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Kidtech startup SuperAwesome raises $17M, with strategic investment from Microsoft’s M12 venture fund

21:30 | 27 January

Kidtech startup SuperAwesome has raised an additional $17 million in funding, which includes a new strategic investment from Microsoft’s venture fund, M12. Others participating in the round include existing investors, Mayfair Equity, Hoxton Ventures, and Ibis, along with other angels.

To date, SuperAwesome has raised $37 million in outside investment.

SuperAwesome has been tapping into the need for more kid-friendly technology on the web that’s now used just as much by younger children as it is by adults.

“Historically the internet was designed to be used by adults but now over 40% of new users are kids,” said SuperAwesome CEO Dylan Collins. “We’re in the middle of a structural shift in the composition of the internet that requires investment in privacy and kidtech to support children. This is as big a transition as mobile was for the desktop internet,” he noted.

The company’s platform includes products for kid-safe advertising, social engagement tools, authentication, and parental controls. The breadth of this lineup has attracted big-name kids’ brands as customers, including Activision, Hasbro, Mattel, LEGO, Cartoon Network, Spin Master, Nintendo, Bandai, WB, Shopkins maker Moose Toys, WPP, Omnicom, Dentsu, Niantic, Wildworks, among others.

Today, the company has over 300 customers in total.

SuperAwesome’s technology has arrived at a critical time for many working in the kids’ app space, as governments are newly enacting and enforcing a range of kids’ privacy laws like COPPA (the U.S. Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule) and GDPR-K in the E.U., as well as other laws in major markets like China, Brazil, and India. In the U.S., for example, the FTC has slapped apps like Musical.ly (now TikTok) and YouTube with record fines for violations of children’s privacy regulations.

These changes have been a boon to SuperAwesome, which is now fully profitable and powering over 12 billion kids digital transactions per month. Last year, the company pulled in $55 million in revenue and is on track for $80 to $90 million in revenue in 2020, Collins told TechCrunch.

SuperAwesome and Microsoft aren’t yet talking in detail about how the two companies will be teaming up, following the strategic investment. One thing being discussed by the two, however, are the opportunities around family identity, we’re told. In addition, Microsoft today is focused on both privacy and kids across its products — for example, with its web browser as well as with its educational efforts involving Minecraft, among other things.

“After we spent time with the M12 team and folks in Microsoft, it was clear we shared the same vision of where the internet is going: more kids and more privacy,” Collins said.

“We are proud to welcome the SuperAwesome team to the M12 portfolio. Dylan has cultivated a mission-driven team dedicated to keeping the internet safer for kids—a critical priority for digital-first generations,” said Nagraj Kashyap, Microsoft Corporate Vice President and Global Head of M12, in a statement about the funding. “Given Microsoft’s footprint in the identity management space, we’re excited to explore opportunities for partnership with SuperAwesome as well,” Kashyap added.

 


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Daily Crunch: Tech notables react to Kobe Bryant’s death

21:01 | 27 January

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. LA tech industry mourns Kobe Bryant

The Los Angeles startup community is joining the rest of the world in mourning the death of NBA superstar, entrepreneur and investor Kobe Bryant who was killed in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, Calif. on Sunday.

Bryant launched his venture career with partner and serial entrepreneur Jeff Stibel back in 2013, making investments in Los Angeles-based companies like LegalZoom, Scopely, Art of Sport, The Honest Company, RingDNA, FocusMotion, DyshApp and Represent.

2. N26 reaches 5 million customers, including 250,000 in the US

N26 expanded to the United States during the summer of 2019. It represents a huge market opportunity, even though N26 faces competition from local players, such as Chime.

3. AI-powered voice transcription app Otter raises $10M, including from new strategic investor NTT DOCOMO

The two companies are teaming up to support Otter’s expansion into the Japanese market, where DOCOMO will be integrating Otter with its own AI-based translation service subsidiary, Mirai Translation.

4. Samasource CEO Leila Janah passes away at 37

Janah, a serial entrepreneur who was the CEO and founder of machine learning training data company Samasource, passed away at the age of 37 due to complications from epithelioid sarcoma, a form of cancer, according to a statement from the company. She focused her career on social and ethical entrepreneurship with the goal of ending global poverty.

5. As the venture market tightens, a debt lender sees big opportunities

David Spreng spent more than 20 years in venture capital before dipping his toe into the world of revenue-based financing and realizing there was a growing appetite for alternatives to venture capital. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

6. Clayton Christensen, author of ‘The Innovator’s Dilemma,’ has passed away at age 67

Christensen’s most famous book put forth a theory about why people buy products that are often cheaper and easier to use than their more sophisticated and more expensive predecessors, a theory resonated widely as one incumbent after another — Xerox, U.S. Steel, Digital Equipment Corp. — stumbled while other companies began rising in their dust: Think Amazon, Google and Apple.

7. This week’s TechCrunch podcasts

The Equity team looks at a big funding round for email collaboration startup Front, while the shorter Monday episode discusses coronavirus-spurred equity selloffs in Asia and Europe. And on Original Content, we review “Little America,” which has been described as the best show on Apple TV+.

 


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Bird confirms acquisition of Berlin scooter rival Circ

21:00 | 27 January

If you didn’t see this coming, then clearly you didn’t have your eyes on the road. Bird, the LA-founded e-scooter giant, has confirmed that it is acquiring European competitor Circ, the micromobilty company founded by Lukasz Gadowski of Delivery Hero fame.

The deal, for which terms remain undisclosed, was first reported by the FT late last week. Meanwhile, TechCrunch revealed late November that Circ was facing difficulties and had issued a round of layoffs following so-called “operational learnings”.

At the time, Gadowski put on a brave face, telling TechCrunch that Circ needed to learn how to operate a micromobility service across many European markets simultaneously. “Basically figure out how to be more efficient, how to run a micromobility operation; it’s not optimized yet and we learned over the summer,” he said.

He also conceded that, within the micromobility space more generally, there had been something of a land grab strategy that is now perhaps inevitably shifting toward greater emphasis on capital efficiency. “When we started this there was a focus on time to market but now it is not about time to market but efficiency,” he tells me.

We also understand Circ was also in the midst of trying to raises a Series B, which is what prompted talks with Bird. Early last year, the startup closed a Series A north of $60 million, funding it used to push into 12 countries and 43 cities, a spokesperson tells us.

On the funding front, Bird is also taking this announcement as an opportunity to share that they’ve added to their own funding, tacking on another $75 million onto their Series D, which now sits at $350 million.

Micromobility companies have been hard-pressed to cut spending and push towards profitability. One of Bird’s chief competitors, Lime, announced earlier this month they were laying off 100 employees and leaving 12 markets with the goal of becoming profitable in 2020.

300 employees will be added to Bird’s European operations as a result of the deal, the company says.

 


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Los Angeles’ AmazeVR raises more cash, heads to Incheon for first location based VR installation

20:32 | 27 January

Amaze VR, the Los Angeles-based virtual reality entertainment distribution service, is taking its first steps into the world of location-based virtual reality experiences with an installation in Seoul’s Incheon International Airport.

The company, which also scored an additional $2.5 million commitment to expand its total funding to around $9 million made the announcement last week.

The company, which launched last May with backing from the Korean hardware manufacturer LG, has added Partners Investment and YG Investment, the financing arm of YG Entertainment, which manages a stable of Korean pop artists and owns a record label, talent agency, production company and events management and concert production company.

Founded by a cadre of seasoned Korean technology executives, AmazeVR soft opened an 11,000 square foot entertainment hub in Incheon’s airtrain station on the way to Terminal 1. It’s a mix of meditation areas and relaxation-focused VR videos, the company said.

There’s also a performance stage to display immersive performances from popular musicians (hence the YG investment) and an indoor playground for kids and the kids-at-heart.

“As leaders in the online VR consumer market, one of our key objectives is to broaden our distribution and expand capabilities towards immersive experiences offline as well,” said Steve Lee, AmazeVR’s chief executive, in a statement. “Through this location-based hub at Incheon International Airport, we can expose an untapped market not just to the great content that AmazeVR produces, but also to the wonders of VR in general. Our investors recognize this and have deep connections within the music and entertainment industries, which will help us develop unique VR experiences with even more incredible content that will extend VR adoption globally.”

The company has inked partnerships with two of the last remaining immersive entertainment studios, Atlas V and Felix & Paul Studios.

“Our mission, is that we believe in the consumer market,” says Earnest Lee, AmazeVR’s chief content officer. “We have seen the VR market is still fairly nascent and we’re moving forward with location based entertainment. This is a start to get into the location-based industry.”

 


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Boston Dynamics’ new and former CEOs discuss future of the robotics pioneer

20:30 | 27 January

After more than a quarter century, Boston Dynamics has a new CEO. The transition (which quietly occurred late last year), saw founder Marc Raibert step aside to become chairman, as longtime employee Rob Playter took the reins. 

The key personnel change comes at a pivotal time for the company, which recently began the process of commercializing a pair of its extremely advanced robots. Along with the C-level shift, Boston Dynamics also announced that it’s making the SDK for its Spot robot available to all via GitHub. Boston Dynamics has already begun producing commercial versions of its quadrupedal robot. Among its earliest adopters is former Mythbuster Adam Savage, who is set to release a series of videos featuring the machine.

Ahead of making all of these announcements official, Raibert and Playter sat down with TechCrunch to discuss their new roles and what the future may hold for Boston Dynamics.

 


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Casper’s valuation could fall 40% in IPO as it reports 2019 results

20:05 | 27 January

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.

Today we’re taking stock of the latest from Casper, the D2C mattress company that is going public. The unicorn announced its initial IPO price range this morning, targeting a $17 to $19 per-share IPO price range — an interval that dramatically reprices the firm. When Casper first filed to go public, questions regarding its unprofitability, growth rate and economics quickly arose. Whether the firm would be able to go public at a flat price to its final private round was not obvious, and today’s news makes it clear that that is not likely.

Let’s explore the pricing and the company’s new valuation range, then figure out what the hell went wrong. To understand the new pricing, we’ll dig into the company’s preliminary full-year 2019 results. Let’s go!

Prices, ranges

Casper is hoping to sell 8.35 million shares at $17 to $19 apiece, with another 1.25 million shares reserved for its underwriting banks. Without the option, Casper could raise from $142 million to about $159 million. Including the underwriters’ shares boosts those results to $163 million to $182 million.

 


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Get ready to see Spotify’s looping videos on Instagram

19:27 | 27 January

Following Spotify’s confirmation of a new Stories feature, initially being tested by social media influencers, the company this morning announced it will now allow artists to reach their Instagram fan bases in a new way, too. However, in this case, they aren’t creating Spotify Stories they can market elsewhere on their social media, but instead are able to share their unique video art from Spotify’s Canvas feature directly to their Instagram.

Canvas launched into beta last fall, allowing artists to replace the album art that appears when a song is playing with a moving, visual experience that plays in a short loop. Canvas videos have had mixed reviews as some users find the imagery distracting while others seem to prefer it.

Starting today, the thousands of artists in the Canvas beta will be able to share their looping videos to Instagram with just a tap.

From the app’s Artists profile, each track that included a Canvas will have a “Share” icon next to it. By tapping that icon, artists can share the song and its Canvas to Instagram Stories. The post will look like a regular Spotify share with cover art and a link to play the track on Spotify. However, now their looping video will be the backdrop.

Currently, the Canvas beta is only available to those using the Spotify for Artists app on iOS. Spotify says it’s working to bring the sharing feature to Android users soon.

In addition, fans seeing the Canvas on Instagram aren’t counted in the Canvas metrics, unless they click through to Spotify, the company says.

The feature itself is intended to aid artists who are marketing their new songs to fans on Instagram as well as for highlighting updates to Canvas — like those that are updated to include clips from a new music video, new art, or live performances, for example.

One high-profile artist who’s taking advantage of Canvas is Billie Eilish — the artist who just swept last night’s Grammy Awards by winning the four biggest prizes — best new artist, record of the year, album of the year, and song of the year. Eilish has used Canvas to share animated versions of fan art, which helps her to better engage with her fan base.

Spotify claims that adding a high-quality Canvas has increased track shares by up to 200%, in addition to lifting streams, saves, and artist profile visits. By expanding Canvas to Instagram, those shares should bump up even higher, the company believes.

Despite its social media media-inspired features, like the new Stories addition or the looping videos of Canvas, Spotify doesn’t intend for its streaming app to become a new social platform. Instead, its focus is on building features that artists and listeners can leverage to better connect with social media fan bases elsewhere — either to help market themselves and their music or to improve discoverability of new music among their followers.

Artists interested in Canvas can sign up for the waiting list here.

 

 

 


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Max Q: Lego Space Stations and robot astronauts

19:02 | 27 January

Max Q is a new weekly newsletter all about space. Sign up here to receive it weekly on Sundays in your inbox.

This week saw a huge funding round for a new space startup that’s working on the problem of distribution and use of the new data networks made possible by the explosion in the small satellite and satellite constellation industry. But we also saw one of the next wave of launch startups encounter a bit of a setback on their path to actually delivering their first rocket to orbit.

Lego is selling an ISS kit

Lego is putting a new official International Space Station kit up for sale starting next month, after the project was originally suggested on its Ideas crowdsourcing platform. The new kit comes in at an impressive 864 pieces, and includes astronaut minifigs for simulated spacewalks, plus a Space Shuttle and a capsule.

It’s bound to be a hot item once it’s actually released, so I would say it’s probably best to get an order in fast once this goes on sale when February kicks off if you want to pick one up .

Skylo raises $103 million for IoT satellite comms

There’s been a huge increase in the number of satellites and satellite constellations in operation, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy for devices here on Earth to access the data networks many of those new satellites operate. Previously stealth startup Skylo aims to make it much easier for these networks to provide useful services here on Earth, and they’ve raised a new round of $103 million to make that happen, bringing their total raised to $116 million.

ISRO’s path to human spaceflight includes humanoid astrobots

Visitors take selfies with ‘Vyommitra’ the first prototype half humanoid robot developed by the Inertial Systems Unit of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) for its planned ‘Gaganyaan’ unmanned mission at an exhibition during a symposium on Human Spaceflight and Exploration – Present Challenges and Future Trends in Bangalore on January 23, 2020. (Photo by Manjunath Kiran / AFP) (Photo by MANJUNATH KIRAN/AFP via Getty Images)

India’s Space Research Organization is getting ready for its first human spacecraft launches, set for 2022. The path to that goal includes sending up a half-humanoid robot called ‘Vyommitra,’ whose face resembles that of a human woman. This robot is able to perform all the in-flight procedures that a real human pilot would be required to do, and will help test the agency’s Gaganyaan spacecraft before any people give it a go.

Firefly Aerospace starts a fire

Launch startup Firefly Aerospace has overcome its fair share of difficulties, including a bankruptcy filing, but now it’s underway with hot fire testing of its Alpha launch vehicle. Unfortunately, its first test of the engines that power this rocket with the spacecraft assembled resulted in a fire on on the launch pad, which will mean an investigation to figure out how not to do that in future.

NASA sets cargo manifests for first lunar landers

astrobotic peregrine

NASA’s first lunar lander missions provided by commercial contractors are set to fly this year – two landers should launch if all goes to plan, including one from Astrobotic and one from Intuitive Machines. Both of these are partners with the agency through its Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) sourcing program, and their landers will hopefully prove the viability of using private suppliers to get key experiments and cargo to the Moon’s surface ahead of the planned return of human astronauts.

Capella Space has a new and improved Earth observation satellite

Startup Capella Space has a new satellite design that can provide best-in-class resolution on a spacecraft of its size, which should unlock lots of additional demand for its services from clients who want to be able to image parts of the Earth on demand with fast turnaround time and plenty of detail.

Rocket Lab’s first mission of 2020 is for the NRO

The National Reconnaissance Office is Rocket Lab’s first client of 2020 for a launch, and the mission is set to take off from the company’s New Zealand launch pad at the end of this month. This is also the first mission the NRO has awarded under its ‘Rapid Acquisition of a Small Rocket’ or RASR contract model, which basically aims for cheap and fast launch vehicle sourcing.

 


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Mural raises $23M Series A after history of capital-efficient growth

18:52 | 27 January

This morning Mural, a software startup focused on visual collaboration1, announced that it closed a $23 million Series A round of capital. The funds come after MURAL, formerly Mural.ly, had raised just a few million dollars previously. That fact made its round interesting: How did the company raise ten times its prior total in one round, and why did it pursue so much money in a single shot?

TechCrunch chatted with the company’s CEO Mariano Suarez-Battan and Weston Gaddy, the round’s lead investor hailing from Radian Capital, to better understand the investment. Endeavor Catalyst and Google’s Gradient Ventures also put money into the round.

Efficient growth

Around the time when WeWork’s IPO was collapsing under its own hubris, the venture market changed. In a flash, growth lost its shine, and efficient growth became the new hot thing. Mural got there a little earlier than its market, which appears to have put it in a strong position today.

Asked why the company had put together a $23 million round when it did, Suarez-Battan told TechCrunch that after growing the company on the back of customer revenue, it felt in 2019 that it was time to add more capital to the bank.

“We grew with our customers,” the CEO said, going back in time to explain: “Starting in 2014, IBM became our first and biggest customer. And since then we’ve been selling to large firms, [today] most of our revenue comes from large firms.” The CEO went on to cite “six-figure deals and a couple that are more than a million bucks a year” as evidence that his company’s approach to growth has worked.

Where does the new capital come in? According to Suarez-Battan, in 2019, the company started to notice that customers wanted to buy more from it. This was evidence, he said, that the company’s “land-and-expand motion” was working. He says that enterprise momentum was the impetus to bring in a great team to “build a group of people that can help, interact with consultants, and go to market together.”

So on the back of customer momentum and proven demand, the firm is going to staff up. That’s a pretty traditional use of venture capital, but one that, given the firm’s history of capital efficiency, seems to fit the current climate.

Gaddy also answered the why now, and why so much question, saying that Mural is riding a “secular trend in terms of how people are going to produce creative work.” He also said that the company’s user traction, product traction and revenue traction were evidence of product-market fit. Investors love product-market fit.

The market

Mural is a tool that can be seen as a remote-work-friendly service. It’s also workplace collaboration software, putting it smack-dab in the middle of two current trends in Startuplandia.

Remote work is growing, albeit more slowly than its acolytes might have you think, while workplace collaboration tooling has seen tremendous venture interest. Recall that the hottest startup out of the last Y Combinator batch was Tandem, which calls itself a “virtual office for remote teams,” making another company that helps remote staffs and others collaborate.

We haven’t heard much from, or about, Tandem lately, but Mural is certainly now richer than it ever has been. We’ll pester for some growth metrics in a few quarters.

  1. Object-oriented, remote-friendly, team-work? Team-oriented, object-friendly, work for teams? Digital whiteboards gone mad! You get the idea.

 


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GM commits $3 billion to build electric and autonomous vehicles in Michigan

18:34 | 27 January

GM said Monday it will invest $2.2 billion into its Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant to produce all-electric trucks and SUVs as well as a self-driving vehicle unveiled by its subsidiary Cruise. The automaker will invest an additional $800 million in supplier tooling and other projects related to the launch of the new electric trucks.

GM will kick off this new program with an all-electric pickup truck that will go into production in late 2021. The Cruise Origin, the electric self-driving shuttle designed for ride sharing, will be the second vehicle to go into production at the Detroit area plant.

Detroit-Hamtramck will be GM’s first fully-dedicated electric vehicle assembly plant. When fully operational, the plant will create more than 2,200 jobs, according to GM.

The investment announcement follows a recent spate of electric and autonomous vehicle related news by GM including the formation of a joint venture with LG Chem  to mass produce battery cells for its electric vehicles. The two companies said in December they will invest up to a total of $2.3 billion into the new joint venture and will establish a battery cell assembly plant on a greenfield manufacturing site in the Lordstown area of Northeast Ohio that will create more than 1,100 new jobs. Groundbreaking is expected to take place in mid-2020.

This joint venture will supply battery cells for the electric vehicles manufactured at Detroit-Hamtramck.

Cruise unveiled January 21 a driverless vehicle called Origin — the product of a multi-year collaboration with parent company GM and investor Honda that is designed for a ridesharing service. The shuttle-like vehicle — branded with Cruise’s trademark orange and black colors — has no steering wheel or pedals and is designed to travel at highway speeds.

“Through this investment, GM is taking a big step forward in making our vision of an all-electric future a reality,” GM president Mark Reuss said during a press event. “Our electric pickup will be the first of multiple electric truck variants we will build at Detroit-Hamtramck over the next few years.”

Detroit Hamtramck employs 900 people who build the Cadillac CT6 and the Chevrolet Impala. GM plans to idle the plant for several months, starting at the end of February, as renovations begin.

 


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