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Startups, here’s how you can make hardware without ruining the planet



TL;DR: Weave sustainability into the product design as early as you can

Nobody starts a hardware company with the express goal of destroying as much of the planet as they possibly can. Walking around the startup hall at CES, however, I noticed that — with a few notable exceptions — there was painfully little attention given to material choice, repairability, ease of disassembly and considerations around the end of usable life.

It’s embarrassing, really — but as someone who used to run a hardware startup, I know it can be hard to prioritize when you have limited time and resources. However, if you can’t make planet-friendly choices as the founder of a startup, when the buck literally stops with you, when can you?

In an effort to figure out how you can create greener hardware, we spoke with Lauryn Menard, a professor at the California College of the Arts, where she teaches the future of biodesign. She’s also an adviser to Women in Design SF and the co-founder and creative director at PROWL Studio, an Oakland, California-based design and material futures consultancy focusing on sustainable solutions.

“As a startup, you have choices. The thing is, it’s such a capitalistic society we live in, and a lot of decisions are made based on time and money,” Menard explained. The startups want to think about sustainability, but they are moving at breakneck speed and trying to get a product to market as soon as possible. “The startups need to hit their target price point and all that good stuff.”

“You don’t have to adopt a new bioplastic, you can instead choose something that already exists: Not everything has to be made from a new freaking material!” Lauryn Menard

But there are some big things moving out there in the market. Consumer demands are shifting, and climate pledges, circularity strategies and environmental questions are all bubbling to the surface. It’s hard to say whether enough customers are making purchasing decisions based on a company’s green credentials to move the needle meaningfully, but product development cycles can take years, and who knows what the landscape looks like by the time your product makes it to market? To some companies, it might make sense to take the risk, but other founders are starting to think differently about how products are made.

“If a startup is being run by solely engineers, that can be problematic: Engineers tend to be worried [about] making sure they’re getting to the finish line. They put all of their energy into making something function and are probably leaning toward materials, ways of making and manufacturing processes that they’re already familiar with,” Menard explained. “What we’ve seen [be] really helpful is working with a design studio that specializes in more sustainable ways of thinking and healthier materials. Or partnering with someone like a materials library, so they’ve already started thinking about the functionality of the materials by the time they are making a prototype. Just in the same way that it takes a really long time to get an MVP product that works and looks the way you want, it sometimes takes a long time to put a new material into an existing manufacturing process.”

Thinking sustainability

One of the big challenges we have with creating more sustainable products is that we are often replacing plastics with something else. The problem is that plastics are deeply embedded in workflows already. Product designers love how predictable, easy to design and repeatable plastic is.

There also isn’t an obvious one-for-one replacement for plastic; depending on the use case and material properties you need, you may have to replace it with wool, paper, wood, plant pulp, carbon fiber, seaweed, hemp, mycelium, lab-grown leather or any number of other materials that are available.

Here’s what founders and product designers can do to think about sustainability and product development in a more conscious way.


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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