A heat wave across the western United States, already facing a severe drought, could deliver temperatures above 125 degrees.
Temperatures in Northern California could hit 107 on Tuesday and areas across Washington could reach the lower 100s, the National Weather Service said.
The biggest, with a magnitude of 4.2, briefly startled lawmakers in session in the Nevada capital. There were no immediate reports of damage.
Last month, the organization behind Burning Man announced that the festival/experience would not be returning to the desert of Nevada this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and would instead be attempting a virtual event once again aiming to bring attendees access to a handful of web-based experiences.
Today, the Burning Man org released tickets for its online events taking place between August 22 and September 7.
There have been few illusions for attendees that a virtual event is any substitute for the real thing, but organizers have tried to get creative when it comes to the social web experiences so that attendees can reclaim some of the camaraderie. While the organization won’t be setting up an official presence, some camps have already committed to hosting an unofficial return to the desert.
Last year, TechCrunch profiled the Burning Man org as they struggled to pull together a virtual event that captured the feeling of the in-person experience using virtual reality, mobile apps, and virtual experimental theater.
Most of the creators behind last year’s experience are back this year including a few VR-centric experiences and a handful of live-streaming and Zoom-based apps designed to spice things up a bit. This year’s apps include the VR-based BRCvr, interactive chat platform Build-a-Burn, 3D world Dusty Universe, ‘photo-realistic’ simulation The Infinite Playa, video chat Sparkleverse and livestream platform Burn Week.
This year, the apps have a reserve ticketing system set up for “early bird tickets” and they are all charging different prices based on the experience type. The most aggressive pitch is from Infinite Playa which is offering tickets ranging from a $16 two-hour pass to an $88 unlimited pass. Others are adopting donation-based pricing tiers, while the Burn Week livestream is offering a free stream to all viewers alongside a $29 “extended experience.”
As an entrepreneur, you started your business to create value, both in what you deliver to your customers and what you build for yourself. You have a lot going on, but if building personal wealth matters to you, the assets you’re creating deserve your attention.
You can implement numerous advanced planning strategies to minimize capital gains tax, reduce future estate tax and increase asset protection from creditors and lawsuits. Capital gains tax can reduce your gains by up to 35%, and estate taxes can cost up to 50% on assets you leave to your heirs. Careful planning can minimize your exposure and actually save you millions.
Smart founders and early employees should closely examine their equity ownership, even in the early stages of their company’s life cycle. Different strategies should be used at different times and for different reasons. The following are a few key considerations when determining what, if any, advanced strategies you might consider:
- Your company’s life cycle — early, mid or late stage.
- The value of your shares — what they are worth now, what you expect them to be worth in the future and when.
- Your own circumstances and goals — what you need now, and what you may need in the future.
Some additional items to consider include issues related to qualified small business stock (QSBS), gift and estate taxes, state and local income taxes, liquidity, asset protection, and whether you and your family will retain control and manage the assets over time.
Smart founders and early employees should closely examine their equity ownership, even in the early stages of their company’s life cycle.
Here are some advanced equity planning strategies that you can implement at different stages of your company life cycle to reduce tax and optimize wealth for you and your family.
Irrevocable nongrantor trust
QSBS allows you to exclude tax on $10 million of capital gains (tax of up to 35%) upon an exit/sale. This is a benefit every individual and some trusts have. There is significant opportunity to multiply the QSBS tax exclusion well beyond $10 million.
The founder can gift QSBS eligible stock to an irrevocable nongrantor trust, let’s say for the benefit of a child, so that the trust will qualify for its own $10 million exclusion. The founder owning the shares would be the grantor in this case. Typically, these trusts are set up for children or unborn children. It is important to note that the founder/grantor will have to gift the shares to accomplish this, because gifted shares will retain the QSBS eligibility. If the shares are sold into the trust, the shares lose QSBS status.
In addition to the savings on federal taxes, founders may also save on state taxes. State tax can be avoided if the trust is structured properly and set up in a tax-exempt state like Delaware or Nevada. Otherwise, even if the trust is subject to state tax, some states, like New York, conform and follow the federal tax treatment of the QSBS rules, while others, like California, do not. For example, if you are a New York state resident, you will also avoid the 8.82% state tax, which amounts to another $2.6 million in tax savings if applied to the example above.
This brings the total tax savings to almost $10 million, which is material in the context of a $40 million gain. Notably, California does not conform, but California residents can still capture the state tax savings if their trust is structured properly and in a state like Delaware or Nevada.
Currently, each person has a limited lifetime gift tax exemption, and any gifted amount beyond this will generate up to a 40% gift tax that has to be paid. Because of this, there is a trade-off between gifting the shares early while the company valuation is low and using less of your gift tax exemption versus gifting the shares later and using more of the lifetime gift exemption.
The reason to wait is that it takes time, energy and money to set up these trusts, so ideally, you are using your lifetime gift exemption and trust creation costs to capture a benefit that will be realized. However, not every company has a successful exit, so it is sometimes better to wait until there is a certain degree of confidence that the benefit will be realized.
One way for the founder to plan for future generations while minimizing estate taxes and high state taxes is through a parent-seeded trust. This trust is created by the founder’s parents, with the founder as the beneficiary. Then the founder can sell the shares to this trust — it doesn’t involve the use of any lifetime gift exemption and eliminates any gift tax, but it also disqualifies the ability to claim QSBS.
The benefit is that all the future appreciation of the asset is transferred out of the founder’s and the parent’s estate and is not subject to potential estate taxes in the future. The trust can be located in a tax-exempt state such as Delaware or Nevada to also eliminate home state-level taxes. This can translate up to 10% in state-level tax savings. The trustee, an individual selected by the founder, can make distributions to the founder as a beneficiary if desired.
Further, this trust can be used for the benefit of multiple generations. Distributions can be made at the discretion of the trustee, and this skips the estate tax liability as assets are passed from generation to generation.
Grantor retained annuity trust (GRAT)
This strategy enables the founder to minimize their estate tax exposure by transferring wealth outside of their estate, specifically without using any lifetime gift exemption or being subject to gift tax. It’s particularly helpful when an individual has used up all their lifetime gift tax exemption. This is a powerful strategy for very large “unicorn” positions to reduce a founder’s future gift/estate tax exposure.
For the GRAT, the founder (grantor) transfers assets into the GRAT and gets back a stream of annuity payments. The IRS 7520 rate, currently very low, is a factor in calculating these annuity payments. If the assets transferred into the trust grow faster than the IRS 7520 rate, there will be an excess remainder amount in GRAT after all the annuity payments are paid back to the founder (grantor).
This remainder amount will be excluded from the founder’s estate and can transfer to beneficiaries or remain in the trust estate tax-free. Over time, this remainder amount can be multiples of the initial contributed value. If you have company stock that you expect will pop in value, it can be very beneficial to transfer those shares into a GRAT and have the pop occur inside the trust.
This way, you can transfer all the upside gift and estate tax-free out of your estate and to your beneficiaries. Additionally, because this trust is structured as a grantor trust, the founder can pay the taxes incurred by the trust, making the strategy even more powerful.
One thing to note is that the grantor must survive the GRAT’s term for the strategy to work. If the grantor dies before the end of the term, the strategy unravels and some or all the assets remain in his estate as if the strategy never existed.
Intentionally defective grantor trust (IDGT)
This is similar to the GRAT in that it also enables the founder to minimize their estate tax exposure by transferring wealth outside of their estate, but has some key differences. The grantor must “seed” the trust by gifting 10% of the asset value intended to be transferred, so this approach requires the use of some lifetime gift exemption or gift tax.
The remaining 90% of the value to be transferred is sold to the trust in exchange for a promissory note. This sale is not taxable for income tax or QSBS purposes. The main benefits are that instead of receiving annuity payments back, which requires larger payments, the grantor transfers assets into the trust and can receive an interest-only note. The payments received are far lower because it is interest-only (rather than an annuity).
Another key distinction is that the IDGT strategy has more flexibility than the GRAT and can be generation-skipping.
If the goal is to avoid generation-skipping transfer tax (GSTT), the IDGT is superior to the GRAT, because assets are measured for GSTT purposes when they are contributed to the trust prior to appreciation rather than being measured at the end of the term for a GRAT after the assets have appreciated.
The bottom line
Depending on a founder’s situation and goals, we may use some combination of the above strategies or others altogether. Many of these strategies are most effective when planning in advance; waiting until after the fact will limit the benefits you can extract.
When considering strategies for protecting wealth and minimizing taxes as it relates to your company stock, there’s a lot to take into account — the above is only a summary. We recommend you seek proper counsel and choose wealth transfer and tax savings strategies based on your unique situation and individual appetite for complexity.
A race is on to produce lithium in the United States, but competing projects are taking very different approaches to extracting the vital raw material. Some might not be very green.
Stimulus checks may be on their way, but those struggling to get by worry that the money will soon be gone. “Every morning I wake up thinking about where my help is going to come from,” one woman said.
Goodbye, Iowa and New Hampshire. Hello, Nevada and South Carolina? The former Nevada senator is just one voice arguing that it’s time to change the nomination calendar.
The pandemic pushed the N.H.L. toward a scenic site instead of a football or baseball field for its outdoor game. It’s so pretty in Tahoe they’ll play two.
Democrats should take the opportunity to reform an out-of-touch system.
The women say they bring a more varied approach and perspective to policing errant skiers and helping distressed ones.
Jimmy Wayne Hammonds, who runs an exotic animal ranch, illegally sold rare monkeys, prosecutors said.
Officials around the country are bracing for any spillover from last week’s violent assault on the U.S. Capitol. State legislatures already have become targets for protesters in recent days.
Knowing the amount of virus carried in the body could help doctors predict the course of a patient’s illness.
When an accident on a building site resulted in the death of their friend, the founders of Safesight were inspired to launch the platform to digitize safety programs for construction. The data from that gave birth to a new InsurTech startup this year, Foresight, which covers workers’ compensation. The startup has now released, for the first time, news that it raised a $15 million funding round back in May this year, with participation from Blackhorn Ventures and Transverse Insurance Group. To date, it has raised $20.5 million from industrial technology venture capital firms, led by Brick and Mortar Ventures and Builders VC.
Foresight launched in August of this year but has already covered $30M in risks. The company says it is now on pace to reach $50M in underwritten premium in 2021. By leveraging the data from sister company Safesite, the platform says it has been able to reduce workers comp incidents by up to 57% in a study conducted by actuarial consulting firm Perr & Knight.
Foresight’s algorithm leverages Safesight data to predict incidents, highlight risks, and informs underwriting. By wrapping Safesite risk management technology and services into every policy, Foresight provides a path to lower incident rates and lower premiums for customers.
Of the $57Bn national workers compensation market, Foresight focuses on policies ranging from $150K to $1M+ in annual premiums. The company says this segment has been largely overlooked by well-funded InsurTech startups such as Next Insurance and Pie, which provide small business policies under $50K in annual premiums.
Foresight and Safesite were developed by longtime friends and co-founders David Fontain, Peter Grant, and Leigh Appel.
Fontain said: “Foresight strengthens the correlation between safety and savings while providing the fast and easy user experience InsurTechs are known for. We leverage purpose-built technology to drive behavioral shifts and provide an irresistible alternative to traditional workers compensation coverage.”
Darren Bechtel, the founder and managing director at Brick & Mortar Ventures commented: “We first invested in 2016 and have known the founders since 2015 when it was just the two of them, squatting at a couple of empty desks inside another portfolio company’s office. Their initial vision was both elegant and powerful, and the demonstrated impact of their solution on safety performance, even in early interactions with the product, was impossible to ignore.”
Foresight now covers Nevada, Oklahoma, Arizona, Arkansas, Louisiana, and New Mexico. The company expects to launch workers compensation in the eastern US and a general liability line in early 2021.
Jordan Barson faces several felony charges after the authorities said he drove a box truck into a group of cyclists who were riding on a highway outside Las Vegas last week.
With unsubstantiated claims of vote-counting errors and calls to officials in several states, the South Carolina senator seems bent on reversing Joe Biden’s clear victory over President Trump.
The president has suffered a string of defeats in pursuing legal action seeking to delay certification of his loss to President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.
Biden’s lead is expected to expand again in Pennsylvania today.
The president appeared to have little path through the courts to shift the outcome of the election, leaving him reliant on long shots like recounts or pressure on state legislatures.
The Trump campaign has intensified its efforts to stop vote counting and to question the validity of ballots, with nearly a dozen lawsuits in Nevada, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Georgia.
The president appeared to have little path through the courts to shift the outcome of the election, leaving him reliant on long shots like recounts or pressure on state legislatures.
He now leads in Georgia and Pennsylvania, and it seems just a matter of time before the race in Pennsylvania is put out of reach.
Joe Biden picked up votes in Pennsylvania, Nevada and Georgia and urged patience with the slow-moving vote count. President Trump appeared in the evening to break his silence, lying about “illegal” votes.
Most television networks cut away from the statement President Trump gave Thursday night from the White House briefing room on the grounds that what he was saying was not true.
Joe Biden picked up votes in Pennsylvania, Nevada and Georgia and urged patience with the slow-moving vote count. President Trump appeared in the evening to break his silence, lying about “illegal” votes.
Facebook has taken down a group that had amassed over 300,000 members and was sharing misinformation and organizing around false allegations of impropriety during the 2020 elections.
The group, called “Stop the Steal 2020,” was organizing protests targeting the election officials currently counting ballots cast in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Phoenix, and Las Vegas.
“In line with the exceptional measures that we are taking during this period of heightened tension, we have removed the Group ‘Stop the Steal,’ which was creating real-world events,” said a Facebook spokesperson in a statement emailed to TechCrunch. “The group was organized around the delegitimization of the election process, and we saw worrying calls for violence from some members of the group.”
Facebook’s action was first noticed by Ryan Mac of Buzzfeed who reported the move in a tweet.
Protestors advocating for votes to be counted and for vote counting to cease are cropping up across the country as Republican party organizers and campaign officials try to derail the count of mail-in ballots and absentee votes cast in the 2020 race and Democratic supporters organize counter-protests.
Social media election takedowns
- TikTok takes down some hashtags related to election misinformation, leaves others
- Facebook blocks hashtags for #sharpiegate, #stopthesteal election conspiracies
- TikTok takes down election misinformation aimed at younger users
- Facebook and Instagram notifications warn US users there’s no winner yet in presidential election
- Twitter restricts Trump’s tweet claiming that foes would ‘steal’ the election
- YouTube removes ads from, but won’t pull, ‘Trump Won’ video following backlash
- Twitter hides Trump tweet attacking Supreme Court’s decision on Pennsylvania ballots
While the organizers may be tapping supporters of President Trump across the country, their messaging is different depending on the state.
In Phoenix, protestors are calling for all votes to be counted, as Presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden hangs on to a slim lead in Arizona.
Meanwhile, the messaging is the opposite in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Nevada where President Donald Trump is trying to preserve the slim margins that have him ahead or reverse the counts that had put him behind in the polls. In Detroit, for instance, Trump supporters held up signs that said “stop the steal” and “stop the cheat” according to news reports.
Conservative advocates across the Twittersphere have had their tweets amended by the company to indicate that they were sharing election misinformation.
Facebook has also added “labels” to election posts that break the rules, though they are designed to mostly point users to contextual, factual information rather than to offer explicit warnings about false claims.
In fact, as a direct response to Trump’s premature claims of victory, Facebook also rolled out an eye-catching set of messages across Facebook and Instagram reminding users that votes were still being counted.
Facebook has also instituted changes to its policies about groups that organize real-world events in the wake of 2016’s election disinformation campaign carried out by Russian agents and the recent shooting in Kenosha, Wis. in which two men were killed after a local self-declared militia group organized a response to protests against the killing of Kenosha resident, Jacob Blake.
The president pursued lawsuits in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Georgia, and his campaign said it would demand a recount in Wisconsin.
Though they’re still too close to call, they’re tilting in Biden’s direction for now.
Though they’re still too close to call, there are some indications of which way things might go.
Celebrity investors including Gwyneth Paltrow, Rebel Wilson, Ruby Rose, Darren Criss, Baron Davis, Tove Lo, and Casey Neistat have come together to back the Los Angeles-based thc-infused drink company, Cann, the company said.
It’s the latest in a string of deals that show the strength of the market for alternative intoxicants — at least in California.
News of the funding follows yesterday’s announcement that the Los Angeles-based, national liquor delivery service Saucey would be merging with a marijuana dispensary and delivery service, Emjay under the mantle of Pacific Coast Holdings.
For its part, Cann has become the fastest growing THC beverage on the market with over 2 million cans of the stuff sold (I’ve had it. It’s good.).
For the company’s backers — and its founders — the pitch that Cann is a better alternative to alcohol simply resonates.
“Cann sits at the intersection of two powerful trends we’ve been monitoring at goop for some time: the
‘sober curious’ and ‘cannabis curious’ movements,” said Gwyneth Paltrow, the multi-hyphenate actress-entrepreneur-musician (she sings!) who founded the lifestyle and wellness brand, goop. “There’s no reason why alcohol should be so much easier to purchase than Cann, and I’m confident the founders will lead the charge in finding ways to integrate it into the same purchasing channels and drinking environments.”
Cann’s not the only company looking to carve out a slice of the liquor market with an alternative intoxicant. There’s also Kin Euphorics, which also pitches itself as an alcohol alternative. Then there’s a slew of CBD and THC infused drinks that have managed to attract venture backing. They include K-Zen Beverages, which has raised $5 million from the investment firm DCM to roll out its line of intoxicants and California Dreamin’ is a Y Combinator-backed intoxicant containing a whopping 10 milligrams of THC. Sweet Reason raised money from Lerer Hippeau for its CBD-sparkling drink and Recess, Daytrip, Infuzed, and Dram all have offerings as well.
Cann’s cans come with 2 milligrams of THC and 4 milligrams of CBD, which, after a few cans of Cann is enough for a light buzz.
Actress Ruby Rose cited the company’s commitment to diversity, with a staff that’s comprised equally of men and women and where people of color make up 33% of the total headcount.
For its next act, Cann is looking to grow its geographic footprint. The company expanded into Nevada in the past year and is eyeing four more states within the next six months, according to a statement.
Joe Biden has a six-point advantage in the latest New York Times/Siena College poll of Nevada, where unemployment has soared amid the coronavirus pandemic.
A case in Nevada has spurred new concerns that people who have recovered from the infection may still be vulnerable. That’s unlikely, experts say.
The reversal came just hours after the federal government threatened the state, calling the prohibition on the tests “illegal.”
Two tests made by Quidel and BD repeatedly delivered false-positive results, prompting the state to stop using them.
Women and suburbanites continue to power Joe Biden’s support, new polls by The Times and Siena College show. A majority of voters say campaigning in front of large crowds is inappropriate.
There are a lot of Latter-day Saints women in the state, and they don’t seem very keen on the president.
One example of how things have changed: A Latino outreach group estimated in January that it would register 21,000 new voters in the state by Labor Day. It’s at around 6,000 now.
President Trump has leveled scathing law-and-order attacks on Joseph Biden for weeks. But a new poll shows Mr. Biden ahead in three states Mr. Trump hopes to pick up, and maintaining a lead in Wisconsin.
With hyperbole and falsehoods, the president has increased stops at airports that resemble campaign rallies, his favorite type of politicking. But Nevada said the events violated health restrictions and canceled two rallies there.
The cyberdelic extravaganza is online for the first time because of the pandemic. But maybe that’s not as strange as it might seem.
Another busy week in cybersecurity.
In case you missed it: A widely used messaging app used by over a million protesters has several major security flaws; a little-known loophole has let the DMV sell driver’s licenses and Social Security records to private investigators; and the U.S. government is suing to reclaim over $2.5 million in cryptocurrency stolen by North Korean hackers from two major exchanges.
But this week we are focusing on how a Tesla employee foiled a ransomware attack, and, ahead of Palantir’s debut on the stock market, how much of a risk factor is the company’s public image?
THE BIG PICTURE
Russian charged with attempted Tesla ransomware attack
$1 million. That’s how much a Tesla employee would have netted if they accepted a bribe from a Russian operative to install malware on Tesla’s Gigafactory network in Nevada. Instead, the employee told the FBI and the Russian was arrested.
The Justice Department charged the 27-year-old Russian, Egor Igorevich, weeks later as he tried to flee the United States. According to the indictment, his plan was to ask the employee to deliberately deploy ransomware on the Gigafactory’s network, grinding the network to a halt for a ransom of several million dollars. The would-be insider threat is likely the first of its kind, one ransomware expert told Wired, as financially driven hackers continue to up their game.
Tesla founder Elon Musk tweeted earlier this week confirming that Tesla was the target of the failed attack.
The attack, if carried out, could have been devastating. The indictment said that the malware was designed to extract data from the network before locking its files. This data-stealing ransomware is an increasing trend. These hacker groups not only encrypt a victim’s files but also exfiltrate the data to their servers. The hackers typically threaten to publish the victim’s files if the ransom isn’t paid.
The pardon appears to be an attempt to draw voters’ attention to criminal justice, a subject that the president has promoted as a signature initiative of his time in office.
There are four key ingredients to the disastrous wildfire seasons in the West, and climate change figures prominently.
For decades, Burning Man has represented an escape from the current reality. An event for free-er spirits to rethink new age ideals inside a stateless entity where art, music and partying reign supreme on the desert plains.
Over the years, the Bay Area-founded event has dealt with an internal clash as the gathering has grown larger and attracted a heavy presence from Silicon Valley’s wealthy tech class, with tales of turnkey experiences, air-conditioned camps, helicopters and lobster dinners. Now, under the shadow of a historic pandemic, the organization behind the massive, iconic event is desperately working to stick to its roots while avoiding financial ruin as it pivots the 2020 festival to a digital format with the pro bono help of some of its tech industry attendees.
With just a few weeks before the event is set to kick off, the organization is bringing together a group of technologists with backgrounds in virtual reality, blockchain, hypnotism and immersive theatre to create a web of hacked-together social products that they hope will capture the atmosphere of Burning Man.
Going virtual is an unprecedented move for an event that’s mere existence already seems to defy precedent.
Burning Man is held in late August every year inside Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. For nine days, the attendees, who refer to themselves as Burners, fill up the desolate landscape with massive art installations, stages and camps. Attendance has been climbing over the past several decades, to the point that the federal government got involved, creating a more than 170-page report arguing why the event’s attendance should be capped. More than 78,000 people attended in 2019.
It’s an escape from society in a shared social experience that doesn’t seem to be replicable elsewhere.
Steven Blumenfeld became the CTO of Burning Man days before the org’s leaders publicly announced that, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the physical event was being abruptly canceled and the team was going all-in on a virtual gathering. Though the serial CTO expected the position to largely involve crusty tasks maintaining the event’s media infrastructure, he soon was pressed to rethink the front-end of a sprawling event that’s decades old and steeped in lore.
“My first inclination is, ‘Great! Let’s go build a big 3D VR world blah blah blah… So then I spent the first two weeks looking at what I had for staff, what I had for time frame, and what we could actually do,” Blumenfeld says. “There was just no way. And you know, I actually still wanted to do it. I wanted a challenge… but the reality was it just wasn’t going to happen.”
Burning Man is a massive undertaking, with a particularly deep emotional hold inside San Francisco, where it was first held in 1986, and by extension Silicon Valley. It isn’t all that surprising that when the Burning Man Project announced the event was making the move to a digital format, there was a rapid influx of community input to help decipher what an on-the-grid virtual Burning Man might look like.
“We had 14,000 people tell us they wanted to contribute in some way to a virtual Black Rock City,” said Kim Cook, the org’s director of art and civic engagement. “Some of them said what they wanted to contribute was love; so that’s cool. We also had around a thousand of them say they wanted to do developer-type work.”
Some of the groups that reached out to the Burning Man Project were companies that were willing to build a Burning Man experience but wanted official branding present. Despite a precarious financial position, Burning Man’s organizers declined help from these sponsors, citing the org’s adherence to “de-commodification” — a desire to prevent corporate infiltration of the event, eschewing advertising, branded stages and corporate partnerships.
Turning away from the professional studios, Blumenfeld and others settled on a network of small indie teams filled with Burners that were willing to develop the official digital experiences for the event on their own time.
A new moment for social networking
Eight projects eventually emerged as official “recognized universes,” each taking drastically different approaches to what a virtual Burning Man should look like. While some focus their efforts on virtual reality, others add social layers to video chat or build 3D environments on top of existing platforms like Second Life or Microsoft’s AltspaceVR .
During the pandemic, revamped developer conferences and trade shows have been able to port keynote addresses or panels to a Zoom format fairly seamlessly, but there are plenty of elements of the Burning Man experience that the teams involved realize might be impossible to replicate with online platforms. The developers creating the event’s virtual worlds are determined to rethink the conventions of online social networking to ensure that Burners make new friends this year.
“The sense of awe and scale is tricky,” says Ed Cooke, who is building one of the official apps. “One way of explaining Burning Man is that it’s a state of mind that you access as a side effect of all the things that happen on the way there.”
Cooke, a London startup founder who also boasts the title of Grand Memory Master, earned for — among other things — memorizing the order of 10 decks of cards in less than an hour, has been building SparkleVerse with his friend Chris Adams, whose daytime gig is as a senior software manager at Airbnb.
Their web app, which pairs a 2D map interface with video chat windows, is primarily focused on advancing how shared context can facilitate and better frame social relationships.
Amid quarantine, the pair tells TechCrunch they have been creating deeply complicated video chat parties for their friends. One example is a moon-themed party where they created a clickable map of the lunar surface that guided the 200 attendees through 16 separate virtual spaces with their own themes. Before the party kicked off, the hosts walked people through the “experience of traveling to the moon” by guiding them through the effects of zero gravity and instructing them to play along with experiencing it. Another hot tub-themed party invited guests to jump into their bath tub before firing up Zoom.
Cooke and Adams are leaning on some of these mechanics to create a Burning Man theme, hoping that taking cues from immersive theatre will enable people to commit more deeply to the experience. The acts of driving, losing your phone connection and growing tired and hungry on the way to the physical event add to a “spaciousness in your consciousness” that allows people to act more freely, Cooke says. He wants participants to replicate these experiences by taking steps outside their normal life in the run-up to the event, whether that’s sitting through an obscenely long video chat session to simulate a drive to the desert or setting up a tent in their living room, or cutting off their water line and avoiding showers during the nine days.
“All of this is embedding you further and further into this distant context, miles away from your normal life, where effectively in the course of this, you’re just becoming a radically less boring person,” Cooke explains in a nine-minute video outlining the platform.
Many of the apps are building on the idea of how spatial interfaces can feed greater social context and make it easier to approach people and make new friends.
Another official app, Build-a-Burn, takes the idea of a stylized 2D interface for video chat even further with a sketched-out grayscale map of Black Rock City that users can navigate little stick figures across. As a user moves through different camps and their avatars get physically close to each other, new video chat screens fade in and users can gain the experience of venturing into a new social bubble.
While Build-a-Burn and SparkleVerse are leaning more heavily on video chat, other experiences hope that creating massive 3D landscapes that match the scale of the real-world event will help people get into the spirit of the event.
Other than Burn2, which is wholly contained within the Second Life platform, most of the 3D-centric apps integrate some level of virtual reality support. Projects that support VR headsets include The Infinite Playa, The Bridge Experience, MysticVerse, BRCvr (which taps into Microsoft’s AltspaceVR platform) and Multiverse.
Each of the VR experiences will also allow users to join on mobile or desktop, an effort to ensure that the apps are more widely accessible.
Over on Extra Crunch, read about how a new generation of chat apps are leaning on game-like interfaces
Multiverse creator Faryar Ghazanfari, who runs an AR startup and previously worked on Tesla’s legal team, says that the motivations for building his app were a bit on the selfish side, telling TechCrunch that he became “extremely sad” after the physical event’s cancellation and felt the need to help build a place where he could reunite with his own camp.
Ghazanfari tells TechCrunch he feels a responsibility in creating the environment that other Burners will experience; he says his chief concern is capturing the event’s complexity. Compared to the other apps, Multiverse focuses primarily on providing a photorealistic 3D playground where avatars can zoom around.
“As Burners, we don’t think of Burning Man as just a music festival or art festival; it is much more than that. Burning Man is a social experiment of creating a community out of a shared struggle,” Ghazanfari says.
Each of the Burning Man-approved apps seem to engage with evoking that shared struggle differently, which appears to be the most looming challenge of moving this event to a virtual format. While the apps hope to bring elements of the physical event into their virtual spaces, the creators also seem to realize that aiming to compete with attendees’ past memories is unwise. It’s a challenge that has been faced by dozens of startups in the virtual reality space over the past several years.
“I think the main challenge is taking something that exists in reality and then porting it into a different platform,” said Adam Arrigo, CEO of Wave, a venture-backed startup that initially launched a VR app for music concerts but has since shifted focus to mobile and desktop experiences. “When you’re in these digital spaces, the agency that you have as a user and the experiences you can create are so different than something that could exist, even at a concert.”
Perhaps the biggest unknown, as the organization readies for Burning Man’s August 30 start date, is that nobody really has any idea how many people are going to show up. While Blumenfeld pointed me to suggestions the entire digital event could attract up to 30,000 people over its nine-day run, Ghazanfari hopes that hundreds of thousands or millions of users will come into the fold of his experience.
Another point of contention internally is how exactly the groups plan to monetize these digital experiences.
In 2020, the standard ticket price for Burning Man was $475. The organization postponed the “main sale” of tickets prior to this year’s physical event’s cancellation, but they had already sold tens of thousands of tickets. Ticket holders will have the option of being refunded, but the organization has encouraged those who “have the means” to consider making a full or partial donation of the ticket price instead.
In 2018, Burning Man cost $44 million for the organization to produce, according to tax documents. The Burning Man Project reported about $43 million in ticket sales from that event, with other donations and revenue streams bringing the nonprofit’s total revenue for that fiscal year to about $46 million. In a blog post, the event’s organizers noted that though the group had event insurance, they were not covered for a cancellation caused by a pandemic. Burning Man Project says it has $10 million in cash reserves, but that it anticipates draining through that funding by the end of the year to stay afloat. The organization is listed as having received a loan from the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program for between $2-5 million.
While some like Ghazanfari are pushing to make their experiences free to access with the option of giving a donation later, others expressed desire for a single digital ticket that would give attendees access to all eight digital experiences. Cooke says users will need to pay a $50 entrance fee to access the SparkleVerse.
The disparate nature of the experience being built this year — with some being shipped as native apps, others in HTML5 and others inside existing tech platforms — meant that a unified ticketing platform just wouldn’t work, Blumenfeld told TechCrunch. Not all of the developers were thrilled with this outcome, which they fear could fracture attendance at events on certain platforms. The biggest concern seemed to be ensuring that all of this effort pays off in some way for the organization so that they can continue to host the Burning Man event post-pandemic.
“One of the biggest reasons we’re all doing this is to help Burning Man survive, because the Burning Man organization unfortunately was really badly hit because of COVID,” Ghazanfari says. “The organization is in kind of a precarious situation financially.”
The organization has attracted criticism in recent years for the event’s inclusiveness. Some of the developers acknowledge that planning for a nine-day trip to the middle of the desert can be daunting and prohibitively expensive for people that want to join the community, and they hope that this year’s shift to a digital format will open up the event to more people and that these apps can be a less intimidating way for skeptics to get a taste of the community.
Thinking of the future
None of the developers behind the digital experiences are being paid for their efforts building these apps. However, the Burning Man Project has given at least some of them perpetual licenses to continue operating these digital platforms with the Burning Man name and an option to monetize, though a percentage of proceeds will be kicked back to the organization.
While getting this event across the finish line by the end of the month is daunting enough, the Burning Man Project is also trying to consider how its rapid learnings will apply to next year, though they hope that the physical event returns for 2021.
Blumenfeld says he plans to spend the next year working on the background infrastructure so that items like gating and ticketing functions for a virtual Burning Man can all be centralized.
While having eight distinct experiences this year could complicate the goal of getting one big group together, developers concerned about troubleshooting their new apps or having a sudden influx of virtual Burners overwhelm their infrastructures view multiple entry points to the festival as a necessary logistical move. Organizers hope the diversity of options will keep things interesting for attendees.
“I think we’ve got a good mix, and part of it is, we want to learn,” Blumenfeld says. “What we’re trying very hard to avoid is being in Zoom meeting hell.”
Whether users are connecting via video chat or as avatars inside a large virtual world, the developers building Burning Man’s virtual experiences believe they are operating on the cutting edge of virtual interaction and that they are rethinking elements of modern social networking to create a virtual Burning Man where people will be able to form new social bonds.
“I’ve fallen in love with this idea that at some point in the future, some Ph.D. student in 300 years time is going to write a thesis on the first online Burning Man, because it does feel like an extraordinary moment of avant garde imagineering for what the future of human online interaction looks like,” Cooke tells TechCrunch.
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Tesla CEO Elon Musk said in a memo its time to “go all out” and start volume production of the Tesla Semi, the all-electric Class 8 truck revealed nearly three years ago.
CNBC first reported on the memo that was sent to all employees. TechCrunch has also viewed the brief memo, which lacked details such as when this volume production might begin. Musk confirmed via Twitter that the memo was real.
The vague memo and one word “yes” confirmation was enough for Wall Street. Tesla shares rose more than 6% Wednesday morning to surpass $1,000. Shares were $1,009.84 at 10:50 a.m. ET. The company’s market capitalization has now surpassed $187 billion.
The complete memo message:The Tesla Semi has been in limited production, which Musk said in the memo has allowed the company to improve many aspects of the design. The battery and powertrain would be produced at Tesla’s gigafactory in Sparks, Nevada. Musk didn’t mention where the actual truck would be produced accept to write that other work would probably occur in other states.
It’s time to go all out and bring the Tesla Semi t volume production. It’s been in limited production so far, which has allowed us to improve many aspects of the design. Production of the battery and powertrain would take place at Giga Nevada, with most of the other work probably occurring in other states. Jerome and I are very excited to work with you to bring this amazing product to market!”
When asked on Twitter where final assembly will be, Musk replied “we shall see.”
The Tesla Semi made a splash when it first debuted in November 2017. During the initial debut, Musk promised the truck would drive like its other passenger vehicles, the Model X, Model S and Model 3. The truck also boasted some eye-popping specs that included the ability to travel 500 miles on a single battery charge when fully loaded and driving 65 miles per hour.
The Tesla Semi was quickly overshadowed by the Model 3, which was plagued by production bottlenecks for months. The Model Y debut and production followed. Eventually, the Semi faded from the company’s earnings reports altogether.
Earlier this year in its fourth quarter earnings report, Tesla provided one of the first updates on the Tesla Semi in months, stating that it was “planning to produce limited volumes of Tesla Semi this year.”
Tesla then said in its latest quarterly earnings report that it was pushing back plans to produce and deliver the Class 8 truck until 2021. The move would put the Tesla Semi two years behind the automaker’s previous target.