TechCrunch+ roundup: Deep tech fundraising, negative trade secrets, 3 metrics investors love

Jan 24, 2023 8:41 PM

Startup board meetings are scheduled several weeks apart, but many founders work until the last minute on the deck updating investors on revenue, the product pipeline, hiring and other essential matters.

In this environment, founders who try to “bright side” their numbers into a positive narrative will lose credibility.

It’s nice to think so, but you can’t present a detailed plan that will save the day — there are simply too many factors outside of your control.

The best move is to make a directional plan, but to craft one, you’ll first need a firm handle on the KPIs your investors are considering before your next fundraise.

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Honda is setting up a dedicated EV division

Jan 24, 2023 8:41 PM

Honda is establishing a division dedicated to the development of electric vehicles and other electrical products including storage and generation, the company said on Tuesday (via Reuters). The Japanese automaker somewhat lags the rest of the market when it comes to EVs to date.

Last year, Honda announced expansive plans to electrify its lineup, including the intent to launch 30 fully electric vehicles by 2030, and a goal of ramping to a production volume of more than 2 million EVs per year by the same time. Honda also earmarked $40 billion for electrification over the course of the next decade — across its automotive division, but also including development of other electrified products, including robots, personal transport options and space-based technology.

At CES earlier this month, Honda also introduced its joint venture with Sony to build EVs, under the new brand name “Afeela,” and showed off their first prototype vehicle. The plan is to start preorders for the first Afeela cars in 2025, with shipments beginning in 2026 in North America.

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Web3 gaming needs to focus on sustainable economies, Immutable co-founder says

Jan 24, 2023 8:40 PM

Although the crypto gaming industry remains below its 2021 peaks, it still pulled in substantial venture funding last year. But looking to the future, the subsector may look outside of tokenomics to grow and sustain itself for the long haul.

“Tokens are a fantastic way to share ownership of economies. I’m very supportive of tokens and think they’re a brilliant invention and have done a lot,” Robbie Ferguson, co-founder and president at Immutable, said to TechCrunch. “But we will definitely see increased retail skepticism and diligence where they want to see traction on these games.”

For Immutable, which raised $200 million at a $2.5 billion valuation last year, the most important element is “to build a fantastic experience for players — the economy has to be sustainable and user experience has to be fantastic,” Ferguson said. “From there, everything will flow.”

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Senate questions Live Nation president amid Taylor Swift ticketing debacle

Jan 24, 2023 8:40 PM

“May I suggest respectfully that Ticketmaster ought to look in the mirror and say, ‘I’m the problem, it’s me,'” Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) said on the Senate floor Tuesday, referencing Taylor Swift’s latest hit “Anti-Hero.” In a hearing on consumer protection and competition in live entertainment, senators grilled Live Nation CFO and president Joe Berchtold over concerns that the company, which bought Ticketmaster in 2010, may be a monopoly.

In November, the “verified fan” presale for Swift’s highly anticipated Eras tour went horribly wrong. In an unprecedented move, Ticketmaster halted sales due to overwhelming demand, stating that the site experienced 3.5 billion system requests, or more than four times its previous peak, due to bot attacks. A month later, Mexican regulators fined Ticketmaster when thousands of fans were turned away from a Bad Bunny concert, despite holding tickets purchased on Ticketmaster (regulators said the company oversold tickets, but Ticketmaster said these were fake tickets).

After years of paying hidden fees and losing tickets to scalpers, fans and regulators alike have had enough. Making yet another of many Swift references, Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) said that music and sports fans now understand the risks of corporate consolidation “all too well.” And as Federal Trade Commission chair Lina Khan said at the time of the Swift ticketing fiasco, the incident “converted more Gen Z’ers into antimonopolists overnight than anything I could have done.”

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YouTube unveils new program that enables students to earn college credits

Jan 24, 2023 8:39 PM

YouTube announced today that it’s partnering with Arizona State University and educational video company Crash Course to launch a new program that enables students to earn college credit. The Google-owned company says the new program, called College Foundations, is designed to create an affordable and accessible way to earn college credit.

Starting today, students can sign up for four courses that start on March 7, 2023, and are eligible for transfer credit. The program does not require applications or a minimum GPA for enrollment. It includes common first-year college courses, including Intro to Human Communication, Rhetoric and Composition, Real World College Math and US History to 1865.

The program is expected to expand to 12 available courses by January 2025 to give students a chance to receive credit for an entire first year of college. There is a $25 fee if a student elects to sign up and begin coursework, and a $400 fee to receive college credit for each course. Those who sign up before March 7 will receive a $50 discount. Courses can be taken as often as needed until the student is content with their grade. The credit can then be used at institutions that accept credits from Arizona State University.

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Waymo lays off staff as Alphabet announces 12,000 job cuts

Jan 24, 2023 8:18 PM

Waymo, the self-driving technology unit under Alphabet, quietly laid off workers Monday, according to The Information and several posts on LinkedIn and Blind. The cuts at the autonomous vehicle company follow a swell of layoffs at Alphabet and Google late last week.

It’s not yet clear how many of Waymo’s staff will be affected, and Waymo said it would be “a limited number of roles.” Based on posts from former employees, workers across the board were let go — from engineers working on perception and motion control to recruiters to fleet and vehicle technicians. A source familiar with the matter told TechCrunch Waymo is killing its trucking program, Waymo Via. Workers posting on Blind, a forum where verified professionals post about company layoffs, said many of the affected staffers were working on “Husky,” which they say was the code name for Waymo Via.

Waymo denied claims that it was closing down Via, but a spokesperson did say Waymo was pulling back slightly on its fully autonomous deployment for freight trucking. Waymo will continue to develop its “Driver” in a way that’s applicable across business lines, which includes freeway capabilities that can be applied to both ride-hailing and trucking, the spokesperson said.

Reading news about company layoffs isn’t at all surprising in 2023 after the year we just had. Most companies, including Alphabet, find themselves course-correcting after hiring for a different economic reality than we find ourselves in today. Last week, Alphabet cut 6% of its global workforce, or around 12,000 people, including, we’re now learning, part of Waymo’s team. Area 120, Google’s in-house incubator, was also significantly affected by the layoffs.

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Tesla invests $3.6B in two new Nevada factories to build Semis and cells

Jan 24, 2023 8:17 PM

Tesla is investing $3.6 billion into expanding its existing gigafactory in Nevada. Confirming White House reports from earlier today, the company said it will build two new production facilities in the state — a 100-gigawatt-hour battery cell factory and Tesla’s first high-volume Semi truck factory.

Taking up a combined 4 million square feet of space, the new factories will expand on Tesla’s existing Nevada gigafactory, which is home to Model 3 electric motors and battery packs, as well as Tesla’s energy storage products Powerwall and Powerpack. The facilities will be built east of Sparks at the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center.

In December, Tesla finally revealed the first production versions of its long-delayed electric Semi during an event at the company’s gigafactory in Sparks, during which the first Semis were handed over to Pepsi, Tesla’s first Semi customer. The new factory is expected to deliver Semis at high volume.

The new cell factory will produce Tesla’s 4680-type cylindrical lithium-ion battery cells with capacity to produce enough batteries for 2 million light-duty vehicles annually, the company said.

The news comes a day before Tesla shares its fourth-quarter and full-year 2022 earnings, during which Tesla is expected to address missed Q4 delivery estimates, the effects of vehicle price cuts on margins and perhaps even claims that CEO Elon Musk has been distracted by his overhaul of social media company Twitter. Musk is also in the middle of a securities fraud trial over his infamous 2018 “funding secured” tweet to take Tesla private, which did not end up happening.

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Japan’s Terra Drone gets $14M lift from Saudi investors

Jan 24, 2023 8:17 PM

Terra Drone said today it has raised $14 million in Series C funding from Wa’ed Ventures, the venture capital arm of Saudi Aramco, marking the VC firm’s first investment in Asia.

The Japan-headquartered company, which builds drone software, hardware and uncrewed aircraft traffic management software, said the new capital brings its total raised to $97 million since its inception in 2016. It declined to comment on its post-money valuation. According to sources familiar with the situation, the startup was valued at more than $200 million in March last year when Terra Drone closed a $70 million Series B.

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Butlr leans into API-first strategy

Jan 24, 2023 8:11 PM

What happened? Butlr leans into API-first strategy

Summary: In the last 6 months, occupancy sensor startup Butlr has announced partnerships with Cohesion, View, Lendlease Podium, and more.

What is it? Butlr manufactures people counting hardware devices that work by sensing body heat. All of the companies they’re partnering with are software companies that serve applications to end users.

How it works:

  • All smart building software applications can benefit from occupancy counting data—it enables dozens of use cases
  • Rag’s list: space planning (macro level, experimenting with achor desking for example), operations (nexus sweet spot, cleaning, hvac, trust and safety), and employee experience (desk booking, hoteling, amenities, allowing real time presence to inform things)
  • These partnerships signal that the companies have already built integrations between the sensor company’s API and the software company’s data layer

Why it matters:

  • Obvi these are non-exclusive partnerships, so they don’t mean a ton
  • Occupancy data technology requires software to get value out of the data - it doesn’t do anything on it’s own, so teaming up accelerates and makes it so the owner doesn’t need to take that on
  • Occupancy data also means a lot more when it’s not in a silo. All of these software firms are what I’d call comprehensive overlay software. Building owners don't want a point solution for each data source (energy, IAQ, occupancy, etc). They want a comprehensive platform: many stakeholders engaged, many use cases provided. Butlr has recognized that their best partners are ones that can provide many use cases, since occupancy data enables many use cases.
  • More partnerships like this means:
  • Building owners should pay less for integration costs (in money and time to value)
  • It’s easier for owners to pick between the dozens of hardware vendors
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