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Is this idea big enough? • TechCrunch

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One could probably argue that Floodgate, the Bay Area-based seed-stage venture firm, punches above its weight. The roughly 15-year-old firm has just around $500 million in assets under management — including a $150 million fund that it quietly closed in January — and it makes just a handful of new investments each year. Yet with investments in Okta, Lyft and Starkware, which was valued at $8 billion in May, among others, its concentrated approach appears to be paying off.

Writing so few checks, particular in a booming market, might prove frustrating to some investors. But over the years, it has forced Floodgate’s small team to sort through many thousands of pitches and identify those it thinks have the most potential. Now, co-founding partner Ann Miura-Ko and Tyler Whittle, a senior associate with the firm, have developed a new program to help student teams similarly develop an understanding of what big ideas look like — and why most concepts are not big ideas.

Called Reactor, the program combines curriculum from classes Miura-Ko teaches at the Stanford School of Engineering and consists of two components – a pre-summer lecture series and a summer accelerator. Indeed, this past summer, 10 teams showed up at Floodgate’s offices for 10 weeks to built and test startups and, in some cases, ditch it all.

To get more details about the program — and also to hear Miura-Ko’s current perspective on the seed-stage startup scene right now —  we talked with her earlier this week. Our chat has been lightly edited for length.

TC: This summer, you invited a lot of students to work on startup ideas with you here in the Bay Area. Were you incubating companies together? How did the whole thing work?

AM: We went to a builders community we’d built the year before, and to [Stanford’s] engineering school [where I teach], and to the CS department at a number of universities and said, ‘Hey, if you’re interested in being a future founder, and you’re a great builder, then we are interested in talking to you.’ The main message there was: ‘We don’t need you to actually have an idea that you’re working on. We just want you to be an amazing builder with an incredible amount of curiosity.’ Partially, [that’s because] you need to be able to build fast and actually throw away product [sometimes] but you also have to be curious about the history of the industry that you’re working in. . .

The aim is to help them identify big ideas. What is your definition of a big idea and how do you know when you see it?

I’ve come to realize that there are two types of businesses that can actually become really big. One is: you have an idea, and most people actually already understand this idea, but you’re just operationally better, and so you out execute everyone else. What I realized is that as a seed investor, we don’t really have an advantage investing into those companies because we don’t see enough of the operations to know who is best at operating that kind of startup. So when founders hear, ‘[You] need a little bit more traction before we make a decision,’ that’s most likely because you are running a business that is more operationally focused, versus the second type, which I believe is insights focused.

An insights-led  business is really about identifying what we call an inflection point, which has a few components to it. First, there is some sort of change event that has happened. It could be technical — CRISPR got invented — or a regulatory change event, like telemedicine across state lines is allowed, or it could be societal. The most common one that people point to now is just work from home.

The change event makes a new feature possible, or it makes it possible for a product to be built cheaper or faster, or you could also have a completely different business model that’s made possible. [For example] you license it out versus having to pay for it on a monthly basis, or vice versa. Or the business ecosystem fundamentally changes.

When that happens, if you can tie it [that inflection point and change event to], ‘This is therefore going to create a fundamental pull and adoption of my product in the next two to three years,’ now you have an insight that seed investors should be [funding]. [And] that’s the type of thing that we’re really looking for our students to really figure out.

Are you funding these students?

Yes. We are writing $50,000 checks into all of the companies, and then a bunch of them will just say at the end, ‘We’re not going to do this anymore’ and in that case close up shop. [But] we had two companies that are [going concerns] with investment from from us, and then one that might actually take on additional investment and one that [already] took an outside investment. And so we have four companies that are continuing to operate out of 10.

How much of a stake does that $50,000 buy you?

We’re still revising that for next year, so I don’t want to put a pin in what we’re going to do. But it is a SAFE note. And then for the follow-on financing, it ranges in terms of what the person needs and also [it’s tied to] when we invest into that company, so it ranges in valuation, as well.

Four out of 10 is a pretty good hit rate. Were these students primarily from Stanford?

What’s really wonderful about it is that we did have Stanford students, but we had students from University of Texas, with other students from Yale and Penn and the University of Texas, so it it actually spanned multiple different universities . . . and we’re really excited to try to expand to as many universities as possible. One interesting piece that we learned is that Stanford students are just very well-educated when it comes to startups. The beauty of having Stanford students within this network was that our Stanford students pulled the other students into the networks that the Stanford students are so fortunate to have.

I remember talking to a 19-year-old Stanford student, probably 10 years ago now, who said he felt pressured to become a founder because of the culture at the school. Does that concern you?

Yes. That’s why I really mindfully designed it so you have a way out. I think it’s so important to recognize that not everyone is supposed to be a founder. And in fact, in the relationships that I have with my students, I will tell certain students who I know really well, ‘You have these incredible skill sets that are so unique and not found in many people that you should go to a large company; you will have so much impact there.’ I will actually directly counsel students not to become founders [because] it’s such a specific desire or [requires] such a specific skill set in a specific moment that from my own personal perspective, it shouldn’t be for everyone.

I agree with you. I think there is to some extent a major push for people who are technical [and] for people who have good ideas to head in that direction. But my hope is that really by giving them this kind of exposure, they can figure out if there is a founder within.

Out of curiosity, does Floodgate use scouts? 

We do not have a Scout program. I guess our network of friends and family and founders is technically our scouts. But we don’t have a financial program the way many people do. I have this sort of network of ‘unpartners’ who I  meet up with on a regular basis — these are angel investors and investors at small funds — and what we do is we will literally share three or four interesting companies that we’ve looked at in the last two weeks. And then we’re sharing with one another how we would diligence it. And if the other people are interested in looking at the company, we invite them in.

Somewhat relatedly, Y Combinator just wrapped up its latest Demo Day. As a seed investor, do you follow YC closely? What do you think of the organization as it exists today?

I think they provide a tremendous service to founders, and I think people who want to get exposure get [it]. I have a lot of respect for the product that they offer, and the community that they offer, and the way in which fundraising is enabled as a result of that.

For me, it’s just a harder platform to engage with. If I’m only making two to five investments a year, being asked to put in a check with a rolling SAFE note that, if I sign  tonight, you know, is one valuation and if I sign tomorrow, it’s at another, and [the founders] don’t even really know me, but they’re willing to sign on with me — like, none of that feels quite right. So the ones who I’ve been engaging with are actually founders who I knew even before they got into YC.

But I do see why founders love it and I think that there’s tremendous work that they put into the product and I would not count out YC. I know every year, some people say the classes are too big and everything is too diluted and expensive. But you know that in every group, there’s going to be one or two runaway hits.



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Meta plans hiring freeze, NASA shoots an asteroid, and Elon’s texts about Twitter are made public • TechCrunch

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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.

most read

  • 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.

audio roundup

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.

techcrunch+

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.



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Telegram cuts subscription cost by more than half in India • TechCrunch

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Telegram has cut the monthly subscription fee for its premium tier by more than half in India, just months after introducing the offering as it attempts to aggressively cash in on a large user base in one of its biggest markets.

In a message to users in India on Saturday, Telegram said it was making the subscription available in the country at a discount. The monthly subscription now costs customers 179 Indian rupees ($2.2), down from 469 Indian rupees ($5.74) earlier. The app’s monthly subscription, called Telegram Premium, costs between $4.99 to $6 in every other market.

Users who have not received the message are also seeing the new price in the settings section of the app, they said and TechCrunch independently verified.

India is one of the largest markets for Telegram. The instant messaging app has amassed over 120 million monthly active users in the country, according to analytics firm data.ai. (An industry executive shared the figures with TechCrunch.) That figure makes the app the second most popular in its category in the country, only second to WhatsApp, which has courted over half a billion users in the South Asian market.

Telegram, which claims to have amassed over 700 million monthly active users globally, introduced the optional subscription offering in June this year in a move it hopes will improve its finances and continuing to support a free tier. Premium customers gain access to a wide-range of additional features such as the ability to follow up to 1,000 channels, send larger files (4GB) and faster download speeds.

The Dubai-headquartered firm joins a list of global tech firms that offer their services for lower cost in India. Apple’s music app charges $1.2 for the individual monthly plan in the country, whereas Netflix’s offerings starts at as low as $1.83 in the country.



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Welcome to spooky season in startups • TechCrunch

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Welcome to Startups Weekly, a fresh human-first take on this week’s startup news and trends. To get this in your inbox, subscribe here.

A multibillion dollar acquisition, IPO projections and some good ol’ VC and billionaire drama?

It would be unfair to say that this week in tech and startups felt like 2021’s boom cycle; especially when you look at layoffs coming from Truepill, its fourth this year, and Meta announcing that it will freeze hiring. At the same time, it does feel like there’s a new feeling in the air. Heck, NFT marketplaces are still raising money. 

The market is not dull, but it’s not loud; and the mood among my sources is certainly closer to spooky than it is to savage. Besides the fact that, yes, I did grow up writing poetry about fall foliage before deciding that I wanted to be a journalist, I’m saying all this to validate the nuance of this moment.

The ideas that I’m looking toward throughout the end of the year are as follows:

  • What happened to the black swan memos? In the early innings of the economic downturn, investors turned to portfolio companies to warn of an increasingly volatile environment. That conversation hasn’t disappeared, but it has certainly gotten quieter, with many investors now telling me that there’s a super surge of financing on the way. So, what’s the new guidance that is being sent to portfolio companies?
  • What’s the human side of the layoff story? My colleagues Mary Ann and Christine gave us all an important lesson this week, which is that stories about workforce reductions should not revolve around the employer. The duo wrote about the human cost of Better.com’s layoff spree — full story here — and I’m not-so-subtly going to steal this idea. I want to talk to people impacted by tech’s 2022 layoff wave and hear what next steps look like. I hear it’s a lot more complicated than “you should’ve known your company was overhyped to begin with.”
  • Finally, what are startups preparing to actually do differently? I’m guilty of this, but we often speak about startups and tech with generalizations, slightly hedged by explaining that it’s useful for directional purposes. I want to know what startups learned this year and are tactically doing differently. Spending with more discipline or focusing on the product doesn’t count; give me specifics, and better yet, tell me what you are disagreeing with your investors on.

Do let me know what yours are by tweeting at me or responding to this post. If you missed last week’s newsletter, read it here: “Tiger Global, fickle checks and the difficulty of acceleration.” We also recorded a companion podcast, here: “Building startups in public has an end date.”

In today’s newsletter, we’ll talk about the beauty of pivots, a creative way to prove that your startup hires entrepreneurial people and the latest from 500 global.

If you like this newsletter, do me a quick favor? Forward it to a friend, share it on Twitter and tag me so I can thank you for reading myself!

A reminder that pivots work

TC’s Rebecca Szkutak wrote about how a pivot helped HopSkipDrive win a difficult pitch to parents: Trust your kids with our ride-sharing services.

Here’s why it’s important: As we discussed in our latest Equity podcast, sometimes we’re all just a Hop, Skip and a Drive away from success. The “Uber for X” model has been MIA for a few years now, so the story behind HopSkipDrive and its trusty partner stands out to me. Who said schools weren’t experimental!

Image Credits: Ivan Bajic (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

A different version of CVC, I guess

News broke this week that Cloudflare gathered $1.25 billion in financing for startups that use its own platform. Well, kind of.

Here’s why it’s important: The security, performance and reliability company didn’t raise a corporate venture fund, typical of other companies looking to breed entrepreneur attention. Instead, Cloudflare just got dozens of venture firms to offer to invest up to $1.25 billion to companies in their existing funds. It’s a little softer than a traditional investment vehicle, given that we don’t know how formal those offers of support are, and the fact that Cloudflare is not providing any funding or making any funding decisions.

To me, the commitment just tells us that Cloudflare wants to show startups that it doesn’t just make sense to use their software, it makes cents.

Image Credits: Getty Images

The follow-up

I’m experimenting with a new section in Startups Weekly, where each week we follow up with an old story or trend to see what’s changed since our first look. This week, we’re following up on our conversation about accelerator and demo days with a look at how 500 Global, formerly 500 Startups, thinks about it.

Here’s what’s new: It’s been a little over a year since accelerator 500 Startups rebranded to 500 Global in an attempt to reposition itself as a venture firm. In my latest for TechCrunch+, I spoke to Clayton Bryan, partner and head of 500 Global’s accelerator program, about how they keep up with competition. Excerpt down below!

The investor highlighted the effectiveness of rolling admissions, which its two main accelerator competitors, Y Combinator and Techstars, don’t do. Three years ago, 500 Global said it would decide on investments all year instead of just twice yearly. Demo days will still happen biannually, but startups can choose which demo day they want to be a part of.

“That change has really resonated with founders,” Bryan said. He compared the previous version of 500 Global to a school with an annual schedule: There are times when you’re doing homework, times when you sit back and recruit, and summer vacation. Now, it’s year-round, and he admits it’s more challenging to manage, “but at the same time, much more appreciated by the founders.”

“I do think it makes us more competitive,” he said. “We can more frequently talk to founders and they can start our program at different points in time. They don’t have to wait for that application to open or that deadline. Whereas [with] some other programs, they might say, ‘Hey, wait for a couple more months so we’re accepting applications again.’ I think that openness and flexibility gives us a bit of an advantage.”

Startups employees should keep an eye on tax rules

Image Credits: bestdesigns / Getty Images

A few notes

We’re less than one month away from TechCrunch Disrupt, and I’m already emotional. It’s going to be a blast, a pep talk, a realization and a week not to miss. Here’s the full agenda, and here’s where you can get your tickets.

  • First up, use code “STARTUPS” for a special reader discount for Disrupt tickets. We’re less than one month away!
  • We also have a special for those impacted by layoffs. If you were laid off, go here to get a free ticket to TechCrunch Disrupt’s Expo.

While I have you, let’s talk some more. As you know, I co-host Equity, which goes out thrice a week and is TC’s longest-running podcast. We have some besties to listen to, too, including our crypto-focused show that goes by Chain Reaction and founder-focused show that goes by Found. The TechCrunch Podcast is also a can’t miss, so pay attention to all the good shows that they’re putting out. 

Seen on TechCrunch

Here are some of the cringiest revelations in the Elon Musk text dump

Why build a fintech any more when you can just raise €20M and white-label it to banks?

Instagram permanently disabled Pornhub’s account

EV charging deals keep coming, Ford squeezed by shortages and Kitty Hawk shuts down

Crypto platform Nexo sued by New York, California and six other US regulators 

Seen on TechCrunch+

Treepz founder Onyeka Akumah on how to succeed in transportation tech

What can the 2000 dot-com crash teach us about the 2022 tech downturn? 

Europe’s inaugural Women in VC Summit is the first step in a long climb toward equity

Venture investors hit the brakes on productivity software

Same time, same web page, next week?

N

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch



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Tesla’s robot strategy is inextricably tied to its Autopilot strategy, for better or for worse • TechCrunch

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Tesla unveiled its first prototype of its Optimus humanoid robot on Friday — an actual robot this time, by the strictest definition, instead of a flesh and blood human clad in a weird suit. The robot performed some basic functions, including walking a little bit and then raising its hands — all for the first time without supports or a crane, according to Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

The company may be taking its first early steps into humanoid robotics, but it has a lot riding on the business. Musk has said that the Optimus bot will eventually be more valuable “than the car business, worth more than FSD (Tesla’s add-on ‘Full Self-Driving” feature, which is not self driving.)

What was apparent at the event Friday night is that Tesla is making the economically wise, but strategically questionable decision to yoke together the destinies of both Optimus and its Autopilot (and by extension, FSD) ambitions.

Tesla suggested that the reason it’s been able to move so quickly in the robotics world is that it has already laid a lot of the groundwork in its work attempting to develop automated driving for vehicles.

“Think about it. We’re just moving from wheels to our legs,” explained one of the company’s engineers. “So some of the components are pretty similar […] It’s exactly the same occupancy network. Now we’ll talk a little bit more details later with Autopilot team […] The only thing that changed really is the training data.”

It was a recurring theme throughout the presentation, with various presenters from Tesla (the company trotted out many, as is maybe to be expected for an event billed primarily as a recruiting exercise) bringing up how closely tied the two realms of research and development actually are.

In truth, what Tesla showed with its robot on stage at the event was a very brief demo that barely matched and definitely didn’t exceed a large number of humanoid robot demonstrations from other companies over the years, including most famously Boston Dynamics. And the linkage between FSD and Optimus is a tenuous one, at best.

The domain expertise, while reduced to a simple translation by Tesla’s presentation, is actually quite a complex one. Bipedal robots navigating pedestrian routes is a very different beast from autonomous vehicle routes, and oversimplifying the connection does a disservice to the immense existing body of research and development work on the subject.

Tesla’s presenters consistently transitioned relatively seamlessly between Optimus and its vehicles’ autonomous navigation capabilities. One of the key presenters for Optimus was Milan Kovac, the company’s director of Autopilot Software Engineering, who handed off to fellow Autopilot director Ashok Elluswamy to dive further into Tesla vehicular Autopilot concerns.

It’s very clear that Tesla believes this is a linked challenge that will result in efficiencies the market will appreciate as it pursues both problems. The reality is that there remains a lot of convincing to do to actually articulate that the linkages are more than surface-deep.

Not to mention, Autopilot (and more specifically, FSD) faces its own challenges in terms of public and regulatory skepticism and scrutiny. A robot you live with daily in close proximity doesn’t need that kind of potential risk.

Tesla may have turned its man-in-a-suite into a real robot with actual actuators and processors, but it still has a ways to go to make good on the promise that it’s a viable product with a sub-$20,000 price tag any of us will ever be able to purchase.



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It’s AI day for Tesla, but we’re here for the cringey texts  • TechCrunch

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To get a roundup of TechCrunch’s biggest and most important stories delivered to your inbox every day at 3 p.m. PDT, subscribe here.

Happy Friday! We don’t know about you, but we are both ready for some R&R after ploughing through a wall of deep-cringe texts from the Musk/Twitter trial. We hope you get some, too, this weekend.

This afternoon, Tesla is running its second AI day. Last year’s was a hoot, and we have some predictions for what’s coming down the pipe today, too. — Christine and Haje

The TechCrunch Top 3

  • Under attack: Microsoft confirmed that it “is aware” of some attacks to its Exchange server. Carly is staying on top of the story and reports that there is “no immediate fix.”
  • Eyeing that sweet capital: Manish has a scoop that Uniswap Labs, a decentralized exchange, is going after over $100 million in new funding.
  • Stream on: YouTube TV is offering a new à la carte option that enables subscribers to purchase stand-alone networks without subscribing to the full channel lineup in its Base plan, Lauren reports.

Startups and VC

When insurtech company Metromile went public via a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) in February last year, it was valued at over $1 billion. A year and five months later, Lemonade acquired the company for less than $145 million. And yet, things aren’t as bleak as they might seem, Anna reports.

This year, 40% of the world’s population will play games, with total spending nearing $200 billion. The purveyors of web3 want a slice of this gargantuan market, Rita reports. She writes that criticisms of the first generation of crypto games have been well documented, so the question for developers now is what decentralized games should look like.

Let’s do a few more, shall we? Go on, then:

8 investors weigh in on the state of insurtech in Q3 2022

Image Credits: Warchi (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Some services are in such demand, it can insulate their providers against the vagaries of the market. During an economic downturn, consumers don’t cut back on pet food or toilet paper. Similarly, everyone needs some form of insurance.

Between 2016 and 2022, insurtech startups received around $43 billion in funding, and despite the downturn, most of the investors that reporter Anna Heim recently surveyed are still positive about the sector’s prospects:

  • Martha Notaras, general partner, Brewer Lane Ventures
  • David Wechsler, principal, OMERS Ventures
  • Stephen Brittain and Rob Lumley, directors and co-founders, Insurtech Gateway
  • Florian Graillot, founding partner, Astorya.vc
  • Clarisse Lam, associate, NewAlpha Asset Management
  • Hélène Falchier, partner, Portage Ventures
  • Adam Blumencranz, partner, Distributed Ventures

“We are simply seeing a reality check happen,” said Wechsler. “Unfortunately, there are many companies that should not have raised as much as they did, or perhaps don’t have sustainable business models. These companies will struggle to survive.”

Three more from the TC+ team:

TechCrunch+ is our membership program that helps founders and startup teams get ahead of the pack. You can sign up here. Use code “DC” for a 15% discount on an annual subscription!

Big Tech Inc.

SoftBank has been doing some readjusting to company valuations lately, but the latest adjusting is happening with its own company. Kate reports that SoftBank’s Vision Fund is reportedly laying off 30% of its workforce even as it considers a third fund.

Here are five more for you:



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Astra brings on new CFO as it looks to scale launch and propulsion businesses • TechCrunch

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Astra is bringing on Silicon Valley veteran Axel Martinez as its new Chief Financial Officer, a C-suite change that in many ways demarcates a new chapter for the space company.

Martinez’s career includes a decade tenure at Google, where he held multiple roles including head of capital markets; VP of treasury at Uber; and CFO at Virgin’s Hyperloop One. Most recently, he was CFO at home building startup Veev. Current Astra CFO Kelyn Brannon will finish out this financial quarter before Martinez takes up the position at the start of Q4.

A person with knowledge of the change told TechCrunch that hiring Martinez, who has deep experience with capital markets, is a strategic move for Astra as it navigates capital management and scaling its launch, propulsion and space products businesses.

In many ways, Brannon seemed tailor-made for Astra as it shifted from a startup to a public company; according to her LinkedIn, she’s assisted multiple companies navigate their entrance to the public markets. Indeed, she guided Astra through its merger with blank-check firm Holicity in 2021, in a deal that injected the company with around $500 million. The SPAC deal also had a notably small number of redemptions, which totaled just a little over $100,000, according to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

But Astra is firmly in a new stage – and the markets are, too. Capital has become very expensive; there’s now a more high-pressure and risk-averse equity environment, where raising cash may not be as easy as it was even at the beginning of this year. Meanwhile, many space investors and private companies have cooled on SPAC deals, with Italian company D-Orbit and weather satellite analytics company Tomorrow.io reversing their merger plans this year (though it should be noted that Intuitive Machines will be moving forward with its SPAC).

Much of this cooling is due to plummeting stock prices and valuations for companies that went public through SPAC mergers. That includes Astra, whose shares have steeply fallen since its debut on the Nasdaq last July. At the end of the company’s first day on the market, stock was trading at $12.90 per share; by close of market Thursday, it had fallen to just $0.62 per share. Market confidence in Astra has been further shaken by a handful of launch failures, most recently a mission in June to launch two Earth science CubeSats for NASA under the agency’s TROPICS program.

All told, Astra ended last quarter with around $200 million on hand and no debt. The company has been investing a lot of capital over the last few quarters, expanding its 25,000 square foot rocket factory in Alameda, California, building a dedicated 60,000-foot rocket engine factory and growing its workforce by 300. The task now before it is figuring out how to best position itself amid an increasingly crowded field of players, both on the launch services and rocket engine sides, and how to deploy that existing capital to bring the company real revenue growth. Astra’s hoping Martinez will be the right talent to navigate these choppy waters.



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Binance founder Changpeng ‘CZ’ Zhao shares his vision of web3 opportunities at TC Sessions: Crypto • TechCrunch

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When it comes to the decentralized world of crypto, few single entities loom larger or carry more weight in the industry than exchange behemoth Binance. The blockchain giant processed $34 trillion in trading volume in 2021, it says, and the exchange shows few signs of resting on its laurels as it pursues bold new bets to diversify its business.

At the forefront of these changes is Binance founder and CEO Changpeng Zhao.

The leader, commonly known as “CZ,” has managed to cultivate a celebrity status in the crypto space rivaled only by some of the space’s patron saints, including the pseudonymous Satoshi Nakamoto and Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin. Zhao is worth an estimated $65 billion.

We’re thrilled to welcome Changpeng Zhao to TC Sessions: Crypto 2022 in Miami on November 17. CZ will join our stage virtually and we’re looking forward to discussing global market opportunities in a bear market, the regulatory challenges up ahead and where opportunities are (and aren’t) in web3.

Binance has been extremely busy in 2022, even amid a crash in cryptocurrency prices and macroeconomic uncertainty.

The company has continued to diversify its offerings and scour for new markets. In recent months, the company’s stateside entity Binance.US earned new investment as it strives to topple incumbents like Coinbase.

Competitors have also been taking notice. And while Binance sits comfortably atop the market for crypto exchanges, rising competitors like FTX are looking to find new opportunities to increase their market share, pursuing bold M&A strategies and scaling venture investments.

The exchange’s breakneck growth has attracted the attention of regulators as well, particularly in the United States. This summer, Bloomberg reported that the SEC was investigating Binance’s 2017 coin offering of their BNB token. That ecosystem is now the third-largest non-stablecoin cryptocurrency by market cap with a value north of $40 billion.

TC Sessions: Crypto takes place on November 17 in Miami. Take advantage of our special launch pricing — save $250 on General Admission passes while supplies lastBuy your pass today, and then join the web3, DeFi and NFT communities to keep up with the ever-evolving and always exciting cryptoverse.

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at TC Sessions: Crypto? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.



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