Companies and the reporters who cover them routinely find themselves at odds, particularly when the stories being chased are unflattering or bring unwanted attention to a business’s dealings, or, in the company’s estimation, simply inaccurate.
Many companies fight back, which is why crisis communications is a very big and lucrative business. Still, how a company fights back matters. And according to crisis communications pros who TechCrunch spoke with this afternoon, a new post on Oracle’s corporate blog misses the mark, as did the company’s related follow-up on social media.
In fact, the author of the post, an Oracle executive named Ken Glueck, a 25-year-long veteran of the company, has been temporarily suspended by Twitter after encouraging his followers to harass a female reporter.
The trouble ties to a series of pieces by the news site The Intercept about how a “network of local resellers helps funnel Oracle technology to the police and military in China,” and Oracle’s response to the pieces.
While it isn’t uncommon for companies to post responses to media stories on their own platforms (as well as to take out ads in mainstream media outlets), the crisis execs with whom we spoke — they asked not to be named as they work with companies like Oracle — had some observations that might be helpful to Oracle in the future.
Rule number one: don’t draw attention unnecessarily to work that you might prefer didn’t exist. Oracle’s newest post doesn’t link back to the new Intercept story that Glueck works to dismantle, but in an earlier post about the first Intercept story that ran in February, Glueck hyperlinks to the story on Oracle’s blog in the very first sentence of his response, even sharing its intriguing title: “How Oracle Sells Repression in China.”
“How many of Oracle’s customers or employees saw [The Intercept piece] or didn’t give a damn, and now he’s drawing attention to it?” noted one exec we’d interviewed today.
Rule number two: Don’t attack reporters; attack (if you must) the outlet. In Glueck’s first diatribe against The Intercept over its February piece, he mentions the outlet 26 times and the author of the piece once. In Glueck’s newest salvo against The Intercept, he refers to its author, reporter Mara Hvistendahl, 22 times — mostly by her first name — and even invites readers of Oracle’s blog to reach out to him about her, writing in boldface: “If you have any information about Mara or her reporting, write me securely at kglueck AT protonmail.com.”
Though Glueck has since said the call-out was a tongue-in-cheek gesture, it was subsequently removed from the post, possibly owing to its “sinister tone” as observed by one of our experts. “No one likes a bully,” said this comms pro, adding that “bullying conveys weakness.”
Rule number three: Know your purpose. By lashing out in what is a plainly derisive tone to The Intercept’s piece, as well as continuing to doubling down on his attack against Hvistendahl on social media afterward, Glueck’s strategy became less and less clear, according to one of the crisis specialists we spoke with.
“You can do what Ken did and mock” the reporter, said this person, “but is that going to stop The Intercept from continuing to do stories about Oracle? And what is the reaction of other media? Are they scared off by [what happened today] or are they going to circle the wagons?” (Below: a note from an L.A. Times reporter to Glueck today in response to his call for information about Hvistendahl.)
Rule four: Keep it short. Two of the pros we spoke with today commended Glueck’s writing style, calling it both fluid and funny. Both also observed that his response was far too long. “I just couldn’t get through it,” said one.
Last rule: Find another way if possible. The crisis experts we spoke with said it’s ideal to first work with a reporter, then the reporter’s editor if necessary, and if it comes to it, involve lawyers, of which Oracle surely has plenty. “That’s the chain of appeal if a reporter has gotten a story blatantly wrong,” said one source.
Very possibly, Glueck decided to throw out this rulebook by design. Oracle tends to do things its own way, and Glueck is very much a product of that culture. Indeed, the WSJ wrote a 1,300-word profile about Glueck last year, calling him a “potent weapon” for Oracle.
As for Hvistendahl, she suggests there is another reason Oracle took the route that it did.
In a statement sent to us earlier, she writes that “Ken Glueck has published two lengthy blog posts attacking me and my editor, Ryan Tate. But Oracle has not refuted my central finding, which is that the company marketed its analytics software for use by police in China. Oracle also hasn’t refuted our reporting on Oracle’s sale and marketing of its analytics software to police elsewhere in the world. We found evidence of Oracle selling or marketing analytics software to police in Mexico, Pakistan, Turkey, and the UAE. In Brazil, my colleague Tatiana Dias uncovered police contracts between Oracle and Rio de Janeiro’s notoriously corrupt Civil Police.”
China’s WeRide secures more funding, pushing valuation to $3.3 billion
Only four months after securing Series B fundraising of $310 million, Chinese autonomous driving company WeRide says it has achieved its Series C funding round that brings its post-money valuation to $3 billion.
This is first time the company has disclosed its value. The company did not share how much it has raised this round, only noting that it’s in the “hundreds of millions,” according to a statement released by the company. WeRide intends to use this funding round to invest in R&D and commercialization as it works towards the next-generation of Level 4 driving, a term that means a vehicle can drive without human intervention in some environments and conditions. The company is also using the funds to prepare to commercialize its technology.
WeRide has scored a slew of large investments over the past year, including its $200 million strategic round in December from Chinese bus maker Yutong. The speed and scale of these investments signals that the company is burning through money and hungry for more, and that investors are banking on China’s tech. Rival Momenta has also received large sums this year, exceeding its $1 billion in valuation with recent investments of $500 million and total funding of more than $700 million.
“WeRide Master Platform (WMP), our core autonomous driving technology solution has helped to accelerate the company’s development,” Tony Han, founder and CEO of WeRide, said in a statement. “This drives the successful operation of our Robotaxi service in Guangzhou since 2019 and the introduction of the WeRide driverless Mini Robobus, a completely new product category to the autonomous industry.”
WeRide’s robotaxi pilot in Guangzhou began in 2019, but it began conducting test drives in the city’s Central Business District in January. Not long after, the company’s driverless Mini Robobus began road testing in Guangzhou and Nanjing. WeRide became the first autonomous driving company in China to secure an official license for online car-hailing operations in February, and in April, the California DMV issued WeRide a permit to test its driverless vehicles on public roads in San Jose, California.
Many investors participated in this most recent round, including IDG Capital, Homeric Capital, CoStone Capital, Cypress Star, Sky9 Capital and K3 Ventures, as well as existing investors CMC Capital Partners, Qiming Venture Partners and Alpview Capital.
Elon Musk, Technoking of Tesla, orders a halt to bitcoin car payments
Tesla CEO and self-dubbed Technoking is back-peddling on the company’s stance about bitcoin and has suspended purchases of its electric vehicles with the cryptocurrency.
The change of stance, which was delivered via tweet, comes just weeks after Tesla CFO and dubbed “Master of Coin” Zach Kirkhorn said the company believes in the longevity of bitcoin, despite its volatility. The tweet from Musk sent the price of bitcoin down more than 4% (and falling). The price of bitcoin is down more than 7% for the day, although some of that decrease occurred prior to Musk’s tweet:
Tesla has suspended vehicle purchases using Bitcoin. We are concerned about rapidly increasing use of fossil fuels for Bitcoin mining and transactions, especially coal, which has the worst emissions of any fuel.
Cryptocurrency is a good idea on many levels and we believe it has a promising future, but this cannot come at a great cost to the environment.
Tesla will not be selling any Bitcoin and we intend to use it for transactions as soon as mining transitions to more sustainable energy. We are also looking at other cryptocurrencies that use <1% of Bitcoin’s energy/transaction.
Tesla invested $1.5 billion in bitcoin this quarter and then trimmed its position by 10%, Kirkhorn said during the company’s quarterly earnings call in April. That sale made a $101 million “positive impact” to the company’s profitability in the first quarter.
Kirkhorn said Tesla turned to bitcoin as a place to store cash and still access it immediately, all while providing a better return on investment than more traditional central bank-backed safe havens. Of course, the higher yields provided by the volatile digital currency comes with higher risk.
If you’re getting whiplash from this announcement, you’re not alone. Tesla originally announced in March that it would accept bitcoin as a form of payment in the United States. But Elon Musk, the Technoking of Tesla, is known for drastically affecting the crypto market with just a mere tweeting of his thumbs. Every time the man tweets an image of a Shiba Inu, the joke coin called Dogecoin sores in the stocks.
In anticipation for Musk’s appearance on Saturday Night Live, many anticipated that the coin would reach $1, but when the “Dogefather” admitted (as a joke) to the currency being a hustle, the price of the coin crashed 30%.
When it first became public that Tesla had purchased $1.5 billion in Bitcoin, investors, analysts and money managers at some of the country’s largest banks noted that it presented risks for the company. Others noted it could damage its reputation.
Bitcoin functions using what is known as a “Proof of Work” consensus, which means the network relies on mining to continue operating. The bulk of bitcoin mining is conducted in Russia and China. Until the energy grid decarbonizes, as TechCrunch noted back in February, mining bitcoin will remain a dirty business, though plenty of mining operations today do use renewable energies, in part. One investor told TechCrunch that the cost per transaction from an energy intensity standpoint has only gotten more intense.
Musk hinted that other cryptocurrencies are on the table. Those will likely be ones that use “Proof of Stake” consensus mechanisms, which networks like Ethereum have committed to transition to due to their energy efficiencies.
Vitalik Buterin donates $1 billion worth of ‘meme coins’ to India COVID Relief Fund
Vitalik Buterin, the creator of Ethereum, on Wednesday donated Ethereum and “meme coins” worth $1.5 billion in one of the largest-ever individual philanthropy efforts.
Buterin transferred 500 ETH and over 50 trillion SHIB (Shiba Inu), a meme coin, worth around $1.14 billion at the time of transaction, to the India COVID-Crypto Relief Fund. The transaction sparked panic among some investors, contributing to over 35% drop in SHIB’s price in the past 24 hours.
The meme coin, which has courted retail investors in China and elsewhere following recent surges in the Dogecoin cryptocurrency, managed to garner billions (USD) worth of investment in recent days before today’s crash.
Buterin’s offloading of several dog-themed meme coins — which were sent to him without his consent in the first place — comes at a time when India is grappling with a surge in the coronavirus infections.
Sandeep Nailwal, who put together the Indian relief fund and co-founded crypto organization Polygon, said in a tweet that he won’t do anything that hurts “any community specially the retail community involved with SHIB.”
Buterin, who became the youngest crypto billionaire at the age of 27 earlier this month, also transferred Ethereum and Dogelon Mars (ELON) — another meme coin — worth $336 million to Methuselah Foundation, a nonprofit that supports efforts in tissue engineering and regenerative medicine therapies; and over 13,000 ETH to Givewell, a nonprofit organization that works to curate the best charities around the world. Buterin also donated to Gitcoin Community, MIRI and Charter Cities Institute.
India has been reporting over 350,000 daily infections and over 3,500 fatalities for the last two weeks. The second wave of the coronavirus has overwhelmed the South Asian nation’s healthcare system, leaving countless people to scramble for hospital beds, medical oxygen and other supplies.
A number of entrepreneurs including Balaji Srinivasan have donated to the India Crypto Relief Fund, which maintains a log of all the donations. Buterin himself had donated about $600,000 in ether and maker tokens to the fund last month.
Scores of startup founders, investors and technology giants have stepped up to help India navigate the pandemic in recent weeks.
Daily Crunch: The early-stage tech talent crunch is real
To get a roundup of TechCrunch’s biggest and most important stories delivered to your inbox every day at 3 p.m. PDT, subscribe here.
By now everyone is familiar with the tech world’s talent crunch: Developers are scarce and expensive, while data scientists are maybe even scarcer and expensiver. Some folks I’ve spoken to think that rising acceptance of remote work may help reduce the supply-demand imbalance. Hell, every early-stage startup I’ve spoken to in weeks is remote-first. Many were born during COVID, but they all love the ability to hire anywhere in the world.
But if a more distributed workforce is not enough to lower the pain that many companies feel when it comes to attracting and then retaining technical talent, good news could be coming. The sibling product philosophies of no-code and low-code are not only attracting lots of venture attention, public companies that dabble with either are posting interesting results.
Perhaps the solution to needing lots more code is no code at all? — Alex
TechCrunch Top 3
Today’s TechCrunch Top 3 come from the three phases of startup life: Early stage, when startups are still getting their product and market in order. Late stage, when they are prepping for an eventual exit. And the exit stage, when a former startup is looking to spread its wings and fly the private markets.
- The anti-venture movement is global: Today Mary Ann reported that Divibank, a Brazilian startup offering revenue-based financing to other startups, has raised $3.6 million in a seed round led by Better Tomorrow Ventures (BTV). TechCrunch thinks it could build something akin to the Clearbanc of Latin America.
- London’s Lyst looks to list: When you raise a pre-IPO round, you’d best be heading toward the public markets. With fashion e-commerce app Lyst saying that its new $85 million funding round is pre-IPO money, well, we have big expectations.
- Bird hopes to take flight: Bird is going public via a SPAC. TechCrunch has the big news here, and a more dorky financial analysis here. I helped write the latter. The short version is that a business-model shakeup is helping the scooter unicorn lose less money over time.
Startups and VC
Scootin’ into startup mode, TechCrunch covered a huge number of funding rounds in the last 24 hours, so what follows is a sampling of the most interesting. Enjoy!
- Pomelo raises $9M to build a payments infrastructure for LatAm fintechs: Building fintech infrastructure is a huge global task, so it’s not a surprise to see companies at work on the problem raising money. In this case, Pomelo is $9 million richer to tackle what might be the most interesting fintech market in the world.
- Collective, a back-office platform for the self-employed, raises $20M from Ashton Kutcher’s VC: Going indie is not easy, despite what the Substack hype might have you believe. So, Collective is betting that it can make bank off of helping folks run their own microcompany. Both the company and the investment are a wager on the creator economy.
- Stampli raises $50 million in Series C to help companies intelligently manage invoices: The Stampli round stood out because it was more capital in a single investment than the startup had raised during all of its previous life — by around 50%. So, something is going on at the corporate-invoice optimization software shop that has investor attention.
- Planck, the insurance data analytics platform, raises $20M growth round: Two of the three Planck co-founders are bald, so I had no choice but to include my follicle-deficient brethren in today’s newsletter. Jokes aside, Planck collects data that it sells to commercial insurance companies. And now it has fresh capital from 3L Capital, Greenfield Partners, Team8, Viola Fintech, Arbor Ventures and Eight Roads to help it grow.
For unicorns, how much does the route to going public really matter?
Natasha Mascarenhas and Alex Wilhelm recently hosted Yext CFO Steve Cakebread and Latch CFO Garth Mitchell on an episode of TechCrunch’s Equity podcast.
In their discussion, “The morality and efficacy of going public earlier,” the group discussed the myriad paths startups are taking to go public and assessed the pros and cons of each method, and, importantly, the potential impacts on employees and business operations.
“I think when money’s chasing money, you don’t want to be the last guy holding the money. You want to be the chase,” said Cakebread.
Since Latch is currently going public via a SPAC and Yext followed a traditional IPO route a few years ago, the discussion is heavily weighted toward experience, not opinion.
(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)
Big Tech Inc.
Turning to tech’s largest companies today, we have three things for you to chew on:
First, Waymo is losing key talent in a very public fashion. Kirsten reports that “Waymo’s chief financial officer Ger Dwyer and its head of automotive partnerships and corporate development Adam Frost,” both long-time execs, are “leaving this month.” The exits come after the company’s former CEO also departed.
I guess we’ll have to drive ourselves for a bit longer.
Next up is a story that came out yesterday, but we missed in the newsletter. But after burning up the TechCrunch analytics all day, I decided to make sure that you saw it. With the simply excellent headline Prime today, gone tomorrow: Chinese products get pulled from Amazon, Rita writes that several Chinese retailers have evaporated from the online megastore. “In total, the suspended accounts contribute over a billion dollars in gross merchandise value (GMV) to Amazon,” she reported.
Changes afoot at Amazon? We’ll have to see, but the news is driving mega-attention from, we presume, confused shoppers.
Finally, looping back to no-code for a hot second, Salesforce is only adding to its own efforts. It’s everywhere!
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