I know I keep teasing how excited I am about July’s big robotics event, but it’s precisely because of panels like the one we announced earlier this week. We’ve got Rodney Brooks and Clara Vu teaming up for a 2-on-1 fireside to discussing the changing face of human-robot interaction.
It’s a big, broad and important topic, as robotics take an increasingly larger role in our lives. Honestly, I couldn’t think of a better duo to discuss the topic with (that’s the nice thing about running programming for an event).
Brooks is the co-founder and CTO of deep learning robotics software firm Robust.AI. He also co-founded iRobot and cobot firm Rethink Robotics, and served as the director of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) for a decade. Vu is the co-founder and CTO of collaborative robotic safety firm Veo and a co-founder of Harvest Automation.
Both Brooks and Vu have appeared onstage at TC Sessions: Robotics in previous years, and I’m psyched to have them in conversation this time out. All right, that’s enough plugging from me this week.
Kicking things off with Qualcomm this week. Unsurprisingly, the company is making a new push into the robotics world this week, in hopes of leveraging its 5G technologies for autonomous robotic systems. The Qualcomm Robotics RB6 Platform is a development kit announced this week at the company’s 5G summit, and the Southern Californian chip maker is casting the net quite wide here, with a focus on drones, delivery robots, collaborative systems and more.
Says Qualcomm’s Dev Singh:
Building on the successful growth and traction of Qualcomm Technologies’ leading robotics solutions, our expanded roadmap of solutions will help bring enhanced AI and 5G technologies to support smarter, safer, and more advanced innovations across robotics, drones and intelligent machines. We are fueling robotics innovations with 5G connectivity and premium edge-AI that will transform how we think and approach challenges and ever-evolving industry expectations in the digital economy.
RB6, which is built on top of the Qualcomm Robotics Platform, arrives along with the RB5 AMR Reference Design to help kickstart robotics hardware development that utilizes the firm’s components. Given the recent explosive growth of automation, it’s clear why companies like Qualcomm, Nvidia and Intel are all making pushes to get in on the ground floor of development.
Some fun research out of Hangzhou, China’s Zheijang University this week. The school is showcasing drone swarming in a difficult to navigate forest setting. The 10 drones are controlled by a central computer, flying in formation and following human subjects, all while avoiding crashing into trees.
Speaking of crashing into trees, we’ve done our fair share at TechCrunch while testing DJI drones. The company’s got a new version of the Mini 3 Pro, which weighs in at 249 grams. That’s precisely one gram from the FAA cutoff that requires drone users to register their systems. It has been fascinating watching the company iterate on the folding Mavic line over the last several years.
These things are getting impressively powerful at their size, and much as smartphone innovations have created components that have launched several other fields, it seems likely that the work being done in the consumer drone space is going to have a profound impact in the broader automation field, going forward. Oh, and the new version of the Mini has even more safety features, theoretically making it more difficult to accidentally slam into trees.
This one completely flew under our radar a few weeks back. Hyundai is recommitting to some of those wild Ultimate Mobility Vehicle (UMV) concepts by launching the New Horizons Studio (NHS). The Bozeman, Montana-based studio will be focused on iterating some of those ideas courtesy of a $20 million investment over the next five years.
As to why the company chose Montana, New Horizon head John Suh says, “Montana is quickly becoming a hub for high-tech companies and entrepreneurs with a growing talent pool of skilled labor in the field of engineering, research and natural science. Bozeman is a thriving and economic micropolitan city. Nestled near dozens of off-road trails with more than 150 miles of terrain and mountain access for UMV testing — it’s the perfect fit for our new R&D Lab.”
As for the concepts the team is working on, Hyundai notes, “The first is an uncrewed transforming intelligent ground excursion robot (similar to what was revealed at CES in 2021) designed to carry various types of payloads while traveling over treacherous terrain. The second, inspired by Elevate, is a larger (size of a two-person ATV) vehicle with robotic legs that can address challenging driving situations and potentially save lives as the first responder in natural disasters.”
This week was a little light on actual funding news, but we’ve got one addition, just under the wire: Eureka Robotics. The Singapore-based firm caused a minor online sensation back in 2018 with its Ikea furniture building robot. Turns out its technology was successful enough to earn it a $4.25 “Pre-Series A” for robots that can drill, inspect, assemble and perform other complex tasks.
The round, which was led by The University of Tokyo Edge Capital Partners, will be used to deploy and accelerate development on the company’s flagship Eureka Controller. The company co-founder, Dr. Pham Quang Cuong, tells Catherine, “while the core technologies are mature and have already been deployed in production, we want to make those technologies really easy to use by System Integrators. Making advanced technologies easy to use by non-programmer engineers is actually difficult.”
Closing us out this week for good measure is an ABB demo featuring a car-painting robot. Haje notes:
For this PR stunt, the company collaborated with eight-year-old Indian child prodigy Advait Kolarkar and Dubai-based digital design collective Illusorr, to create the world’s first robot-painted art car. The project is showing off the company’s PixelPaint technology, which is basically an inkjet printer with 1,000 nozzles mounted on an industrial robot.
Fire up that robotic arm and subscribe to Actuator.
India’s Tata Motors wants to sell 50,000 EVs by end of fiscal year
Mumbai-based automaker Tata Motors wants to sell 50,000 electric vehicles by the end of the fiscal year ending March 31, the company’s chairperson Natarajan Chandrasekaran said during a shareholders’ meeting on Monday.
In the 2023/24 period, Tata — which produces passenger cars, trucks, vans, coaches, buses, luxury cars, and construction equipment — aims to hit 100,000 EV sales, according to Chandrasekaran, as reported by Reuters.
The push towards EVs follows a national plan to ensure that up to 30% of total passenger car sales in India are electric by 2030, up from about 1% today. E-scooters and e-bikes will account for 80% of two-wheeler sales, up from 2% today. Given the Indian government’s high import duties on EVs, getting citizens to make the switch to electric will largely depend on the success of local production.
After attempting to bring its EVs to the Indian market, Tesla appears to have abandoned efforts to set up a factory in the country. Tesla usually has a “try before buy” approach to moving into new markets — it imports vehicles to see how sales go before investing the time and money in building a regional factory. Transport minister Nitin Gadkari said Tesla was welcome to build a factory in the country, but that it won’t allow the automaker to bring in vehicles from China to sell and service, so Tesla hasn’t moved forward with those plans.
Tata currently sells three EV models, including Nexon EV, Tigor EV and the newest Nexon EV Max. Unlike the path many U.S. automakers have followed of building new EV production lines from the ground up, Tata says it’s able to keep costs down for the Indian consumer by repurposing a successful internal combustion engine model, the Nexon, and outfitting it with a battery pack. The Nexon starts at around $19,000, which isn’t exactly cheap for the average Indian driver, but is certainly within the range of the country’s upper-middle class.
Tata commands 90% of India’s electric car sales, and appears to be on track to reach its goal of selling 50,000 EVs by March 2022. The automaker’s June sales results show 45,197 total units sold, out of which 3,507 were electric — the most Tata has ever sold, and up 433% from 658 last year.
Chandrasekaran was optimistic about the trajectory of Tata’s performance this fiscal year with the overall supply situation, including that of semiconductors, improving and stabilizing.
Without a clear ask, your pitch deck is useless
You’ve brushed off your Keynote skills, you’re giddy that you’re finally going to be able to start paying yourself a living wage, and you are excited to start pitching your startup’s next round of funding to your investors. It’s heady times, for sure, but hit the other pedal there for a moment, friend — you may be forgetting something.
After working with hundreds of founders on raising money — including the fantastically popular Pitch Deck Teardown series here on TechCrunch+ — there’s one slide that almost every founder gets woefully wrong. The slide is often referred to as The Ask. Or, as one investor friend calls it, the “what is my $10 million going to buy me”? slide.
The Ask is a sensitive topic to a lot of inexperienced entrepreneurs, which makes sense. Trying to right-size a funding round can be a little overwhelming, and there are a thousand different ways of building a startup. If you were successful in raising $8 million, you can do things one way. If you raised $12 million, you could perhaps launch more features of your product a little faster, or experiment more, or go after an additional market earlier. You know that. Your senior staff knows that. Your investors know that. But regardless, you need a Plan A.
What do those key metrics need to look like in order to raise not this round of funding, but your next one?
What do you need to do?
A lot of founders will tell you that they are trying to raise enough money to survive for the next 18 months. That’s probably true, but that will be true regardless of how much money you raise. A better approach is to think about what you need to accomplish to raise your next round of funding, and then work backward from there. This is probably a combination of metrics and milestones.
Metrics are the measurable parts of your business that grow and evolve over time. One of the best metrics you have is revenue, but there could be many others: the number of sales, average order value (AOV), monthly or annual recurring revenue (MRR or ARR, respectively), customer acquisition cost (CAC), customer lifetime value (LTV), daily and monthly active users (DAU and MAU), retention rate (usually expressed by its inverse, churn rate) and much more. What do those key metrics need to look like in order to raise not this round of funding, but your next one?
Milestones are also measurable parts of the business, but instead of tracking them over time, they tend to be binary: You’ve either hit a milestone or you haven’t. For startups, this could be key hires; finding the perfect, experienced CFO that can help take your company public is one major milestone a lot of companies at some point need to hit. Product launches (coming out of beta), launches in particular markets (launching only in California) and localization (launching your app in Spanish and French, for example) are also important milestones. Financial milestones are also common; the first time you make a single dollar from any customer is a huge shift in the business. When a customer, on average, starts to make you more money than it costs you to acquire them is another. For earlier-stage companies, completing a customer validation phase by talking to, say, 100 potential customers is a milestone.
When you’re raising money, you will be mapping out a set of milestones that you need to hit in order to validate your company. In addition, you’ll set a number of trigger points for metrics — hitting $1 million ARR, having 5,000 daily active users or finding a combination of customer acquisition channels that means you can acquire customers at a reasonable blended CAC, for example.
So let’s examine how to put together a great “ask” slide by ascertaining what it takes to determine how much you need to raise, how to create a specific set of goals and how to bring it all together in a coherent whole.
Tech doesn’t get more full circle than this
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.
Tech innovation is a cycle, especially in the main character-driven world of early-stage venture capital and copycat nature of startups.
The latest proof? Y Combinator this week announced Launch YC, a platform where people can sort accelerator startups by industry, batch and launch date to discover new products. The famed accelerator, which has seeded the likes of Instacart, Coinbase, OpenSea and Dropbox, invites users to vote for newly launched startups “to help them climb up the leaderboard, try out product demos and learn about the founding team,” it said in a blog post.
If it sounds familiar, it’s because — in my perspective — Y Combinator is taking a not-so-subtle swipe at Product Hunt, a nearly decade-old platform that is synonymous with new startup launches and feature announcements.
Y Combinator doesn’t necessarily agree with this characterization: The accelerator’s head of communications, Lindsay Amos, told me over email that “we encourage YC founders to launch on many platforms — from the YC Directory to Product Hunt to Hacker News to Launch YC — in order to reach customers, investors and candidates.”
The overlap isn’t isolated. As Y Combinator makes a Product Hunt, Product Hunt is making an Andreessen Horowitz. Meanwhile, a16z is making its own Y Combinator. Not to mention Product Hunt has investment capital from a16z and formerly went through the Y Combinator accelerator.
The strategy is more than a tongue twister, it’s a signal on what institutions think is important to offer these days (and why they’re starting to borrow more than sugar, or deal flow, from their neighbors).
For my full take, read my TechCrunch+ column, “YC makes a Product Hunt, Product Hunt makes an a16z, a16z makes a YC.”
In the rest of this newsletter, we’ll talk about Coalition, Backstage Capital and Africa’s temperature-fluctuating summer. As always, you can support me by forwarding this newsletter to a friend or following me on Twitter or subscribing to my blog.
Deal of the week
Coalition! Built by a quartet of women operators in venture, Coalition is a fund meets network that is trying to get more diverse decision-makers onto cap tables. The two-pronged approach of fund and network helps Coalition cover multiple fronts: Founders can turn to the firm for capital or the network for advice at no further dilution. Aspiring investors and advisers can turn to the firm to begin building out their portfolio, and LPs can put money into an operation that is committed to broadening diversity on cap tables, known to have economic benefits.
Here’s why it’s important: Coalition co-founder Ashley Mayer, the former VP of communications for Glossier, explained a little about the building philosophy behind the new company.
Mayer explained that she and her three co-founders saw the value of taking a “portfolio approach” to careers, basically going deep on their respective operator roles while also angel investing and eventually scout investing. Three of them previously worked in venture but left it because they missed the experience of operating. Now, they’re trying to scale a way for people to keep their day jobs and build beyond it. Coalition co-founder and Cityblock Health founder Toyin Ajayi said that “as one of few women of color leading a venture-backed company, I feel a deep obligation to hold the door open for others.”
When do layoffs matter? Trick question — always
This week on Equity, we spoke about Backstage Capital laying off a majority of its staff, weeks after pausing any investments in new startups. The workforce reduction, which impacted nine of Backstage Capital’s 12-person staff, was due to a lack of capital from limited partners, per fund founder Arlan Hamilton.
Here’s why it’s important: Backstage Capital has invested in over 200 startups built by historically overlooked entrepreneurs, while Hamllton herself has invested in more than two dozen venture capital funds. Despite having impact, no single firm can be immune from the difficulties of venture (or growing in an environment full of macroeconomic and cultural hurdles). Below is an excerpt of my story.
Without more support, it becomes difficult to close shop on new investments, bring more assets under management and bring more follow-on investments, Hamilton said.
“Somebody asked me, ‘why don’t you have more under management?’” she said during the podcast. “You gotta ask these LPs, you gotta ask these family offices, you gotta ask these people who ask me, ‘how can I be helpful,’ and I say ‘invest in our fund,’ and I never hear from them again.”
Africa charts its own course
TC’s Dominic-Madori Davis and Tage Kene-Okafor wrote a story about how the downturn is playing out in Africa, essentially answering why we should all be tuning into the continent’s activity this summer.
Here’s why it matters: Africa’s venture capital totals weren’t too shabby in the first quarter, but investors think that it may just be a reporting delay. If most of the deals were finalized before high interest rates, the war and inflation, experts say, we may see an economic downturn soon start affecting developing markets. The story doesn’t stop there; I’d read more to see what Tiger Global tells us and how August is shaping up to be a key month of movement.
Across the week
Seen on TechCrunch
Seen on TechCrunch+
Until next time,
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