Welcome back to Found, where we tell you the stories behind the startups.
Super Troopers premiered at Sundance to a receptive, giggling crowd but if you judged it based on its Rotten Tomato score and reviews, you’d think it flopped. Writer, director, comedian, and recent founder Jay Chandrasekhar never felt right about the critiques from random strangers online. So he set about creating Vouch Vault, an app in which friends can recommend media, restaurants, and products to each other and users can trust those reviews because they’re coming from people with similar tastes. He talks with Darrell and Jordan about using a Hollywood approach to funding a tech company and how he is thinking about changing user behavior.
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Party Round’s rebrand is banking on founder bank accounts • TechCrunch
Party Round wants you to know that the party isn’t over. In fact, it just rebranded, put the music just a little bit lower and finally put out some appetizers. After a certain point, don’t we all get peckish?
Party Round announced today that it has rebranded to Capital to underscore its product expansion. Now, the startup won’t just make it easier for other startups to raise their own party round. Capital wants to build a tech stack for the modern founder to handle their finances, a crowded space, but one always in need of more disruption.
Up until this point, the startup was focused on automating seed deals for the likes of Diagram, Popshop, JuneShine and Yuga Labs. Plus, as CEO and co-founder Jordi Hays will admit, lots and lots of marketing.
“Party Round was this amazing, living breathing meme that was evolving and meant to entertain the community,” Hays, who built the company alongside Sarah Chase, said. “But the thing is, even our ambition as a company, and what we want to do on the product side, is [different]. Fundraising and investing gets so much attention in the startup media, but it’s maybe like 1-5% of what it actually takes to build a company.”
“We were very comfortable saying that in the first 18 months of building this company, we’re going to ignore every single possible channel except tech Twitter, and that was like the best possible strategy we could have done,” the founder said. “There’s 100,000 early-stage founders and investors signed up for our email list.”
Capital wants to take that trust and expressed interest and give the same founders a place to raise, hold and spend that earned capital. It’s a maturation for the company, which raised $7 million months ago from Alexis Ohanian’s Seven Seven Six fund, Anish Acharya from a16z, Shrug Capital, Packy McCormick, Nik Sharma and Austin Rief.
Here’s the simplest way to describe what Capital does today: Founders can turn to the platform to create and set terms for SAFE notes, and then invite potential investors to contribute through the platform. Investors, meanwhile, can select to link their banking account to invest in the company through either USD or crypto with specific allocation; all while Capital handles back-end documents. There’s an NFT to verify the investment if investors are interested in NFTs that verify the investment.
Once the money is wired, founders can use Capital to create a business checking account, get a debit card and conduct payments. Hays explained how a founder who uses Ramp for creidt cards can then connect their Ramp account to Capital; same goes for if someone was using Rippling for payroll. Capital’s utility is that it gives all those fintech tools one home to live, or, some would say, one living room to party at.
Hays isn’t too intimidated by the unicorns in the space, noting that many (such as Brex and Ramp) started with expense tracking and are heavily focused on the enterprise, while Capital seeks to work with smaller startups at the point of their first fundraise.
“Before you need a bank account, you need money to put in that bank account. And unless you’re bootstrapping, or generating revenue, really, really early on and self funding, typically those funds are coming from your investors,” Hays said. “We are exclusively focused on companies at the inflection point and figuring out how we can be the first place that they raise, hold and spend their money.”
The challenge for Capital is if it can prove that its users, a number which remains undisclosed, are sticky enough to stay. Up until now, the company’s fundraising tool was free with some simple steps: create a round, configure the SAFE terms and invite investors. Hays says that they will monetize new products over time, but ease of use will stay a focus for the business.
“I think that being funny and entertaining is great, but in the long term, we think the most important [thing] is building the best products and software for founders period. And to do that we need a brand that’s going to resonate more broadly and outside of our bubble,” the founder said.
Zipline’s drones to deliver medicine in Salt Lake City area • TechCrunch
Zipline, a drone delivery and logistics company that got its start delivering medical supplies in Africa, has started dropping prescriptions and over-the-counter medications to homes in the Salt Lake City, Utah area.
In a partnership with Intermountain Healthcare, a healthcare company that services the Intermountain Region of the United States, Zipline will deploy an initial fleet of five electric, autonomous drones out of its Salt Lake Valley distribution center. The startup is promising on-demand deliveries directly to patients’ homes in “as little as 15 minutes,” and plans to gradually expand to cater to more than 1 million customers over the next five years, Zipline said in a statement Tuesday.
While Zipline has been deploying drones in Africa, starting in Rwanda, since 2016, the company gained U.S. market entry in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. Zipline partnered with Novant Health to distribute personal protective gear and medical equipment in North Carolina — a distribution network that has since expanded to include Cardinal Health and Magellan Rx Management. Later that same year, Zipline began a partnership with Walmart in Arkansas, initially to deploy health and wellness supplies, and has since expanded to more general products in the future.
During the pandemic, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) granted Zipline an emergency waiver to operate without the proper certification. In June, Zipline finally received its FAA Part 135 air carrier certification, which authorized the company to complete long range on-demand commercial drone deliveries in the United States.
Now, certain customers in Utah will look up into the sky to see a 45-pound, fixed-wing aircraft that looks like a tiny airplane quietly humming above a patient’s house as it parachutes a box down into their yard. Zipline says its autonomous aircraft are constantly taking in surrounding information like wind speed and direction so they can accurately drop packages within a target area “about the size of a couple parking spaces.”
The drones, which fly up to 400 feet above ground level, are monitored by trained remote pilots who can intervene if necessary.
Zipline’s latest launch will initially service communities within a few miles of its distribution center located in South Jordan. The startup’s drones can fly up to a 50-mile radius in most weather conditions, Zipline said. Over the next five years, Zipline plans to add new distribution centers to its network so it can deliver to around 90% of households and community drop-off locations in the Salt Lake Valley area. After that, Zipline has its eyes on broader expansion in Utah.
Interested customers within the Intermountain Healthcare network can start signing up to use the service. The startup and its healthcare partner are targeting customers who are less mobile, are sick or have work obligations that make it difficult to make it to the pharmacy for their meds. Zipline will evaluate whether it can deliver to homes based on factors like yard size, location and surrounding airspace, a company spokesperson told TechCrunch.
“This partnership allows us to reach patients faster than we ever thought possible, at a time that’s convenient for them,” said Gordon Slade, associate vice president of supply chain logistics at Intermountain Healthcare, in a statement. “Combined with our telehealth services like Connect Care, it’s possible to virtually see a doctor and get medication you need delivered from Zipline, without having to travel to a clinic or the hospital.”
VLC-developer VideoLAN sends legal notice to Indian ministries over ban • TechCrunch
VideoLAN, the developer and operator of popular media player VLC, has filed a legal notice to India’s IT and Telecom ministries, alleging that the Indian bodies failed to notify the software developer and did not afford it a chance for an explanation.
Indian telecom operators have been blocking VideoLAN’s website, where it lists links to downloading VLC, since February of this year, VideoLan president and lead developer Jean-Baptiste Kempf told TechCrunch in an earlier interview. India is one of the largest markets for VLC.
“Most major ISPs [internet service providers] are banning the site, with diverse techniques,” he said of the blocking in India. The telecom operators began blocking the VideoLan website on February 13 of this year, when the site saw a drop of 80% in traffic from the South Asian market, he said.
Now, VideoLAN, in assistance with local advocacy group Internet Freedom Foundation, is using legal means to get answers and redressal. It has sought a copy of the blocking order for banning VideoLAN website in India and an opportunity to defend the case through a virtual hearing.
In the notice, VideoLAN argues that the way Indian ministries have enforced the ban on the website, they violate their own local laws. The letter adds:
As per Rule 8 of the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking for Access of Information by Public) Rules, 2009 (‘Blocking Rules’) and the ruling of the Supreme Court in Shreya Singhal v. Union of India (2015) 5 SCC 1, government officers responsible for issuing a blocking order are required to: (i) make all reasonable efforts to identify the originator or intermediary hosting the information to be blocked, (ii) issue a notice to such person, (iii) provide a hearing to such person before the concerned authority, and (iv) provide a copy of a reasoned blocking order to the person concerned prior to the hearing. Despite this, the URL, which allows users to download VLC was blocked by the DoT without any prior notice, or an opportunity of hearing to VideoLAN.
Indian telecom operators have not explained why they have blocked the VideoLan website, but some speculate that it could be because of a misinterpretation of a security warning from earlier this year.
Security firm Symantec reported in April this year that the hacker group Cicada, which has ties with the Chinese government, was exploiting VLC Media Player as well as several other popular applications to gain remote access to the victim’s computers. Kempf said he or his firm had not been contacted by any Indian government agency and the block is likely a result of a misunderstanding of the Chinese security issue.
But by blocking the website, India is pushing its citizens to “shady websites that are running hacked version of VLC. So they are endangering their own citizens with this ban,” Kempf said earlier.
In the legal notice, VideoLAN warns that failure to comply with its request will compel the open source firm to initiate legal proceedings. “Any such proceedings, if initiated, shall be solely at your risk, cost, and for breach of your own rules,” the notice adds.
Twitter expands access to its experimental Status feature…but not to its paid subscribers • TechCrunch
Twitter’s throwback feature, Twitter Status, is today expanding its list of potential status updates to choose from, in a continuation of tests that began this July. The feature, which is something of a cross between MySpace moods and a Facebook status, allows users to tag posts with an additional expression beyond the tweet itself — like “shower thoughts,” “spoiler alert” or “picture of the day.” Now, the company is adding common Twitter slang to its list, allowing users to tag their tweets with things like “Don’t @ me,” “Tweeting it into existence,” or “That’s it, that’s the Tweet,” and more.
The expansion was first spotted by app researcher Jane Manchun Wong, and Twitter confirmed the addition began rolling out to Twitter Status testers on Monday.
Other new status options now available include “Breaking news,” “Gaming,” “Pet of the day,” “So wholesome,” “Then and now,” “To whom it may concern,” “Touching grass,” “Twitter do your thing,” “Watching cricket,” “Watching football,” “Watching rugby,” and “Winning.”
The experiment, however, is not one of the “early access” features provided to Twitter’s paying customers as part of their Twitter Blue subscription.
Until today, the option to add a status to a tweet has been available to a select group of users in the U.S. With the update, Twitter says it’s now bringing on users in Australia, as well.
“As part of this expansion, those with access to the status feature will see a new set of potential statuses to choose from. Additionally, more people in Australia will also receive access to the experiment today,” a Twitter spokesperson told TechCrunch. They added that, with today’s update, the “majority of people in Australia” will now be able to use the feature.
One group that doesn’t necessarily have the ability to use the Twitter Status feature is the group of power users who pay for a Twitter Blue subscription. Though Twitter marketed Blue to those who wanted an expanded range of features — like a better news reading experience, personalization options, and early access to experiments — it hasn’t made all its new product tests available to its paid subscribers.
For instance, when Twitter began rolling out the addition of podcasts to its revamped “Audio” tab, Twitter Blue users weren’t the first group to gain access to the feature. Instead, Twitter made podcasts visible to a random group within its English-speaking mobile audience in August before later rolling out podcasts to paid subscribers the following month.
Similarly, Twitter Status isn’t listed among the experiments offered to Twitter Blue subscribers at this time.
Asked why Twitter isn’t prioritizing its paid subscriber base when it comes to trialing its new products first, as promised, a spokesperson clarified that it will only offer some of its experiments to subscribers while others will be tested with the broader public.
This seems to be a poor strategic decision on Twitter’s part, as those who are actually paying for Twitter have to stand by and watch other users get to play around with new features first — a perk they were promised. Though it’s understandable that some features may need to be tested among a larger group, at the very least, paid customers should be within that group.
The spokesperson clarified that Twitter Blue subscribers will have access to what the company considers “higher-impact” features first — like NFT profile pictures and, notably, the new Edit Tweet option.
The latter also today rolled out to Blue subscribers in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand after Twitter teased the editing feature last week. But the launch does not yet include Twitter Blue’s largest market, the U.S., which Twitter said would be “coming soon.”
Again, this strategy seems to be off the mark. While it’s one thing to test a small experiment within select geographies, it’s disheartening to see Twitter prioritize select markets and non-subscribers over its paying customers when it comes to some of its most fun and in-demand features.
Geely’s Europe expansion continues, Argo robotaxis on the Lyft app and Tesla AI Day takeaways • TechCrunch
The Station is a weekly newsletter dedicated to all things transportation. Sign up here — just click The Station — to receive the full edition of the newsletter every weekend in your inbox. This is a shorter version of The Station newsletter that is emailed to subscribers. Want all the deals, news roundups and commentary? Subscribe for free.
Welcome back to The Station, your central hub for all past, present and future means of moving people and packages from Point A to Point B.
The week capped off with Tesla AI Day, a recruitment slash roadshow that ended up lasting three hours. Yeah.
What did we learn and see? Tesla has made progress on its Tesla bot, also called Optimus. It is no longer a human dressed in a robot suit, but an actual robot. Will it make Boston Dynamics or Serve Robotics shake in their boots? Probably not. But it was a robot that moved, albeit briefly.
A few takeaways:
1. The event was somehow simultaneously very dense and lacking basic details that would help establish baselines and progress.
2. Tesla made a point to put employees from the AI and hardware teams on stage (this is unusual for the typical Elon-centric reveals and events)
3. There was an incredible emphasis on how the bot was equipped with components and tech used in Tesla vehicles, notably Autopilot. There is an efficiency that comes from shared parts and technology, but it also can come at great risk. Especially when said tech — ahem Autopilot — is controversial and coming under increased scrutiny by regulators.
4. Musk was asked if Tesla was still a sustainable energy company and he responded “I think the mission effectively does somewhat broaden with the advent of Optimists to you know, I don’t know, making the future awesome.” He also said that he believed that Tesla could provide a meaningful contribution to artificial general intelligence.
5. Tesla employees provided other updates, including its auto-labeling technology and the Dojo supercomputer. While Tesla employees explained these, Musk was off-stage tweeting” “Naturally, there will be a catgirl version of our Optimus.”
There wasn’t too much micromobility news this week, so we’ll keep this brief. Here’s what you need to know in the world of tiny electric vehicles.
Climate change is killing bees, and that’s a big problem, because bees kind of help regulate the effects of climate change. What’s this got to do with micromobility? Well, Cake launched a limited edition Kalk model bike called Flower Power that’s available in seven different color options. The company said that 5% of profits from the bikes will be donated to the World Bee Project, which is dedicated to saving the planet’s bee population.
Delfast unveiled a smaller electric moped that it’s calling the Delfast California, which has a 750W motor and reach a max speed of 28 mph, making it slightly less intense than Delfast’s more badass bike the Top 3.0.
Pure Electric is teasing a folding scooter that is expected to launch in early October. Is that a fat tire we detect, or just a play of the light?
You’re reading an abbreviated version of micromobbin’. Subscribe for free to the newsletter and you’ll get a lot more.
Deal of the week
When news broke that Chinese carmaker Geely Holding Group acquired a 7.6% share of British luxury automaker Aston Martin Lagonda Global Holdings, one of my co-workers (and an international reporter who covers China) exclaimed: Geely owns everyone!
It sure seems like it.
Geely was aiming to own all of Aston Martin. Instead, it settled for a small stake. Geely didn’t even get a board seat out of the deal. But no matter, Geely has squeezed a lot out of seemingly empty juice vesicles before.
Geely, which owns Lotus and is the largest shareholder of Polestar and Volvo Cars, took a 10% stake valued at $9 billion in Mercedes-Benz parent Daimler in 2018. Geely didn’t have a board seat either, but managed to exert its influence over the company, including a joint venture with the German automaker that gave it partial control of the Smart car brand.
Aston Martin also announced that it raised $732 million from investors that included Mercedes-Benz and Saudi’s Public Investment Fund participating. Yew Tree Consortium holds 19% of Aston Martin following the raise. The Public Investment Fund has become a new anchor shareholder with a 18.7% stake in the company.
Other deals that got my attention this week …
Faraday Future, the struggling EV SPAC, secured up to $100 million in funding through $40 million in convertible notes and warrant exercise payments and up to $60 million in convertible notes from Hong Kong holding company Senyun International.
Gogoro signed a $345 million five-year credit facility agreement in order to increase liquidity amid uncertain economic conditions. The loan comes from a group of 10 syndicated banks led by Mega International Commercial Bank Co., according to a regulatory filing.
Harley Davidson’s electric motorcycle division spinoff, LiveWire, raised less than planned and was valued below expectations when it went public this week through a SPAC combination. Shocking! LiveWire brought in $295 million in net proceeds, which is short of the $545 million anticipated when the deal was announced in December.
Want more deals? A whole list of them, including info on Aptiv, TerraWatt and TruckSmarter were in the subscription version this week. Subscribe for free here.
Notable reads and other tidbits
Argo AI’s robotaxis are now operating on the Lyft network in Austin, Texas. This is a public service and the second city in which Lyft and Argo are operating a commercial robotaxi operation after Miami, which launched in December.
Aurora announced its 4th generation Driver, which can now detect and maneuver around a variety of objects and debris on the road and detect repainted lines in complex construction zones.
In a series of simulated tests, Waymo’s driver avoided crashes better than a virtual representation of a hyper-attentive driver.
Electric vehicles, batteries & charging
Arrival produced its first battery-electric van at the company’s Microfactory in Bicester, U.K., which uses autonomous mobile robots instead of a traditional assembly line. The remaining vans built this year will be earmarked for testing, validation and quality control, rather than customer delivery.
ChargerHelp has partnered with Tesla improve reliability and consumer confidence in charging access.
New York follows California and mandates that all new passenger cars, pickup trucks and SUVs sold in New York state must be zero emissions by 2035.
Airbnb co-founder and billionaire Joe Gebbia has joined Tesla’s board as an independent director.
Charly Mwangi, the former executive vice president of manufacturing at Rivian, who previously worked at Tesla, is now a partner at Eclipse Ventures.
Lyft has canceled job interviews and issued a hiring freeze in the U.S., according to anonymous professional network Blind.
Treepz CEO Onyeka Akumah talks to TechCrunch’s Rebecca Bellan about how to succeed in transportation in the latest edition of our founder’s Q&A series.
Want to read more of the notable reads plus other bits of news from the week? The Station’s weekly emailed newsletter has a lot more on EVs and AVs, future of flight, insider info and more. Click here and then check “The Station” to receive the full edition of the newsletter every weekend in your inbox.
24 hours left to apply to volunteer at TechCrunch Disrupt and attend for free • TechCrunch
It takes a veritable army to make TechCrunch Disrupt — which takes place October 18–20 in San Francisco — the well-oiled experience that savvy startuppers have come to know and love. And we couldn’t do it nearly as well without our incredible volunteers.
If you’re looking for a no-budget way to experience Disrupt up close and personal, sign up to volunteer for work exchange. Not only will you get a behind-the-scenes look at how to produce events, but you’ll also earn a free pass ($1,995 value) to experience the event. The deadline to apply is tomorrow, October 3 at 11:59 p.m. PDT.
You’ll work hard, play hard and get free access to all three days of Disrupt. Whether you dream of becoming a startup founder, marketer or event coordinator, this is a great way to see what it takes to produce a world-renowned tech startup conference.
Plus, your free pass gives you access to the full Disrupt experience — the main stage, the TechCrunch+ stage, the expo floor — where you’ll find the Startup Battlefield 200 — and the Startup Battlefield competition.
Volunteers handle a variety of tasks to help make this startup conference an epic experience for everyone. At any given time, you might help with registration, wrangle speakers, direct attendees, stuff goodie bags, place signage, scan tickets or help with pre-marketing activities.
We need volunteers on October 17–20. If you can meet the following criteria, we want to hear from you:
- Attend a mandatory orientation on Monday, October 17 at Moscone Center.
- Work a minimum of 10 hours during the entire conference, starting from October 17 (the day before the conference starts) to October 20. You’ll find volunteer shift availability in the application. We might select you for some pre-event opportunities, which would count toward your hours.
- You may be scheduled for an 8- to 9-hour shift or you may be scheduled with two separate shifts of 4 to 5 hours each. Shifts can start as early as 6:30 a.m. PDT or end as late as 8:30 p.m. PDT.
- You must provide your own housing and transportation.
- Due to the high volume of applications, we will notify only the selected applicants.
Read the volunteer FAQ for more information.
Lend us a helping hand, and we’ll hand you a free pass. Save money, gain valuable experience and still have plenty of time to take in all the startup goodness that TechCrunch Disrupt has to offer. Apply to volunteer by October 3 to get your free pass, and we’ll see you in October!
Meta plans hiring freeze, NASA shoots an asteroid, and Elon’s texts about Twitter are made public • TechCrunch
Hi all! Welcome back to Week in Review, the newsletter where we quickly sum up some of the most read TechCrunch stories from the past seven days. The goal? Even when you’re swamped, a quick skim of WiR on Saturday morning should give you a pretty good understanding of what happened in tech this week.
Want it in your inbox? Get it here.
- Elon’s texts: As part of the ongoing Musk vs. Twitter trial, a big ol’ trove of Twitter-related texts between Elon and various key figures/executives/celebrities has been made public. Amanda and Taylor look at some of the most interesting bits, with appearances from people like Gayle King, Joe Rogan, and Twitter founder Jack Dorsey (or, as he seems to be named in Elon’s contacts, “jack jack”.)
- Instagram bans PornHub’s account: “After a weeks-long suspension,” writes Amanda, “Pornhub’s account has been permanently removed from Instagram.” Why? PH says they don’t know, as they insist everything they put on Instagram was totally “PG” while calling for “full transparency and clear explanations.”
- Interpol issues a red notice for Terra’s founder: “Interpol has issued a red notice for Do Kwon,” write Manish and Kate, “requesting law enforcement agencies worldwide to search for and arrest the Terraform Labs founder whose blockchain startup collapsed earlier this year.”
- Google Maps’ new features: A bunch of new stuff is coming to Google Maps, and Aisha has the roundup. There’s a new view style meant to help you “immerse” yourself in a city before you visit, a “Neighborhood vibe” feature that aims to capture an area’s highlights, and augmented reality features that use the view from your camera to show exactly where ATMs and coffee shops are.
- Meta’s hiring freeze: The era of explosive hiring at Meta/Facebook is over, it seems. The company will freeze hiring and “restructure some groups” internally, Zuckerberg reportedly announced during an internal all-hands this week.
- Hacker hits Fast Company, sends awful push notifications: If you got a particularly vulgar push notification from Fast Company by way of Apple News this week, it’s because a hacker managed to breach the outlet’s content management system. The hacker also apparently published a (now pulled) post on Fast Company outlining how they got in.
- NASA hits an asteroid: If we needed to hit an asteroid from millions of miles away — to, say, change its course and steer it away from Earth — could we do it? NASA proved they could do just that this week, smashing a purpose-built spacecraft into an asteroid at 14,700 mph. The asteroid in question was never believed to be a threat to Earth, but these are the kinds of things you want tested before they’re necessary.
- Microsoft confirms Exchange vulnerabilities: “Microsoft has confirmed two unpatched Exchange Server zero-day vulnerabilities are being exploited by cybercriminals in real-world attacks,” writes Carly. Even worse? There’s no patch yet, though MSFT says one has been put on an “accelerated timeline” and offers temporary mitigation measures in the meantime.
Didn’t have time to tune in to all of TechCrunch’s podcasts this week? Here’s what you might’ve missed:
- Evernote and mmhmm co-founder Phil Libin joined us on Found to share what he’s learned about remote work and why he’ll “never go to work in the metaverse.”
- The Chain Reaction crew went deep on why crypto exchange FTX bid billions on a bankrupt company’s assets.
- Amanda joined Darrell on the TechCrunch Podcast to explore whether Tumblr was reversing its controversial porn ban (spoiler: no), and Devin hopped on to talk all about NASA’s wild anti-asteroid test mission.
What hides behind the TechCrunch+ paywall? Lots of really great stuff! It’s where we get to step away from the unrelenting news cycle and go a bit deeper on the stuff you tell us you like most. The most-read TC+ stuff this week?
- Is Silicon Valley really losing its crown?: A provocative question, one asked all the more after COVID flipped the switch on widespread remote work pretty much overnight. Alex dives into the investor data to see where the money is going, and whether or not that’s changed.
- Investors hit the brakes on productivity software: It’s an Alex Wilhelm double feature this week! After a few quarters of consistent investment growth, it seems investor interest in productivity tools might be waning. Why? Alex looks at why/how investment in the vertical has shifted.
Google’s Helpful Content & Core Updates [Webinar]
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