year) and digital fashion brand Pomelo, which has raised over $ 30 million from investors that also include JD.com.

In India, it has backed b2b sales platform Moglix and interior design startup Livspace among others. Past exits include Travelmob to HomeAway, Zipdial to Twitter, eBus to IMD and Voyagin to Rakuten.

We understand that the new fund has already completed five deals. Jungle’s pace of dealmaking is typically half a dozen investments per month, and we understand that will continue with fund three.

Executives at the fund are bullish on Southeast Asia, which is forecast to see strong growth economic growth thanks to increased internet access and digital spending. A much-cited report from Google and Temasek issued last year predicts that the region’s ‘digital economy’ will triple to reach $ 240 billion from 2025.

A 2018 report from Temasek and Google predicts significant growth in Southeast Asia’s digital economy

Other major VC funds in Southeast Asia include Vertex Ventures ($ 210 million fund), Golden Gate Ventures — $ 100 million and a $ 200 million growth fund — Openspace Ventures ($ 135 million), and EV’s $ 150 million growth fund.

There’s also B Capital from Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin which recently passed $ 400 million for the first close of its second fund, although that doesn’t invest exclusively in Southeast Asia, and Sequoia which has a $ 695 million fund for India and Southeast Asia. Other global names that you might see cutting deals in the region include Burda, which has a local presence and starts at Series B, TPG Global and KKR.

TechCrunch

Apple defends its takedown of some apps monitoring screen-time

April 29, 2019 |

Apple is defending its removal of certain parental control apps from the app store in a new statement.

The company has come under fire for its removal of certain apps that were pitched as tools giving parents more control over their children’s screen-time, but that Apple said relied on technology that was too invasive for private use.

“We recently removed several parental control apps from the App Store, and we did it for a simple reason: they put users’ privacy and security at risk. It’s important to understand why and how this happened,” the company said in a statement

The heart of the issue is the use of mobile device management technologies in the parental control apps that Apple has removed from the app store, the company said.

These device management tools give  control and access over a device’s user location, app use, email accounts, camera permissions and browsing history to a third party.

“We started exploring this use of MDM by non-enterprise developers back in early 2017 and updated our guidelines based on that work in mid-2017,” the company said.

Apple acknowledged that the technology has legitimate uses in the context of businesses looking to monitor and manage corporate devices to control proprietary data and hardware, but, the company said, it is “a clear violation of App Store policies — for a private, consumer-focused app business to install MDM control over a customer’s device.”

The company said it communicated to app developers that they were in violation of App Store guidelines and gave the company 30 days to submit updates to avoid being booted from the App Store.

Indeed, we first reported that Apple was warning developers about screen-time apps in December.

“Several developers released updates to bring their apps in line with these policies,” Apple said in a statement. “Those that didn’t were removed from the App Store.”

TechCrunch

Bad PR ideas, esports, and the Valley’s talent poaching war

April 28, 2019 |

Sending severed heads, and even more PR DON’Ts

I wrote a “master list” of PR DON’Ts earlier this week, and now that list has nearly doubled as my fellow TechCrunch writers continued to experience even more bad behavior around pitches. So, here are another 12 things of what not to do when pitching a startup:

DON’T send severed heads of the writer you want to cover your story

Heads up! It’s weird to send someone’s cranium to them.

This is an odd one, but believe it or not, severed heads seem to roll into our office every couple of months thanks to the advent of 3D printing. Several of us in the New York TechCrunch office received these “gifts” in the past few days (see gifts next), and apparently, I now have a severed head resting on my desk that I get to dispose of on Monday.

Let’s think linearly on this one. Most journalists are writers and presumably understand metaphors. Heads were placed on pikes in the Middle Ages (and sadly, sometimes recently) as a warning to other group members about the risk of challenging whoever did the decapitation. Yes, it might get the attention of the person you are sending their head to, in the same way that burning them in effigy right in front of them can attract eyeballs.

Now, I get it — it’s a demo of something, and maybe it might even be funny for some. But, why take the risk that the recipient is going to see the reasonably obvious metaphorical connection? Use your noggin — no severed heads.

Why your CSO — not your CMO — should pitch your security startup

TechCrunch

Elon Musk, SEC agree to guidelines on Twitter use

April 27, 2019 |

Tesla,  Elon Musk and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission reached an agreement Friday that will give the CEO freedom to use Twitter —within certain limitations — without fear of being held in contempt for violating an earlier court order.

Musk can tweet as he wishes except when it’s about certain events or financial milestones. In those cases, Musk must seek pre-approval from a securities lawyer, according to the agreement filed with Manhattan federal court.

U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan, the presiding judge on this matter, must still approve the deal. Nathan had given the SEC and Musk two weeks to work out their differences and come to a resolution.

Musk must seek pre-approval if his tweets include:

  • any information about the company’s financial condition or guidance, potential or proposed mergers, acquisitions or joint ventures,
  • production numbers or sales or delivery number (actual, forecasted, or projected),
  • new or proposed business lines that are unrelated to then-existing business lines (presently includes vehicles, transportation, and sustainable energy products);
  • projection, forecast, or estimate numbers regarding Tesla’s business that have not been previously published in official company guidance
  • events regarding the company’s securities (including Musk’s acquisition or disposition of shares)
  • nonpublic legal or regulatory findings or decisions;
  • any event requiring the filing of a Form 8-K such as a change in control or a change in the company’s directors; any principal executive officer, president, principal financial officer, principal accounting officer, principal operating officer, or any person performing similar functions

The fight between the two parties began after Musk’s now infamous August 7, 2018 tweet that had “funding secured” for a private takeover of the company at $ 420 per share. The SEC filed a complaint in alleging that Musk had committed securities fraud.

Musk and Tesla settled with the SEC last year without admitting wrongdoing. Tesla agreed to pay a $ 20 million fine; Musk had to agree to step down as Tesla chairman for a period of at least three years; the company had to appoint two independent directors to the board; and Tesla was also told to put in place a way to monitor Musk’s statements to the public about the company, including via Twitter.

The fight was re-ignited after Musk sent a tweet on February 19 that Tesla would produce “around” 500,000 cars this year, correcting himself hours later to clarify that he meant the company would be producing at an annualized rate of 500,000 vehicles by year end.

The SEC argued that the tweet sent by Musk violated their agreement. Musk has said the tweet was “immaterial” and complied with the settlement.

The SEC had asked the court to hold Musk in contempt for violating a settlement agreement reached last October over Musk’s now infamous “funding secured” tweet. The SEC had argued that Musk was supposed to get approval from Tesla’s board before communicating potentially material information to investors, the agency has argued. The SEC claimed a February 19 tweet violated the agreement.

Musk has steadfastly maintained that he didn’t violate the agreement.

TechCrunch

Wireless broadband startup Starry files to raise up to $125 million

April 26, 2019 |

The never-ending quest to kill Comcast is poised to receive some renewed investment as an ambitious startup readies to secure some new cash.

Starry, a Boston-based wireless broadband internet startup, has filed to raise up to $ 125 million in Series D funding according to a Delaware stock authorization filing uncovered by Pitchbook. If Starry closes the full authorized raise it will hold a post-money valuation of $ 870 million.

A spokesperson for the company confirmed it had already raised new capital, but disputed the numbers. The company has already raised over $ 160 million from investors including FirstMark Capital and IAC. The company most recently closed a $ 100 million Series C this past July.

The internet startup takes a different approach from fiber-toting competitors by relying on radio tower and high rise-mounted transmitters that dispatch millimeter wavelength signals to receivers connected to a building’s existing wiring. Customers with Starry’s slick touchscreen routers can whirl through setup, contact customer service, tailor parental controls and conduct speed tests. The company claims its solution can provide up to 200 mbps up/download service for just $ 50 per month with no data caps or long-term contracts.

The technology is not without its skeptics, while laying fiber optic cable has proven to be an expensive task for internet companies, going over the airwaves with the company’s high-frequency radio waves has its own set of problems. Signal can be affected by harsh weather and obstacles, though Starry has indicated they are content with their performance in less-than-ideal conditions.

We’ve built a robust network in Boston and our technology is working well,” CEO Chet Kanojia told us last year. “We’ve gone through a full year of seasonality to test various weather and foliage conditions and we’ve been very happy with our network’s performance.”

Last year marked a major period of expansion for Starry, which expanded beyond its home market of Boston and now holds a presence in Los Angeles, New York City, Denver and DC.

Kanojia previously founded Aereo, which raised $ 97 million in VC funding with the dream of letting consumers watch live TV over the web. The company proved a little too disruptive for its time, and was shut down as the result of a Supreme Court case brought about by major broadcasting networks.

TechCrunch

How to source hard-to-fill programming positions

April 25, 2019 |

The competition is intense for great tech talent, and it’s even harder to find the most qualified people who are also the right fit for your company

This article shares some practical processes that you can add to your human resources function in order to accelerate the programmer pipeline, based on the years I have spent as a hiring focused software engineer at growing startups and now running my own recruiting firm.

Our recruiting strategy is surprisingly simple, and boils down to optimizing various segments of the sourcing funnel: awareness, pageviews, and application submits.

What ties these tactics together, though, is you, your company, what you’re offering, and how you approach the people you want to hire. If you want to build a strong, diverse team, you need to develop a thoughtful, empathetic and proactive approach before you can optimize.

Within the article we cover:

In the article’s appendix, I also provide our company’s 2019 checklist process — eighteen steps that we delegate to manage our sourcing process.

TechCrunch