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SharePlay arrives, Android Dev Summit wraps, Snap and TikTok go to Congress – TechCrunch

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Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy.

The app industry continues to grow, with a record 218 billion downloads and $143 billion in global consumer spend in 2020. Consumers last year also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone. And in the U.S., app usage surged ahead of the time spent watching live TV. Currently, the average American watches 3.7 hours of live TV per day, but now spends four hours per day on their mobile devices.

Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re also a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus. In 2020, investors poured $73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that’s up 27% year-over-year.

This Week in Apps offers a way to keep up with this fast-moving industry in one place with the latest from the world of apps, including news, updates, startup fundings, mergers and acquisitions, and suggestions about new apps and games to try, too.

Do you want This Week in Apps in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here: techcrunch.com/newsletters

Apple SharePlay Arrives

Image Credits: Apple

Apple’s new FaceTime feature SharePlay wasn’t immediately available with the iOS 15 launch, as it needed a bit more polish. But with this week’s release of iOS 15.1, SharePlay — and a number of mobile app updates ready to support it — have finally arrived. The feature makes using Apple’s video calling platform more interactive and could help to potentially lock in users to Apple’s ecosystem.

As with many Apple features, SharePlay is easy to use despite the complicated technology powering the new system that runs under the hood. With the tap of a button on FaceTime’s controls, you can start sharing your device’s screen on your call or you can just switch over to the app you want to co-watch with a friend — the app alerts you upon arrival that it supports SharePlay as well as how to get started.

While screen sharing, you can view your screen or other apps together. However, you won’t have a good experience trying to co-watch videos this way due to lags. Apple also smartly blocks other viewers from seeing your incoming notifications or any kind of application pop-ups or dialogs, as they may contain sensitive information. And everything is end-to-end encrypted, so you can feel comfortable screen sharing in a business setting, not just a personal one. (And this will be further improved when SharePlay arrives on macOS Monterey later this fall.)

If anything, the biggest obstacle to using SharePlay at launch is simply availability.

Apple has a robust lineup of launch partners for the new addition — but unless you’ve happened across the App Store’s editorial round-up of SharePlay-enabled apps (do a search for “shareplay” to find it), you may not know if your favorite app is “SharePlay ready” as of yet.

Initially, SharePlay is rolling out to apps, including Apple TV+, Apple Fitness, TikTok, NBA: Live Games & Scores, Paramount+, Showtime, Kahoot!, Cameo, SmartGym, Flow, Moon FM, MUBI, Digital Concert Hall, Piano with Friends, Relax Melodies, LookUp, Heads Up!, CARROT Weather, Apollo, Night Sky and others. Disney+ will soon support SharePlay, as will ESPN, HBO Max, Hulu, MasterClass, Twitch, Pluto TV and more.

While that’s pretty decent right out of the gate, it is missing one key player: Netflix.

You have to wonder what’s going there — is it in the works? Being held back as a negotiating tactic? Is Netflix…just not interested? As you might recall, Netflix was one of the few streamers that didn’t add a native co-watching feature (or at least officially partner with another software maker) during the pandemic, while everyone else was busy building remote social experiences. Competitors like Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, Plex, HBO and others rolled out co-viewing experiences. But Netflix sat out the trend, despite the growing popularity of third-party co-viewing apps like Netflix Party. With Netflix’s more recent slower growth following the pandemic’s peak, you would think the company would see SharePlay as a potential source of new user acquisition.

After all, SharePlay can be used to offer a free user without an account a way to co-watch with a paid subscriber, if that’s what the developer wants. This, in turn, could then be used to push the free user to buy a subscription after some time has passed — like after they got hooked on some exclusive shows, perhaps. It seems like a no-brainer to offer support for this sort of thing — but perhaps Netflix is building out its own version where it can collect more data as a first-party experience. Time will tell.

In the meantime, the SharePlay feature could appeal to younger people who already use FaceTime the way older people use the Phone app, and who are comfortable multi-tasking on their devices.

In-App Events Go Live

Image Credits: Apple

A whole new way to market apps has now appeared on the App Store. On Wednesday, the first in-app events began appearing on the App Store, giving users a new way to find out what’s happening inside their favorite apps and games right now. At launch, Rise of Kingdoms and Pokémon GO are promoting Halloween special events, for example, as are others. But in-app events could also be used to promote things like movie premieres or live sports in the future. When users tap a new event card on the App Store (in iOS 15 or iPadOS 15), they’ll be taken directly to the event taking place. They can also tap “Notify Me” to get alerts when upcoming events go live, share events with friends or add them to their calendar app.

Other games adopting the feature include Call of Duty: Mobile, PUBG Mobile, Clash Royale and Genshin Impact and soon, so will apps like Tinder, TikTok, Disney+, Hulu, Paramount+, HBO Max and ESPN.

Platforms: Apple

  • Apple released iOS 15.2 and iPadOS 15.2 beta 1, as well as watchOS 8.3. One of the biggest new features to arrive in the iOS/iPadOS beta is the App Privacy Report. First announced at WWDC, the report will show users what apps are up to — that is, which sensitive data they request, which sensors they’re using and which domains they’re contacting to possibly share that information further. Other new features include an updated Emergency SOS call feature; and an easier to read, card-style Notification Summary.
  • Apple released iOS 15.1 and iPadOS 15.1 to the general public, bringing support for SharePlay, ProRes video capture, the ability to disable automatic camera switching to Macro mode, support for COVID vaccination cards and test results in Wallet and many other improvements.
  • Apple also released iOS 14.8.1 and iPadOS 14.8.1, with several critical security updates, making good on its promise to keep people on older software up to date with necessary fixes.
  • Apple now lets you review more of its default apps, including Phone, Messages, Photos and Safari, among others, including default Watch apps. The company had earlier rolled out a selection of its apps as standalone downloads with support for ratings and reviews, to put Apple on a more even playing field with regard to competitors amid regulatory scrutiny over its App Store. Most of the new apps are doing well in reviews so far, as people seem to appreciate the functionality provided by Apple’s default experiences.
  • Apple refreshed its set of design resources for iOS 15 on a revamped website that makes it easier to find the things you need, like templates or fonts. The site includes new templates, libraries, fonts and other iOS 15-specific resources and components.
  • The company also opened Apple Entrepreneur Camp applications for one of three newly announced online cohorts for Black, Hispanic/Latinx, or female founders starting late January 2022.

Platforms: Google

  • Google held its annual Android Dev Summit this week, where it announced a series of updates for developers. The summit included over 30 Technical Talks to help developers build apps that run across devices and learn about the latest in developer tools.
  • Google announced the 12L, an OS designed for large screens, along with a set of tools, at the Dev Summit event.
  • The company also released the first alpha of Compose Material 3, which offers “Material Design 3 styled components and theme, enabling Material You personalization features like dynamic color.” Google also released the first beta version of Jetpack Compose 1.1, which has features like “stretch overscroll for Android 12, improved touch-target sizing, experimental lazy layout animations,” and others. And Compose for Wear OS is now in developer preview.

Augmented Reality

Image Credits: Snap

  • Snapchat rolled out Halloween AR Lenses, including those for finding a Halloween costume through AR in partnership with Walmart, a Halloween World Lens, one with The Home Depot’s 12-foot Skeletons, a transforming “Werewolf Lens,” a Lens for decorating your home in AR, a spooky fashion Lens, and others with candy brands like Mars-Wrigley, Skittles, Starburst and Reese’s.

Fintech

  • Robinhood reported a revenue miss for its third-quarter earnings, sending the stock down 8% in after-hours trading on Tuesday. The company reported total net revenue at $365 million, versus the $431.5 million Wall Street expected. Revenues were up 35% year over year but were below the second quarter’s revenue of $565 million.

Social

Image Credits: Instagram

  • Instagram will now allow all users to share links in their Instagram Stories via the new Link Stickers, making the final move away from the “swipe up to read” gesture. The feature was previously limited to select creators.
  • TikTok is testing a new direct tipping feature with select creators. The feature lets fans tip favorite creators outside of TikTok LIVE streams where gifting is already available.
  • TikTok brings its Video Kit feature to desktop, web and consoles, in addition to its previous support for mobile apps. The expansion will allow professional creators and others to use a variety of editing and collaboration tools to make their TikTok videos, which they can then publish directly using the “Share to TikTok” functionality provided by the SDK. Early adopters include Clipchamp, Combo, Grabyo, Kapwing, Mobcrush and LG U+.
  • Twitter’s subscription service Blue adds a “Labs” feature that provides early access to tools Twitter is considering for the premium service. The first two Labs features include the ability to pin favorite DM conversations on iOS to the top of your DM inbox and support for longer video uploads (up to 10 mins.) on desktop.
  • Twitter said it added 5 million users in its third quarter, to reach average monetizable DAUs (its own metric) of 221 million, up 13% year-over-year. Revenue increased 37% to $1.28 billion, as the company noted Apple’s privacy changes with ATT only had a “modest impact” on its business.
  • Snapchat now has 100 million MAUs in India, and is partnering with Flipkart and Android smartphone vendors to increase adoption.
  • Facebook reported a miss on revenue, citing Apple’s privacy changes as one cause, ahead of its big announcement about a shift to focus on its metaverse and VR products and a rebranding of the company to “Meta.” Facebook reported $29 billion in total revenue and earnings per share of $3.22, calculated on a diluted basis. Investors had expected revenues of $29.58 billion and earnings per share of $3.19.

Messaging

Streaming & Entertainment

  • Spotify says its service is now used more by U.S. podcast listeners than Apple Podcasts. The company made the announcement during its Q3 earnings, citing its own internal data and Edison Research (where it’s a client). It did not say how many podcast listeners it had, but noted MAUs overall grew 19% year-over-year to reach 381 million in the quarter, up from 365 million last year. Premium subscribers also grew 19% to reach 172 million, up from 165 million last year. Spotify revenue was $2.9 billion in the quarter, up 27% year-over-year, with ad sales rising 75% to reach $374 million, at the top end of its guidance.
  • Clubhouse added a new Pinned Links feature that allows room creators and moderators to share URLs at the top of the room’s pages, similar to how Twitter Spaces users can add tweets to their live audio sessions.
  • Amazon is working on a Clubhouse competitor codenamed Project Mic, The Verge reported. The new app would let anyone make and distribute live radio shows that include music, which users can listen to through Audible, Amazon Music, Twitch and Alexa devices.

Dating

  • Match-owned dating app Hinge introduces a new “Voice Prompts” feature that gives users a new way to interact, by answering a prompt through a 30-second recording. The company hopes the voice feature will give users a peek into someone’s personality and hint at what a first date might be like.
  • Chinese dating app Lesdo, designed for lesbian women, announced it was shutting down. This specific niche of online dating has failed to scale and make a profit in the country, despite a potential audience of 10 million in China. Contributing to the problem of scale is a hostile environment for the LGBTQ+ community, as Beijing has pressured charities not to work with queer activists and WeChat deactivated queer groups’ public accounts, Protocol reported.
  • Tinder continued to lead the dating app market with the highest number of paid subscribers, followed by Match.com, according to new data shared by Bloomberg’s Second Measure.

Image Credits: Bloomberg Second Measure

Gaming

  • Google Stadia rolls out a free, 30-minute game trial to woo people to its service. The option is being made available on its exclusive title Hello Engineer as a test, but Google confirmed it would expand the feature to other games in the next couple of months.
  • Amazon Luna’s game streaming service announced plans to add new titles in November, including Carrion, Gris and Mortal Shell: Enhanced Edition on the Luna+ Channel, and PHOGS! on the Family Channel. It also recently rolled out Alien Isolation, Amnesia: Rebirth, Far Cry 6, Olija, Riders Republic and others.

News & Reading

  • Apple News expanded its local news coverage to Charlotte, Miami and Washington, D.C., giving users access to numerous publications such as Axios Charlotte, the Charlotte Observer, Eater Miami, the Miami Herald, DCist, Washingtonian, The Washington Post and others. The company also said it’s expanding Fitness+ and its Apple One Premier subscription bundle to 17 more countries on November 3.

Health & Fitness

  • Apple rolled out support for COVID-19 vaccination cards and test results in Wallet with the release of iOS 15.1. Vaccination and test result records are downloaded in a verifiable format that’s digitally signed by a vaccine or test result provider, Apple says.

Government & Policy

Committee Chairman Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) speaks during a Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security hearing on Protecting Kids Online: Snapchat, TikTok, and YouTube on October 26, 2021 in Washington, DC.

Image Credits: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

  • This week, reps from TikTok, Snap and YouTube faced Congress to talk about how their apps are addressing kids and online safety as the U.S. considers legislation that would require tech companies to offer a safer environment for kids online. One of the highlights from the hearing was listening to senators try to get the companies on the record as to whether or not they support specific legislation, like the upcoming COPPA revamp, which only TikTok fully said “yes” to. When asked about the KIDS Act, which would prevent manipulative marketing (like undisclosed influencer marketing), there was less support. Companies said they would be happy to “look” at the details as if the Act was new, and not something that had already been around for a while.
  • TikTok dodged questions about its plans for biometric data collection during its first-ever Senate hearing. In an update to the company’s U.S. privacy policy in June, TikTok added a new section that noted the app “may collect biometric identifiers and biometric information” from its users’ content, including things like “faceprints and voiceprints.” The company was questioned by multiple lawmakers on this matter during a hearing conducted by the Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security, which was focused on social media’s detrimental impacts on children and teens.
  • The lawmakers also asked YouTube and Snap to defend their apps’ age ratings on the app stores, where they were sometimes rated 13 and up or 17 and up, depending on the platform. Snap was also pressed on whether its content was even appropriate for younger teens, given the app’s Discover page contained content that Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) deemed “wildly inappropriate” for a child, like “recommendations for…an invite to play an online sexualized video game that’s marketed itself to people who are 18 and up; tips on, quote, ‘why you shouldn’t go to bars alone;’ notices for video games that are rated for ages 17 and up; and articles about porn stars,” he said.
  • The senators also asked TikTok, Snap and YouTube how they handled eating disorder content, after Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen‘s document leaks exposed Facebook’s knowledge that Instagram could be dangerous for teenage girls with body image issues.
  • In non-hearing news, Apple is “very likely” going to face a DOJ antitrust lawsuit, The Information reported this week, citing sources with knowledge of the matter.

Security & Privacy

  • Malware-laden “Squid Game”-themed apps have been found in the Google Play Store, including an app for Squid Game wallpaper that infected phones with Joker malware, allowing hackers to sign up the user for premium services they profit from.

? Barcelona-based mobile keyboard software maker Fleksy raised $1.6 million in Series A led by Spanish asset management firm Inveready. The funds will be used to help the company pivot to B2B for its white-label SDK for iOS and Android.

? Social networking app OneRoof, aimed at connecting people in residential buildings, raised $1.2 million in seed funding led by General Catalyst. The app offers a Slack-like hub for messaging with neighbors and is now live in around 400 buildings in NYC.

Indian payments app Paytm is planning to raise as much as $2.4 billion in what could be the country’s biggest IPO, valuing the business at $20 billion. The startup has raised more than $3 billion over the past decade and was last valued at $16 billion.

? Celeb video app Cameo announced its first acquisition. The company is buying marketing and merch company Represent, which helps brands and celebs set up their own individualized storefronts and already has clients like Jennifer Lopez, Ed Sheeran, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matthew McConaughey and Kendall Jenner. Deal terms were not revealed, but Cameo plans to offer “gift bundles” that will allow users to pair videos with related merch.

? Neobanking app Zolve raised $40 million in Series A funding led by DST Global, valuing the startup at $210 million. The app offers a bank account, and debit and credit cards for Indian users working in the U.S., or planning to.

?  Brazilian neobank Nu (aka Nubank) filed to go public. According to its filing, Nu plans to list in the U.S. with intent to “negotiate a program of Brazilian Depositary Receipts” in its home country. In June, Nu raised a $750 million round led by Berkshire Hathaway at a $30 billion valuation.

? Brazilian startup Gringo, which helps drivers monitor and perform services related to their documents and vehicles, raised $8 million in new funding led by Kaszek. The app is used to manage and pay for things like driver licenses, registration and taxes, and now has 2.5 million users.

? Digital physical therapy app Hinge Health raised $400 million in Series E funding led by returning investors Tiger Global and Coatue Management, valuing the startup at $6.2 billion. The app helps people treat chronic musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions, like back and joint pain, and now serves more than 575 enterprise customers.

? Early-stage startup Groopit raised $2 million in pre-seed funding led by Ascend.vc to help companies crowdsource data from the information supplied by employees working in the field. The product can be customized for the individual businesses to gather the kinds of data it needs — and works across mobile and web.

Pikmin Bloom

Niantic’s attempt to once again replicate the success of Pokémon GO, in a way that Harry Potter: Wizards Unite has not really been able to, arrived this week. The company announced the launch of a new AR game Pikmin Bloom in collaboration with Nintendo. The game, like Pokémon GO, encourages users to go outside and explore — but now, instead of capturing Pokémon, they’ll collect seedlings and a squad of “Pikmin” — a sort of plant-animal hybrid creature. As you walk, you’ll leave AR trails of flowers behind you. The game will also later host monthly “Community Days” for Pikmin so users can plant and play together. Overall, the game seems less competitive than Pokémon GO and may be aimed at someone who wants more casual gameplay. The game initially rolled out to Singapore and Australia, then the U.S., and will continue to roll out globally.

Matterport 3D Capture (Android)

Matterport brought its 3D capture app to Android users, which allows customers to digitize their home, office or hotel with any compatible Android device, for free. Homeowners can use the app to create a digital appraisal of their property and everything in it for insurance, space planning or just peace of mind. Meanwhile, builders can plan and manage their construction projects along with designers, contractors and clientele. And real estate agents and rental property managers can quickly capture and publish 3D virtual experiences online, then share them across websites and social networks. The Matterport App for Android is available now on Google Play and can be used with a free account.



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India’s Exponent Energy may have found the secret to 15 min rapid EV charging – TechCrunch

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Bangalore-based Exponent Energy might have come up with a way to deliver 15-minute rapid charging for electric vehicles. The startup, which just raised a $13 million Series A, relies on a combination of its proprietary battery pack and charging infrastructure to achieve such a feat.

Exponent Energy’s business model is geared towards OEMs building commercial EVs for fleet purposes. Ideally, the company works with the OEM to integrate its battery pack, or e^pack, that can then be charged quickly via Exponent’s network of chargers, or e^pumps. Earlier this month, Exponent announced its first partnership with Altigreen, an Indian electric cargo vehicle manufacturer, launching the Exponent-enabled Altigreen neEV HD, a three-wheeler that both companies say can be fully charged, from 0% to 100%, in 15 minutes.

The rub is that the battery pack only charges that quickly when it’s being charged on Exponent’s charging infrastructure — if the e^pack is being charged at a standard charging station, it’ll take about 60 minutes, according to the company. Likewise, the e^pumps don’t deliver the same rapid charge to all EVs, so the two must be scaled side-by-side. This is how Exponent hopes to monetize its energy offerings. It will earn revenue from both the sale of the battery pack to OEMs and the charging on a recurring basis, according to Arun Vinayak, Exponent’s co-founder and CEO.

For comparison, Exponent’s business model is a somewhat similar model to Gogoro, the Taiwanese company that works with OEMs to integrate its swappable batteries into their electric two-wheelers while simultaneously building out swapping stations around the country.

Aside from the monetization logic of including the battery pack and charging infrastructure as a package deal, Vinayak says it just makes sense to do so from a technology perspective.

“15-min rapid charging is a two-sided problem,” said Vinayak. “It’s not just the battery but also the charger. The e^pump delivers 600A of current to the e^pack (15x industry standard) while managing individual cell characteristics including thermals to ensure safety, long battery life and performance consistency even at 50 degrees Celsius. Since our technology is present on both sides, we’re able to manage the flow of energy far more efficiently, safely and rapidly.”

Building out such a network will require funds, which is where Exponent’s Series A comes in. The round, which was led by Lightspeed with participation from YourNest VC, 3one4 Capital and AdvantEdge VC, will be used to scale up the e^pump network to 100 location points in each city Exponent expands into, starting with Bengaluru and eventually making its way to New Delhi, according to Vinayak. The company also aims to deploy 2,000 Exponent-enabled vehicles as part of its partnership with Altigreen.

Vinayak said the e^pack is scalable across multiple form factors, and Exponent Energy is currently in the engineering phase for partnerships in other segments, specifically three-wheeled passenger vehicles and four-wheeled cargo vehicles.

“Our primary focus is commercial vehicles and our primary customer is anyone running a fleet, from a single vehicle owner to an aggregator of 1000s of vehicles,” Vinayak told TechCrunch via email. “In India, commercial vehicles have the highest per vehicle energy use-age. (Constitutes 10% of vehicles, but consumes 70% of our on-road energy). This represents a highly concentrated market for an energy company like us as the segment is already convinced of switching to electric as EVs drive better than their diesel counterparts. However, the bottleneck for adoption is energy, as slow charging (3 to 6 hours) affects operations. Therefore customers are forced to opt for large batteries with short life thereby making owning the vehicle expensive.”



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How a16z’s investment into Adam Neumann further solidifies the ‘concrete ceiling’ – TechCrunch

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It was the fundraise heard around Twitter.

Adam Neumann, the infamous entrepreneur behind WeWork, raised a stunning $350 million from Andreessen Horowitz for a yet-to-launch real estate company called Flow. The investment gave Neumann’s latest venture a more than $1 billion valuation, as reported by The New York Times, and came amid what is supposed to be an investor pullback in a bear market.

It is the largest individual check a16z has ever written and the second time the firm backed a Neumann-founded company this year.

There is no need to rehash every single thing that Neumann did wrong; AppleTV+ did that already in the miniseries “WeCrashed.” His calamitous tenure at WorkWork garnered him a reputation for worker mismanagement and he led his company to a disastrous IPO. He nevertheless walked away with a roughly $1 billion exit package. He failed up, and the announcement of his a16z round was a reminder that he is still failing up.

“The news [of Neumann’s raise] was not shocking to me,” Nicole Tinson, the founder of the inclusion platform HBCU 20×20, told TechCrunch. “I actually anticipated this because discrimination in funding is no different than discrimination in any avenue.”

One cannot out-educate, out-network, and out-assimilate the systemic barriers designed to discriminate against them.

The news put reality in a harsh light, a breaking point for many. Women are tired of shattering glass ceilings; their hands are slashed from the dropping shards. Some founders are also exhausted from taking swings at the concrete ceiling, where gender, racial, and often socioeconomic conditions combine to create a discriminatory barrier so strong it cannot shatter like glass; it’s sturdy like concrete and must arduously be drilled through.



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Polestar is launching an EV roadster in 2026 called the Polestar 6 – TechCrunch

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Electric vehicle maker Polestar said Tuesday that it is expanding its lineup to include an 884-horsepower hard-top convertible with recycled polyester upholstery.

The Polestar 6 electric performance roadster will go into production in 2026 based on the Polestar O₂ Concept the company revealed in March. Customers can now begin reserving build slots online.

Polestar CEO Thomas Ingenlath called the forthcoming roadster “a perfect combination of powerful electric performance and the thrill of fresh air with the top down.”

The company hasn’t announced details such as price, acceleration or battery range. However, Polestar confirmed that the hard-top convertible will use the same bonded aluminum platform and 800-volt architecture that will underpin its future Polestar 5 GT.

The dual motor powertrain delivers a top speed of 155 mph and 0-to-62 mph acceleration in 3.2 seconds, according to Polestar.

Polestar will make 500 limited-edition models, the Polestar 6 LA Concept edition, named after the city where the electric roadster concept made its debut. Those models will come with the concept’s Sky blue exterior, leather interior and 21-inch wheels.

Polestar, which made its Nasdaq debut in June, has outlined aggressive growth plans. The company spun out from Volvo and Geely to merge with special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) with Gorges Guggenheim at a $20 billion valuation.

The automaker raised $890 million in the deal to help fund a three-year growth plan, which includes scaling its global operations, adding a second shift at its factory in China and beginning in October will produce the Polestar 3 SUV at Volvo’s factory in South Carolina.

Polestar also plans to introduce a Polestar 4 midsize crossover in 2023 and Polestar 5 four-door GT in 2024.

So far, Polestar has avoided the pitfalls facing most other EV manufacturers that have opted to go public through a SPAC instead of an IPO in the past two years.

Faraday Future, Electric Last Mile Solutions, Lordstown Motors and others have struggled to raise enough money to build their own EVs from scratch. Polestar benefits from access to Volvo and Geely’s manufacturing expertise, facilities and connections, as well as a $3 billion deal to supply Hertz with 65,000 EVs over the next five years.

In July, Polestar said it is on track to sell 50,000 cars this year. Currently, the Polestar 2 battery-electric sedan is the only model the automaker sells, following the discontinued, 600-horsepower Polestar 1 plug-in hybrid. The company’s ambitious plans call for expanding to 30 countries by the end of 2023 and selling 290,000 cars annually by 2025 — about 10 times Polestar’s 2021 sales.

 



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SoftBank, Sequoia China back this ERP startup enabling China’s online exporters – TechCrunch

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Thanks to cross-border e-commerce platforms, China continues to be a major exporter of consumer goods for the world in the online shopping age. It’s not just marketplaces like Amazon and AliExpress that are enabling Chinese businesses to sell abroad. Behind the scene, a group of startups are making the software that allows exporters to more easily figure out what to sell and how to sell.

Dianxiaomi, roughly translated as ‘shop assistant’, is one of these ecommerce SaaS providers. The company just secured $110 million in a Series D funding round led by SoftBank Vision Fund II and Sequoia Capital China. Other prominent investors, including Tiger Global Management, GGV Capital, and Huaxing Growth Capital, also participated.

The financing lifts the company’s total investment to $210 million in 2022 alone.

Dianxiaomi is strategically located in Shenzhen, the capital of export-oriented ecommerce activity in China. The city that’s home to Huawei, Tencent, and DJI is also known to house the most Amazon sellers in the world.

Dianxiaomi started out with a convenient tool that allowed sellers to list their products already sold on Taobao, Alibaba’s marketplace for Chinese consumers, on Wish with “one click”, said its founder and CEO Du Jianyin, a former R&D engineer at Baidu, in an interview.

From there, Dianxiaomi went on to create a suite of enterprise resource planning (ERP) software for Chinese vendors on Wish, Amazon, eBay, AliExpress, Shopee, Lazada and the like. The target users are small and medium-sized sellers with 5,000 orders per day or less, the company told TechCrunch.

The SaaS provider itself is expanding overseas as well. It’s launched localized ERP products for sellers in Southeast Asia and Latin America, respectively. Globally, it claims to be serving 1.5 million users and has partnered with some 50 ecommerce platforms. In Southeast Asia, it has amassed 430,000 users that are selling within the booming region.

The company plans to open offices in Indonesia, Malaysia, and the U.K., where it looks to build a team of 20-100 staff to carry out customer service, operations, and other tasks in each country.

Landing in Southeast Asia is an obvious choice for many Chinese entrepreneurs, who see similar opportunities in the region as they did in their home market a decade ago.

“At its rapid growth rate, [Southeast Asia] is a bit like China from ten years ago. Second, the region is culturally similar with a big ethnically Chinese population, who can help promote the products. And third, orders from Southeast Asia have been growing at over 100% a year,” the CEO noted in the interview.

The financing for Dianxiaomi is one of the few deals that SoftBank has sealed this year in China, which for long was a major destination for the investment powerhouse. But amid a slowing economy and regulatory uncertainties, the company said last year that it would take a more “cautious” approach to backing Chinese startups.

In January, SoftBank and Sequoia Capital China injected funding into a similar venture called Shoplazza, a Canada- and Shenzhen-based company that powers direct-to-consumer brands with online store management tools.



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Galaxy Digital calls off $1.2 billion acquisition of BitGo – TechCrunch

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Crypto sector’s first $1 billion deal, announced at the height of record surge in token prices, is disbanding as the market reverses much of the gains.

Galaxy Digital said Monday it has terminated the $1.2 billion proposed acquisition of crypto custodian BitGo, a high-profile deal they announced in May last year, after the San Francisco-based startup failed to provide its audited financial statements for the year 2021.

BitGo’s alleged failure to provide the financial statements by July 31 violated the terms the two firms had agreed upon last year, Galaxy Digital said in a public statement, adding that the termination of the deal won’t incur the company any fee. Shares of Galaxy Digital, which trades in Toronto, jumped on the news.

The proposed acquisition — which was proposed to include Galaxy Digital issuing 33.8 million new shares, and a $265 million cash component — was supposed to be crypto sector’s first $1 billion deal. The BitGo purchase was positioned to help Galaxy Digital broaden its offerings for institutional investors by adding services such as investment banking, prime lending and tax services. BitGo counts Galaxy Digital, Goldman Sachs, Valor Equity Partners, Craft Ventures, DRW and Redpoint Ventures among its backers.

“The power of the technology, solutions, and people we will have as a result of this acquisition will unlock unique value for our clients and drive long-term growth for our combined business. We are excited to welcome Mike Belshe and the talented BitGo team to Galaxy Digital,” Mike Novogratz, chief executive officer and founder of Galaxy Digital, said at the time.

Novogratz (pictured above) said Monday: “Galaxy remains positioned for success and to take advantage of strategic opportunities to grow in a sustainable manner. We are committed to continuing our process to list in the U.S. and providing our clients with a prime solution that truly makes Galaxy a one-stop shop for institutions.”

The announcement follows Galaxy Digital reporting a second-quarter loss of $554.7 million, up from a loss of $183 million a year ago, earlier this month. In the company’s earnings call, Novogratz said Galaxy Digital had about $1 billion in cash on hand.

Galaxy Digital said today it is waiting for the SEC’s review and stock exchange approval for a Nasdaq listing.



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Uber to sunset free loyalty program in favor of subscription membership – TechCrunch

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Ride-hailing giant Uber is shutting down its free loyalty program, Uber Rewards, so it can focus on its subscription-based Uber One membership.

Uber first launched the rewards program in 2018 as a sort of frequent flyer scheme that allowed riders to earn points for every dollar spent on rides or Uber Eats deliveries. Those points could then be used to get discounts on future rides or deliveries. In November 2021, Uber began introducing Uber One, which, for $9.99 per month or $99.99 annually, allows members perks like 5% off certain rides or delivery orders and unlimited $0 delivery fees on food orders of over $15 and grocery orders of over $30.

In an email sent to customers that was picked up by The Verge, Uber said users can still earn points via the legacy rewards program until the end of August, and that they can redeem those points until October 31. Uber Rewards will officially shut down on November 1, 2022, according to an update posted by the company.

The Uber Rewards program allowed users to earn 1x point for every Uber Pool dollar spent, 2x for every UberX dollar spent and 3x for every $1 spent on Premium. The number of points accumulated would put members into different castes of loyalty, from Blue to Gold to Platinum to Diamond, the latter of which comes with benefits like access to highly rated drivers, free delivery on three Uber Eats orders, access to better customer service and free upgrades.

While phone support will continue for Diamond users, now the only way to get additional perks with Uber will be to shell out for a subscription. Existing Rewards members will get a free one-month subscription to Uber One, but then will be charged for access. If you’re someone who orders Uber Eats more than twice a month, you can easily break even with the Uber One subscription, but plenty of users might not see the money saving benefits in the switch.

Uber did not respond immediately for clarity as to why it is shutting down the Rewards program in favor of the Uber One membership. Perhaps the company did not see the returns and user loyalty that it would have expected from the program and thinks a subscription offering will provide better returns.



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As companies fight to retain talent, employee benefits startups might escape cost cuts – TechCrunch

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How will employee benefits startups fare when their corporate customers start slashing costs as the market goes downhill? We’re going to find out if current trends continue.

There was a spike in the number of startups offering employee benefits services through a B2B2C model last year, as nearly every company focused on employee benefits amid the Great Resignation in an effort to retain and attract talent. These startups sell everything from paid care leave coordination and fertility services to discounted gym memberships to consumers through their employers.

But the freewheeling spending of 2021 is now over, and some of these startups could find their offered services on the chopping block if market conditions continue to worsen.

If there is indeed a recession on the horizon, many of these startups would be right to fear for their future growth, but Brian Kropp, chief of HR research at Gartner, doesn’t think this downturn will mirror the last. Kropp told TechCrunch that even if the market enters a recession, it won’t be similar to what we saw in 2008 because of the ongoing labor shortage.



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