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Daily Crunch: Flipkart raises $3.6 billion, setting another record for Indian startups

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Hello and welcome to Daily Crunch for July 12, 2021. You likely spent yesterday watching a football game, watching a space plane or both. We have a little bit more on the latter than the former today in the newsletter, but we can all agree with this regardless of whether you were waving an English or Italian flag yesterday. — Alex

The TechCrunch Top 3

  • Flipkart now worth $37.6B: An anticipated investment into Flipkart has come to be, with the Indian e-commerce player raising some $3.6 billion in a single deal. It’s a massive round and a huge endorsement of the larger Indian startup ecosystem. Now we have just to wait for the company to go public!
  • Virgin Galactic goes to space (mostly): Quite a few folks tuned into the Virgin Galactic rocket-plane space dalliance this weekend. The production had a few hiccoughs and more than a few self-indulgent moments that could have been edited out, but largely went off without a hitch. The recently SPAC’d former startup quickly decided to raise a half-billion dollars after its success. Unlike its space tourism vehicle, however, shares of Virgin Galactic did not take off on the news.
  • Let the billionaires fight: Your humble servant dove into the controversy surrounding the current contest between various billionaires building space companies and fighting to be the first to various space feats. Tax the rich, I think, but let them fight it out in the meantime.

Startups/VC

We have our regular list of funding rounds in a moment, but today we’re kicking off our startup coverage with this headline from earlier today: “Elevate Brands banks $250M to roll up third-party merchants selling on Amazon’s marketplace.”

The headline should feel somewhat familiar as we’ve seen comparable bits of news from other groups. As our own Ingrid Lunden reports, we’ve seen similar deals from Thrasio, The Razor Group, Branded, SellerX, Perch and others. The idea of buying up smaller Amazon retailers is such a potentially lucrative wager that kajillions of dollars are flooding the zone. How many winners that we will see is the next question.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming:

  • Gembah wants to make product creation easier: The Austin-based startup now has $11 million to follow its vision. How does it go about meeting its mission? By building a platform/marketplace that helps guide users through the work of product creation. Did we need more stuff? Probably. Gembah wants to help.
  • India’s next tech IPO: This time it’s MobiKwik, a mobile wallet startup that is targeting a $255 million IPO. We have some of its financials, including that revenue in its most recent fiscal year dipped to $40.5 million. So, it’s a smaller company, but we do love seeing IPOs regardless of their scale.

To close out startup coverage today, fake toys. If you’ve been on Twitter today there’s a good chance that you’ve seen folks posting pictures of toys that look like failed tech products. Think Theranos’ unit or the Juicero machine.

TechCrunch Grand Duke Matthew Panzarino wrote that an “idea factory/art house” called MSCHF is making the “hardness of hardware” more real by selling Dead Startup Toys made of vinyl.

Don’t laugh. This is actually somewhat neat. Think of this: Don’t you want a fake, small Juicero on your desk to throw at the wall here and there when you get mad? I do.

The most important API metric is time to first call

Publishing an API isn’t enough for any startup: Once it’s released, the hard work of cultivating a developer base begins.

Postman’s head of Developer Relations, Joyce Lin, wrote a guest post for Extra Crunch based on the findings of a study aimed at increasing adoption of APIs that utilize a public workspace.

Lin found that the most important metric for a public API is time to first call (TTFC). It makes sense — faster TTFC allows developers to begin using new tools quickly. As a result, “legitimately streamlining TTFC results in a larger market potential of better-educated users for the later stages of your developer journey,” writes Lin.

This post isn’t just for the developers in our audience: TTFC is a metric that product and growth teams should also keep top of mind, they suggest.

“Even if your market is defined as a limited subset of the developer community, any enhancements you make to TTFC equate to a larger available market.”

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Big Tech Inc.

There was a lot going on with the larger tech companies of the world today, so let’s dive right in:

  • A modest improvement to Android: If you are running Android 12, you will be able to start playing games a bit faster in the future. Google just announced a feature that will allow users to launch new games before they are fully downloaded. This has been accessible for some PC games for a while, but it’s nice to see on the mobile platform. That said, we’re really at the end of the innovation cycle for the current era of smartphones.
  • Microsoft buys more cybersecurity: Microsoft confirmed earlier reports that it was looking to buy RiskIQ. The price was not disclosed, but Bloomberg previously reported that it would be more than $500 million in cash. On the podcast this morning, we noted that that wasn’t a huge price for Microsoft, though the larger company has a huge vested interest in more folks being more secure.
  • Elon defends the SolarCity deal: Today’s MuskWatch is all about a deal from the past. Namely the Tesla-SolarCity deal that was worth $2.6 billion. Some shareholders call the deal a bailout. Musk blamed various factors for what could be called underperformance at his car company’s solar division.
  • WhatsApp takes flak in Europe: Facebook’s ability to annoy regulators is a global affair, with the company being accused of “multiple breaches of European Union consumer protection law as a result of its attempts to force WhatsApp users to accept controversial changes to the messaging platforms’ terms of use,” TechCrunch reports.

TechCrunch Experts: Growth Marketing

Illustration montage based on education and knowledge in blue

Image Credits: SEAN GLADWELL (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

We’re reaching out to startup founders to tell us who they turn to when they want the most up-to-date growth marketing practices. Fill out the survey here.

Read one of the recommendations we’ve received below!

Marketer: Maya Moufarek, Marketing Cube

Recommender: Nikki O’Farrell, www.KatKin.club

Recommendation: “Expert ear and eye from the world of startups/scaleups and growth. Her functional and direct approach allows you to execute at speed and see results quickly.”

PlatoAi. Web3 Reimagined. Data Intelligence Amplified.
Click here to access.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/07/12/daily-crunch-30/

Techcrunch

Brain Technologies raises $50M+ for the launch of Natural, a natural language search engine and ‘super app’

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Voice-based and other personal assistant apps — which use natural language and hefty AI engines in the backend to source information to address your various questions, do your e-commerce bidding, or control one electronic device or another in your home — have been around for years, but too often they have come up short when it comes to user experience, failing to nail the right solutions to your queries. Today a new app is launching from a startup that has largely been in stealth mode up to now to try to address that disparity. Brain Technologies is today announcing $50 million in funding, and along with that is releasing Natural, an iOS app, in the US market.

The $50 million (which is actually described as “over $50 million” by the company, with an exact number undisclosed), meanwhile, is coming from a very interesting mix of investors — backers include Laurene Powell Jobs’ Emerson Collective, Goodwater Capital, Scott Cook and WTT Investment, a list that underscores some of the attention that Brain has been getting, even before having released a single product.

Prior to this round, Brain had raised $1.5 million back in 2016 from an unnamed investor while still in stealth mode.

Jerry Yue, the young founder and CEO of Brain — a repeat entrepreneur and robotics enthusiast whose last company, a grocery delivery service in China called Benlai, is still going strong — said in an interview that he does not like to call Natural a “personal assistant” app, not because of the shortcomings of so many of these in the past, but because of the voice association many have with the concept.

“We don’t position ourselves as a voice assistant because we don’t think the future is voice only,” he said. “It should be the right combination of voice and native app experience.”

Instead, he describes what Natural is as the world’s first “generative computer interface”, the logical progression in digital information search.

That progression, in his view, started with the web, progressed to search engines, and then apps, before landing where he sees it today. Natural brings all of these together in some degree. Currently, you speak or type any kind of question or command into the app, which then provides a solution that might be in the form of links to other apps you might have.

For example, “I’d like sushi tonight,” will bring back options (in theory) for ordering sushi, and possibly your most favored dishes, from a selection of restaurants by way of food ordering apps that you use, or places to go eat it, as well as options for making that sushi yourself (and buying the ingredients online to do so, as well as a method).

Similarly, travel searches return results that dip into multiple silos from, say, airlines and airline aggregators that are easily editable and that you can buy directly from those results, if you already have payment details on your device. (While Google provides this to some degree, you eventually have to navigate to sites to buy tickets, which might end up significantly more expensive when you actually visit said sites.)

The more you use the app, the theory is that it will learn more about what you might want from your questions.

AI that anticipates what we are trying to say or do is something that has been attempted before, of course, but the difference here, Yue said, is in Brain’s approach, which is based on the concept of “one shot” learning, which he described as a kind of general purpose AI, “a tool that learns to use other tools.”

The alternative is a more labor-intensive approach that AI-based systems are typically built on today, largely based around keywords. “AIs from Google or Amazon are based on thousands of people and human coding to connect services,” he said. “This approach treats natural language processing as a classification problem.” In contrast, the breakthrough system he and his team have devised, he said, “has learned more than 4 million functions on its own.” Ironically, the end result of a successful AI like this is not to make us feel more technologically powerful, but to get us away from our devices, and spending time fussing on them, and into the world.

Given that this is a consumer app, it will be interesting to see how and if there is mass takeup of Natural, and whether the right combination of anticipatory AI with natural language and design come together to pique collective attention. The team and what they’ve built in any case will be a hot property, given that AI will continue to be a strong and growing presence in the tech landscape for years to come.

“What Jerry and his team are developing is incredibly special. I’m not aware of anyone doing more interesting work to demonstrate how fundamentally AI can enhance our everyday lives,” said investor Scott Cook, who was also the founder of financial software giant Intuit, in a statement.

“Many of us remember the first time we used an iPhone. The software felt magical, and every animation felt dynamic yet subtle,” said Tom Goodwin, a Natural beta customer. “Experiencing this app is the closest thing I’ve felt to that for a long time. I love the idea of one place to go for everything.”

PlatoAi. Web3 Reimagined. Data Intelligence Amplified.
Click here to access.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/07/28/brain-technologies-raises-50m-for-the-launch-of-natural-a-natural-language-search-engine-and-super-app/

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Techcrunch

Brain Technologies raises $50M+ for the launch of Natural, a natural language search engine and ‘super app’

Published

on

Voice-based and other personal assistant apps — which use natural language and hefty AI engines in the backend to source information to address your various questions, do your e-commerce bidding, or control one electronic device or another in your home — have been around for years, but too often they have come up short when it comes to user experience, failing to nail the right solutions to your queries. Today a new app is launching from a startup that has largely been in stealth mode up to now to try to address that disparity. Brain Technologies is today announcing $50 million in funding, and along with that is releasing Natural, an iOS app, in the US market.

The $50 million (which is actually described as “over $50 million” by the company, with an exact number undisclosed), meanwhile, is coming from a very interesting mix of investors — backers include Laurene Powell Jobs’ Emerson Collective, Goodwater Capital, Scott Cook and WTT Investment, a list that underscores some of the attention that Brain has been getting, even before having released a single product.

Prior to this round, Brain had raised $1.5 million back in 2016 from an unnamed investor while still in stealth mode.

Jerry Yue, the young founder and CEO of Brain — a repeat entrepreneur and robotics enthusiast whose last company, a grocery delivery service in China called Benlai, is still going strong — said in an interview that he does not like to call Natural a “personal assistant” app, not because of the shortcomings of so many of these in the past, but because of the voice association many have with the concept.

“We don’t position ourselves as a voice assistant because we don’t think the future is voice only,” he said. “It should be the right combination of voice and native app experience.”

Instead, he describes what Natural is as the world’s first “generative computer interface”, the logical progression in digital information search.

That progression, in his view, started with the web, progressed to search engines, and then apps, before landing where he sees it today. Natural brings all of these together in some degree. Currently, you speak or type any kind of question or command into the app, which then provides a solution that might be in the form of links to other apps you might have.

For example, “I’d like sushi tonight,” will bring back options (in theory) for ordering sushi, and possibly your most favored dishes, from a selection of restaurants by way of food ordering apps that you use, or places to go eat it, as well as options for making that sushi yourself (and buying the ingredients online to do so, as well as a method).

Similarly, travel searches return results that dip into multiple silos from, say, airlines and airline aggregators that are easily editable and that you can buy directly from those results, if you already have payment details on your device. (While Google provides this to some degree, you eventually have to navigate to sites to buy tickets, which might end up significantly more expensive when you actually visit said sites.)

The more you use the app, the theory is that it will learn more about what you might want from your questions.

AI that anticipates what we are trying to say or do is something that has been attempted before, of course, but the difference here, Yue said, is in Brain’s approach, which is based on the concept of “one shot” learning, which he described as a kind of general purpose AI, “a tool that learns to use other tools.”

The alternative is a more labor-intensive approach that AI-based systems are typically built on today, largely based around keywords. “AIs from Google or Amazon are based on thousands of people and human coding to connect services,” he said. “This approach treats natural language processing as a classification problem.” In contrast, the breakthrough system he and his team have devised, he said, “has learned more than 4 million functions on its own.” Ironically, the end result of a successful AI like this is not to make us feel more technologically powerful, but to get us away from our devices, and spending time fussing on them, and into the world.

Given that this is a consumer app, it will be interesting to see how and if there is mass takeup of Natural, and whether the right combination of anticipatory AI with natural language and design come together to pique collective attention. The team and what they’ve built in any case will be a hot property, given that AI will continue to be a strong and growing presence in the tech landscape for years to come.

“What Jerry and his team are developing is incredibly special. I’m not aware of anyone doing more interesting work to demonstrate how fundamentally AI can enhance our everyday lives,” said investor Scott Cook, who was also the founder of financial software giant Intuit, in a statement.

“Many of us remember the first time we used an iPhone. The software felt magical, and every animation felt dynamic yet subtle,” said Tom Goodwin, a Natural beta customer. “Experiencing this app is the closest thing I’ve felt to that for a long time. I love the idea of one place to go for everything.”

PlatoAi. Web3 Reimagined. Data Intelligence Amplified.
Click here to access.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/07/28/brain-technologies-raises-50m-for-the-launch-of-natural-a-natural-language-search-engine-and-super-app/

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Automotive

Redwood Materials raises $700M to expand its battery recycling operation

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Redwood Materials CEO JB Straubel shared his aspirations last year to turn the startup he co-founded in 2017 into one of the world’s major battery recycling companies. Now, the former Tesla co-founder and CTO has the money to accelerate those plans.

Redwood Materials said Wednesday it raised $700 million from high-profile institutional investors and venture firms, providing the capital needed to expand its existing operations well beyond its Carson City, Nevada, home base to locations throughout North America and even into Europe.

The Series C round was led by funds and accounts advised by T. Rowe Price Associates and included Goldman Sachs Asset Management, Baillie Gifford, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, and Fidelity. Previous investors — Capricorn’s Technology Impact Fund, Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures and Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund — returned to put more capital into Redwood. Valor Equity Partners, Emerson Collective and Franklin Templeton also participated, the company said.

Redwood previously raised $40 million in a Series B and some seed money, which brings its total raise under $800 million, according to the company.

The company’s post-funding valuation is $3.7 billion, according to a source familiar with the investment round. Redwood declined to comment on the figure.

Redwood Materials is aiming to create a circular supply chain. This closed-loop system, Straubel said, will be essential if the world’s battery cell producers hope to have the supply needed for consumer electronics and the coming wave of electric vehicles.

Redwood recycles scrap from battery cell production and consumer electronics like cell phone batteries, laptop computers, power tools, power banks, scooters and electric bicycles. It then processes these discarded goods, extracting materials like cobalt, nickel and lithium that are typically mined, and then supplies those back to its customers, which today includes Panasonic at the Gigafactory in Nevada that it operates with Tesla and Envision AESC’s battery plant in Tennessee. Redwood has also partnered with Amazon to recycle EV and other lithium-ion batteries and e-waste from parts of their businesses.

“In our view, the need for these materials will grow exponentially over time as we enter the era of de-carbonization,” Joe Fath, portfolio manager of the T. Rowe Price Growth Stock Fund, said in a statement, adding that “Redwood is well-positioned to be at the forefront of tackling this emerging and critically important problem.”

Straubel sees a bottleneck coming as the whole supply chain seeks to access critical materials. That will affect the growth rate and challenge automakers like Ford, GM and Volkswagen that have laid out ambitious plans to electrify their portfolios.

That problem is likely to compound as more automakers go down the electric path. Last week, Mercedes-Benz said it will spend €40 billion ($47 billion) to become an electric-only automaker by the end of the decade. The German automaker determined it will need battery capacity of more than 200 gigawatt-hours. To meet those needs, Mercedes plans to set up eight battery factories with existing partners and one new partner to produce cells.

Straubel said it’s time for Redwood to scale more aggressively.

Those plans were already well underway even before it closed the $700 million round, Straubel noted. The company announced in June it had purchased 100 acres of land near the Gigafactory that Panasonic operates with Tesla in Sparks, Nevada. Redwood now has some operations at the site.

Redwood is also in the process of nearly tripling the size of its existing 150,000-square-foot facility in Carson City, Nevada. The new 400,000-square-foot addition onto the recycling facility is expected to be operational by the end of the year.

To support the growth, Redwood started hiring more employees, with plans to add more than 500 jobs over the next two years. Redwood employs more than 130 people today.

The company has expanded in other ways as well, including the launch of a program that allows consumers to send in personal electronics such as smartphones to be recycled.

“This additional equity to some extent helps us finish all those things, but it’s not really the primary purpose for all of it,” Straubel said.

PlatoAi. Web3 Reimagined. Data Intelligence Amplified.
Click here to access.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/07/28/redwood-materials-raises-700m-to-expand-its-battery-recycling-operation/

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Automotive

Redwood Materials raises $700M to expand its battery recycling operation

Published

on

Redwood Materials CEO JB Straubel shared his aspirations last year to turn the startup he co-founded in 2017 into one of the world’s major battery recycling companies. Now, the former Tesla co-founder and CTO has the money to accelerate those plans.

Redwood Materials said Wednesday it raised $700 million from high-profile institutional investors and venture firms, providing the capital needed to expand its existing operations well beyond its Carson City, Nevada, home base to locations throughout North America and even into Europe.

The Series C round was led by funds and accounts advised by T. Rowe Price Associates and included Goldman Sachs Asset Management, Baillie Gifford, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, and Fidelity. Previous investors — Capricorn’s Technology Impact Fund, Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures and Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund — returned to put more capital into Redwood. Valor Equity Partners, Emerson Collective and Franklin Templeton also participated, the company said.

Redwood previously raised $40 million in a Series B and some seed money, which brings its total raise under $800 million, according to the company.

The company’s post-funding valuation is $3.7 billion, according to a source familiar with the investment round. Redwood declined to comment on the figure.

Redwood Materials is aiming to create a circular supply chain. This closed-loop system, Straubel said, will be essential if the world’s battery cell producers hope to have the supply needed for consumer electronics and the coming wave of electric vehicles.

Redwood recycles scrap from battery cell production and consumer electronics like cell phone batteries, laptop computers, power tools, power banks, scooters and electric bicycles. It then processes these discarded goods, extracting materials like cobalt, nickel and lithium that are typically mined, and then supplies those back to its customers, which today includes Panasonic at the Gigafactory in Nevada that it operates with Tesla and Envision AESC’s battery plant in Tennessee. Redwood has also partnered with Amazon to recycle EV and other lithium-ion batteries and e-waste from parts of their businesses.

“In our view, the need for these materials will grow exponentially over time as we enter the era of de-carbonization,” Joe Fath, portfolio manager of the T. Rowe Price Growth Stock Fund, said in a statement, adding that “Redwood is well-positioned to be at the forefront of tackling this emerging and critically important problem.”

Straubel sees a bottleneck coming as the whole supply chain seeks to access critical materials. That will affect the growth rate and challenge automakers like Ford, GM and Volkswagen that have laid out ambitious plans to electrify their portfolios.

That problem is likely to compound as more automakers go down the electric path. Last week, Mercedes-Benz said it will spend €40 billion ($47 billion) to become an electric-only automaker by the end of the decade. The German automaker determined it will need battery capacity of more than 200 gigawatt-hours. To meet those needs, Mercedes plans to set up eight battery factories with existing partners and one new partner to produce cells.

Straubel said it’s time for Redwood to scale more aggressively.

Those plans were already well underway even before it closed the $700 million round, Straubel noted. The company announced in June it had purchased 100 acres of land near the Gigafactory that Panasonic operates with Tesla in Sparks, Nevada. Redwood now has some operations at the site.

Redwood is also in the process of nearly tripling the size of its existing 150,000-square-foot facility in Carson City, Nevada. The new 400,000-square-foot addition onto the recycling facility is expected to be operational by the end of the year.

To support the growth, Redwood started hiring more employees, with plans to add more than 500 jobs over the next two years. Redwood employs more than 130 people today.

The company has expanded in other ways as well, including the launch of a program that allows consumers to send in personal electronics such as smartphones to be recycled.

“This additional equity to some extent helps us finish all those things, but it’s not really the primary purpose for all of it,” Straubel said.

PlatoAi. Web3 Reimagined. Data Intelligence Amplified.
Click here to access.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/07/28/redwood-materials-raises-700m-to-expand-its-battery-recycling-operation/

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