Category: UNCATEGORIZED

23 Jul 2021

Judge denies Wisk Aero’s request for preliminary injunction against Archer Aviation

Electric aviation startup Wisk Aero’s request for a preliminary injunction against rival Archer Aviation was denied by a federal judge Thursday, the latest in an ongoing legal battle over whether Archer stole trade secrets in developing its flagship Maker aircraft.

A full written opinion has not yet been published. In a tentative ruling filed earlier this week, Judge William Orrick said Wisk’s “evidence of misappropriation is too equivocal to warrant a preliminary injunction.” Wisk filed for the injunction in May; if it had been approved, it would have effectively put an immediate halt to Archer’s operations.

Wisk submitted to the court 52 trade secrets it alleges were stolen and used by Archer, and the injunction would have prevented Archer from using any of them until a final decision was issued in the suit. It’s an extraordinary request and it makes sense that Orrick would need to see more certain evidence of misappropriation.

“There are some arguable indications of misappropriation, but given how equivocal the evidence is, Wisk is not entitled to the extraordinary remedy of an injunction,” he said in the tentative ruling. “Because the merits are so uncertain, Wisk has also not adequately shown irreparable injury based on misappropriation. And the balance of hardships favors Archer because, without solid evidence of misappropriation, an injunction would gravely threaten its business.”

Wisk says the judge’s decision on the injunction has no bearing on the outcome of the case “and does not exonerate Archer in the least.”

“We brought this lawsuit based on strong indications of theft and use of Wisk’s IP, and the initial limited evidence gathered through the court process to date only confirms our belief that Archer’s misappropriation of Wisk’s trade secrets is widespread and pervades Archer’s aircraft development,” Wisk continued. “Following today’s ruling, Wisk will be allowed to begin collecting evidence in earnest.”

Wisk was established in 2019 as a joint venture between Kitty Hawk and Boeing, but its history with electric aviation stretches back much further. The company was originally founded in 2010 as Levt, which eventually merged with sister company Kitty Hawk. Wisk says it (as Kitty Hawk) zeroed in on a fixed-wing, 12-rotor design in 2016. It’s this design that’s the centerpiece of its debut aircraft, Cora.

Archer, by contrast, is newer to the field. Much of Wisk’s original complaint, filed in April, is predicated on the speed with which Archer is bringing its air taxi service to market. Archer also recruited many former Wisk engineers – including former employee Jing Xue, whom Wisk says downloaded nearly 5,000 files before his departure from the company, which it alleges he handed over to Archer.

When he was cross-examined, Xue pled the Fifth Amendment, invoking his right to not self-incriminate, citing an ongoing federal investigation.

Archer says Wisk has not brought forward any substantive evidence of the central claim of the lawsuit: that Archer received and used Wisk trade secrets. Wisk’s allegations are based on “conspiracy theories and outright misrepresentations,” Archer’s Deputy General Counsel Eric Lentell said.

“It is clear to us from Wisk’s actions in this case that after recognizing Archer’s momentum and pace of innovation, Wisk began abusing the judicial and criminal justice system in an attempt to slow us down to compensate for its own lack of success,” Archer co-founders Brett Adcock and Adam Goldstein said.

The court will hold a scheduling conference on August 11, where the judge will outline next steps for the case. A date for the trial has not been set.

The case is filed in the California Northern District Court under case no. 3:2021cv02450.

23 Jul 2021

GM recalls Bolt EVs once again over fire risks

GM is issuing a second recall for 2017 to 2019 Bolt EVs over potential fire issues. The company says it plans to replace defective batteries, but until it can do so it’s advising Bolt customers to limit their charging up to 90 percent, and not to go below 70 miles of range. It’s also reiterating a recommendation from last week against parking indoors and leaving the car’s to charge overnight unattended. This latest recall follows a similar one from last November, where GM recalled more than 68,000 Bolts.

The company also suggests that Bolt customers visit their nearest Chevy EV dealer to get the advanced diagnostics software, which should alert them ahead of any future battery issues. Hyundai, which also sources batteries from LG Chem like GM, ended up replacing more than 75,000 batteries for its Kona EV.

While it may sound alarming — GM’s recalls were triggered by five Bolt fires between 2017 and 2019 — it’s worth noting that gas cars typically cause around 150 fires a day, according to a FEMA report. Still, EV makers need to prove they can responsibly deal with potential issues before they can hurt more people (and before it leads to more negative sentiment towards electric vehicles).

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on Engadget.

23 Jul 2021

Snap had its best quarter in four years

If you’ve started using Snapchat more regularly this year, you’re not alone. At yesterday’s Q2 earnings call, Snap CEO Evan Spiegel announced that the platform grew both revenue and daily active users at the highest rates it has achieved in the last four years. Snapchat now has 293 million daily active users, growing 23% since last year.

Snap went public in 2017 with a $24 billion valuation, but not long before then, the ephemeral photo sharing app experienced a massive hiccup: Instagram cloned their then-unique Stories feature. After Instagram Stories launched, Snapchat’s growth slowed by 82%. Then, when Snapchat redesigned its app’s interface, Kylie Jenner tweeted that she didn’t use the app anymore, causing the company’s valuation to drop by $1.2 billion.

But Snapchat held on and made a comeback. Its revenue reached an all-time high of $911 million in Q4 of 2020, then went down to $770 million the following quarter. Now, Snapchat’s revenue in Q2 of 2021 surpasses its previous high to reach $982 million.

The app’s Q2 growth could be attributed to the return of advertisers who scaled back their spending during the height of the pandemic, as well as the retention of users that flocked to the app while in lockdown. Like many social media platforms, Snapchat grew its revenue and user base during the pandemic, but this isn’t just a matter of re-engaging users with an app that they grew out of. As TikTok exploded on the scene and the creator economy boomed, Snapchat kept up by creating Spotlight, a TikTok clone, and investing in the applications of augmented reality.

“We made significant progress with our augmented reality platform this quarter,” Spiegel said. “More than 200 million Snapchatters engage with AR every day on average, and over 200,000 creators use Lens Studio to build AR Lenses for our community.”

Last month, Snapchat went viral for its Cartoon 3D Style Lens, which makes you look like a character in a Pixar movie. Spiegel specifically mentioned this lens as a feature that “highlighted the power of Lenses to go viral both inside and outside of Snapchat.” But beyond fun face filters, Snapchat has been using AR to woo ecommerce partners. The app has developed AR experiences for Walt Disney World, Smile Direct Club, Zenni Optical, e.l.f. Cosmetics, Ralph Lauren, and more. This includes try-on capabilities for watches, jewelry, eyewear, handbags, makeup, and even clothing. At its Partner Summit in May, Snapchat revealed an update that lets users scan friends’ outfits to find shopping recommendations for similar styles.

“We have a lot more work ahead to build out our technology and increase AR adoption, but we are thrilled with the results that our partners are seeing as we invest in our long-term camera opportunity,” said Jeremi Gorman, Snap’s Chief Business Officer. “We are confident in our long-term opportunity, and are excited to double down on shopping and commerce via augmented reality.”

In March, Snap acquired Fit Analytics, a Berlin-based startup that helps shoppers find the right-sized apparel and footwear when shopping online. Combined with Snap’s investment in AR, could we eventually use AR to see which size of clothing to order? The application of that sort of technology would need to be handled sensitively, especially as the rates of eating disorders in teens are on the rise.

Beyond ecommerce, Snapchat has sought out strategic partnerships with entertainment companies like HBO Max and Universal Music Group and doubled down on its Spectacles, glasses that create AR experiences. Of course, Facebook is working on AR glasses too. But for both companies, Snap’s recent successes show the rising adoption and value of AR experiences.

23 Jul 2021

Mint’s first PM raises millions for Monarch, an Accel-backed money management platform

Monarch, a subscription-based platform that aims to help consumers “plan and manage” their financial lives, has raised $4.8 million in seed funding.

Accel led the round, which also included participation from SignalFire, and brings the Mountain View-based yet fully distributed startup’s total funding since its 2019 inception to $5.5 million.

Co-founder and CEO Val Agostino was the first product manager on the original team that built Mint.com. There, he said, he saw firsthand that Americans with a greater understanding of financial matters “needed software solutions that went beyond just tracking and budgeting.” 

“They needed help planning their financial future and understanding the tradeoffs between competing financial priorities,” he said.

Monarch aims to help people address those needs with software it says “makes it easy” for people to outline their financial goals and then create a detailed, forward-looking plan toward achieving them. 

“We then help customers track their progress against their plan and automatically course correct as their financial situation changes, which it always does,” Agostino said.

Monarch came out of private beta in early 2021 with apps for web, iOS and Android, and is priced at $9.99 per month or $89.99 per year. The startup intentionally opted to not be ad-supported or sell customers’ financial data.

These approaches are “misaligned with users’ financial interests,” Agostino said.

“We felt that a subscription business model would best support that ethos and align our users’ interests with our own,” he added. Since launching publicly, Monarch has been growing its paid subscriber base by about 9% per week.

Image Credits: Monarch

Monarch launched during the pandemic, the uncertainty of which carried over into people’s financial lives, believes Agostino.

“As a result, we saw a lot of people make use of Monarch’s forecasting features to compare different ‘what if ‘scenarios such as switching jobs or moving to a different city or state,” he said.

Earlier this month, TechCrunch reported on a company with a similar mission, BodesWell, teaming up with American Express on a financial planning tool for its cardholders. Agostino said that Monarch is similar to BodesWell in that both startups help customers map a financial plan and future. 

“The difference is that Monarch also has a full suite of PFM tools, such as budgeting, reporting and investment analysis,” he said. “The benefit to the consumer is that because Monarch is connected to your entire financial picture, we can help you actually stay on track with your financial plan and/or update the plan in real time if needed.”

Accel’s Daniel Levine said that until he came across Monarch, he was “somehow still a Mint customer despite its obsolescence.”

Over the past decade, the landscape for financial products has expanded dramatically, with more people having brokerage and crypto accounts, for example, Levine said.

In his view, Monarch stands out for a couple of reasons. For one, it’s a subscription product.

“One thing I always hated about Mint was when it would suggest the objectively wrong credit card for me,” Levine said. “It has all of my transaction data, it should tell me the card with the best rewards for me. Monarch is set up to never compromise what’s best for the user in favor of advertising.”

Secondly, Monarch’s aim is to serve as the infrastructure for its customers. To do that, it needs to monitor all of someone’s finances. 

“They need to track checking, credit cards, brokerage, real estate and crypto,” he said. “Monarch is committed to doing that. It’s an incredibly painful problem and even though Monarch is a new entrant in the space, I think they’ve clearly separated themselves on that dimension.”

23 Jul 2021

China’s expected edtech clampdown may chill a key startup sector

News that China’s government may force domestic tutoring-focused companies to go non-profit is taking a huge bite out of the value of several technology companies. Bloomberg notes that the value of companies like New Oriental Education & Technology Group and TAL Education are tumbling in light of the news, which would constitute merely the latest salvo against tech companies in the autocratic country.

New Oriental’s Hong Kong-listed shares fell 44.22% in after-hours trading after the non-profit news broke, while NYSE-shares of TAL are off an even sharper 51.75% in pre-market trading. With Yahoo Finance listing a roughly $13.8 billion market cap for TAL ahead of its impending declines at the market open, billions of equity value are about to get deleted. The list goes on: China Online Education Group is off 39.97% in after-hours trading, for example.


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A new decision by China’s government to exert more control over a sector of its domestic economy should not surprise. And we shouldn’t be shocked that online tutoring is in the country’s targets; today’s news is a follow-up to prior regulatory action in the sector from earlier in the year.

As China has become synonymous with edtech startup in recent years, the news impacts more than just public companies. The expected rules change may also hit a host of private, venture-backed companies.

For example, what will happen to Yuanfudao? The company was valued at $15.5 billion last year, offering what TechCrunch described as “live tutoring, an online Q&A arm and a math problem-checking arm.” Will the company see its wings clipped?

Or how about Zuoyebang, which raised $1.6 billion in a single round last year? TechCrunch wrote that Zuoyebang offers “online courses, live lessons and homework help for kindergarten to 12th grade students.” Is it in trouble as well?

All this comes on the same day that shares in Zomato began to float, with the Indian online food delivery company seeing its shares close up nearly 65% in their first day’s trading. TechCrunch has viewed the Zomato IPO as a possible bellwether for the larger Indian startup market, and the results augur well for other growth-focused, loss-making unicorns in the country.

23 Jul 2021

Checkout is the key to frictionless B2B e-commerce

The COVID-19 pandemic cemented e-commerce into everyone’s daily habits in 2020, and as we look ahead, B2B e-commerce is quickly becoming the next frontier for founders and investors.

Businesses have shifted online, and the emergence of B2B marketplaces and e-commerce infrastructure is fueling a new wave of growth that’s estimated to reach $3.6 trillion in annual gross merchandise value (GMV) by 2024.

But one major component remains missing from the stack: checkout, which has the opportunity to be the ultimate enabler for B2B e-commerce more broadly.

The challenge of B2B e-commerce

Historically, B2B e-commerce has been held back by deeply entrenched behaviors and a lack of cloud-based infrastructure. While the market is quickly evolving, there are nuances to B2B purchases that make the path to purchase more complex than in consumer e-commerce. Broadly speaking, these constraints fall into three buckets:

Payments: PayPal unlocked the early days of consumer e-commerce, and Stripe’s ease of integrating card payments has powered the last decade. But in B2B, the challenge has always been that sellers don’t want to pay a 3% surcharge — so much so that they’d rather suffer through the pain of physical checks and accounts payable. In 2018, 60% of B2B payment flows were conducted via checks, and the persistence of non-digital payments has been a major bottleneck to e-commerce.

Permissions: Most B2B transactions go through contracting and procurement, which requires multiple parties to sign off on each transaction. This creates friction in the path to purchase, as the seller can’t tell if the buyer is authorized. Rather than being able to hit buy, buyers often need to fill out a form so a sales person can get in touch. This can slow the transaction from seconds to weeks.

Credit: The majority of B2B transactions are completed on some form of credit, be it working capital loans, factoring, or in the form of days payable. Credit applications are typically completed on paper forms (or at best hosted PDFs) that armies of people at internal credit departments review. For context, there are over 1,000 employees at John Deere with “credit” in their job descriptions. This costs a lot and results in sensitive information being shared on paper documents, which further slows the transaction.

The net result of these constraints is the inability to make instant online purchases, like we’re used to as consumers. It’s a combination of fintech problems that require a platform rather than a series of point solutions.

Why is checkout the answer?

While the term “checkout” may not seem particularly novel, modern checkout is a distinctly new category in fintech combining digital payments, identity, fraud, credit and much more. It creates a powerful network, the type that can not only build trust but enable one-click transactions at scale.

23 Jul 2021

Lucid Motors’ SPAC merger approved after executives issue plea to shareholders to vote

Shareholders approved Friday EV startup Lucid Motors’ merger with special purpose acquisition company Churchill Capital IV, after the companies extended the deadline by one day because not enough retail investors showed up to cast their vote.

The issue is an unusual but could become more common as more companies eschew the traditional IPO path to public markets and instead merge with SPACs. 

The issue came on Thursday, when shareholders voted to approve all but one of the proposals as part of the merger — proposal two, which would revise the company’s charter so that Lucid could receive key financing. That proposal requires a higher number of votes than the others – and it must be approved for the merger to take place – so a lack of votes ended up halting the entire process.

The lack of shareholders was blamed on retail investors’ unfamiliarity with the SPAC process and, unbelievably spam.

Churchill chairman Michael Klein raised the possibility that some of the emails sent to shareholders were accidentally sent to voters’ spam folders. While it may seem incredible that something as low-tech as a Gmail spam filter might interrupt a multi-billion dollar business merger, it seems that may have occurred in this case.

“We simply need more votes,” Klein said on an investor call Thursday. Lucid Motors CEO Peter Rawlinson was also direct: “I need you to vote for proposal two.”

“We recognize that for many of you, this voting process may be new or not standard,” Klein continued. He later thanked the many individual shareholders but urged those “participating from the new platforms, the new apps,” to vote. “They may not necessarily the directing you clearly to the voting service.”

The number of amateur or so-called “retail traders” has exploded since the start of the pandemic, largely thanks to apps like Robinhood, which leverages gamification strategies to encourage users to buy and sell stocks from anywhere. The pinnacle of this phenomenon will likely be remembered by history in the explosive rise in prices of stocks for failing companies like GameStop and AMC entertainment, engineered by an army of retail traders on the subreddit r/wallstreetbets. Retail investors account for around 10% of the U.S. equity trading volume, according to a report from Morgan Stanley, down from a high of 15% last September.

But if the rise in the price of meme stocks shows us anything, it’s that retail traders are a powerful force. The Morgan Stanley report notes that “retail investors tend to prefer companies in sectors they are likely to be familiar with as consumers, such as Consumer Discretionary, Communication Services, and Technology.” This could be why the Churchill SPAC was high on many retail investors’ radars.

In a highly-awarded post on the subreddit r/SPACs, a Reddit user urgers new retail shareholders to participate in voting: “This is not normal. SPACs have never had to beg shareholders to act in their own best interest before.

You MUST vote. A non-vote does NOT count as a YES. A non-vote is just a non-vote.”

While Lucid’s merger hold-up is a very different scenario than that of meme stock trading, it’s yet another reminder that retail investors are continuing to shape markets.

23 Jul 2021

Alphabet’s Intrinsic aims to make industrial robots more capable

Alphabet’s public-facing history with robotics has, thus far, been a spotty one. Most notably, Google X’s big acquisition push culminated in its selling Boston Dynamics to Softbank (who eventually flipped it to Hyundai). Alphabet/Google’s subsequent approach has been less flashy and focused on more immediate robotic tasks.

Unveiled today through the X blog, Intrinsic certainly fits the bill. In fact, it’s kind of an ideal take for Google. Effectively, the latest branch of the X Development tree is concerned with software for industrial robotics – those  big, heavy machines that are perhaps not as nimble as many manufacturers would like.

Image Credits: Intrinsic

The post is penned by Wendy Tan-White, a VP of Moonshots at Alphabet, who now has the title of Intrinsic CEO. Of the company’s origins, the cofounder of SAAS website builder Moonfruit writes,

Over the last few years, our team has been exploring how to give industrial robots the ability to sense, learn, and automatically make adjustments as they’re completing tasks, so they work in a wider range of settings and applications. Working in collaboration with teams across Alphabet, and with our partners in real-world manufacturing settings, we’ve been testing software that uses techniques like automated perception, deep learning, reinforcement learning, motion planning, simulation, and force control.

There’s a vibrant community of startups out there looking to augment big, heavy robotics, including the likes of Veo, Symbio and Covariant. Often times, these companies focus on one specific element, like Veo’s safety protocols from human-robotic interactions. Fittingly, Intrisic appears to be shooting the moon here, so to speak, with plans to take a number of different issues at once.

Image Credits: Intrinsic

“We’re developing software tools designed to make industrial robots (which are used to make everything from solar panels to cars) easier to use, less costly and more flexible, so that more people can use them to make new products, businesses and services,” Tan-White writes.

Certainly Google has the capital and ability to attract talent to make some headway there, even if there are a number of competitors who have a head start. ThoughIntrinsic isn’t exactly brand new, either. The company has apparently been working in customary Google X stealth mode for a five-and-a-half years per the post — it clearly wanted something to show for its efforts before announcing itself to the world.

The news also marks Intrinsic’s debut as an “independent” Alphabet company, leaving the moonshot area behind as it seems partners in automotive, healthcare and electronics to help prove out its technologies.

23 Jul 2021

Duolingo’s bellwether IPO

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

We were smaller team this week, with Natasha and Alex together with Chris to sort through yet another summer frenzy of a week.

This time around we actually recorded live on Twitter Spaces, which was a first for the podcast. If you missed it, it’s probably because we didn’t promote the taping since it was just an experiment. Good news, though, is that it went well, and we’re going to some more live tapings of the show with the entire crew on the mics. Make sure to follow the show on the Big Tweet to ensure that you can come hang with us next week. We’ll also do some Q&A at the end, if we’re in good moods.

Until then, let’s live in the present. Here’s what we got into in today’s show:

Have a lovely weekend, you lovely human.
Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PDT, Wednesday, and Friday morning at 7:00 a.m. PDT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.
23 Jul 2021

Susan Su on how to approach growth as your startup raises each round

Your startup might rely on clever growth tactics to get off the ground, but you need more than spreadsheets if you want to turn viral spikes into a real business. You need a qualitative growth model to guide the strategy that you can use to tell your story to your team and investors.

Growth marketing expert Susan Su sat down with us at TechCrunch Early Stage: Marketing and Fundraising this month to share pointers for young companies that are trying to raise money after initial market traction. In the presentation below, she maps out a growth strategy from seed through Series A and B rounds and details how your milestones, budgets, investor updates and other measures change as you advance.

The not-so-secret secret here is that the key to great retention is really simple. It is building a product that solves a real and especially persistent problem for people.

Throughout the process, “a qualitative model tells the story of growth that you can use at early stages and really all throughout your company life cycle,” she explains.A quantitative model or quantitative growth accounting charts the numerical course for how you actually deliver against that narrative and becomes more relevant at later stages when you actually have real numbers.

Formerly a strategic growth adviser to companies at Sound Ventures, a growth marketing lead focused on startups at Stripe, and the first hire and head of growth at Reforge, Su just became a partner investing in climate tech for early-stage fund Toba Capital. She also writes a popular newsletter on climate investing and runs a six-week course for other investors on the topic.

Here’s more about growth, and how to talk about it with investors, from her presentation:

So here’s a sample qualitative growth model that I built for one of our portfolio companies with some modifications for anonymity. At the bottom, we have our linear inputs that form the foundation of awareness — in other words, traffic or leads that feed into our growth machine.

Once those leads come in, we have our acquisition loops, working to turn that non-repeatable spiky linear traffic (aka TechCrunch traffic, if you get so lucky as to be written up in TechCrunch) into scalable, repeatable acquisition. You cannot repeat the TechCrunch effect.

For this sample business, I happened to spec out five different acquisition loops — I was really ambitious. Many companies will struggle to identify this many. But the key to being able to scale is to have multiple viable acquisition loops, not just one single thing that works.