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Max Q: Only a matter of time



Hello and welcome back to Max Q!

In this issue:

  • Intuitive Machines enters the public market
  • Silicon Valley goes to war
  • News from Transcelestial, Umbra and more

Lunar technology company Intuitive Machines received far less cash from its merger with a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) than it forecasted, but despite this rocky start the stock price saw major highs last week.

Although Intuitive Machines said the SPAC trust could furnish the company with as much as $301 million in dry powder, shareholders opted to redeem a staggering $279.8 million prior to the transaction closing. The redemptions could reflect a relative weariness amongst investors of SPACs, which saw a huge upswing in popularity in the past few years but have more recently fallen out of favor as post-SPAC companies struggle to stay afloat in the public market.

But perhaps those shareholders are regretting getting their money back. The company’s stock closed at $10.03 on its first day of trading Tuesday, and surged to $39.73, up 211%, on Thursday.

Intuitive Machines' rendering of lunar lander

Intuitive Machines rendering lunar lander. Image Credits: Intuitive Machines

For TC+, I wrote about the uptick in defense tech investments over the past few years.

Just a few years ago, many investors thought that cutting a check for a defense-first startup was a proposition that simply didn’t make sense. The tides have clearly shifted, and PitchBook data supports this warming to defense tech. From January to October last year, VC-backed firms injected $7 billion into aerospace and defense companies, a massive growth that stands in sharp contrast to the relative sluggishness in other sectors.

There are many reasons for this uptick in interest in defense tech, but driving all of them is a new, realist vision that’s spread among some technologists and venture capitalists. It sees global antagonisms threatening the stability of Pax Americana; it sees the United States rotting from the inside out due to bloat and lethargy. As a result, the Silicon Valley mentality has returned to its defense roots, embracing the role that venture-funded startups can play in maintaining America’s military dominance and technological supremacy around the world.

“If you believe in democracy, democracy demands a sword,” a16z general partner David Ulevitch said in a recent interview with TechCrunch. And Silicon Valley will be where it is forged.

Image Credits: Kiyoshi Tanno / Getty Images

More news from TC…

  • Near Space Labs CEO Rema Matevosyan sat down with TechCrunch to explain what, exactly, was up with that alleged Chinese spy balloon. (TC)
  • SpaceX faces a $175,000 fine to the Federal Aviation Administration for not reporting certain data to the agency prior to a Starlink launch last August. (TC)
  • Transcelestial, a startup based in Singapore, scored $10 million to expand its wireless laser communications system across parts of Southeast Asia. (TC)
  • Virgin Orbit’s Start Me Up mission was bungled by a faulty fuel filter and fuel pump in the second stage’s engines. (TC)

…and beyond

  • Astranis was awarded a $4.5 million Phase III SBIR contract with the U.S. Space Force to integrate tactical waveform technology into its spacecraft, with a $6 million option for an orbital demonstration using a future Astranis satellite. (Astranis)
  • Blue Origin quietly announced a program, Blue Alchemist, that’s been at work for at least two years developing tech to turn lunar regolith into solar cells and electricity transmission wires. (Blue Origin)
  • India successfully launched the new SSLV rocket, six months after the first launch attempt ended in failure. (NASA Spaceflight)
  • Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency scrubbed a launch of its new H3 rocket at T-0. (Reuters)
  • Launcher’s first spacecraft, Orbiter SN-1, stopped operating after the craft was unable to generate power from its solar panels. (Launcher)
  • Maxar and Umbra announced a new partnership this week, which will see Umbra’s synthetic aperture radar data combine with Maxar’s optical imagery in a combined offering for customers. (Maxar)
  • SpaceRyde, a Canadian launch company that was developing a vehicle that used a balloon first stage, has filed for bankruptcy. (Payload)
  • SpaceX has sold the two oil rigs it purchased back in 2020, which were to be converted into offshore launch platforms for Starship. (SpaceNews)

Max Q is brought to you by me, Aria Alamalhodaei. If you enjoy reading Max Q, consider forwarding it to a friend. 


Just 7 days until the TC Early Stage early bird flies away



Budget-minded entrepreneurs and early-stage startup founders take heed — this is no time to procrastinate. We have only 7 days left of early-bird pricing to TechCrunch Early Stage 2023 in Boston on April 20.

Don’t wait…the early bird gets the…SAVINGS: Buy a $249 founder pass and save $200 before prices increase on April 1 — that’s no joke.

TC Early Stage is our only event where you get hands-on training with experts to help your business succeed. No need to reinvent the startup wheel — you’ll have access to leading experts across a range of specialties.

During this one-day startup bootcamp, you’ll learn about legal issues, fundraising, marketing, growth, product-market fit, pitching, recruiting and more. We’re talking more than 40 highly engaging presentations, workshops and roundtables with interactive Q&As and plenty of time for networking.

Here are just a few examples of the topics we have on tap. You’ll find plenty more listed in the event agenda.

How to Tell Your TAM: Dayna Grayson from Construct Capital invests in the rebuilding of the most foundational and broken industries of our economy. Industries such as manufacturing and logistics, among others, that formed in an analog world have been neglected by advanced technology. Dayna will talk about how, beyond the idea, founders can pitch investors on their TAM, including how they will wedge into the market and how they will eventually disrupt it.

How to Think About Accelerators and Incubators: Founders often hear they should get involved with an incubator or accelerator, but when is the “right” time for early-stage founders to apply to these types of startup support ecosystems, and how can they best engage if accepted? In this talk, Harvard Innovation Labs executive director Matt Segneri will cover everything from the types of incubators and accelerators available to early-stage founders, to what startups should consider before applying, and tips for getting the most out of these ecosystems.

How to Raise Outside of SV in a Down Market: Silicon Valley’s funding market tends to be more immune to macroeconomic conditions than elsewhere in the world. So how do you raise outside the Valley bubble? General Catalyst’s Mark Crane has ample experience on both the founder and VC side from all over Europe, as well as a firm understanding of the funding landscape in the northeastern U.S., so he’ll give practical advice on how to stay alive and thrive.

At TechCrunch Early Stage you’ll walk away with a deeper working understanding of topics and skills that are essential to startup success. Founders save $200 with an early-bird founder ticketcollege students pay just $99!

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Twitter will kill ‘legacy’ blue checks on April 1



Twitter has picked April Fool’s Day, otherwise known as April 1, to start removing legacy blue checkmarks from the platform.

Despite the significance of the day Twitter chose, the removal of legacy checkmarks has been anticipated for months now. Musk tweeted in December that the company would remove those checks “in a few months” because “the way in which they were given out was corrupt and nonsensical.”

Since then, legacy blue checkmark holders have been seeing a pop-up when they click on their checkmark that reads, “This is a legacy verified account. It may or may not be notable.”

Before Musk acquired the company, Twitter used checkmarks to verify individuals and entities as active, authentic and notable accounts of interest. Verified checkmarks were doled out for free.

Today, Twitter users can purchase a blue check through the Twitter Blue subscription model for $8 per month (iOS and Android signups will cost $11 per month, due to app store costs). There are also other checkmark colors and badges available for purchase to denote whether an account is a business or a government, for example.

Twitter says the purchase of a checkmark gives users access to subscriber-only features like fewer ads on their timeline, prioritized ranking in conversations, bookmark folders, and the ability to craft long tweets, edit tweets and undo tweets.

The news comes within hours of Twitter also announcing the availability of the Blue subscription globally.

Twitter did not respond to TechCrunch’s request for more information about how many users have already signed up for Twitter Blue.

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Roofstock, valued at $1.9B last year, cuts 27% of staff in second round of layoffs



Proptech company Roofstock has laid off about 27% of its staff today, according to an email sent to employees viewed by TechCrunch. The cuts come just five months after the startup laid off 20% of its workforce.

The company’s website states that it has 400+ employees, or “Roofsters” as they’re dubbed, but it is not known if that figure is current.

Roofstock, an online marketplace for investing in leased single-family rental homes, one year ago raised $240 million at a $1.9 billion valuation. SoftBank Vision Fund 2 led that financing, which included participation from existing and new backers including Khosla Ventures, Lightspeed Venture Partners, Bain Capital Ventures and others. Roofstock has raised a total of over $365 million in funding since its 2015 inception, per Crunchbase.

According to the email seen by TechCrunch, co-founder and CEO Gary Beasley said today’s reduction in force (RIF) was “in response to the challenging macro environment” and the “negative impact” it is having on Roofstock’s business.

He added that the company was not expecting to have to cut more staff so soon but that it needed to “right size” in an effort “to reduce cash burn rate” and ensure it has “adequate capital runway until the market eventually turns.”

Beasley sent the email because apparently, the Zoom meeting where it was addressed “maxed out on attendees.”

Oakland, Calif.-based Roofstock lets people buy and sell rental homes in dozens of U.S. markets. The premise behind the company is that both institutional and retail investors can buy and sell homes without forcing renters to leave their homes. Meanwhile, buyers can also presumably generate income from day one. 

At the time of its raise in March 2022, the company said that it had facilitated more than $5 billion in transaction volume, more than half of which had come from the last year alone.

Just days before its last round of layoffs last year, Roofstock made headlines for selling its first single-family home using NFTs, or non-fungible tokens.

Rising mortgage rates and a slowdown in the housing market led to challenges for many real estate technology companies in 2022 that continue this year. Opendoor, Redfin, Compass, and Homeward were among the other startups that also laid off workers. IBuyer Reali also announced it was shutting down after raising $100 million the year prior.

TechCrunch has reached out to Roofstock but had not heard back at the time of writing but multiple sources confirmed that layoffs had taken place today.

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