Google’s Gradient Ventures leads $8.2M Series A for Vault Platform’s misconduct reporting SaaS

Fixing workplace misconduct reporting is a mission that’s snagged London-based Vault Platform backing from Google’s AI focused fund, Gradient Ventures, which is the lead investor in an $8.2 million Series A that’s being announced today.

Other investors joining the round are Illuminate Financial, along with existing investors including Kindred Capital and Angular Ventures. Its $4.2M seed round was closed back in 2019.

Vault sells a suite of SaaS tools to enterprise-sized or large/scale-up companies to support them to pro-actively manage internal ethics and integrity issues. As well as tools for staff to report issues, data and analytics is baked into the platform — so it can support with customers’ wider audit and compliance requirements.

In an interview with TechCrunch, co-founder and CEO Neta Meidav said that as well as being wholly on board with the overarching mission to upgrade legacy reporting tools like hotlines provided to staff to try to surface conduct-related workplace risks (be that bullying and harassment; racism and sexism; or bribery, corruption and fraud), as you might expect Gradient Ventures was interested in the potential for applying AI to further enhance Vault’s SaaS-based reporting tool.

A feature of its current platform, called ‘GoTogether’, consists of an escrow system that allows users to submit misconduct reports to the relevant internal bodies but only if they are not the first or only person to have made a report about the same person — the idea being that can help encourage staff (or outsiders, where open reporting is enabled) to report concerns they may otherwise hesitate to, for various reasons.

Vault now wants to expand the feature’s capabilities so it can be used to proactively surface problematic conduct that may not just relate to a particular individual but may even affect a whole team or division — by using natural language processing to help spot patterns and potential linkages in the kind of activity being reported.

“Our algorithms today match on an alleged perpetrator’s identity. However many events that people might report on are not related to a specific person — they can be more descriptive,” explains Meidav. “For example if you are experiencing some irregularities in accounting in your department, for example, and you’re suspecting that there is some sort of corruption or fraudulent activity happening.”

“If you think about the greatest [workplace misconduct] disasters and crises that happened in recent years — the Dieselgate story at Volkswagen, what happened in Boeing — the common denominator in all these cases is that there’s been some sort of a serious ethical breach or failure which was observed by several people within the organization in remote parts of the organization. And the dots weren’t connected,” she goes on. “So the capacity we’re currently building and increasing — building upon what we already have with GoTogether — is the ability to connect on these repeated events and be able to connect and understand and read the human input. And connect the dots when repeated events are happening — alerting companies’ boards that there is a certain ‘hot pocket’ that they need to go and investigate.

“That would save companies from great risk, great cost, and essentially could prevent huge loss. Not only financial but reputational, sometimes it’s even loss to human lives… That’s where we’re getting to and what we’re aiming to achieve.”

There is the question of how defensible Vault’s GoTogether feature is — how easily it could be copied — given you can’t patent an idea. So baking in AI smarts may be a way to layer added sophistication to try to maintain a competitive edge.

“There’s some very sophisticated, unique technology there in the backend so we are continuing to invest in this side of our technology. And Gradient’s investment and the specific we’re receiving from Google now will only increase that element and that side of our business,” says Meidav when we ask about defensibility.

Commenting on the funding in a statement, Gradient Ventures founder and managing partner, Anna Patterson, added: “Vault tackles an important space with an innovative and timely solution. Vault’s application provides organizations with a data-driven approach to tackling challenges like occupational fraud, bribery or corruption incidents, safety failures and misconduct. Given their impressive team, technology, and customer traction, they are poised to improve the modern workplace.”

The London-based startup was only founded in 2018 — and while it’s most keen to talk about disrupting legacy hotline systems, which offer only a linear and passive conduit for misconduct reporting, there are a number of other startups playing in the same space. Examples include the likes of LA-based AllVoices, YC-backed WhispliHootsworth and Spot to name a few.

Competition seems likely to continue to increase as regulatory requirements around workplace reporting keep stepping up.

The incoming EU Whistleblower Protection Directive is one piece of regulation Vault expects will increase demand for smarter compliance solutions — aka “TrustTech”, as it seeks to badge it — as it will require companies of more than 250 employees to have a reporting solution in place by the end of December 2021, encouraging European businesses to cast around for tools to help shrink their misconduct-related risk.

She also suggests a platform solution can help bridge gaps between different internal teams that may need to be involved in addressing complaints, as well as helping to speed up internal investigations by offering the ability to chat anonymously with the original reporter.

Meidav also flags the rising attention US regulators are giving to workplace misconduct reporting — noting some recent massive awards by the SEC to external whistleblowers, such as the $28M paid out to a single whistleblower earlier this year (in relation to the Panasonic Avionics consultant corruption case).

She also argues that growing numbers of companies going public (such as via the SPAC trend, where there will have been reduced regulatory scrutiny ahead of the ‘blank check’ IPO) raises reporting requirements generally — meaning, again, more companies will need to have in place a system operated by a third party which allows anonymous and non-anonymous reporting. (And, well, we can only speculate whether companies going public by SPAC may be in greater need of misconduct reporting services vs companies that choose to take a more traditional and scrutinized route to market… )

“Just a few years back I had to convince investors that this category it really is a category — and fast forward to 2021, congratulations! We have a market here. It’s a growing category and there is competition in this space,” says Meidav.

“What truly differentiates Vault is that we did not just focus on digitizing an old legacy process. We focused on leveraging technology to truly empower more misconduct to surface internally and for employees to speak up in ways that weren’t available for them before. GoTogether is truly unique as well as the things that we’re doing on the operational side for a company — such as collaboration.”

She gives an example of how a customer in the oil and gas sector configured the platform to make use of an anonymous chat feature in Vault’s app so they could provide employees with a secure direct-line to company leadership.

“They’ve utilizing the anonymous chat that the app enables for people to have a direct line to leadership,” she says. “That’s incredible. That is such a progress, forward looking way to be utilizing this tool.”

Vault Platform’s suite of tools include an employee app and a Resolution Hub for compliance, HR, risk and legal teams (Image credits: Vault Platform)

Meidav says Vault has around 30 customers at this stage, split between the US and EU — its core regions of focus.

And while its platform is geared towards enterprises, its early customer base includes a fair number of scale-ups — with familiar names like Lemonade, Airbnb, Kavak, G2 and OVO Energy on the list.

Scale ups may be natural customers for this sort of product given the huge pressures that can be brought to bear upon company culture as a startup switches to expanding headcount very rapidly, per Meidav.

“They are the early adopters and they are also very much sensitive to events such as these kind of [workplace] scandals as it can impact them greatly… as well as the fact that when a company goes through a hyper growth — and usually you see hyper growth happening in tech companies more than in any other type of sector — hyper growth is at time when you really, as management, as leadership, it’s really important to safeguard your culture,” she suggests.

“Because it changes very, very quickly and these changes can lead to all sorts of things — and it’s really important that leadership is on top of it. So when a company goes through hyper growth it’s an excellent time for them to incorporate a tool such as Vault. As well as the fact that every company that even thinks of an IPO in the coming months or years will do very well to put a tool like Vault in place.”

Expanding Vault’s own team is also on the cards after this Series A close, as it guns for the next phase of growth for its own business. Presumably, though, it’s not short of a misconduct reporting solution.

#abuse, #airbnb, #allvoices, #angular-ventures, #anna-patterson, #artificial-intelligence, #boeing, #corporate-law, #corruption, #deception, #europe, #european-union, #fundings-exits, #google, #gradient-ventures, #kindred-capital, #london, #louisiana, #managing-partner, #misconduct, #natural-language-processing, #saas, #u-s-securities-and-exchange-commission, #united-states, #vault-platform, #workplace

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AI cybersecurity provider SentinelOne files for $100M IPO

SentinelOne, a late-stage security startup that helps organizations secure their data using AI and machine learning, has filed for an IPO on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE).

In an S-1 filing on Thursday, the security company revealed that for the three months ending April 30, its revenues increased by 108% year-on-year to $37.4 million and its customer base grew to 4,700, up from 2,700 a year prior. Despite this pandemic-fueled growth, SentinelOne’s net losses more than doubled from $26.6 million in 2020 to $62.6 million.

“We also expect our operating expenses to increase in the future as we continue to invest for our future growth, including expanding our research and development function to drive further development of our platform, expanding our sales and marketing activities, developing the functionality to expand into adjacent markets, and reaching customers in new geographic locations,” SentinelOne wrote in its filing.

The Mountain View-based company said it intends to list its Class A common stock using the ticker symbol “S” and that details about the price range and number of common shares to be put up for the IPO are yet to be determined. The S-1 filing also identifies Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America Securities, Barclays and Wells Fargo Securities as the lead underwriters.

SentinelOne raised $276 million in a funding round in November last year, tripling its $1 billion valuation from February 2020 to $3 billion. At the time, CEO and founder Tomer Weingarten told TechCrunch that an IPO “would be the next logical step” for the company.

SentinelOne, which was founded in 2013 and has raised a total of $696.5 million through eight rounds of funding, is looking to raise up to $100 million in its IPO, and said it’s intending to use the net proceeds to increase its visibility in the cybersecurity marketplace and for product development and other “general corporate processes.”

It added that “may also use a portion of the net proceeds for the acquisition of, or investment in, technologies, solutions, or businesses that complement our business.” The company’s sole acquisition so far took place back in February when it bought high-speed logging startup Scalyr for $155 million.

SentinelOne is going public during a period of heightened public interest in cybersecurity. There has been a wave of high-profile cyberattacks during the COVID-19 pandemic, with hackers taking advantage of widespread remote working necessitated as a result.

One of the biggest attacks saw Russian hackers breach the networks of IT company SolarWinds, enabling them to gain access to government agencies and corporations. SentinelOne’s endpoint protection solution was able to detect and stop the related malicious payload, protecting its customers.

“The world is full of criminals, state actors, and other hostile agents who seek to exfiltrate and exploit data to disrupt our way of life,” Weingarten said in SentinelOne’s SEC filing. “Our mission is to keep the world running by protecting and securing the core pillars of modern infrastructure: data and the systems that store, process, and share information. This is an endless mission as attackers evolve rapidly in their quest to disrupt operations, breach data, turn profit, and inflict damage.”

#artificial-intelligence, #barclays, #ceo, #cloud, #companies, #computing, #goldman-sachs, #initial-public-offering, #machine-learning, #morgan-stanley, #scalyr, #security, #sentinelone, #solarwinds, #system-administration, #u-s-securities-and-exchange-commission

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Canoo is being investigated by the SEC

Canoo, the Los Angeles-based electric vehicle startup that debuted on the Nasdaq public exchange earlier this year, is being investigated by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, just months after its merger with special purpose acquisition company Hennessy Capital Acquisition Corp.

The investigation is broad, covering the Hennessy’s initial public offering and merger with Canoo, the company’s operations, business model, revenues, revenue strategy, customer agreements, earnings and other related topics, along with the recent departures of certain of the company’s officers, according to a quarterly earnings report posted Monday. Canoo learned of the investigation on April 29. Canoo’s share price fell more than 3% in after-hours trading following the release of its first-quarter earnings.

“The SEC has also informed the Company that the investigation does not mean that it has concluded that anyone has violated the law, and does not mean that it has a negative opinion of any person, entity or security. We intend to provide the requested information and cooperate fully with the SEC investigation,” Canoo noted in the regulatory filing. Canoo added that it does not consider the investigation or other lawsuits it is facing to be material to its business.

The SEC investigation follows a string of executive departures, a change to some of the core pieces of its business model, the loss of a key automotive partnership and at least one lawsuit brought by shareholders. And that’s just the activity since the first of the year.

Canoo started as Evelozcity in 2017, founded by former Faraday Future executives Stefan Krause and Ulrich Kranz. The company rebranded as Canoo in spring 2019 and debuted its first vehicle several months later. It was this first vehicle, as well as Canoo’s plan to offer it only as a subscription, that captured the attention of investors, companies and the media. Last year, Hyundai announced a partnership with Canoo to co-develop EVs, but that deal fell apart in early 2021 after the company changed its business model and decided to not offer engineering services to other automakers, according to comments made by the company’s chairman and now CEO Tony Aquila in a March investors’ call.

Canoo has sustained numerous executive departures, including co-founder and CEO Kranz, general counsel Andrew Wolstan, CFO Paul Balciunas and its head of powertrain development. Krause, who was the company’s first CEO, stepped down in August 2019. Last month, Canoo was also named as a defendant in two class-action complaints filed by shareholders.

Amid the executive exits and business pivots, the company has managed to narrow its quarterly losses despite an increase in R&D expenditures and no revenue. The company reported Monday a net loss of $15.2 million, or 7 cents a share, in the first quarter, compared to a loss of $30.9 million, or 37 cents a share, in the same period last year. The company said it ended the quarter with $641.9 million in cash and equivalents.

#automotive, #canoo, #electric-vehicles, #hyundai, #sec, #tc, #u-s-securities-and-exchange-commission

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What private tech companies should consider before going public via a SPAC

The red-hot market for special purpose acquisition companies, or SPACs, has “screeched to a halt,” according to CNN. As the SPAC market grew in the past six months, it seemed that everyone was getting into the game, with celebrities from Shaquille O’Neal to former House Speaker Paul Ryan leading their own SPACs.

But shareholder lawsuits, huge value fluctuations and warnings from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission have all thrown the brakes on the SPAC market, at least temporarily. So what do privately held tech companies that are considering going public need to know about the SPAC process and market?

Despite some warning signs, there are still hundreds of SPACs on the market looking to close deals, and this process can still have plenty of upsides.

SPAC perks

First, the upside of SPACs: They’re a much more efficient way for a private company to go public than a traditional IPO. By merging with a SPAC instead of launching an IPO, a private company can avoid the rigamarole of working with underwriters, hosting roadshows, preparing a prospectus and other complexities of the public filing process.

Furthermore, it can potentially be a fast track into an IPO with a seasoned partner who has experience navigating the process.

There are also big potential financial upsides. For example, stockholders of the private company will often roll over their stock and provide significant cash liquidity. SPACs also offer more certainty about a private company’s valuation than a traditional IPO, and some experts believe that a SPAC can add up to 20% to a company’s sale price compared to a typical private equity transaction.

And, especially when the SPAC market was hot, multiple SPACs could create a bidding war to increase value and generate more favorable terms for a transaction than through the traditional capital markets.

Lastly, partnering with an experienced management team and impressive industry insiders can help a private company accelerate its financial growth and create long-term value.

Warning signs

All these benefits led to a dramatic increase in SPAC transactions in late 2020 and early 2021. But the market cooled substantially in April, in part because of high-profile problems in the market and signs that the SEC will be scrutinizing the entities more closely in the future.

#column, #ec-column, #finance, #private-equity, #special-purpose-acquisition-company, #u-s-securities-and-exchange-commission

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Fund managers can leverage ESG-related data to generate insights

Almost two centuries ago, gold prospectors in California set off one of the greatest rushes for wealth in history. Proponents of socially conscious investing claim fund managers will start a similar stampede when they discover that environmental, social and governance (ESG) insights can yield treasure in the form of alternative data that promise big payoffs — if only they knew how to mine it.

First, let’s be clear: ESG is not on the fringe.

There may be some truth to that line of thinking if you take some of the rhetoric and advertising out of the equation.

First, let’s be clear: ESG is not on the fringe. The European Union has implemented new financial regulations via the Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation (SFDR). These improve ESG disclosures and considerations and help to direct capital toward products and companies that benefit people and the planet. As we write, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is also considering drafting and implementation of ESG-related regulations.

Whether enacted or currently under consideration, these rules encourage fund managers to integrate sustainability risks into their business processes, report on them publicly, stamp out greenwashing, and promote transparency and knowledge among investors. Accordingly, it will become easier to compare firms’ sustainability efforts, too, allowing stakeholders from all corners to make more informed decisions.

Incorporating ESG factors into investment strategies is not new, of course. The world’s largest asset managers have been practicing it for years. According to the Governance & Accountability Institute, 90% of companies listed on the S&P 500 now produce sustainability reports, an increase of 70 percentage points from more than a decade ago.

Yet some are still groaning about adopting an ESG investing mindset; they see ESG as a nuisance that detracts from their mission of earning high returns. But could this mindset mean they are missing important opportunities?

Don’t wait

Waiting for new mandatory ESG reporting and compliance framework standards in the U.S. puts Americas-focused managers at a significant disadvantage. Fund managers can start gaining insights today from alternative data originating in ESG-related data stemming from climate change, natural disasters, harassment and discrimination lawsuits, and other events and information that can be mined.

#column, #ec-column, #ec-food-climate-and-sustainability, #environmentalism, #esg, #europe, #european-union, #finance, #governance, #greentech, #investment, #startups, #u-s-securities-and-exchange-commission, #venture-capital

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Hustle Fund backs Fintor, which wants to make it easier to invest in real estate

Farshad Yousefi and Masoud Jalali used to drive through Palo Alto neighborhoods and marvel at the outrageous home prices. But the drives sparked an idea. They were not in a financial position to purchase a home in those neighborhoods (to be clear, not many people are) either for investment or to live. But what if they could invest in homes in up and coming cities throughout the U.S.?

Then they realized that even that might be a challenge considering that with all their student debt, affording a down payment would be impossible.

“There was nothing available out there besides a crowdfunding platform, which when we first signed up, took away $1,000 from our account that we didn’t have, and then our capital would be locked up for 3 to 10 years,” recalls Yousefi.

So the pair started doing research and spoke to 1,000 individuals under the age of 35. Eight out of 10 said they would like to invest in real estate but were deterred by all the barriers to entry.

“There is clearly a large demand for access to real estate,” Yousefi said. “And we wanted to give people a way to invest in it like they can in stocks, via a mobile app.”

And so the idea for Fintor was born.

Yousefi and Jalali founded the company in 2020 with the goal of purchasing homes via an LLC, and turning each into shares through a SEC-approved broker dealer. Individuals can then buy shares of the homes via Fintor’s platform. Its next step is to sign agreements with individual real estate investors or bigger real estate development firms to list their properties on the platform and give people the opportunity to buy shares.

And now Fintor has raised $2.5 million in seed money to continue building out its fractional real estate investing platform. The startup aims to “fractionalize” houses and other residential property, giving people in the U.S. access to investment opportunities “starting with as little as $5.” The company attracted the interest of investors such as 500 Startups, Hustle Fund, Graphene Ventures, Houston-based real estate investor Manny Khoshbin, Mana Ventures and other angel investors such as Cindy Bi, Skyler Fernandes, VU Venture Partners, Minal Hasan, Andrew Zalasin, Alluxo CEO and Founder Safa Mahzari, SquareFoot CEO and founder Jonathan Wasserstrum and Teachable CEO and founder Ankur Nagpal.

Image Credits: Fintor

Fintor is eying markets such as Kansas City, South Carolina, and Houston, Texas, where it already has some properties. It’s looking for homes in the $80,000 to $350,000 price range, and millennials and GenZers are its target demographic.

“Fintor can give the same return as the stock market, but at half the risk,” Yousefi said. “As two [Iranian] immigrants, we’ve seen how much this country has to offer and how real estate sits at the top of everything, yet is so inaccessible.”

The pair had originally set out to raise just $1 million but the round was quickly “way oversubscribed,” according to Yousefi, and they ended up raising $2.5 million at triple the original valuation.

Jalali said the company will use machine learning technology to filter and rate properties as it scales its business model.

“We’ll use ML to categorize neighborhoods and to come up with the price of properties to offer to potential sellers,” he added. “Our ultimate goal is to create indexes so that people can invest in multiple properties in a given city. That creates diversification right away.”

.Elizabeth Yin, co-founder and general partner of Hustle Fund, believes that Fintor is solving a generational problem with real estate.

“Retail investors have almost no access to great real estate investments today and the best opportunities are reserved for the select few,” she told TechCrunch. “Not to mention that in addition to access, retail investors often need a lot of capital in order to have a diversified portfolio or be accredited to join funds.”

Fintor’s approach to securitize real estate assets will give millions of investors who are not accredited investors access they would otherwise not have had, Yin added. 

“Simultaneously, it provides increased liquidity to property owners, while improving the user experience for both parties,” she said. “Effectively this becomes a new asset class, because it’s entirely turnkey and is fractionalized, which opens up many new pockets of investors.”

#ankur-nagpal, #articles, #ceo, #cindy-bi, #crowdfunding, #elizabeth-yin, #entrepreneurship, #financial-technology, #fintech, #funding, #fundings-exits, #graphene-ventures, #houston, #hustle-fund, #kansas-city, #machine-learning-technology, #ml, #palo-alto, #proptech, #real-estate, #recent-funding, #retail-investors, #south-carolina, #squarefoot, #startups, #tc, #technology, #texas, #u-s-securities-and-exchange-commission, #united-states, #venture-capital

0

Elon Musk declares you can now buy a Tesla with Bitcoin in the U.S.

Tesla made headlines earlier this year when it took out significant holdings in bitcoin, acquiring a roughly $1.5 billion stake at then-prices in early February. At the time, it also noted in an SEC filing disclosing the transaction that it could also eventually accept the cryptocurrency as payment from customers for its vehicles. Now, Elon Musk says they’ve made that a reality, at least for customers in the U.S., and he added that the plan is for the automaker to ‘hodl’ all their bitcoin payments, too.

In terms of its infrastructure for accepting bitcoin payments, Tesla isn’t relying on any third-party networks or wallets — the company is “using only internal & open source software & operates Bitcoin nodes directly,” Musk said on Twitter. And when customers pay in bitcoin, those won’t be converted to fiat currency, the CEO says, but will instead presumably add to the company’s stockpile.

In February when Tesla revealed its bitcoin purchase, observers either lauded the company’s novel approach to converting its cash holdings, or criticized the plan for its attachment to an asset with significant price volatility. Many also pointed out that the environmental cost of mining bitcoin seems at odds with Tesla’s overall stated mission, given its carbon footprint. Commenters today echoed these concerns, noting the irony of Tesla accepting the grid-taxing cryptocurrency for its all-electric cars.

As for how the bitcoin payment process works today, Tesla has detailed that in an FAQ. Customers begin the payment process from their own bitcoin wallet, and have to set the exact amount for a vehicle deposit based on current rates, with the value of Tesla’s cars still set in U.S. dollars. The automaker further notes that in the case of any refunds, it’s buyer-beware in terms of any change in value relative to the U.S. dollar from time of purchase to time of refund.

Musk also said that the plan is to expand Bitcoin payments to other countries outside the U.S. by “later this year.” Depending on the market, that could require some regulatory work, but clearly Musk thinks it’s worth the effort. Meanwhile, Bitcoin is up slightly on the news early Wednesday morning.

#bitcoin, #car, #ceo, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptography, #currency, #digital-currencies, #electric-vehicles, #elon-musk, #mining, #mobility, #open-source-software, #tc, #tesla, #u-s-securities-and-exchange-commission, #united-states

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SpaceX’s new $850 million raise confirmed in SEC filing

SpaceX hasn’t issue any public statement about the $850 million in fresh funding CNBC reported it raised last week, but a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) published today confirms the round. SpaceX’s funding was said to value the company at around $74 billion, with a per-share value moon the round set at around $420.

Investment firm Sequoia led the considerable raise, and has now put over $600 million into the Elon Musk-led space company overall between this and a round it participated in in 2020, according to Bloomberg. CNBC’s report also said that a secondary sale of existing shares generated an additional $750 million in capital for the company, putting the total new money available for SpaceX’s use at $1.6 billion – not too far shy of the $2 billion it raised at a valuation of $46 billion last August.

That probably seems like a lot of money to raise in such less than a year. But few companies – private or otherwise – have the kind of capital needs of SpaceX. While it’s been able to build a thriving launch business on the money raised during the first part of its now nearly two-decade existence, that hasn’t slowed the rate at which it’s been undertaking big new projects with tremendous upfront costs.

Currently, SpaceX is rapidly building new prototypes of its Starship, a next-generation reusable rocket with multiple times the cargo capacity of its current Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 cargo nosecone. It has flown a number of prototypes – and lost two in the process due to missed landings. The company typically has at least two new prototypes under construction simultaneously, and had been operating at that pace for many months now, with a highly manual production process for both the rockets and the new engines that power them.

Meanwhile, it’s also building out Starlink – the global broadband internet satellite constellation that it wants to scale from its current 1,000+ size, to more than 12,000 for final, world-spanning coverage reach. To scale it quickly and get its service operational (which it now is, to select areas in North America), SpaceX has been launching its own dedicated Falcon 9 rockets with 60 Starlink satellites on each. Since the company is its own customer for the majority of those missions, they’re entirely operating expenditure. Musk has estimated that fully deploying Starlink will take around $10 billion.

Both of these projects – Starship and Starlink – carry massive upfront costs, but they also have a lot of potential long-term upside; hence the skyrocketing valuation as both efforts begin to produce positive results, between Starship’s high-altitude tests, and Starlink’s initial service availability.

#aerospace, #broadband, #elon-musk, #falcon, #falcon-9, #hyperloop, #north-america, #outer-space, #sequoia, #space, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #starlink, #tc, #u-s-securities-and-exchange-commission

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MetroMile says a website bug let a hacker obtain driver’s license numbers

Car insurance startup MetroMile said it has fixed a security flaw on its website that allowed a hacker to obtain driver’s license numbers.

The San Francisco-based insurance startup disclosed the security breach in its latest 8-K filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

MetroMile said a bug in the quote form and application process on the company’s website allowed the hacker to “obtain personal information of certain individuals, including individuals’ driver’s license numbers.” It’s not clear exactly how the form allowed the hacker to obtain driver’s license numbers or how many individuals had their driver’s license numbers obtained.

The disclosure added: “Metromile immediately took steps to contain and remediate the issue, including by releasing software fixes, notified its insurance carrier, and has continued its ongoing operations. Metromile is working diligently with security experts and legal counsel to ascertain how the incident occurred, identify additional containment and remediation measures, and notify affected individuals, law enforcement, and regulatory bodies, as appropriate.”

Rick Chen, a spokesperson for MetroMile, said that the company has so far confirmed that driver’s license numbers were accessed, but that the “investigation is still ongoing.”

MetroMile has not disclosed the security incident on its website or its social channels. Chen said the company plans to notify affected individuals of the incident.

News of the security incident landed as the company confirmed a $50 million investment from former Uber executive Ryan Graves, who will also join the company’s board. It comes just weeks after the auto insurance startup announced it was planning to go public via a special-purpose acquisition company — or SPAC — in a $1.3 billion deal.

#articles, #automotive, #computer-security, #computing, #data-security, #driver, #executive, #insurance, #law-enforcement, #metromile, #ryan-graves, #san-francisco, #security, #security-breaches, #startup-company, #u-s-securities-and-exchange-commission, #uber

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Institutional trust is the real meme

Hello friends, this is Week in Review.

Last week, I dove into the AR maneuverings of Apple and Facebook and what that means for the future of the web. This week, I’m aiming to touch the meme stock phenomenon that dominated American news cycles this week and see if there’s anything worth learning from it, with an eye towards the future web.

If you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox every Saturday morning from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny.


Robin Hood statue in Nottingham

(Photo by Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images)

The big thing

This week was whatever you wanted it to be. A rising up of the proletariat. A case of weaponized disinformation. A rally for regulation… or perhaps deregulation of financial markets. Choose your own adventure with the starting point being one flavor of chaos leading into a slightly more populist blend of chaos.

At the end of it, a lot of long-time financiers are confused, a lot of internet users are using rent money to buy stock in Tootsie Roll, a lot of billionaires are finding how intoxicating adopting a “for-the-little-guy!” persona on Twitter can be, and here I am staring at the ceiling wondering if there’s any institution in the world trustworthy enough that the internet can’t turn it into a lie.

This week, my little diddy is about meme stocks, but more about the idea that once you peel away the need to question why you actually trust something, it can become easier to just blindly place that faith in more untrustworthy places. All the better if those places are adjacent to areas where others place trust.

The Dow Jones had its worst week since October because retail investors, organized in part on Reddit, turned America’s financial markets into the real front page of the internet. Boring, serious stocks like Facebook and Apple reported their earnings and the markets adjusted accordingly, but in addition to the serious bits of news, the Wall Street page was splashed with break neck gains from “meme stocks.” While junk stocks surging is nothing new, the idea that a stock can make outrageous gains based on nothing and then possibly hold that value based on a newly formed shared trust is newer and much more alarming.

The most infamous of these stocks was GameStop. (If you’re curious about GameStop’s week, there are at least 5 million stories across the web to grab your attention, here’s one. Side note: collectively we seem to have longer attention spans post-Trump.)

So, Americans already don’t have too much institutional faith. Looking through some long-standing Gallup research, compared to the turn of the century, faith in organized religion, the media, most wings of government, big business and banks has decreased quite a bit. The outliers in what Americans do seem to trust more than they did 20 or so years ago are small businesses and the military.

This is all to say that it’s probably not stellar that people don’t trust anything, and me thinking that the internet could probably disrupt every trusted institution except the military probably only shows my lack of creative thinking when it comes to how the web could democratize the Defense Department. As you might guess from that statement, I think democratizing access to certain institutions can be bad. I say that with about a thousand asterisks leading to footnotes that you’ll never find. I also don’t think the web is done disrupting institutional trust by a long shot, for better or worse.

Democratizing financial systems sounds a lot better from a populist lift, until you realize that the guys users are competing against are playing a different game with other people’s money. This saga will change plenty of lives but it won’t end particularly well for a most people exposed to “infinite upside” day trading.

Until this week, in my mind Robinhood was only reckless because it was exposing (or “democratizing access to” — their words) consumers to risk in a way that most of them probably weren’t equipped to handle. Now, I think that they’re reckless because they didn’t anticipate that OR how democratized access could lead to so many potential doomsday scenarios and bankrupt Robinhood. They quietly raised a $1 billion liquidity lifeline this week after they had to temporarily shut down meme stock trading, a move that essentially torched their brand and left them the web’s most hated institution. (Facebook had a quiet week)

This kind of all feeds back into this idea I’ve been feeding that scale can be very dangerous. Platforms seem to need a certain amount of head count to handle global audiences, and almost all of them are insufficiently staffed. Facebook announced this week in its earnings call that it has nearly 60,000 employees. This is a company that now has its own Supreme Court; that’s too big. If your institution is going to be massive and centralized, chances are you need a ton of people to moderate it. That’s something at odds with most existing internet platforms. Realistically, the internet would probably be happier with fewer of these sweeping institutions and more intimate bubbles that are loosely connected. That’s something that the network effects of the past couple decades have made harder but regulation around data portability could assist with.

Writing this newsletter, something I’m often reminded is that while it feels like everything is always changing, few things are wholly new. This great NYT profile from 2001 written by Michael Lewis is a great reminder of that, chronicling a 15-year-old who scammed the markets by using a web of dummy accounts and got hounded by the SEC but still walked away with $500k. Great read.

In the end, things will likely quiet down at Robinhood. There’s also the distinct chance that they don’t and that those meme traders just ignited a revolution that’s going to bankrupt the company and torch the globals markets, but you know things will probably go back to normal.

 

Until next week,
Lucas Matney


Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law

(Photo by MANDEL NGAN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Other things

SEC is pissed
I’ll try to keep these updates GameStop free, but one quick note from the peanut gallery. The SEC isn’t all that happy about the goings ons in the market this week and they’re mad, probably mostly at Robinhood. They got pretty terse with their statement. More

Facebook Oversight Board wants YOU
Zuckerberg’s Supreme Court wants public comment as it decides whether Facebook should give Trump his Instagram and Facebook accounts back. I’m sure any of Facebook’s executives would’ve stopped building the platform dead in its tracks in the years after its founding if they knew just how freaking complicated moderation was going to end up being for them, but you could probably have changed their mind back by showing them the market cap. More

Apple adtech-killing update drops in spring
After delaying its launch, Apple committed this week to the spring rollout of its “App Tracking Transparency” feature that has so much of the adtech world pissed. The update will force apps to essentially ask users whether they’d like to be tracked across apps. More

Robert Downey Jr. bets on startups
Celebrity investing has been popular forever, but it’s gotten way more common in the venture world in recent years. Reputation transfer teamed with the fact that money is so easy to come by for top founders, means that if you are choosing from some second-tier fund or The Chainsmokers, you might pick The Chainsmokers. On that note, actor Robert Downey Jr. raised a rolling fund to back climate tech startups, we’ve got all the deets. More

WeWork SPAC
Ah poor Adam Neumann, poor SoftBank. If only they’d kept their little “tech company” under wraps for another couple years and left that S-1 for a kinder market with less distaste for creative framing. It seems that WeWork is the next target to get SPAC’d and be brought onto public markets via acquisition. I’m sure everything will go fine. More

Tim Cook and Zuckerberg spar
Big tech is a gentlemen’s game, generally big tech CEOs play nice with each other in public and save their insults for the political party that just fell out of power. This week, Tim Cook and Mark Zuckerberg were a little less friendly. Zuckerberg called out Apple by name in their earnings investor call and floated some potential unfair advantages that Apple might have. Them’s fighting words. Cook was more circumspect as usual and delivered a speech that was at times hilariously direct in the most indirect way possible about how much he hates Facebook. More


Extra things

Tidbits from our paywalled Extra Crunch content:
The 5 biggest mistakes I made as a first-time startup founder
“I and the rest of the leadership team would work 12-hour days, seven days a week. And that trickled down into many other employees doing the same. I didn’t think twice about sending emails, texts or slacks at night and on weekends. As with many startups, monster hours were simply part of the deal.”

Fintechs could see $100 billion of liquidity in 2021
“For the fourth straight year, the publicly traded fintechs massively outperformed the incumbent financial services providers as well as every mainstream stock index. While the underlying performance of these companies was strong, the pandemic further bolstered results as consumers avoided appearing in-person for both shopping and banking. Instead, they sought — and found — digital alternatives.”

Rising African venture investment powers fintech, clean tech bets in 2020
“What is driving generally positive venture capital results for Africa in recent quarters? Giuliani told TechCrunch in a follow-up email that ‘investment in Africa is being driven on the one hand by a broadening base for early-stage ecosystem support organizations, including accelerators, seed funds, syndicates and angel investing,” and “consolidation,” which is aiding both “growth-stage deals and a burgeoning M&A market.’”

 

#adam-neumann, #africa, #america, #apple, #apple-inc, #banking, #computing, #department-of-defense, #facebook, #gamestop, #lucas-matney, #mark-zuckerberg, #mike, #robinhood, #softbank, #supreme-court, #tc, #technology, #the-social-network, #tim-cook, #u-s-securities-and-exchange-commission, #week-in-review, #wework

0

SEC issues statement on past week’s turbulent market activity prompted by Reddit-fueled GameStop run

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has issued an official statement on the tumult of the past week in the public stock market. It’s a relatively brief statement, and doesn’t mention any of the key players by name (aka GameStop, Reddit, Robinhood and others), but it does say acknowledge that “extreme stock price volatility has the potential to expose investors to rapid and severe losses” which could “undermine market confidence,” and basically says the Commission is watching closely to ensure that it doesn’t.

The SEC statement does specify that it believes the “core market infrastructure” remains intact despite the heavy trading volumes of the past week, which were prompted primarily by activity organized by retail investors acting in concert through organization on r/WallStreetBets, a subreddit dedicated to day trading. These retail investors resolved to collectively purchase and hold GME stocks (and subsequently, shares in other companies like movie theater chain AMC) in a bid to sweat out hedge funds with significant short positions in the same.

The ensuing high volume of trading activity from individual retail investors led to various actions from platforms that provide free trading to these individuals, including Robinhood, Webull, Public and M1. Robinhood initially cited “protecting” its users as the reason for limits imposed, but later revealed that a lack of funding to cover trade clearances likely caused the temporary measures, since it tapped $500 million to $600 million in credit facility and raised $1 billion in funding overnight.

The SEC’s statement includes a callout that seems specifically directed at entities like Robinhood, and it’s fair to interpret it as a warning:

In addition, we will act to protect retail investors when the facts demonstrate abusive or manipulative trading activity that is prohibited by the federal securities laws. Market participants should be careful to avoid such activity. Likewise, issuers must ensure compliance with the federal securities laws for any contemplated offers or sales of their own securities.

Robinhood has already had run-ins with the financial regulator for unrelated business practices. Meanwhile, lawmakers from both the House and the Senate, as well as NY AG Letitia James have all expressed their intent to review the event and all surrounding activities, which likely involves the role trading platforms like Robinhood played in the week’s events.

#amc, #economy, #finance, #gamestop, #investor, #letitia-james, #money, #robinhood, #senate, #startups, #stock-market, #tc, #u-s-securities-and-exchange-commission

0

Robinhood raises $1B after trading halts to keep its platform running

After a turbulent week for the stock market and halts to the trading of certain speculative securities including GameStop (GME) and AMC, consumer investing app Robinhood has raised new capital. The new funds total more than $1 billion, with the company telling TechCrunch that they were raised from its existing investor base.

The New York Times reports that the company raised the new equity capital after tapping its credit lines for $500 to $600 million; the company did not answer a question from TechCrunch regarding its credit lines.

The reported drawdown matches reporting from yesterday indicating that Robinhood had accessed nine-figures of capital to ensure it had enough funds on hand to meet regulatory minimums and other requirements related to its users’ trading activity.

Individual retail investors, along with institutional capital, have attacked short positions in some stocks in recent weeks, leading to a tug-of-war between bullish investors and bearish wagers; the resulting tumult led to surging volume for volatile stocks, leading to Robinhood needing more capital to keep its gears turning.

In a post discussing its decision yesterday to restrict trading on select securities, Robinhood wrote that it has “many financial requirements, including SEC net capital obligations and clearinghouse deposits,” adding that “some of these requirements fluctuate based on volatility in the markets and can be substantial in the current environment.”

The unicorn consumer fintech company halted trading in stocks like GameStop that had become the center of the trading storm yesterday, leading to frenetic accusations from incensed users that something nefarious was afoot. Later in the day the clearing house entity powering trading for other consumer trading services also halted service for a similar set of stocks.

Robinhood told users that it would allow trading to begin in some fashion today in shares it had previously restricted.

It does not appear that the current trading scrap will abate soon. Shares of GameStop, the most famous so-called “meme stock” in the current trading war, is up just under 94% this morning in pre-market trading, implying that many investors are willing to continue pushing its value higher in hopes of breaking short bets laid by other investors.

One result of the current climate is a boom in demand for trading apps. Today on the US iOS App Store, Robinhood is ranked first; Webull, a rival service is second; Reddit, a hub for trading gossip mostly via r/WallStreetBets is third; Coinbase a popular crypto trading service is fourth in line. Square’s Cash App, which allows for share purchases is ranked seventh, Fidelity’s iOS app comes in tenth place, and TD Ameritrade is 16th. Finally, E*Trade’s own app is ranked 18th. That’s a good showing for fintech, both startup and incumbent alike.

No one knows what comes next, how the trades play out, and if the present-day surge in retail interesting in stock trading will persist. What does seem clear, however, is that today is going to be very silly.

#apps, #coinbase, #economy, #etrade, #finance, #gamestop, #money, #robinhood, #startups, #tc, #td-ameritrade, #the-new-york-times, #u-s-securities-and-exchange-commission

0

The somewhat boring reason it appears that Robinhood yanked trading on some securities

After enduring a day’s worth of taking a beating across social media, government, and the various app stores of the mobile world, Robinhood took to its own blog and CEO’s Twitter account to explain why it had halted trading of some stocks earlier today.

That Robinhood had restricted trading in a number of securities was bombshell news after the consumer trading platform had become synonymous with not only a rise in retail investing, but also a risky wager by some individual investors to push shares of heavily-shorted companies, including GameStop, AMC and others higher. Speculation that Robinhood was limiting the trading ability of those users at the behest of, pick your poison, Citadel, the US government, hedge funds, Janet Yellen, or others, ran rampant.

But none of it was true – at least according to Robinhood’s telling. In its post, Robinhood wrote that (emphasis TechCrunch):

[a]mid this week’s extraordinary circumstances in the market, we made a tough decision today to temporarily limit buying for certain securities. As a brokerage firm, we have many financial requirements, including SEC net capital obligations and clearinghouse deposits. Some of these requirements fluctuate based on volatility in the markets and can be substantial in the current environment. These requirements exist to protect investors and the markets and we take our responsibilities to comply with them seriously, including through the measures we have taken today.

That reads like Robinhood ran low on capital and had to make some hard decisions, quickly. The securities its users wanted to trade likely generated the highest capital obligations given how volatile they proved and how long it takes for trades to settle, so Robinhood had to shut off some trades to stay on the right side of its capital needs. (Not great, not terrible?)

Reporting from Bloomberg indicates that Robinhood “tapped at least several hundred million dollars” from credit lines today makes sense in this context. As does the unicorn’s decision to allow for some trading of the afore-limited securities in the near future (“starting tomorrow, we plan to allow limited buys of these securities,” the company wrote); now reloaded with more capital, Robinhood can afford to let its users get back, somewhat, to business.

Of course Robinhood could have been more clear about all of this earlier in the day. Instead, unfairly or not, it became the face of theoretical corruption and other nefarious forces. (Here’s a tip, if your theory sounds like it could fit inside the Qanon orbit, try again?)

Nothing is settled. Congress has its hackles up. Other trading platforms had to suspend trading in GameStop and other stocks for a spell as well. Social media is pissed. Some Robinhood users were forced to liquidate positions. And somehow GameStop closed the day worth more than $196 per share. And after-hours it is up $72.40, or 37.40% to $266 per share.

Who knows what comes next. But grains of salt, please, as we continue this bizarre adventure.

#amc, #apps, #ceo, #congress, #finance, #gamestop, #hedge-fund, #investment, #money, #robinhood, #social-media, #startups, #tc, #u-s-securities-and-exchange-commission, #united-states, #us-government

0

Could meme stocks like GameStop kill bitcoin’s rise?

Cryptocurrencies, more so than most other things, are only valuable because of a shared agreement that they are valuable. Their value is a product of digital handshakes over millions of transactions firming up that consensus. For bitcoin, the trust that it has worth has turned more valuable in the past several months; it’s been on a tear.

The (very bizarre) question is whether a new avenue of applying blind trust by brigading trashcan-level stocks and turning them into memes could threaten the appeal of cryptocurrencies for retail investors.

Over the past several days, we’ve seen stocks ranging from GameStop, Blockbuster and AMC make unjustifiable gains as a result of Reddit users in the r/WallStreetBets subreddit triggering a stampede towards stocks being heavily shorted by institutional investors. That in turn has led to a short squeeze troubling hedge funds, causing the price of a stock worth around $5 for the majority of 2020 to swell well above $300 today. In some ways it’s just an Occupy Wall Street protest being held on Robinhood, in other ways it’s a complete rejection of efficient markets and a reinvention of institutional trust.

Bitcoin holds fundamental differences from publicly traded stocks, many of which might matter an awful lot to those betting on the coin as a currency of the future. But to retail investors who aren’t hardcore proponents, I’d imagine FOMO was one of the most intriguing pulls into the cryptocurrency space. But if Bitcoin’s purpose for the time being is merely a “store of value,” I think there’s a world where individual investors might be evolving their interests elsewhere.

Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies haven’t seen notable price movement in recent days  — Bitcoin is down around 6% in the past 24 hours, a hiccup as far as crypto moves go — but after a few weeks hovering well above $30k and peeking above $40k, the currency seems poised to dip below the $30k range soon unless its trend reverses course.

All that said, Bitcoin is certainly an entity of a different scale than all of these meme stocks bundled together with a market cap above $560 billion and a 24-hour trading volume of $56 billion. Bitcoin has seen stratospheric growth over the past few months so barring an outsized crash, it’s perhaps unlikely that retail investors are going to fully abandon it in favor of buying up crusty old shares of Blockbuster stock. That said…

It’s cheaper to trade these meme stocks and easier for retail investors to get leverage via options. In short, for investors looking to have a good time or shoot the moon, meme stock are a more fun place to be than crypto is.

 

The main thing to consider is what happens if GameStop, for no reason at all, becomes a long-term store of value? When investors collectively begin placing blind trust in more financial assets for the long-haul, does that devalue blind trust itself and the mammoth entities that had more of a monopoly on it? Most investors aren’t expecting this to happen, but stocks like Tesla are beginning to live comfortably at ridiculous premiums that analysts can’t understand. Tesla and GameStop are very different beasts, but if anything I think institutions have a better grasp of GameStop’s rise.

The foil to all of this is whether this pandemonium births some regulatory backlash, a possibility which of course does not exist in quite the same way for cryptocurrencies from a central governance standpoint. TD Ameritrade and Schwab are already limiting trades of some of these meme stocks tday and I think there is certainly a universe in which the SEC aims to take a pot shot at this saga by means of promoting market sanity and I am much more confident that there’s a world where Reddit is pushed to at least temporarily ban r/WallStreetBets for some unclear reason.

#articles, #bitcoin, #blockchains, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #decentralization, #digital-currencies, #ethereum, #gamestop, #tc, #td-ameritrade, #technology, #u-s-securities-and-exchange-commission

0

23andMe raises $82.5 million in new funding

DNA testing technology company 23andMe has raised just shy of $82.5 million in new funding, from an offering of $85 million in total equity shares, according to a new SEC filing. The funding, confirmed by the Wall Street Journal, comes from investors including Sequoia Capital and NewView Capital. It brings the total raised by 23andMe to date to over $850 million.

There’s no specific agenda earmarked for this Series F round, according to a statement from the company to the WSJ, beyond general use to continue to fund and grow the business. 23andMe’s business is based on its distribution of individual home genetic testing kits, which provide customers with insights about their potential health and their family tree based on their DNA.

While the company’s pitch to individuals is improved health, and more knowledge about their ancestry and family tree, the company has also turned its attention to conducting research based on the data it has collected in aggregate, both for its own studies including a recent one that examined how genetic markers could affect a person’s susceptibility to COVID-19, and also for use in supporting the work of third-parties – though it stresses that data is only shared in aggregate, de-identified formats for those purposes.

In January, 23andMe confirmed layoffs affecting roughly 14% of its global workforce. The company’s work this year around COVID-19 has, however, perhaps put the value of its platform in a new light, in the face of this pandemic and the potential of future similar global health issues that may arise.

#23andme, #biology, #biotech, #funding, #genetic-testing, #genetics, #health, #newview-capital, #sequoia-capital, #tc, #technology, #the-wall-street-journal, #u-s-securities-and-exchange-commission, #wall-street-journal

0

Ripple’s XRP cryptocurrency crashes following announcement of SEC suit

The value of one of the world’s most valuable cryptocurrencies is crashing and a recently filed SEC complaint is at the root of the free fall. According to CoinMarketCap, the XRP token’s value has declined more than 42% in the past 24 hours and is down more than 63% from its 30-day high of $0.76. It now sits at just $0.27.

XRP’s price volatility has rivaled the most capricious of cryptocurrencies. Since reaching an all-time-high of $3.84 back in January of 2018, the coin has spent much of the past two years drifting closer and closer to pennies. In the past month, on the back of major rallies from other cryptocurrencies, XRP has seen its biggest rally in years, but those gains were all erased this week by the Ripple CEO Brad Garlinghouse’s admission that the SEC was planning to file a sweeping lawsuit against the company during the current administration’s final days.

The SEC’s fundamental argument is that XRP has always been a security and that it should have been registered with the commission from the beginning more than 7 years ago. The SEC claims that the defenedants in the case — namely the company Ripple, CEO Bran Garlinghouse and executive chairman Chris Larsen — had generated more than $1.38 billion from sales of the XRP token.

The company’s line has been that XRP is not a security but is, in fact, a tool for financial institutions though the coin’s volatility has discouraged banks from actually adopting the token. Meanwhile, XRP is present on a number of cryptocurrency exchanges, a fact which could expand the scope of this legal complaint and affect more players in the space.

In a blog post published yesterday that went live shortly after the SEC’s suit was filed, Garlinghouse wrote that the SEC’s claims were “completely wrong on the facts and law’” and that the company was “confident” they would “ultimately prevail before a neutral fact-finder.”

#brad-garlinghouse, #ceo, #cryptocurrencies, #finance, #money, #ripple, #ripple-labs, #tc, #u-s-securities-and-exchange-commission

0

Nikola’s stock crashes after announcing cancelation of contract with Republic Services for 2,500 garbage trucks

The undoing of Nikola continues. Today, the company announced the termination of its contract with Republic Services for 2,500 garbage trucks. Announced back in August, the deal had Nikola building garbage trucks in 2023 with on-road testing scheduled for 2024. This is the latest deal to unravel for Nikola as it tries to patch up following devastating reports.

According to Nikola, the separation of the two companies was mutual though it’s hard to picture Nikola’s SEC troubles didn’t weigh heavily upon Republic Services.

“This was the right decision for both companies given the resources and investments required,” said Nikola CEO Mark Russell said in a released statement. “We support and respect Republic Services’ commitment to achieving environmentally responsible, sustainable solutions for their customers. Nikola remains laser-focused on delivering on our battery-electric and fuel-cell electric commercial truck programs, and the energy infrastructure to support them.”

News of this deal is sending Nikola’s stock down 10% in pre-market trading. If this level holds upon the stock market’s open, Nikola will be trading at its lowest levels following it’s monumental rise over the summer months.

The deal with Republic Services was originally a victory banner for the once-high flying electric vehicle startup. Signaled as mainstream acceptance of the company, Republic Services’ contract came before a mega $2 billion investment from General Motors. That deal is also cancelled following several key revelations about the company that lead to an SEC investigation and the company’s chairman stepping down.

In a statement, Nikola says deliveries will begin of Nikola Tre battery-electric semi-trucks in the US in 2021 and the company expects to break ground on its first commercial hydrogen station in 2021, too. And then in 2023, the company expects to produce its fuel-cell-electric semi-trucks at Nikola’s Coolidge, Arizona facility.

#arizona, #ceo, #chairman, #companies, #electric-vehicle, #electric-vehicles, #general-motors, #laser, #nikola, #nikola-motors, #tc, #u-s-securities-and-exchange-commission, #united-states

0

Free-to-play gaming giant Roblox confidentially files to go public

The gaming company Roblox announced today that it had confidentially filed paperwork with the SEC to make its public debut.

In February, the company which operates a free-to-play gaming empire with tens of million of users, was valued at $4 billion after a Series G funding round led by Andreessen Horowitz . The company has raised more than $335 million in venture capital funding according to Crunchbase.

The company has not detailed the number of shares it plans to offer and furthermore notes in standard legalese that their timely debut is “subject to market and other conditions.” After a slow 2019 for tech IPOs the rebound of public markets in mid-pandemic 2020 has provided an awfully wide window for tech startups reaching for their debuts.

In the games space, we recently saw the debut of Unity Technologies, which makes a popular game engine that developers use to build and monetize gaming titles.

Roblox offers an interesting sell to both consumers and developers, shipping a free-to-play vision of the future which pushes developers away from graphics-intense game design towards building content that can be played on a wide variety of devices. The games company has been more successful than most in translating a first-party experience’s success into a robust developer network. Roblox’s platform has been particularly successful with young audiences.

#andreessen, #andreessen-horowitz, #gaming, #roblox, #tc, #u-s-securities-and-exchange-commission

0

John McAfee arrested after DOJ indicts crypto millionaire for tax evasion

Cybersecurity entrepreneur and crypto personality John McAfee’s wild ride could be coming to an end after he was arrested in Spain today, now facing extradition to the US over charges spanning tax evasion and fraud.

The SEC accuses McAfee of being paid more than $23.1 million worth of cryptocurrency assets for promoting a number of ICO token sales without disclosing that he was being paid to do so. Furthermore the DOJ has levied a number of counts of tax evasion against McAfee, saying that he “willfully attempted to evade” payment of income taxes owed to the federal government.

In a brief announcing the arrest and unsealing of indictment documents, the DOJ also details that the charges are confined to McAfee the individual and that they did not find any connection with the “anti-virus company bearing his name.”

The DOJ’s charges against McAfee are a bit dry but detail 10 counts against the entrepreneur. McAfee faced 5 counts of tax evasion, which each carry a maximum penalty of 5 years in prison, as well as 5 counts of “willful failure to file a tax return,” each carrying a maximum penalty of 1 year in prison.

The SEC filing is a much more interesting read, with 55 pages detailing a lengthy investigation into McAfee’s alleged fraudulent activity promoting a number of ICOs throughout 2017 and 2018. The report specifically notes that McAfee allegedly received more than $11.6 million worth of BTC and ETH tokens worth for promoting seven ICOs. Unfortunately, those offerings were not named in the suit. He additionally received $11.5 million worth of the promoted tokens, the suit alleges.

We have reached out to John McAfee for comment.

#articles, #cryptocurrency, #cryptography, #doj, #entrepreneur, #federal-government, #initial-coin-offering, #john-mcafee, #mcafee, #spain, #tax-evasion, #tc, #u-s-securities-and-exchange-commission, #united-states

0

AI as a blueprint for fintech startups

While most startup founders would prefer not to pore over laws, regulations and interpretive materials to design a perfect product, it’s an essential exercise for those developing financial services solutions. For fintechs and the other finserv-related startups (e.g., regtech, suptech, etc.) understanding the regulatory obligations of customers and prospects will be core to your mission. In some cases, the process of interpretation and analysis might be a heavy lift involving expert outside counsel, lobbying efforts, and specialized consulting services.

A complicating factor for any fintech looking to solidify its understanding of regulatory paradigms is the gray area where regulators have issued cursory guidance, or no guidance at all. One gray-ish realm where financial services regulators have shown interest, but are largely treading lightly, has been offering guidance about the use of artificial intelligence (“AI”). However, a few regulators are now applying institutional and intellectual rigor to the subject given its use in almost every aspect of banking and finance.

In June, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s (“FINRA”) Office of Financial Innovation issued a report called “Artificial Intelligence in the Securities Industry.”1 FINRA is the self-regulatory organization responsible for oversight of broker-dealers in the United States — in simpler terms, it regulates the big and small brokerage firms that offer financial advice. FINRA has consistently been one of the more technologically engaged regulators — in 2018 they solicited industry comments on AI, which led to the report, and produced reports on the use of regulatory technology and selected cybersecurity practices. (The U.K.’s FCA as well as the CFTC in the U.S. have also been key boosters for innovation in financial services, including the use of AI.)

FINRA’s AI Report is particularly interesting for fintechs since it explores how firms (read: fintech clients) are deploying AI as well as the agency’s expectations for AI oversight. Fintechs can use this report as a blueprint — identifying areas for potential AI product growth and as a guidepost for the regulatory and operational concerns that firms, and by extension fintechs themselves, must manage when implementing AI.

#alexa, #artificial-intelligence, #banking, #capital-one, #column, #compliance, #finance, #financial-services, #financial-technology, #fintech, #government, #iso, #j-p-morgan, #machine-learning, #natural-language-processing, #payments, #paypal, #policy, #siri, #startups, #u-s-securities-and-exchange-commission

0

SpaceX raises $1.9 billion in largest funding found to date

SpaceX has raised $1.9 billion in new funding, per a filing with the SEC from Tuesday which was first spotted by Reuters. The company had been reported to be in the funding process earlier by Bloomberg, which pegged the post-money valuation of SpaceX at $46 billion following this raise.

The new funding for the still private SpaceX hardly comes as a surprise; The Elon Musk -led private launch company has been seeking funding since earlier this year, but Bloomberg reported last week that it increased the size of investment it was seeking owing to strong demand from the investment community.

The round was reportedly oversubscribed, though there isn’t yet much information available about who participated in the round (Bloomberg’s report said Fidelity Investments was among the largest in, but they did not confirm). SpaceX might be better positioned than ever to seek significant resources from investors, given the string of high-profile successes it has recorded recently.

Those include completing the first ever private human spaceflight mission to take off from U.S. soil. That mission, Demo-2, took off from Florida in May and returned the astronauts it carried to Earth earlier this month after a two-month stint at the International Space Station. Its successful completion means SpaceX can now regularly supply transportation services to and from the ISS – and puts them closer than ever to offering commercial spaceflight services for private tourists, researchers and more.

SpaceX has also made good progress on its Starlink spacecraft development program, with a successful short test flight of the prototype this month, and it won multiple multi-year contracts from NASA and the U.S. government for launch services this year.

It’s currently in the process of a very capital-intensive endeavor, too, which could explain the size of the round: Deploying Starlink, the massive satellite constellation that it will own and operate, and that will provide commercial and residential broadband internet services to customers in hard to reach areas once it’s active. Just this morning, SpaceX launched 58 more Starlink satellites, but it will have to launch many more before it can achieve its goal of global coverage.

#aerospace, #broadband, #elon-musk, #fidelity-investments, #florida, #hyperloop, #international-space-station, #launch-services, #outer-space, #private-spaceflight, #recent-funding, #space, #spaceflight, #spacex, #starlink, #startups, #tc, #u-s-government, #u-s-securities-and-exchange-commission, #united-states

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Twitter warns investors of possible fine from FTC consent order probe

Twitter has disclosed it’s facing a potential fine of more than a hundred million dollars as a result of a probe by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) which believes the company violated a 2011 consent order by using data provided by users for a security purpose to target them with ads.

In an SEC filing, reported on earlier by the New York Times, Twitter revealed it received the draft complaint from the FTC late last month. The activity the regulator is complaining about is alleged to have taken place between 2013 and 2019.

Last October the social media firm publicly disclosed it had used phone numbers and email addresses provided by users to set up two-factor authentication to bolster the security of their accounts in order to serve targeted ads — blaming the SNAFU on a tailored audiences program, which allows companies to target ads against their own marketing lists.

Twitter found that when advertisers uploaded their own marketing lists (of emails and/or phone numbers) it matched users to data they had submitted purely to set up two-factor authentication on their Twitter account.

“The allegations relate to the Company’s use of phone number and/or email address data provided for safety and security purposes for targeted advertising during periods between 2013 and 2019,” Twitter writes in the SEC filing. “The Company estimates that the range of probable loss in this matter is $150.0 million to $250.0 million and has recorded an accrual of $150.0 million.”

“The matter remains unresolved, and there can be no assurance as to the timing or the terms of any final outcome,” it adds.

We’ve reached out to Twitter with questions. Update: A company spokeswoman said it had nothing to add outside this statement:

Following the announcement of our Q2 financial results, we received a draft complaint from the FTC alleging violations of our 2011 consent order. Following standard accounting rules we included an estimated range for settlement in our 10Q filed on August 3.

The company has had a torrid few weeks on the security front, suffering a major security incident last month after hackers gained access to its internal account management tools, enabling them to access accounts of scores of verified Twitter users, including Bill Gates, Elon Musk and Joe Biden, and use them to send cryptocurrency scam tweets. Police have since charged three people with the hack, including a 17-year-old Florida teen.

In June Twitter also disclosed a security lapse may have exposed some business customers’ information. While it was forced to report another crop of security incidents last year — including after a researcher identifying a bug that allowed him to discover phone numbers associated with millions of Twitter accounts.

Twitter also admitted it gave account location data to one of its partners, even if the user had opted-out of having their data shared; and inadvertently gave its ad partners more data than it should have.

Additionally, the company is now at the front of a long queue of tech giants pending enforcement in Europe, related to major GDPR complaints — where regional fines for data violations can scale to 4% of a company’s global annual turnover. Twitter’s lead data protection regulator, Ireland’s DPC, submitted a draft decision related to a probe of one of its security breaches to the bloc’s other data agencies in May — with a final decision slated as likely this summer.

The decision relates to an investigation the regulator instigated following yet another major security fail by Twitter in 2018 — when it revealed a bug had resulted in some passwords being stored in plain text.

As we reported at the time it’s pretty unusual for a company of such size to make such a basic security mistake. But Twitter has a very long history of failing to protect users’ data — with additional hacking incidents all the way back in 2009 leading to the 2011 FTC consent order.

Under the terms of that settlement Twitter was barred for 20 years from misleading consumers about the safety of their data in order to resolve FTC charges that it had “deceived consumers and put their privacy at risk by failing to safeguard their personal information”.

It also agreed to establish and maintain “a comprehensive information security program”, with independent auditor assessments taking place every other year for 10 years.

Given the terms of that order a fine does indeed look inevitable. However the wider failing here is that of US regulators — which, for over a decade, have failed to grapple with the exploitative, surveillance-based business models that have led to breaches and security lapses by a number of data-mining adtech giants, not just Twitter.

#advertising-tech, #bill-gates, #computer-security, #data-breach, #elon-musk, #europe, #federal-trade-commission, #florida, #ireland, #joe-biden, #privacy, #security, #social, #social-media, #twitter, #u-s-securities-and-exchange-commission, #united-states

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What you need to know before selling your company’s stock

In a recent article, I covered all of the reasons you might be tempted to hold a highly concentrated position in your company stock as a tech founder and how it fits into your portfolio. I then followed up with a rundown on why resisting diversification is generally a bad idea and the subconscious biases that hold us back from selling.

So now that you understand the benefits of diversification and have taken inventory of your portfolio, what is the most effective way for you to move forward? I will share with you what to keep in mind before selling, how to decide when to sell, and strategies to execute sales such as options, exchange funds, prepaid variable forward contracts, qualified small business stock and tax considerations. Now, let’s take a deep dive into strategic approaches to take as a shareholder and important tax implications to consider.

Keep in mind: Lockups and blackout periods

Most tech companies that IPO have a 180-day lockup period that prevents insiders, employees and VC funds from selling immediately. There is usually language that also prohibits hedging with derivatives (options) during that period. Lockups are intended to help prevent insider trading and provide the company with additional post-IPO price stability.

It is also important to abide by the company’s blackout periods, which prohibit transactions during more share-price-sensitive times, such as earnings or material nonpublic information releases.

Concentrated stock strategies

Ad hoc selling — This is the most straightforward and involves the outright sale of your shares. However, this can be difficult for various reasons such as selling restrictions, the perception by others that you are unloading stock and many psychological biases that act as internal mental obstacles.

Scheduled selling — Selling all your stock at once could be both emotionally challenging and tax-inefficient. Scheduled selling involves the selling of a set number of shares over a specific period. This selling strategy can help by spreading the tax impact over a few years. It also provides an advantage from a psychological standpoint since the plan is determined upfront, then mechanically executed.

As an example, a founder might plan to sell 500,000 shares over 18 months. The founder is comfortable selling quarterly, which equals six selling periods of 83,333 shares per quarter. In a scenario where a founder is subject to blackout periods, a 10b5-1 trading plan can be implemented and set on autopilot. The company may even allow you to sell your shares during blackout periods with a 10b5-1 trading plan. See the example of scheduled selling below.

Image Credits: Keystone Global Partners

Hedging with options — Multiple hedging strategies can be implemented to protect your downside; however, some of the more common approaches used are the protective put and the protective collar. Below are basic examples of how these strategies are executed, for illustrative purposes.

Image Credits: Keystone Global Partners

  • Protective put: Buying protection against the downside.
  • Collar: Give up some upside to limit some downside.

Each strategy allows the owner to continue holding the stock while providing some downside protection against a stock’s decline. However, these strategies are not tax-efficient and are complicated, so working with an expert is essential. Both puts and certain types of collars would have been extremely expensive to implement during the recent market crisis because market volatility is a factor in options prices. See the below chart of the VIX (volatility index) during peak crisis. However, in some instances, these strategies can make sense.

#advisor, #column, #corporate-finance, #entrepreneurship, #exit, #extra-crunch, #funding, #fundings-exits, #fundraising, #growth-and-monetization, #initial-public-offering, #ipo, #startups, #u-s-securities-and-exchange-commission

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All bets are off as Hertz pulls plan to issue $500 million in new stock

Hertz, which filed for bankruptcy last month, halted its $500 million stock offering Wednesday after the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission told the rental company it would review its controversial plan to sell shares that could soon be wiped out completely.

Hertz disclosed Monday that it would issue a $500 million stock offering following approval from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware . Last week, the court gave Hertz permission to sell up to 246.8 million unissued shares (about $1 billion) to Jefferies LLC.

The financially strained company was aiming to tap into a new pool of speculative short-term retail investors in an effort to raise capital. But that plan got the SEC’s attention. Staff at the regulatory agency reached out to Hertz on Monday afternoon and told the company it intended to review its Prospectus Supplement, according to an SEC filing Wednesday. Trading was halted briefly Wednesday prior to Hertz’s announcement.

More from Hertz:

After discussions with the Staff, sales under the ATM Program were promptly suspended pending further understanding of the nature and timing of the Staff’s review. The company is not currently offering any shares under the ATM Program. The company’s advisors have been in regular contact with the Commission since the Staff’s initial contact on June 15, 2020. 

As COVID-19 spread throughout the globe, business trips and other travel stopped, leaving Hertz with an unused asset — lots and lots of cars. It wasn’t just that revenue stopped coming in; used car prices plummeted, further devaluing its fleet.

Hertz filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy May 22. But as its business dried up, prospectors jumped in. Retail investors, including those using the Robinhood trading app, invested in Hertz and drove up the stock price. Hertz stock dropped more than 83% between February 21 and March 18. It rose briefly and then continued to slide until May 26, when shares closed at $0.56 (that’s down 97.24% from the closing high in February).

Robinhood traders looked at Hertz and didn’t see the poor fundamentals; they saw opportunity. By March 18, more than 3,500 Robinhood users held Hertz stock, according to Robintrack. A month later, that number popped to more than 18,000, and then nearly doubled to surpass 43,000 users by May 21. It peaked June 14, when more than 170,000 Robinhood users held Hertz stock. The stock price rose 887.5% since that May 26 low, until it reached $5.53 on June 8. Shares of Hertz have since fallen 63.8% and closed Wednesday at $2.

#advisors, #atm, #automotive, #corporate-finance, #delaware, #finance, #hertz, #money, #robinhood, #stock, #stock-market, #u-s-securities-and-exchange-commission

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China Roundup: A blow to US-listed Chinese firms and TikTok’s new global face

Hello and welcome back to TechCrunch’s China Roundup, a digest of recent events shaping the Chinese tech landscape and what they mean to people in the rest of the world. It’s been a tumultuous week for Chinese tech firms abroad: Huawei’s mounting pressure from the U.S., a big blow to U.S.-listed Chinese firms, and TikTok’s high-profile new boss.

China tech abroad

Further decoupling

Over the years, American investors have been pumping billions of dollars into Chinese firms listed in the U.S., from giants like Alibaba and Baidu to emerging players like Pinduoduo and Bilibili. That could change soon with the Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act, a new bill passed this week with bipartisan support to tighten accounting standards on foreign companies, with the obvious target being China.

“For too long, Chinese companies have disregarded U.S. reporting standards, misleading our investors. Publicly listed companies should all be held to the same standards, and this bill makes commonsense changes to level the playing field and give investors the transparency they need to make informed decisions,” said Senator Chris Van Hollen who introduced the legislation.

Here’s what the legislation is about:

1) Foreign companies that are out of compliance with the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board for three years in a row will be delisted from U.S. stock exchanges.

PCAOB, which was set up in 2002 as a private-sector nonprofit corporation overseen by the SEC, is meant to inspect audits of foreign firms listed in the U.S. to prevent fraud and wrongdoing.

The rule has not sat well with foreign accounting firms and their local regulators, so over time PCAOB has negotiated multiple agreements with foreign counterparts that allowed it to perform audit inspections. China is one of the few countries that has not been cooperating with the PCAOB.

2) The bill will also require public companies in the U.S. to disclose whether they are owned or controlled by a foreign government, including China’s communist government.

The question now is whether we will see Chinese companies give in to the new rules or relocate to bourses outside the U.S.

The Chinese firms still have a three-year window to figure things out, but they are getting more scrutiny already. Most recently, Nasdaq announced to delist Luckin, the Chinese coffee challenger that admitted to fabricating $310 million in sales.

Those that do choose to leave the U.S. will probably find a warmer welcome in Hong Kong, attracting investors closer to home who are more acquainted with their businesses. Alibaba, for instance, already completed a secondary listing in Hong Kong last year as the city began letting investors buy dual-class shares, a condition that initially prompted many Chinese internet firms to go public in the U.S.

TikTok gets a talent boost 

The long-awaited announcement is here: TikTok has picked its new chief executive, and taking the helm is Disney’s former head of video streaming, Kevin Mayer.

It’s understandable that TikTok would want a global face for its fast-growing global app, which has come under scrutiny from foreign governments over concerns of its data practices and Beijing’s possible influence.

Curiously, Mayer will also take on the role of the chief operating officer of parent company ByteDance . A closer look at the company announcement reveals nuances in the appointment: Kelly Zhang and Lidong Zhang will continue to lead ByteDance China as its chief executive officer and chairman respectively, reporting directly to ByteDance’s founder and global CEO Yiming Zhang, as industry analyst Matthew Brennan acutely pointed out. That means ByteDance’s China businesses Douyin and Today’s Headlines, the cash cows of the firm, will remain within the purview of the two Chinese executives, not Mayer.

Huawei in limbo following more chip curbs

Huawei is in limbo after the U.S. slapped more curbs on the Chinese telecoms equipment giant, restricting its ability to procure chips from foreign foundries that use American technologies. The company called the rule “arbitrary and pernicious,” while it admitted that the attack would impact its business.

Vodafone to help Oppo expand in Europe 

As Huawei faces pressure abroad due to the Android ban, other Chinese phone makers have been steadily making headway across the world. One of them is Oppo, which just announced a partnership with Vodafone to bring its smartphones to the mobile carrier’s European markets.

All of China’s top AI firms now on U.S. entity list 

The U.S. has extended sanctions to more Chinese tech firms to include CloudWalk, which focuses on developing facial recognition technology. This means all of the “four dragons of computer vision” in China, as the local tech circle collectively calls CloudWalk, SenseTime, Megvii and Yitu, have landed on the U.S. entity list.

China tech back home

China’s new trillion-dollar plan to seize the tech crown (Bloomberg)

China has a new master plan to invest $1.4 trillion in everything from AI to 5G in what it dubs the “new infrastructure” initiative.

Fitbit rival Amazfit works on a reusable mask

The smartwatch maker is eyeing a transparent, self-disinfecting mask, becoming the latest Chinese tech firm to jump on the bandwagon to develop virus-fighting tech.

ByteDance moves into venture capital investment

The TikTok parent bankrolled financial AI startup Lingxi with $6.2 million, marking one of its first investments for purely monetary returns rather than for an immediate strategic purpose.

Bilibili is the new Youtube of China

The once-obscure video site for anime fans is now in the mainstream with a whopping 172 million monthly user base.

Xiaomi’s investment powerhouse reaches 300 companies 

It’s part of the smartphone giant’s plan to conquer the world of smart home devices and wearables.

Alibaba pumps $1.4 billion into content and services for IoT

Like Amazon, Alibaba has a big ambition in the internet of things.

#alibaba, #alibaba-group, #asia, #beijing, #bilibili, #bytedance, #china, #china-roundup, #huawei, #kevin-mayer, #luckin, #sensetime, #tc, #tiktok, #u-s-securities-and-exchange-commission, #vodafone, #xiaomi

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Popping the hood on Vroom’s IPO filing

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.

Yesterday afternoon, Vroom, an online car buying service, filed to go public. Based on its SEC filing, Vroom is a highly-successful private company in fundraising terms that has attracted over $700 million during its life as a startup. T. Rowe Price, AutoNation, Durable Capital Partners, General Catalyst and other investors fueled the firm during its youth according to Crunchbase data.

Vroom most recently raised $254 million in December 2019, a Series H round that valued the company at around $1.5 billion. From its mid-2013 Series A to today, Vroom has tried to accelerate from the startup world to the grown-up domain of the public markets. How did it do?

Finding out is our goal this morning. We’re also curious why the firm would pursue an IPO today; public offerings tend to shun volatile, uncertain periods. So let’s dig into the numbers and do a bit of a unicorn check-up.

What does a private, car-focused e-commerce company worth $1.5 billion look like under the hood?

Un-profits

TechCrunch dug into Vroom’s market last year, writing that the company “looks a lot like Carvana and Shift,” and noting that in 2018 the company had “laid off 25-50% of its staff as it exited several markets.” Vroom was therefore a bit early to the waves of unicorn layoffs that we’ve seen in 2020.

I raise the layoffs as they imply that the company might be in reasonable financial shape; what did the cuts buy the company in terms of profitability?

#automotive, #autonation, #carvana, #companies, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #durable-capital-partners, #e-commerce, #ec-1, #ecommerce, #extra-crunch, #fundings-exits, #general-catalyst, #general-electric, #market-analysis, #startups, #t-rowe-price, #tc, #the-exchange, #transportation, #u-s-securities-and-exchange-commission, #unicorn, #united-states, #venture-capital, #vroom

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The Station: Audi punts on Level 3, Lyft layoffs and Nio’s $1 billion deal

The Station is a weekly newsletter dedicated to all things transportation. Sign up here — just click The Station — to receive it every Saturday in your inbox.

Hi readers. Welcome back to The Station, a weekly newsletter dedicated to the future (and present) of transportation. I’m your host Kirsten Korosec, senior transportation reporter at TechCrunch .

While COVID-related stay-at-home orders have been extended in places like the San Francisco Bay area, officials in other counties and states in the U.S. have decided to open up for business. The rest of us are watching and waiting to see how these two experiments play out.

These opposing approaches have managed to create even more tension in the United States. If politics didn’t divide us before, how and when to open amid a health pandemic is proving to be an effective wedge.

The “how” is as important, or even more so, than the “when.” What will life and business look like? Wuhan, China, a transportation and manufacturing metropolis of 11 million people and where COVID-19 started, offers a view into one approach. (The photo below shows a worker disinfecting a bus in Wuhan on April 30.)

China-wuhan-bus-covid

A staff member sprays disinfectant on a bus at a long-distance bus station in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province on April 30, 2020, ahead of the Labor Day holiday which started May 1.

When those stay-at-home orders are finally lifted, returning to work won’t be quick or easy. Wuhan was placed on lockdown January 23. Wuhan officials eased outgoing travel restrictions April 8. While the strictest component of that lockdown has been lifted, many businesses remain closed. Didi didn’t reopened its ride-hailing services in the city until April 30.

In short, it’s going to be complex. Ford’s back-to-work playbook is a case in point. The plan includes a number of daily measures such as online health self-certifications completed before work every day, face masks and no-touch temperature scans upon arrival. But that’s just a sliver of what it will take. Check it out their complete playbook.

Here’s a friendly reminder to reach out and email me at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share thoughts, opinions or tips or send a direct message to @kirstenkorosec.

I’ll alrighty folks, shall we dig in? Vamos. 

Micromobbin’

the station scooter1a

It was a rough week for micromobility. Over at Lyft, the company laid off 982 employees and furloughed 288 amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Lyft also permanently ceased scooter operations in Oakland, San Jose and Austin.

“We’re focusing our resources where we can have the biggest impact and best serve cities and riders,” a Lyft spokesperson said in a statement to TechCrunch. “We’re continuing to invest in our bike and scooter business, but have made the tough decision to shift resources away from three scooter markets and toward opportunities where we are set up for longer-term success.”

At Lime, the startup let go 13% of its staff while the very next day relaunching its electric scooters in Baltimore and Ogden, Utah.

“Almost overnight, our company went from being on the eve of accomplishing an unprecedented milestone — the first next-generation micromobility company to reach profitability — to one where we had to pause operations in 99% of our markets worldwide to support cities’ efforts at social distancing,” Lime CEO Brad Bao wrote in a note to employees.

Just one day after those layoffs, the company relaunched scooters in Baltimore to help support essential medical workers as well as in Ogden.

Uber is weighing its own layoffs. The Information reported that the company could cut up to 20% of its staff. That translates to more than 5,000 jobs. Those cuts could be announced in stages over the next several weeks. Meanwhile, Thuan Pham, who was hired as Uber’s chief technology officer by former CEO Travis Kalanick back in 2013, is leaving the company in three weeks, the ride-share giant revealed in an SEC filing.

— Megan Rose Dickey

Deal of the week

money the station

Chinese electric vehicle startup Nio secured a $1 billion investment from several state-owned companies in Hefei in return for agreeing to establish headquarters in the city’s economic development hotspot and giving up a stake in one of its business units.

The injection of capital comes from several investors, including Hefei City Construction and Investment Holding Group, CMG-SDIC Capital and Anhui Provincial Emerging Industry Investment Co.

Why deal of the week? The deal alleviates some concerns about Nio’s liquidity. It also marks the latest Chinese EV startup to turn to the state as private capital has shrunk.

There is no free lunch, however. The deal itself is complex and involves some asset shuffling. Nio is transferring its core businesses in China into a new company called Nio China. The investors will get a 24.1% stake in Nio China. The shareholding structure of the parent company is unchanged.

Other deals announced this week are below. Keep in mind that just because a deal is announced that doesn’t mean it closed amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Fundraising rounds often close weeks and even months before they’re announced.

Otonomo, an automotive data services startup based in Israel, raised $46 million in a Series C funding round that included investments from SK Holdings, Avis Budget Group and Alliance Ventures. Existing investors Bessemer Venture Partners also participated. Otonomo has raised $82 million, to date.

The company has a software platform that captures and anonymizes vehicle data so it can then be used to create apps to provide services such as electric vehicle management, subscription-based fueling, parking, mapping, usage-based insurance and emergency service.

KlearNow, a startup that has built a software platform to automate the customs clearance process, raised $16 million in a Series A funding round led by GreatPoint Ventures, with additional participation from Autotech Ventures, Argean Capital and Monta Vista Capital. Ashok Krishnamurthi, managing partner at GreatPoint Ventures, will join KlearNow’s board. Daniel Hoffer from Autotech Ventures is joining as a board observer.

Skycell, a Switzerland-based startup that builds hardware and operates a logistics network designed to transport pharmaceuticals has raised $62 million.

A merger between UK’s JustEat and the Netherlands’ Takeaway.com has been approved by regulators. The merged company announced that it had raised €700 million ($756 million) in new outside funding in the form of new shares and convertible bonds.

Cheetah, a San Francisco-based startup that provided a wholesale delivery service and has pivoted to selling to consumers during COVID-19, raised $36 million in Series B funding.

Innovation of the week

Computer vision company Eyesight Technologies has tweaked its driver monitoring system so it can detect driver distraction and drowsiness even while wearing a medical face mask.

This “innovation of the week” gets back to my opening remarks about “how” we get back to work. Face masks will likely be a part of our world for some time.

Driver monitoring systems, which are increasingly being used by commercial fleets, are trained to detect and monitor facial features of the driver. The system will take in data points like head pose, mouth, eyes and eyelids and use the gathered visual data to detect signs of drowsiness and distraction. If the sensor can’t read one or more of these features the system could fail to detect a drowsy truck driver or inattentive transit worker.

Driver Monitoring with mask

Eyesight Technologies

Eyesight Technologies says that its computer vision and AI algorithms have been trained to detect distraction and drowsiness even if a driver is wearing a mask and glasses.

“We are living in unprecedented times,” Eyesight Technologies CEO David Tolub said. “Without a concrete end date to the current situation, wearing medical masks may be a reality for the foreseeable future. Eyesight Technologies is forging ahead and adapting to provide a reliable solution to help guarantee safety even under less than ideal circumstances.”

Audi punts on Level 3

Audi has scrapped plans to roll out a Level 3 automated driving system in its A8 flagship sedan. Automotive News Europe broke the story.

The feature, which is branded Traffic Jam Pilot, theoretically allows the vehicle to operate on its own without the human driver keeping their eyes on the road. But it’s never been commercially deployed.

Traffic Jam Pilot was supposed to be in the latest-generation A8 that debuted in 2017. It’s now 2020. What happened? Regulations, or lack of them, have been the primary scapegoat. But it’s not quite the whole story.

TechCrunch reached out to Audi to dig into why? In short, the company told us, that it’s complicated. The lack of a legal framework has raised concerns about liability. To further complicate the problem, the A8 is now progressing through its generational life cycle. And Audi was faced with continuing to pour money into the feature to adapt it without promise of framework progressing.

Here’s a few tidbits from the folks at Audi.

On the legal framework:

As of now, there is no legal framework for Level 3 automated driving. Consistently it is not possible to homologate such function anywhere in the world in a series production car. It is still very challenging to plan the exact introduction scenarios for level 3 systems, as we continuously moving in an intensive interplay between the findings from ongoing testing and the requirements that legislators and approval authorities are now defining for conditional automated driving.

On development costs:

As these clarifications and safeguards continue to take time, we also monitor economic aspects in addition. This includes development costs, which are summing up continuously. Secondly, the remaining life of the determined target model A8 combined with the forecasted installation rate and the expected market greediness in the individual countries are playing an important role.

This has brought us to the following decision: We will not see the traffic jam pilot on the road with its originally planned level 3 series function in the current model generation of the Audi A8 because our luxury sedan has already gone through a substantial part of its model life cycle.

Audi’s belief in automated driving:

We still believe in the technology of automated driving and today we know better than almost anyone when it comes to the decisive technological key factors. During the development phase we continuously learned more and more technical “unknown unknowns” and developed approaches how to handle the fact, that there will appear more.

Together with the above mentioned dependencies concerning legislation and type approval, we believe that actually it is not the right moment to deliver the function to the customer. This is our attitude of responsibility.

How Audi is moving forward:

An important part of the truth, which the industry is now facing: development of automated driving is extremely complex and cost-intensive. Our aim more than ever before is to generate the greatest possible synergies.

Within the VW group we therefore have the best preconditions. We have consolidated our efforts to further develop level 3 automated driving in the Car.Software organization. This is a new organization within the Volkswagen Group .

Former Audi managers will be head of two out of the five domains within this new organization: Thomas Müller will manage the automated driving area, and Dr. Klaus Büttner will manage the Intelligent Body&Cockpit area. Together with the specialists coming from Audi, Volkswagen and Porsche, this ensures that the current expertise in this cross-brand organization is available for the greatest possible benefit to everyone in the Volkswagen Group.

#audi, #audi-a8, #austin, #automation, #automotive, #autotech-ventures, #baltimore, #bessemer-venture-partners, #cars, #chief-technology-officer, #china, #covid-19, #driver, #ford, #greatpoint-ventures, #here, #israel, #kirsten-korosec, #klearnow, #labor-day, #lyft, #monta-vista-capital, #netherlands, #oakland, #otonomo, #pharmaceuticals, #pilot, #porsche, #san-francisco, #san-jose, #sedans, #skycell, #software-platform, #takeaway-com, #techcrunch, #thuan-pham, #transportation, #travis-kalanick, #u-s-securities-and-exchange-commission, #uber, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #utah, #volkswagen, #volkswagen-group, #vw-group

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