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Hello readers: Welcome to The Station, your central hub for all past, present and future means of moving people and packages from Point A to Point B.
Before you dive into our weekly roundup of news and analysis, I wanted to flag two items. First up, the founders series returned this month with Anjali Jindal Naik, co-founder and COO of autonomous sidewalk robot maker Cartken.
Secondly, SXSW is coming up and I will be there IRL. Reach out if there’s a talk or presentation you believe I simply must see or a person I just have to meet. It’ll be a quick trip, but I am looking for any and all compelling transportation goings on. I am also moderating two panels: one is on sustainable mobility with folks from Arrival, Uber and autonomous vehicle consultant Selika Talbott. The other one, with Enel and Uber, is focused on EV charging infrastructure and the electrification of ride sharing, corporate fleets and service fleets.
Bah! wait, how could I forget … this is huge and finally we can have cars in the U.S. that don’t blind people! The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued a final rule allowing automakers to install adaptive driving beam headlights, which automatically adjusts as you are driving, on new vehicles. These systems are already in Europe.
One of my favorite podcast and newsletter hosts, Azeem Azhar, dedicated a whole podcast to micromobility! On his latest show, Exponential View, where Azhar explores the impact of technology on business and society, he had on micromobility expert Horace Dediu. They talked about the role of software in driving the adoption of micromobility (a trend that some people questioned and even gave me a lot of flack for writing about a year ago), the integration of AR and micromobility and how big tech companies will integrate into micromobility.
There’s really no end to the companies trying to fuel the micromobility revolution, so catch up with just a few of them here.
Cogo is consolidating a less talked-about market in the micromobility world: shared mobility aggregating. The company just acquired another aggregator, eScoot, so that it can better offer comprehensive price comparisons for shared mobility. This helps users check the price, availability and travel time from multiple operators in one search. Funnily enough, this is something Dediu has said big tech companies, like Google, have an opportunity to capitalize on via Maps, so we’ll see how this kind of service unfolds in the long run.
Bird is extending its permits and increasing its fleet size in a few markets. It’ll be sticking around a little while longer in Long Beach, Portland and Decatur, and adding more vehicles to Durham, Isla Vista and Arlington.
Mundimoto, an online motorcycle buying and selling startup, raised $22.6 million to expand its platform outside of Spain and into the rest of Europe.
Lyft is starting to double down on its bikeshare business, per its Q4 2021 earnings. This supports comments that Tony Ho of Segway made to TechCrunch last year when he forecast that some of the “big rideshare guys” would be “coming back to play.”
Lightning Motorcycles is designing an electric two-wheeler that has a top speed of 250 mph (!!!). It’ll need a special metal called niobium that is found on rocket ships.
— Rebecca Bellan
Deal of the week
This isn’t a deal, so much as a rumored one. Still, it’s worth noting because of the implications.
German media reported that Volkswagen is in talks with Huawei to acquire the latter’s nascent autonomous driving unit for billions of euros. Huawei said it had no immediate comment when contacted by TechCrunch. VW China said it has no comment.
As TC reporter Rita Liao notes, the potential merger will be a powerful one. Huawei’s autonomous unit sits under the telecom equipment and smartphone behemoth’s “smart vehicle solution” business unit, which started only in 2019. The founding of the smart car BU spurred much speculation over whether Huawei would develop its own cars, though the firm has repeatedly denied any manufacturing plans and said it instead wants to be the “Bosch of China”, or a components supplier for car brands.
Other deals that got my attention this week …
Carbar, the Australian car subscription company, raised $28.9 million in a round led by Insurance Australia Group and Seven West Media.
CelLink, a California startup that developed a way to replace traditional wiring harnesses in vehicles, raised $250 million in a funding round backed by several strategic investors, including BMW iVentures, Lear Corp., Robert Bosch Venture Capital and 3M. Previous investor Ford Motor did not join the latest round.
Cepton, a lidar company that went public via a merger with SPAC partner Growth Capital Acquisition Corp, held its opening bell ringing ceremony at Nasdaq on February 17.
Haul, a company that developed software to connect CDL drivers to trucking companies with assignments, announced it raised $10 million in a round led by B Capital Group. Other investors included previous funders, Hack VC, Next Coast Ventures, Pipeline Capital Partners, RPM Ventures, Value Chain Ventures, as well as new participants, Bam Elevate, FJ Labs, WTI and angel investor Will Redd (cofounder of ZipRecruiter).
Ibex Investors has a new $113 million fund focused on early-stage mobility companies. The firm, which is based in Denver with offices in New York and Tel Aviv, has already tapped into the fund to invest in Aifleet and Visionary.ai.
Liefergrün, a German-based startup that offers emissions-free last-mile delivery services, raised €3 million in a seed funding round led by SpeedInvest and with participation from Norrsken VC.
Motorq, a connected car API startup, said it raised $40 million in a Series B funding round led by Insight Partners. Existing investors also joined including Story Ventures, FM Capital, Monta Vista Capital and Avanta Ventures.
Parallel Systems, an autonomous electric rail company, received $4.5 million in grant money from the Department of Energy as part of its Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy initiative.
RideCo, a Canadian company offering cities on-demand transit tech, closed a $15.8 million (CAD $20 million) Series A round. RideCo’s funding round, which was led by Eclipse Ventures, represents the first time the company has raised institutional investment in the seven years since its founding.
Notable news and other tidbits
Argo AI is launching a new engineering and development office in Los Angeles where researchers will engage in R&D to advance its self-driving tech. Argo is bringing on Caltech professor Yisong Yue as principal scientist, who bring an expertise in ML and a connection to the university. Argo’s new office is close by Caltech, which will allow Argo to tap into that university-to-startup pipeline.
Aurora announced in a blog post that it is partnering with USXpress “to design optimal deployment strategies for autonomous technology in its commercial operations.” Think of this as a data exchange mission to find the lanes that would most benefit from early deployment of Aurora’s self-driving trucking technology.
Separately, Aurora reported its first earnings (Q4 and full year) as a publicly traded company. There weren’t too many surprises for a company that is still developing its technology and therefore pre-revenue. It’s R&D spend caught my eye though. Whooo weee! Aurora reported it spent $697.3 million on research and development in 2021, compared to $179.4 million in 2020. Aurora has $1.6 billion in cash on hand.
Baidu is launching its autonomous ride-hailing service, Apollo Go, in yet another city. Shenzhen will be the company’s seventh city where it’s introduced robotaxi services, starting with the Nanshan District, which is home to companies like Huawei and Tencent, as well as many tourist attractions. The company will be deploying Apollo’s 4th gen vehicle, the Hongqi EV, and has promised to bring its 5th gen robotaxi onto the fleet soon. Users will be able to hail a robotaxi via the Apollo Go app at one of 50 stations from 9am to 5pm. Baidu hopes to expand to more than 300 stations by the end of the year.
Important to note: This is still a trial operation. Baidu has gone commercial in Beijing and will be bringing a commercial service to Cangzhou in March. The Shenzhen service will also involve “drivered” autonomous vehicles (human safety operator is still behind the wheel) while Baidu seeks permission to test driverless in the city.
Cruise plans to expand the self-driving delivery pilot it has with Walmart in Arizona to eight stores. Today, that pilot involves just one Walmart store located on Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community lands near Scottsdale.
Starship Technologies launched an on-demand delivery service in Pleasanton, California, which is in the Bay Area. This is an expansion of its existing partnership deploying autonomous sidewalk robots for The Save Mart companies, which began in 2020.
Waymo’s autonomous trucking and cargo division Waymo Via and freight logistics company C.H. Robinson are gearing up to launch a pilot. The companies said within the coming months Waymo’s test fleet will be delivering freight in Texas for one of C.H. Robinson’s customers. The pilot is part of a larger partnership between the two companies that aims to combine Waymo’s AV technology, which is available to any carrier, with C.H. Robinson’s logistics data on over 3 million trucking lanes and access to a network of nearly 200,000 shippers and carriers, many of which are medium and small carriers that Waymo is interested in reaching.
Remember all of those electric vehicle ads that aired during the Super Bowl? Apparently, Cars.com saw an 80% increase in EV page views after all that marketing. TechCrunch reporter Rebecca Bellan tells me she loved this ad from General Motors, featuring Dr. Evil and crew from the Austin Powers movies, in part because it went nicely with the throwbacks from the halftime show.
Putting aside my Gen Xer reaction to the word “throwbacks” (we’ll talk later, Rebecca) I was struck by how many of the EVs in these ads are not yet on sale. When all those people turned to the internet to find these EVs were they disappointed? Or excited for what was to come?
Delorean is coming back as an EV! Or at least that’s the intention of some Texas executives who are working with Stephen Wynne, Bloomberg reported. Wynne owns the DeLorean branding rights and supplies parts for the 6,000 or so remaining vehicles. DeLorean Motor Company ReImagined LLC tweeted out a video that teases the upcoming EV; no word on timing.
Fisker confirmed in an earnings call that it’s still on track to start production of the Ocean SUV in November, with reservations for its first electric vehicle jumping to 31,000. Interestingly, there are 1,600 fleet reservations for the Ocean, including an incremental 200-unit order from software company ServiceNow.
Redwood Materials, the startup founded by former Tesla CTO JB Straubel, is launching an electric vehicle battery recycling program in California with Ford and Volvo as inaugural partners as pressure mounts to source materials for EVs. The two automakers will cover some of the cost of retrieving, properly packaging and then transporting the batteries back to Redwood’s recycling facility in northern Nevada.
The program will be free for those turning in vehicle batteries. Redwood says it will accept all lithium-ion and nickel metal hydride batteries in the state, regardless of the make or model of the vehicle.
Tesla said non-Tesla owners can charge their electric vehicles at all Supercharger stations in the Netherlands, marking an expansion of a pilot program that kicked off in November 2021 with 10 stations.
Speaking of Tesla, the company fell seven spots to No. 23 out of 32 brands in Consumer Reports’ annual auto brand rankings. And not to pile on, but … federal safety regulators opened an investigation into Tesla after receiving hundreds of reports alleging “phantom braking.” The investigation covers an estimated 416,000 Tesla Model 3 and Model Y vehicles from the 2021-22 model years.
Volta is expanding its collaboration with Walgreens and will install 1,000 DC fast charging stalls at over stores throughout the U.S.
Future of flight
AirAsia signed a non-binding MoU with Avolon, an aircraft leasing company, to lease a minimum of 100 eVTOLs that were built by Vertical Aerospace.
AutoFlight, a Chinese eVTOL company, completed the proof-of-concept, transition test flight for its air taxi Prosperity I, in which the aircraft switches from a vertical take-off motion to horizontal flight and back to vertical flight before landing — an important milestone for an eVTOL startup trying to make it in the business.
Joby Aviation is partnering with Japanese airline ANA to bring aerial ridesharing services to Japan. Toyota Motor Corporation will be partnering with the two companies, as well, in order to explore ways to connect the air taxis to ground-based transportation. In other Joby news, the company reported one of its test vehicles crashed. NTSB is investigating.
Gig economy and delivery
Doordash is launching express grocery delivery, which brings customer groceries in under 30 minutes, in partnership with Albertsons, which owns stores like Safeway, Vons, Tom Thumb, ACME Markets and more.
Nvidia keeps scoring those automaker partnerships. This time, it is Jaguar Land Rover. The automaker said it will use Nvidia’s end-to-end Drive Hyperion platform in all of its vehicles starting in 2025. This platform will be used to power features like advanced driver assistance systems and autonomous driving.
Caribou, the auto fintech startup formerly called MotoRefi, has hired or promoted 10 new executives. The company promoted former COO and Uber alum Eric Stradley to the role of president, appointed Jason Tepperman as chief lending officer, hired Arlene Dzurnak as the company’s chief compliance officer and named Jennifer Khazai chief accounting officer.
P.J. O’Rourke, the satirist and bestselling author who also wrote for Car and Driver, died February 15. Car and Driver has a nice send off piece featuring some of his work for the magazine.
Steve Taub left In-Q-Tel, where he was partner, and is now managing director of investments at JetBlue Technology Ventures.
Virgin Galactic announced that Chairman Chamath Palihapitiya, whose SPAC took the company public in 2019, is stepping down from the space-tourism company’s board of directors, effective immediately, CNBC reported.
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,
Google will start erasing location data for abortion clinic visits
In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision to strip federal abortion rights in the U.S., many people are questioning how the apps they use every day might suddenly be turned against them.
As concerns mount over the endless well of data that tech companies built an entire industry around, Google is taking at least one step to mitigate some potential harm related to location tracking.
The company announced Friday in a blog post that it would remove location history data about some “particularly personal” places from a Google account shortly after someone visits. Locations that will have their data deleted include “medical facilities like counseling centers, domestic violence shelters, abortion clinics, fertility centers, addiction treatment facilities, weight loss clinics, cosmetic surgery clinics, and others,” according to the blog.
Google also noted that Fitbit users who use the device’s companion software as a period tracker currently must delete those entries one by one, but an easier way to “delete multiple logs at once” is on the way.
The change to location history will go into effect in the next few weeks, emptying one potential bucket of data that law enforcement could demand from the company. Google notes that its location history feature is off by default for people who use its services, but if you’re not sure about that, it’s always worth double-checking what personal information you’re actively sharing with tech’s data brokers — particularly now.
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