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AWS brings the Mac mini to its cloud – TechCrunch

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AWS today opened its re:Invent conference with a surprise announcement: the company is bringing the Mac mini to its cloud. These new EC2 Mac instances, as AWS calls them, are now available in preview. They won’t come cheap, though.

The target audience here — and the only one AWS is targeting for now — is developers who want cloud-based build and testing environments for their Mac and iOS apps. But it’s worth noting that with remote access, you get a fully-featured Mac mini in the cloud, and I’m sure developers will find all kinds of other use cases for this as well.

Given the recent launch of the M1 Mac minis, it’s worth pointing out that the hardware AWS is using — at least for the time being — are i7 machines with six physical and 12 logical cores and 32 GB of memory. Using the Mac’s built-in networking options, AWS connects them to its Nitro System for fast network and storage access. This means you’ll also be able to attach AWS block storage to these instances, for example.

Unsurprisingly, the AWS team is also working on bringing Apple’s new M1 Mac minis into its data centers. The current plan is to roll this out “early next year,” AWS tells me, and definitely within the first half of 2021. Both AWS and Apple believe that the need for Intel-powered machines won’t go away anytime soon, though, especially given that a lot of developers will want to continue to run their tests on Intel machines for the foreseeable future.

David Brown, AWS’s vice president of EC2, tells me that these are completely unmodified Mac minis. AWS only turned off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. It helps, Brown said, that the minis fit nicely into a 1U rack.

“You can’t really stack them on shelves — you want to put them in some sort of service sled [and] it fits very well into a service sled and then our cards and all the various things we have to worry about, from an integration point of view, fit around it and just plug into the Mac mini through the ports that it provides,” Brown explained. He admitted that this was obviously a new challenge for AWS. The only way to offer this kind of service is to use Apple’s hardware, after all.

Image Credits: AWS

It’s also worth noting that AWS is not virtualizing the hardware. What you’re getting here is full access to your own device that you’re not sharing with anybody else. “We wanted to make sure that we support the Mac Mini that you would get if you went to the Apple store and you bought a Mac mini,” Brown said.

Unlike with other EC2 instances, whenever you spin up a new Mac instance, you have to pre-pay for the first 24 hours to get started. After those first 24 hours, prices are by the second, just like with any other instance type AWS offers today.

AWS will charge $1.083 per hour, billed by the second. That’s just under $26 to spin up a machine and run it for 24 hours. That’s quite a lot more than what some of the small Mac mini cloud providers are charging (we’re generally talking about $60 or less per month for their entry-level offerings and around two to three times as much for a comparable i7 machine with 32GB of RAM).

Image Credits: Ron Miller/TechCrunch

Until now, Mac mini hosting was a small niche in the hosting market, though it has its fair number of players, with the likes of MacStadium, MacinCloud, MacWeb and Mac Mini Vault vying for their share of the market.

With this new offering from AWS, they are now facing a formidable competitor, though they can still compete on price. AWS, however, argues that it can give developers access to all of the additional cloud services in its portfolio, which sets it apart from all of the smaller players.

“The speed that things happen at [other Mac mini cloud providers] and the granularity that you can use those services at is not as fine as you get with a large cloud provider like AWS,” Brown said. “So if you want to launch a machine, it takes a few days to provision and somebody puts a machine in a rack for you and gives you an IP address to get to it and you manage the OS. And normally, you’re paying for at least a month — or a longer period of time to get a discount. What we’ve done is you can literally launch these machines in minutes and have a working machine available to you. If you decide you want 100 of them, 500 of them, you just ask us for that and we’ll make them available. The other thing is the ecosystem. All those other 200-plus AWS services that you’re now able to utilize together with the Mac mini is the other big difference.”

Brown also stressed that Amazon makes it easy for developers to use different machine images, with the company currently offering images for macOS Mojave and Catalina, with Big Sure support coming “at some point in the future.” And developers can obviously create their own images with all of the software they need so they can reuse them whenever they spin up a new machine.

“Pretty much every one of our customers today has some need to support an Apple product and the Apple ecosystem, whether it’s iPhone, iPad or  Apple TV, whatever it might be. They’re looking for that bold use case,” Brown said. “And so the problem we’ve really been focused on solving is customers that say, ‘hey, I’ve moved all my server-side workloads to AWS, I’d love to be able to move some of these build workflows, because I still have some Mac minis in a data center or in my office that I have to maintain. I’d love that just to be on AWS.’ ”

AWS’s marquee launch customers for the new service are Intuit, Ring and mobile camera app FiLMiC.

“EC2 Mac instances, with their familiar EC2 interfaces and APIs, have enabled us to seamlessly migrate our existing iOS and macOS build-and-test pipelines to AWS, further improving developer productivity,” said Pratik Wadher, vice president of Product Development at Intuit. “We‘re experiencing up to 30% better performance over our data center infrastructure, thanks to elastic capacity expansion, and a high availability setup leveraging multiple zones. We’re now running around 80% of our production builds on EC2 Mac instances, and are excited to see what the future holds for AWS innovation in this space.”

The new Mac instances are now available in a number of AWS regions. These include US East (N. Virginia), US East (Ohio), US West (Oregon), Europe (Ireland) and Asia Pacific (Singapore), with other regions to follow soon.



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24 hours left to apply to volunteer at TechCrunch Disrupt and attend for free • TechCrunch

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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!



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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?

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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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