It hasn’t decided on a name, it’s still on the hunt to fill some important roles, and its early alpha has less than 100 users as of today. But, riding the wave of interest in the current state of Twitter, a startup hoping to disrupt it has raised $1.1 million in funding. T2, the project being led by Gabor Cselle, has closed its first outside investment from a group of angels that includes Bradley Horowitz, Rich Miner and the former CEO of Wikipedia, Katherine Maher.
Cselle himself has founded and sold startups to Twitter and Google, and he spent a number of years at both companies building products. In recent times, he has also been a popular presence on Twitter on subjects like building companies and products. His track record shows in the list of people who have pitched in money to back him and his latest efforts.
Horowitz, a seasoned exec at Google, has led and built a number of products there (including some ill-fated social efforts like Google+); he also wrote the first check for Slack. Miner is one of the co-creators of Android and also helped build out the powerhouse that is Google Ventures (now known as GV).
Others in this early seed round — 17 in all — include Kayak’s Paul English, Hubspot’s Dharmesh Shah, Twitter’s ex-engineering director Vijay Pandurangan, Mercury CEO Immad Akhund, Paul Lambert (an ex-Twitter, ex-Google director), Jackie Bernhelm (a director of Area 120 at Google), Coco Mao of OpenArt.ai, Yelp’s ex-SVP of engineering Michael Stoppelman, Brian McCullough of the Techmeme Ride Home Podcast, the ex-product lead of Twitter’s consumer division Jeff Seibert, YC partner Jared Friedman, the former head of news partnerships at Google Natalie Gross, Squarespace’s Janani SriGuha, and CEO and co-founder of Byteboard Sargun Kaur.
T2, to be clear, is not the company’s final name.
It is the working title for the startup and its new service. That service had a somewhat unlikely beginning. It started life as a series of Cselle’s Tweets, where he thought aloud about the missed opportunity at Twitter in the wake of Musk’s takeover. Those eventually evolved into statements (Tweets) about what Caselle saw as a prime opportunity to build on that potential. Those then became his battle call, and he launched the T2 effort in earnest last November.
Since that early public commitment, T2, based out of the Bay Area, has launched a very early-stage closed beta. It has already brought together a staff of seven, including some Twitter alums like Cselle himself. He tells me the plan is to use the funding both to continue hiring in a range of roles, some of which are pretty big — he’s in the market for a CTO — and to continue developing the product and the concept behind it.
That concept is less set in stone than you might think. Speaking to Cselle, the idea with T2, he said, is to create a “familiar place that is very close to the original.”
But what version of “the original” he means is still up in the air, since Twitter has shifted quite a lot over the years, and T2 is being selective on what it’s prioritizing to build, and what it might leave out altogether. (For one thing, the character count on the “original” Twitter was 140 characters. In the purple-hued T2 it’s 280.)
The overriding aim seems to encourage use of T2 by making it as easy as possible to use, and the route to that ease is coming from tapping into familiarity. The hope is that activity will breed conversations and connections. “In consumer social, it’s all about the community,” said Cselle.
There is probably a key critical mass that it will need to reach, too. Right now, there are still less than 100 people in this early version. But Cselle tells me that the sign-up list is in the region of tens of thousands already, and it wants onboard more of them.
“We have a product and we are going as quickly as possible,” he said.
Growth will be intrinsically connected not just to T2 understanding whether it has something here worth building and the makings of that community, but to it raising more money. He told me that he’s already having early conversations with VCs and other institutional investors. But they will be unlikely to back T2 until it reaches some milestones.
Specifically the metrics they are looking for are 5,000 active users.
In the meantime while the product is being developed, there is a second track of messaging happening over a publicly-accessible Google Spreadsheet, titled “What Would It Take To Build Another Twitter”, which not only is meant to steer the effort (Twitter is the North Star), but to serve as a kind of out-in-the-open brainstorm for Cselle and his team, and those watching.
(If the world is roughly divided into people who like to write out plans/put things into forms and lists; and those who do not; Cselle is in the former category. “I plan family vacations in spreadsheets,” he told me.)
T2 may be one of the first to close (modest) funding in the wave of services out there, established and emerging, that are looking to dethrone Twitter, but it’s not the only one that will be looking to capitalize on the situation. Among them, Spill, founded by Twitter alums, is also looking to raise some $1.3 million; Post, already well backed, is looking to raise more at a $250 million valuation.
The big questions for T2, or whatever it will be eventually called, will be the same faced by other would-be competitors. Will Twitter face a sustained exodus of users, and will it be to another product similar to it or something else entirely?
Tesla more than tripled its Austin gigafactory workforce in 2022
Tesla’s 2,500-acre manufacturing hub in Austin, Texas tripled its workforce last year, according to the company’s annual compliance report filed with county officials. Bloomberg first reported on the news.
The report filed with Travis County’s Economic Development Program shows that Tesla increased its Austin workforce from just 3,523 contingent and permanent employees in 2021 to 12,277 by the end of 2022. Bloomberg reports that just over half of Tesla’s workers reside in the county, with the average full-time employee earning a salary of at least $47,147. Outside of Tesla’s factory, the average salary of an Austin worker is $68,060, according to data from ZipRecruiter.
TechCrunch was unable to acquire a copy of the report, so it’s not clear if those workers are all full-time. If they are, Tesla has hired a far cry more full-time employees than it is contracted to do. According to the agreement between Tesla and Travis County, the company is obligated to create 5,001 new full-time jobs over the next four years.
The contract also states that Tesla must invest about $1.1 billion in the county over the next five years. Tesla’s compliance report shows that the automaker last year invested $5.81 billion in Gigafactory Texas, which officially launched a year ago at a “Cyber Rodeo” event. In January, Tesla notified regulators that it plans to invest another $770 million into an expansion of the factory to include a battery cell testing site and cathode and drive unit manufacturing site. With that investment will come more jobs.
Tesla’s choice to move its headquarters to Texas and build a gigafactory there has helped the state lead the nation in job growth. The automaker builds its Model Y crossover there and plans to build its Cybertruck in Texas, as well. Giga Texas will also be a model for sustainable manufacturing, CEO Elon Musk has said. Last year, Tesla completed the first phase of what will become “the largest rooftop solar installation in the world,” according to the report, per Bloomberg. Tesla has begun on the second phase of installation, but already there are reports of being able to see the rooftop from space. The goal is to generate 27 megawatts of power.
Musk has also promised to turn the site into an “ecological paradise,” complete with a boardwalk and a hiking/biking trail that will open to the public. There haven’t been many updates on that front, and locals have been concerned that the site is actually more of an environmental nightmare that has led to noise and water pollution. The site, located at the intersection of State Highway 130 and Harold Green Road, east of Austin, is along the Colorado River and could create a climate catastrophe if the river overflows.
The site of Tesla’s gigafactory has also historically been the home of low-income households and has a large population of Spanish-speaking residents. It’s not clear if the jobs at the factory reflect the demographic population of the community in which it resides.
Launch startup Stoke Space rolls out software tool for complex hardware development
Stoke Space, a company that’s developing a fully reusable rocket, has unveiled a new tool to let hardware companies track the design, testing and integration of parts. The new tool, Fusion, is targeting an unsexy but essential aspect of the hardware workflow.
It’s a solution born out of “ubiquitous pain in the industry,” Stoke CEO Andy Lapsa said in a recent interview. The current parts tracking status quo is marked by cumbersome, balkanized solutions built on piles of paperwork and spreadsheets. Many of the existing tools are not optimized “for boots on the ground,” but for finance or procurement teams, or even the C-suite, Lapsa explained.
In contrast, Fusion is designed to optimize simple inventory transactions and parts organization, and it will continue to track parts through their lifespan: as they are built into larger assemblies and go through testing. In an extreme example, such as hardware failures, Fusion will help teams connect anomalous data to the exact serial numbers of the parts involved.
“If you think about aerospace in general, there’s a need and a desire to be able to understand the part pedigree of every single part number and serial number that’s in an assembly,” Lapsa said. “So not only do you understand the configuration, you understand the history of all of those parts dating back to forever.”
While Lapsa clarified that Fusion is the result of an organic in-house need for better parts management – designing a fully reusable rocket is complicated, after all – turning it into a sell-able product was a decision that the Stoke team made early on. It’s a notable example of a rocket startup generating pathways for revenue while their vehicle is still under development.
Fusion offers particular relevance to startups. Many existing tools are designed for production runs – not the fast-moving research and development environment that many hardware startups find themselves, Lapsa added. In these environments, speed and accuracy are paramount.
Brent Bradbury, Stoke’s head of software, echoed these comments.
“The parts are changing, the people are changing, the processes are changing,” he said. “This lets us capture all that as it happens without a whole lot of extra work.”
Amid a boom in AI accelerators, a UC Berkeley-focused outfit, House Fund, swings open its doors
Companies at the forefront of AI would naturally like to stay at the forefront, so it’s no surprise they want to stay close to smaller startups that are putting some of their newest advancements to work.
Last month, for example, Neo, a startup accelerator founded by Silicon Valley investor Ali Partovi, announced that OpenAI and Microsoft have offered to provide free software and advice to companies in a new track focused on artificial intelligence.
Now, another Bay Area outfit — House Fund, which invests in startups with ties to UC Berkeley — says it is launching an AI accelerator and that, similarly, OpenAI, Microsoft, Databricks, and Google’s Gradient Ventures are offering participating startups free and early access to tech from their companies, along with mentorship from top AI founders and executives at these companies.
We talked with House Fund founder Jeremy Fiance over the weekend to get a bit more color about the program, which will replace a broader-based accelerator program House Fund has run and whose alums include an additive manufacturing software company, Dyndrite, and the managed app development platform Chowbotics, whose most recent round in January brought the company’s total funding to more than $60 million.
For founders interested in learning more, the new AI accelerator program runs for two months, kicking off in early July and ending in early September. Six or so companies will be accepted, with the early application deadline coming up next week on April 13th. (The final application deadline is on June 1.) As for the time commitment involved across those two months, every startup could have a different experience, says Fiance. “We’re there when you need us, and we’re good at staying out of the way.”
There will be the requisite kickoff retreat to spark the program and founders to get to know one another. Candidates who are accepted will also have access to some of UC Berkeley’s renowned AI professors, including Michael Jordan, Ion Stoica, and Trevor Darrell. And they can opt into dinners and events in collaboration with these various constituents.
As for some of the financial dynamics, every startup that goes through the program will receive a $1 million investment on a $10 million post-money SAFE note. Importantly, too, as with the House Fund’s venture dollars, its AI accelerator is seeking startups that have at least one Berkeley-affiliated founder on the co-founding team. That includes alumni, faculty, PhDs, postdocs, staff, students, dropouts, and other affiliates.
There is no demo day. Instead, says Fiance, founders will receive “directed, personal introductions” to the VCs who best fit with their startups.
Given the buzz over AI, the new program could supercharge House Fund, the venture organization, which is already growing fast. Fiance launched it in 2016 with just $6 million and it now manages $300 million in assets, including on behalf of Berkeley Endowment Management Company and the University of California.
At the same time, the competition out there is fierce and growing more so by the day.
Though OpenAI has offered to partner with House Fund, for example, the San Francisco-based company announced its own accelerator back in November. Called Converge, the cohort was to be made up of 10 or so founders who received $1 million each and admission to five weeks of office hours, workshops and other events that ended and that received their funding from the OpenAI Startup Fund.
Y Combinator, the biggest accelerator in the world, is also oozing with AI startups right now, all of them part of a winter class that will be talking directly with investors this week via demo days that are taking place tomorrow, April 5th, and on Thursday.
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