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Saturday, March 7, 2020

Today Crunch News, News Updates, Tech News

Today Crunch News, News Updates, Tech News

The first SpaceX Dragon capsule is taking its final flight

Posted: 07 Mar 2020 11:06 AM PST

Last night, SpaceX launched its first generation Dragon capsule on its twentieth — and final — resupply run to the International Space Station.

The launch marks the Dragon’s last mission as the capsule makes way for SpaceX’s updated and improved Dragon 2 capsule, which will begin making resupply runs to the space station in October.

Alongside cargo to resupply the ISS, the Dragon will be bringing along payloads for experimental research aboard the space station. Including an Adidas experiment to see how it can manufacture midsoles in space; a project from the faucet maker, Delta, to see how water droplets form in zero gravity; and Emulate is sending up an organ-on-a-chip to examine how microgravity affects intestinal immune cells and how heart tissue can be cultured in space.

It’s been twelve years since SpaceX first won a $1.6 billion contract to resupply the space station, and over that time, the space industry has changed dramatically.

The company’s technical innovations around manufacturing and reusing rocket components revolutionized the space industry and created an environment where entrepreneurs believed in the possibility of competing with industry giants like Aerojet Rocketdyne, Boeing, and Lockheed Martin.

Since SpaceX first emerged to challenge those longtime government contractors, which had a lock on government space missions, a wave of commercial activity has emerged around the International Space Station, supporting the creation of new industries.

Earlier this week, Axiom Space announced that it would be using SpaceX to ferry the first entirely private crew of passengers to the International Space Station for a ten-day trip (albeit at a cost of $55 million). Axiom’s vision of building a private orbiting space station off of the existing International Space Station is a bold step forward for the commercialization of space — and one which would be less likely if not for SpaceX’s work and the success of the first Dragon.

Startups Weekly: Remote-first SaaS products boom as workers stay home

Posted: 07 Mar 2020 11:00 AM PST

Silicon Valley companies had already been going remote-first when the coronavirus became a global pandemic. This means there are lots of great software tools already on the market, that are seeing a huge amount of new usage now. And not just Zoom. Alex Wilhelm checked in with HiveIO, FridayFreeConferenceCallBrandliveKentikBluescapeLogMeIn, and other remote-oriented SaaS startups large and small to get the freshest data for Extra Crunch. Here’s what FreeConferenceCall reported back, for example:

  • United States and United Kingdom: +6%
  • India: around +10%
  • France and South Korea: +20%
  • Italy: +170%
  • China: +524%
  • Hong Kong: +1576%
  • Vietnam: +3836%

Next, check out Ron Miller’s look at what experts recommend right now (EC) if you’re trying to make the transition for your team or company.

We’ll have more analysis of great remote-first companies and investment areas coming up soon, as the working world goes through this abrupt transition to an already inevitable future. In the meantime, be sure to check out our existing coverage:

How to work during a pandemic (TC)

How we scaled Seeq by being remote first (EC)

How to make remote work work (EC)

Essential tools for today's digital nomad (EC)

Remote workers and nomads represent the next tech hub (EC)

One final note: wondering why there’s no vaccine yet? Connie Loizos caught up with long-time healthcare investor Camille Samuels for TechCrunch. “The reason you hear about cancer and orphan diseases so much is that you can price high in those areas,” the Venrock partner explains. “In therapeutic areas where you can't price high because there are already a bunch of generics on the market — pain, depression, other huge unmet needs — you don't see as much innovation. It's a matter of [businesses] following the incentives. With infectious disease, you've got this problem that maybe someone even a year ago predicted might become a problem, but when it's a potential and not an actual problem, it's hard to get investors to fund something like that.”

Three cofounders is the magic team number for pre-seed investors

What are the main characteristics of successful pre-seed fundings these days? Docsend, the document management company that thousands of founders use to share decks with investors, has a new report out that surveys recent pre-seed fundings to determine what success is looking like these days. Resident former VC Danny Crichton dug into the data — based on an anonymized survey of founder-users — and highlighted some surprising trends on TechCrunch. Here’s one: companies with larger founding teams were able to raise with fewer meetings, but the companies that averaged the largest raises per number of meetings have three cofounders.

CEO and TechCrunch/Extra Crunch columnist Russ Huddleston also said that the quality bar for products appear to have gone up. "We used to say you could get funding with an MVPP (minimum viable PowerPoint),” he said, “but VCs are spending a significant amount of time looking at the product pages of successful decks, and really expect a level of product readiness that we didn't see five years ago."

A16z general partner Connie Chan talks the future of consumer tech (including remote-first bets) 

With a recent investment in virtual conferencing startup Run the World, Connie Chan is at the forefront of consumer investing trends as we know them today. She sat down with Connie (Loizos) for a wide-ranging interview on Extra Crunch, here are a few highlights:

  • On D2C: “It's less specific almost about what the product is, but the market they're going after, and what kind of margins you have to play with from a marketing standpoint.”
  • On remote-first trends in China right now: “People are spending more time at home, so whether it's games or streaming or whatever they're doing at home is doing well. Lots of my counterparts in China are also taking all their pitches via video conference. They're still doing work, but they're all just working from home.”
  •  On the potential for a ‘super app’ like WeChat: “WeChat started as a communications platform, so naturally you would think communication is a great place. But the other big ingredient of a super app is the payments layer, or some kind of connection to either your credit card credentials or your bank account. So in that sense, anything else that powers transactions also has a really good shot of doing it right. Like, if I'm using DoorDash to order food, why not also use it to order X and Y and Z that also requires a credit card checkout or also requires some kind of logistical delivery. If you look at GoJek or Grab in Southeast Asia, that's exactly what they've done. They started in transportation, but they also do grocery, they do food, they do loans, they do fintech. They do everything in one place.”

TechCrunch Senior Editor Alex Wilhelm

Who is Alex Wilhelm?

Alex is a long-time writer, editor and analyst who fully rejoined TechCrunch recently to write prolifically on topics including but definitely not limited to a daily finance column for Extra Crunch about the $100m ARR club, unicorn IPOs, business models, investing trends and other topics that are most dear to our startup audience. He is also the host of the popular Equity podcast, a real mensch, and like me, from Corvallis, Oregon. Given how popular he is with our core readers, we decided to get him talking about himself a little more in this Q&A on TechCrunch.

Across the week


New AngelList data set sheds light on the signaling risks of seed-stage investments

SXSW cancels its 400K-person conference due to coronavirus

SF poised to pass Prop E, which could significantly reduce new supply of startup office space

Startup Battlefield applications for TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2020 are now open

Why you can't overlook the small details in the pursuit of innovation

Extra Crunch

Oyo layoffs, Airbnb's delayed IPO and the long-term quandary of investing in travel startups

Understanding 2020's early-stage fundraising market

Break-even ads can generate free brand awareness

Inside the effort to turn startups into zebras, not unicorns

Lerer Hippeau's Ben Lerer shares his priorities for scouring seed deals

Dear Sophie: I live in India and run a startup


Here’s what’s in the latest episode, via Alex:

  • Kleiner has more money, again. About a year after raising a $600 million vehicle, Kleiner Perkins raised a new, larger fund. Now flush with $700 million, the longstanding venture group has more money to play with than it has in recent memory. For early-stage deals, that is.
  • Atrium shut down after raising $75 million. Investors got some of their money back, but the company had to lay off its 100 employees. The lesson here is that famous backers and tenured founders can't will something into existence that doesn't work.
  • OYO is laying people off. Again. The major SoftBank Vision Fund-backed Indian hotel brand was supposed to be a massive hit. Now, with novel coronavirus and other challenges, it and global tourism are hitting snags.
  • We also poked at the Robinhood downtime that came during a period of sharp trading swings. The company has a lot of work to do to recover user trust, and continue to grow into its valuation. (More on that here.)
  • Zoom was the day's good news, posting strong earnings (here), possibly indicating that remote-work companies are seeing demand for their products.

And don’t miss the Equity Shot from this Tuesday, which Alex and Danny put together about activist fund Elliott Management. It has just bought a large stake in Twitter and is trying to remove founder and CEO Jack Dorsey(!).

Want Startups Weekly or any of the other great newsletters from TechCrunch in your inbox? Subscribe here

GM reveals an EV for (almost) every purse and purpose

Posted: 07 Mar 2020 09:46 AM PST

General Motors’ EV day didn’t just mark the launch of a new flexible battery architecture and an ambitious plan to deploy this underlying foundation across all of the automaker’s brands, including Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC.

It was a resurrection, albeit with a modern twist.

The company’s announcement this week gave new life to its brand ladder — a portfolio that ranges from the heights of luxury to the most basic utility — and tipped its hand about how it will bring EVs “across the chasm.

This game plan isn’t new. GM is bringing back a strategy that once defined its success and reshaped America’s automotive landscape. This strategy worked for GM until complacency crept in and the brand ladder collapsed. This time, GM is aiming to avoid these snares.

History lesson

Henry Ford’s moving assembly line birthed the early auto industry, but as American prosperity grew in the 1910s-20s, it was General Motors that laid the foundations of the modern car market. Under then-chairman Alfred Sloan, the amalgamation of once-independent automakers united under a strategy that would, in his words, create “a car for every purse and purpose.” From a value Chevrolet to a sporty Pontiac, from a discreetly plush Buick to a majestic Cadillac, and with countless brands in between, what became known as Sloanism birthed the idea that there should be a car to reflect every American’s self-image and social status.

VCs warn coronavirus will impact fundraising for the next 2 quarters

Posted: 07 Mar 2020 09:22 AM PST

As of this writing, COVID-19 has killed more than 3,400 people around the globe and the coronavirus has infected tens of thousands more. But its impact has gone much further, causing major disruptions in public markets and leading corporations to pull out of conferences and delay travel. Big tech companies are asking workers to stay home and investors are now urging startups to prepare accordingly.

Sequoia Capital sent a letter to its founders on Thursday warning that the coronavirus was a “black swan” event and startups should “brace themselves for turbulence” by considering if they have enough cash and preparing to face supply chain disruptions. The letter also warned they could have a harder time fundraising, similar to the market downturns of 2001 and 2009.

The coronavirus effect is rippling throughout the tech world. Seattle, which has seen a cluster of cases, seems almost a ghost town in some parts, according to entrepreneur and former Madrona Capital partner Shauna Causey. She told TechCrunch that many of the coffee shops and co-working spaces popular among VCs have gone empty in the last week and all of her fundraising meetings are conducted via Zoom.

And already there’s some chatter that funding might be drying up for early-stage startups, though Bloomberg Beta’s Roy Bahat tells TechCrunch that startups should always be fundraising as soon as they can to protect themselves from this type of calamity.

This Week in Apps: Google I/O canceled over coronavirus, App Store gets updated rules, TikTok’s owner launches Spotify rival

Posted: 07 Mar 2020 08:23 AM PST

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the Extra Crunch series that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support and the money that flows through it all.

The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 204 billion downloads in 2019 and $120 billion in consumer spending in 2019, according to App Annie's recently released "State of Mobile" annual report. People are now spending 3 hours and 40 minutes per day using apps, rivaling TV. Apps aren't just a way to pass idle hours — they're a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus.

In this Extra Crunch series, we help you keep up with the latest news from the world of apps, delivered on a weekly basis.

This week, we’re looking at the further impact of the coronavirus on the app industry, which is now leading to more major event cancellations — including, as of this week, Google I/O and SXSW. That begs the question, will WWDC be next? And what will that mean for developers who rely on the annual event to make those invaluable face-to-face connections? We’re also looking at the revised App Store review guidelines and what that means for developers, as well as Walmart’s plan to dramatically change its app strategy, Robinhood’s bad week, the launch of a new Spotify competitor from the makers of the world’s most viral app, TikTok and much more.


Apple changes the rules

Apple this week alerted developers to a new set of App Store review guidelines that detail which apps will be accepted or rejected, and what apps are allowed to do. The changes to the guidelines impact reviews, push notifications, Sign in with Apple, data collection and storage, mobile device management and more, the company says. Some of the more high-profile changes include the ability for apps to now use notifications for ads, stricter rules for dating and fortune-telling apps and a new rule that allows Apple to reject apps that help users evade law enforcement, among other things.

Stanford cancels classes in response to novel coronavirus outbreak

Posted: 06 Mar 2020 09:14 PM PST

Following on the heels of several major cancellations of events the past few days, including the SXSW conference in Austin and the tech conference SaaStr, Stanford University, which is located in the heart of Silicon Valley in Palo Alto, California, announced late Friday that the school would cancel in-person classes for the final two weeks of the university’s winter quarter in response to the expanding outbreak of novel coronavirus, or COVID-19.

In a statement posted by the university, Stanford’s provost Persis Drell announced that the university would cancel two weeks of classes leading up to the university’s winter quarter exams, and “to the extent feasible” migrate classes to online formats.

In addition, professors are being encouraged by the administration to find ways of delivering functionally equivalent course material through online formats, and all exams for winter quarter are expected to be delivered remotely. The policy takes effect immediately starting with classes this coming Monday, March 9.

Furthermore, the university is canceling its annual Admit Weekend, where newly-admitted prospective freshman visit the palm-lined campus and learn more about the school before making a final decision on where to head for their undergraduate degrees. Tours of the campus have also been canceled.

The university in a separate note today acknowledged that two students are in self-isolation after “possible exposure” to the novel coronavirus. The university emphasized that neither student has affirmatively tested positive for the infection at this time.

The San Francisco Bay Area has seen increasing numbers of potential exposures to the novel coronavirus. Stanford itself has been on the vanguard of responding to the global pandemic, announcing the development of its own test earlier this week to detect the infection.

Facebook bans face mask ads to fight coronavirus price gouging

Posted: 06 Mar 2020 07:03 PM PST

On Friday, Facebook announced that it would further attempt to limit coronavirus-related chaos on its platform by banning commerce listings and advertisements for medical face masks.

“We're monitoring COVID19 closely and will make necessary updates to our policies if we see people trying to exploit this public health emergency,” Facebook Director of Product Management Rob Leathern said in an update on Twitter. “We'll start rolling out this change in the days ahead.”

"We are temporarily banning advertisements and commerce listings that sell medical face masks,” a Facebook spokesperson told TechCrunch. “Our teams are monitoring the COVID19 situation closely and will make necessary updates to our policies if we see people trying to exploit this public health emergency.”

Facebook will also limit any ads for medical products that imply a limited supply or create a sense of urgency among potential buyers, as well as ads that make guarantees for COVID-19 “cures” or prevention. Along with those changes, in the next few days Facebook will begin blocking coronavirus-themed groups and pages from its algorithmic recommendations.

As fears of a novel coronavirus epidemic swell worldwide, online platforms have scrambled to stop price gouging and health misinformation. Amazon is working to eradicate “high priced offers” on products like hand sanitizer and face masks from its marketplace, while Ebay has banned all listings for N95 and N100 face masks, hand sanitizer and alcohol wipes. The online auction site will also reject any listings exploiting terms like “COVID-19” and “coronavirus.”

On Wednesday, Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) wrote an open letter to Amazon’s Jeff Bezos expressing concern over “continued reports of price gouging and a lack of transparency” on the site.

“No one should be allowed to reap a windfall from fear and human suffering,” Markey wrote, adding that online retailers have a “particular responsibility” to protect consumers in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak.

Earlier this week, Facebook announced that coronavirus-related searches on its platform would be greeted with an automatic pop-up featuring information from the World Health Organization and local health authorities.

“Given the developing situation, we're working with national ministries of health and organizations like the WHO, CDC and UNICEF to help them get out timely, accurate information on the coronavirus,” Mark Zuckerberg wrote in an update on his company’s efforts. “We're giving the WHO as many free ads as they need for their coronavirus response along with other in-kind support.”

The company is also focused on curtailing potentially life-threatening coronavirus misinformation, removing ads, conspiracy theories and treatment claims with no scientific basis. Facebook’s decision to disable ads for face masks comes at a time when health authorities are urging well people to forgo buying the masks, both because they are not necessary for healthy individuals to wear and because demand for the masks is constricting their supply for the medical workers who need them most.

Watch SpaceX launch the last of its original Dragon spacecraft to resupply the ISS tonight

Posted: 06 Mar 2020 06:03 PM PST

Update: The launch was a success, with the booster performing the 50th landing in the company’s history. The Dragon capsule should be collected by the ISS on Monday.

SpaceX is launching its 20th resupply mission the International Space Station tonight, but this one has a bittersweet twist: It’s the last such mission that will use the first iteration of the Dragon spacecraft that has flown on all of the company’s missions for NASA thus far. Starting this summer, its successor will take its place.

Tonight’s mission will bring a variety of supplies, experiments, and new components to the ISS as usual. Launch is scheduled for 8:50 PM Pacific time, and you can watch it below.

The Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 first stage both flew on previous missions, the Dragon on two others, making it the third of its kind to make it to a third mission. And it will also be the last of its kind to do so.

Dragon has spawned two successor craft, Crew Dragon and Cargo Dragon (sometimes with a “2” appended), the former of which has understandably gotten the lion’s share of attention. But the revised cargo spacecraft very well see more use.

The exact differences between the old and new Dragon aren’t completely clear, but we know that there have been significant improvements to the avionics, power systems, onboard software, and of course the general shape of the thing. Naturally there won’t be life support or an escape system on the craft, which isn’t intended in this form to carry passengers.

This new, improved Cargo Dragon has its first commercial mission scheduled for August, and its sister craft, Crew Dragon, may very well by flying by then as well if everything goes according to plan.

Trying to make up for lost time, the CDC will distribute 1.1 million COVID-19 tests by this weekend

Posted: 06 Mar 2020 04:44 PM PST

In a press conference late on Friday, Vice President Mike Pence said that the government will finally have the capacity to provide over 1 million tests for the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.

Joined by representatives of the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the vice president detailed the continuing efforts from the White House to coordinate a response to the spread of the coronavirus.

The CDC will distribute test kits capable of testing over 1.1 million people by the end of the weekend, and another 1 million tests will be in quality assurance testing by next week, according to Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn.

Initially the White House had hoped to have distributed the test kits by the end of the week, but was not able to ramp up to meet that demand. Now, Pence is saying that the capacity to conduct at least 2.1 million tests will be available by next week — and that a consortium of private testing companies will add still more capacity as time goes by.

Yesterday the White House announced that it had established a consortium of the nation’s largest private testing companies, which are now mobilizing to provide test kits to commercial and private institutional testing facilities around the country. Attendees at the White House meeting yesterday included LabCorp, Quest Diagnostics, Thermo Fisher Scientific, Abbott Laboratories and the Mayo Clinic, according to reporting from Reuters.

Earlier this week Lab Corp said it would begin offering immediate tests for COVID-19, while Quest Diagnostics said it would start testing next week. The two private test manufacturers will be able to charge for their tests, while the ones conducted by the CDC and state run facilities are free.

On Wednesday, the Trump Administration declared that the COVID-19 test would qualify as an essential health benefit — which means Medicaid and Medicare would cover testing costs. Under the Affordable Care Act (which the administration is trying to unwind) large-employer health plans must cover the cost of health benefits like preventive testing — but those tests don’t have to be free, according to CNBC reporting.

Until last week, only labs that were approved by the CDC could administer tests for the coronavirus, but the CDC opened new testing facilities for people potentially infected with the virus after an outcry from state and local governments.

While the government is touting the capacity for testing, the actual numbers are falling far short of official claims, according to a report in The Atlantic.

The report claims that only 1,895 people have been tested for the coronavirus in the U.S., and about 10% of the people tested have contracted the disease. Even with the new tests available to states and local governments, the capacity only allows for several thousand tests to be conducted — not the tens of thousands the White House has hoped for, according to the report.

Meanwhile, official reporting at the CDC is lagging behind other indicators, painting a far different official picture of the spread of the disease than the one that’s reflected by realities in the aggregation of local government reporting. According to the latest data from a disease tracker provided by Johns Hopkins University, there are 299 cases of the coronavirus in the U.S. The CDC is only reporting 164. 

The reason is that the government stopped reporting the total number of cases and has left that to the States. As the Atlantic reports:

 In South Korea, more than 66,650 people were tested within a week of its first case of community transmission, and it quickly became able to test 10,000 people a day. The United Kingdom, which has only 115 positive cases, has so far tested 18,083 people for the virus.

Normally, the job of gathering these types of data in the U.S. would be left to epidemiologists at the CDC. The agency regularly collects and publishes positive and negative test results for several pathogens, including multiple types of the seasonal flu. But earlier this week, the agency announced that it would stop publishing negative results for the coronavirus, an extraordinary step that essentially keeps Americans from knowing how many people have been tested overall.

The CDC has justified its lack of tracking by saying that it couldn’t accurately reflect the number of tests conducted as states take responsibility for their own testing.

"States are reporting results quickly, and in the event of a discrepancy between CDC and state case counts, the state case counts should always be considered more up to date,” said Nancy Messonnier, who is responsible for overseeing CDC’s response and research into respiratory diseases.

Ultimately, the U.S. government seems to be [finally] ramping up its response to the spread of the virus here by providing health officials with the tools they need to accurately test for how widely the disease has spread in the population, while at the same time making it much harder to communicate the information the public would need to make educated choices on how to respond.

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