Original Content podcast: ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is even more intense in season two

While streaming and bingeing seem increasingly synonymous, Hulu’s biggest hit The Handmaid’s Tale actually feels like an anti-binge.

Some of that is just Hulu’s release strategy, where it doesn’t release an entire season at once, but instead comes out of the gate with a handful of new episodes (two this week for the launch of The Handmaid’s Tale season two), then reverts to a more traditional episode-per-week schedule.

But there’s also the fact that as good as it is, The Handmaid’s Tale is a tough show to watch. After each episode, you may want to relax a bit before returning to the dystopian future of Gilead, which is run by religious reactionaries who have stripped most women of their rights.

Season one introduced us to Gilead, and to our main character June (played by Elisabeth Moss), who’s been enslaved because she’s one of the few remaining women who can bear children. With season two, the plot gets moving right away, which makes it hard to offer our thoughts without giving away crucial details. Still, we gave it a shot in the latest episode of the Original Content podcast.

We also cover all the new shows and movies that Netflix has coming in May, the expansion of CBS’ streaming service to Canada and Anthony’s initial impressions of Avengers: Infinity War.

You can listen in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You also can send us feedback directly.

Source: Tech Crunch

Investing in frontier technology is (and isn’t) cleantech all over again

I entered the world of venture investing a dozen years ago.  Little did I know that I was embarking on a journey to master the art of balancing contradictions: building up experience and pattern recognition to identify outliers, emphasizing what’s possible over what’s actual, generating comfort and consensus around a maverick founder with a non-consensus view, seeking the comfort of proof points in startups that are still very early, and most importantly, knowing that no single lesson learned can ever be applied directly in the future as every future scenario will certainly be different.

I was fortunate to start my venture career at a fund specializing in funding “Frontier” technology companies. Real-estate was white hot, banks were practically giving away money, and VCs were hungry to fund hot startups.

I quickly found myself in the same room as mainstream software investors looking for what’s coming after search, social, ad-tech, and enterprise software. Cleantech was very compelling: an opportunity to make money while saving our planet.  Unfortunately for most, neither happened: they lost their money and did little to save the planet.

Fast forward a decade, after investors scored their wins in online lending, cloud storage, and on-demand, I find myself, again, in the same room with consumer and cloud investors venturing into “Frontier Tech”.  The are dazzled by the founders’ presentations, and proud to have a role in funding turning the seemingly impossible to what’s possible through science. However, what lessons did they take away from the Cleantech cycle? What should Frontier Tech founders and investors be thinking about to avoid the same fate?

Coming from a predominantly academic background, I was excited to be part of the emerging trend of funding founders leveraging technology to make how we generate, move, and consume our natural resources more efficient and sustainable. I was thrilled to be digging into technologies underpinning new batteries, photovoltaics, wind turbines, superconductors, and power electronics.  

To prove out their business models, these companies needed to build out factories, supply chains, and distribution channels. It wasn’t long until the core technology development became a small piece of an otherwise complex, expensive operation. The hot energy startup factory started to look and feel mysteriously like a magnetic hard drive factory down the street. Wait a minute, that’s because much of the equipment and staff did come from factories making components for PCs; but this time they were making products for generating, storing, and moving energy more renewably. So what went wrong?

Whether it was solar, wind, or batteries, the metrics were pretty similar: dollars per megawatt, mass per megawatt, or multiplying by time to get dollars and mass per unit energy, whether it was for the factories or the systems. Energy is pretty abundant, so the race was on to to produce and handle a commodity. Getting started as a real competitive business meant going BIG: as many of the metrics above depended on size and scale. Hundreds of millions of dollars of venture money only went so far.

The onus was on banks, private equity, engineering firms, and other entities that do not take technology risk, to take a leap of faith to take a product or factory from 1/10th scale to full-scale. The rest is history: most cleantech startups hit a funding valley of death.  They need to raise big money while sitting at high valuations, without a kernel of a real business to attract investors that write those big checks to scale up businesses.

How are Frontier-Tech companies advantaged relative to their Cleantech counterparts? For starters, most aren’t producing a commodity…

Frontier Tech, like Cleantech, can be capital-intense. Whether its satellite communications, driverless cars, AI chips, or quantum computing; like Cleantech, there is relatively larger amounts of capital needed to take the startups the point where they can demonstrate the kernel of a competitive business.  In other words, they typically need at least tens of millions of dollars to show they can sell something and profitably scale that business into a big market. Some money is dedicated to technology development, but, like cleantech a disproportionate amount will go into building up an operation to support the business. Here are a couple examples:

  • Satellite communications: It takes a few million dollars to demonstrate a new radio and spacecraft. It takes tens of millions of dollars to produce the satellites, put them into orbit, build up ground station infrastructure, the software, systems, and operations needed to serve fickle, enterprise customers. All of this while facing competition from incumbent or in-house efforts. At what point will the economics of the business attract a conventional growth investor to fund expansion? If Cleantech taught us anything, it’s that the big money would prefer to watch from the sidelines for longer than you’d think.
  • Quantum compute: Moore’s law is improving new computers at a breakneck pace, but the way they get implemented as pretty incremental. Basic compute architectures date back to the dawn of computing, and new devices can take decades to find their way into servers. For example, NAND Flash technology dates back to the 80s, found its way into devices in the 90s, and has been slowly penetrating datacenters in the past decade. Same goes for GPUs; even with all the hype around AI. Quantum compute companies can offer a service direct to users, i.e., homomorphic computing, advanced encryption/decryption, or molecular simulations. However, that would one of the rare occasions where novel computing machine company has offered computing as opposed to just selling machines. If I had to guess; building the quantum computers will be relatively quick; building the business will be expensive.
  • Operating systems for driverless cars: Tremendous progress has been made since Google first presented its early work in 2011. Dozens of companies are building software that do some combination of perception, prediction, planning, mapping, and simulations.  Every operator of autonomous cars, whether they are vertical like Zoox, or working in partnerships like GM/Cruise, have their own proprietary technology stacks. Unlike building an iPhone app, where the tools are abundant and the platform is well-understood, integrating a complete software module into an autonomous driving system may take up more effort than putting together the original code in the first place.

How are Frontier-Tech companies advantaged relative to their Cleantech counterparts? For starters, most aren’t producing a commodity: it’s easier to build a Frontier-tech company that doesn’t need to raise big dollars before demonstrating the kernel of an interesting business. On rare occasions, if the Frontier tech startup is a pioneer in its field, then it can be acquired for top dollar for the quality of its results and its team.

Recent examples are Salesforce’s acquisition of Metamind, GM’s acquisition of Cruise, and Intel’s acquisition of Nervana (a Lux investment). However, as more competing companies get to work on a new technology, the sense of urgency to acquire rapidly diminishes as the scarce, emerging technology quickly becomes widely available: there are now scores of AI, autonomous car, and AI chip companies out there. Furthermore, as technology becomes more complex, its cost of integration into a product (think about the driverless car example above) also skyrockets.  Knowing this likely liability, acquirers will tend to pay less.

Creative founding teams will find ways to incrementally build interesting businesses as they are building up their technologies.  

I encourage founders, and investors to emphasize the businesses they are building through their inventions.  I encourage founders to rethink plans that require tens of millions of dollars before being able to sell products, while warning founders not to chase revenue for the sake of revenue.  

I suggest they look closely at their plans and find creative ways to start penetrating, or building exciting markets, hence interesting businesses, with modest amounts of capital. I advise them to work with investors who, regardless of whether they saw how Cleantech unfolded, are convinced that their $$ can take the company to the point where it can engage customers with an interesting product with a sense for how it can scale into an attractive business.

Source: Tech Crunch

From dorm room to Starbucks, Rip Van Wafels is bringing Euro-inspired snack to the masses

Rip Pruisken waffled in college (we got that pun safely out of the way for now). He was a student in the Ivy League at Brown University, and had focused on academics for much of his life. His parents were physicists, and “I thought I would study some sort of cookie-cutter path of studying something that I would use post-college,” he explained. “I didn’t really consider entrepreneurship to be a viable option because I was still in that frame of mind.“

It was during a study trip to Italy that he had an epiphany. He was inside an Italian bookstore looking through business books when he suddenly realized that he had discovered a new passion. “If you can build stuff at a profit, you can build more stuff, and how cool is that? That was my aha moment,” he said.

Being an entrepreneur was one thing, but it wasn’t clear what Pruisken should sell. He had grown up in Amsterdam, where he used to eat stroopwafel, a snack composed of two thin waffle pastries melded together with a syrup center. During his freshman year, he had brought over a large quantity of them to school, and “all of my friends devoured them.” Remembering their popularity, “I literally started making them in my dorm in college, and started selling them on campus” during his junior year.

Selling ‘Van Wafels’ at Brown University

That was 2010. Today, Rip Van Wafels can be found in 12,000 Starbucks locations, and is a popular snack at tech companies, with some larger companies going through tens of thousands of units a week.

Their popularity comes from the intersection of a number of food trends. The snacks are made with natural ingredients and are healthy, with low calorie counts and limited sugar. Perhaps most importantly, they taste great, with different flavors that are designed to strike different moods (a chocolate wafel can work as dessert, while the strawberry wafel feels more like breakfast). The company currently produces eight flavors.

While the startup food company has had tremendous success, none of this was planned a decade ago when Pruisken got started. He worked with co-founder and co-CEO Marco De Leon, who was two years behind Pruisken at Brown University and was a good friend from Brazil looking for a change of pace from his Morgan Stanley internship.

They spent two years on campus trying to improve product marketing and the quality of the snack, which in hindsight was an important iteration process with what would become the company’s core consumer: well-educated and health-conscious tech workers.

The two stumbled into their market and stumbled into their name. “It started as Rip Wafel,” Pruisken explained, “and we got a cease and desist letter from Van’s,” which makes frozen food waffles among other products. A professor suggested Rip van Winkle, and that inspired the company’s current name. Pruisken himself was so enamored with the brand he changed his own name — Abhishek, which he had grown up with in Amsterdam — to Rip.

After much work, the two founders discovered that a tech company was particularly enjoying the snacks. “We realized we found this insight that one of our customers in the northeast was a tech company, and we talked to them and they said that it was the perfect treat that was an alternative to a candy bar,” he explained. So Pruisken borrowed the couch of his brother and started going door-to-door selling these Euro snacks to every tech company he could find, eventually 80 of them in one summer.

As he sold wafels, the same pattern would hold up. An order for one case would become two cases, and then 10 and then 20 of them. Eventually, word-of-mouth and distributor partnerships got the snack into the mini-kitchens of dozens of tech companies in San Francisco, as well as in Peet’s Coffee, Whole Foods, and ultimately Starbucks.

Pruisken believes the company’s success has come from iterating on the snack much as a software engineer might fiddle with JavaScript. “We have been reinventing our product every two years,” he said. “We are trying to make our product healthier while providing this very indulgent taste.” That includes experimenting with new ingredients like tapioca syrup and chickpea powder that can provide better nutrition at reduced sugar levels.

He sees the future of the company much the same way. “You can only cut the cycle time down by so much even if you do everything in-house. There are certain components you need to source like certain ingredients or packaging foam,” Pruisken explained. “The way to get ahead is to plan way ahead. So work on the things you want to launch in two years right now.” That includes a number of new flavors, as well as potentially adding products that touch on the brain-enhancing nootropics space.

Ultimately, Pruisken wants to redefine the category of packaged foods. “Convenient foods have been associated with cheaper, lower qualities and generally unhealthy foods in the US,” he said. “I think it would be great if that was elevated not just in the food space but broader.” From a foreign food in a Brown University dorm room to redefining the products on every grocery store shelf, stumbling has paid off for Rip Van, which is taking over the world one wafel at a time.

Source: Tech Crunch

Solving the affordability crisis one Chattanooga at a time

We all know the success of America’s leading startup hubs, cities like San Francisco, New York City, Boston and several others. Entrepreneurial talent, risk-seeking venture dollars, and dense human networks form an alchemy leading to wealth, jobs, and growth. The main streets and malls of the Midwest may be devastated, but you would never know that walking through the Hudson Yards development on the west side of Manhattan or in San Francisco’s SoMa neighborhood.

Despite their dizzying performance, the intense concentration of success in these zip codes does not bode well for the wider American economy. Geography and zoning ordinances prevent millions from migrating to these hubs, and for those lucky few who can make a living, high housing prices and other costs can place incredible stress on young families.

If we want to ameliorate inequality while lowering that cost burden, then it is up to cities across the nation to build up their own ecosystems and compete effectively. And those cities cannot just be the megalopolis global cities, but have to include the smaller urban cities that are often the core of regions outside the coast.

I have seen few cities sell themselves as effectively as Chattanooga, whose mayor Andy Berke visited TechCrunch’s offices recently. He was accompanied by Luke Marklin, the CEO of tech-enabled moving startup Bellhops, which has raised $27.2 million in venture capital according to Crunchbase.

The two have teamed up to share the gospel of Chattanooga, but their vision could also be the vision for the future of urban cities in America. The story at this point is well-told: the formerly down-on-its-luck Tennessee city brought its community together in the 1980s and 1990s to revitalize its downtown area. Following the 2008 global financial crisis, the city’s power utility started to revamp its infrastructure, and ultimately decided to build out a gigabit municipal fiber infrastructure for the city of about 175,000.

With that bandwidth in hand, the city has embarked on building a startup hub. It has invested significant resources into its downtown innovation district, and it has worked hard to program events and amenities that will attract a diverse and talented workforce. That concentration is intentional. “We can’t have our assets spread out in a city of our size,” Berke explained. “We need to juice up activity in that ecosystem so that it feels like an ecosystem.”

What makes Chattanooga competitive though, and ultimately an interesting case study of urban leadership, is the mayor’s and the city’s deep understanding of trade-offs. With just over 175,000 people, the city’s population is just slightly higher than the startup-focused Flatiron District in New York. Chattanooga, while a distinctive name, is also not the first city that people think of when they are considering locations to migrate to.

While the city has desirable outdoor and cultural amenities, Berke is realistic about how many people might consider Chattanooga as an adopted home. “We don’t need 10,000 engineers moving to Chattanooga to survive,” he said. “You have to grow more talent, because you don’t want to solely rely on the attraction piece.” He gave the example of connecting businesses with the leadership of the local university to ensure that the skills that graduates were learning lined up better with the needs of industry.

By focusing that training on local residents, startups that might otherwise flee to the Bay Area at the first sign of a VC investment decide to stay put. Berke, speaking about Marklin and Bellhops, said that “He is approaching 100 people and when it gets to 250, that creates tremendous wealth in our community, and most of that wealth gets reinvested in the area as opposed to other types of businesses.”

Chattanooga has become a competitive city. It has used its natural endowments, its institutions, its people, and its community to foster a new generation of its economy. That isn’t a panacea for all social or economic problems of course, but the city now has a base upon which it can continue to improve the quality of life for all of its residents and potentially some transplants as well.

James Fallows wrote something of a paean to local governments this week in his cover piece for The Atlantic. Fallows has spent the past few years investigating an interesting trend in American polling: “Even as national politics induces distrust and despair, most polls show rising faith in local governance.” The reason becomes obvious as he travels around the country. Local governments are shoring up their communities through engaged citizens, smart services, and a focus on bringing everyone together around the future of their homes. In short, they look a bit like Chattanooga.

I am a bit more skeptical than Fallows though of the strength of America’s local governments. While there are certainly success stories, there are also 307 American cities with populations above 100,000. Every single one of them should be focused on increasing their competitiveness using whatever resources — however meager — they have.

The key is that cities don’t become competitive with solutions, they become competitive through systems. Transforming an urban area’s built environment and economy is a process measured in decades, not months. Systems ensures that people and institutions are working together for the long-haul, so that when a mayor leaves office, the progress of a city isn’t suddenly halted.

Chattanooga shows what happens when a city can maintain that multi-decade focus on growth and revitalization, while also adapting itself to the realities of the talent inside its borders and the economy in the world at large. Chattanooga may never be as dense as New York City, but it can certainly find a seat at the economic table and be an attractive place to live. Ultimately, we need hundreds of Chattanoogas, urban cities with dynamic economies that offer affordable alternatives to the most expensive startup hub cities in the country.

Source: Tech Crunch

Why the tech industry should care about the farm bill being drafted right now

For some food stamp recipients, 2018 could shape up to be a particularly aggravating year, including for one of the only startups trying to find ways to innovate on the ways that food stamps are delivered and managed.

It’s not something that’s talked about much in tech circles, but perhaps it should be, given that 42 million Americans rely on the more than 50-year-old, anti-hunger program behind the stamps — called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP — for basic food assistance.

What’s the problem? It’s twofold essentially. First, let’s take a look at the farm bill, which subsidizes SNAP.

The farm bill, which got its start in 1933 as part of FDR’s New Deal legislation, expires and is updated and passed anew by Congress every five years, after which the sitting U.S. president signs it into law. The last bill was signed in February of 2014, so Congress is working on the next version now. But things aren’t looking very promising for SNAP recipients. Already, the first draft of the House Republicans’ farm bill, which passed through one committee, looks to cut $20 billion from the program over the next 10 years, potentially cutting off two million people in the process.

The cuts will be debated on the House floor beginning early next month, meaning it’s far from clear what happens from here. While Republicans argue they want to promote self-sufficiency (the cuts are expected to come via tightened work requirements), poverty experts see the proposal as chipping away at the already shrinking safety net for America’s most vulnerable. As an article about the bill in Vox notes, half of the 42 million people who are living below the poverty line and relying on SNAP for food assistance are children.

By now you might be wondering what startups have to do with any of this. Stick with us.

Propel, a four-year-old, Brooklyn-based company, makes software for low-income individuals. Its founder, Jimmy Chen, is a former Facebook manager who knows about need; he receive a full scholarship to Stanford based on it.

Propel is a for-profit enterprise. It has raised $5.2 million in outside funding, including from Andreessen Horowitz, the Omidyar Network, and the Center for Financial Services Innovation. It makes money through marketing. For example, though its app primarily helps food stamp recipients check their balances (something they’ve historically had to keep track of themselves or by calling an 800 number), Propel’s features also include coupons and notices about job opportunities, and it receives referrals fees from both food companies and employers for these services.

Still, the 11-person outfit remains rare in its focus on improving a public sector service, which is perhaps why more than 1 million people — or roughly 5 percent of SNAP participants — now actively use its technology. Indeed, the company’s app, which also enables users to create shopping lists, has grown its user base fourfold over the last eight months alone, largely via families telling other families.

Alas, Propel is newly in the crosshairs of a much bigger company that worries Propel is encroaching on its territory. Big government contractor Conduent — which runs the food stamp networks in roughly of all U.S. states — and which manages the database that Propel’s app relies on to help people check their accounts, keeps finding ways to cut off Propel’s access. It’s hamstringing Propel’s users in the process, some recently told the New York Times. (One young mother of two sons said she lost access to the time-saving app for a month.)

Conduent says it’s just protecting itself. In emailed replies to questions from the Times, Conduent said that Propel’s smartphone was launched “without the knowledge, input or consent from Conduent.” It further accused Propel of creating a “capacity ambush,” owing to its data requests. It said its measures were aimed to preventing the “unauthorized access to data — from Propel or any other unauthorized user.”

Chen calls it a misunderstanding. “We saw an opportunity for [the food stamp program] to be part of a modern financial product, to create digital tools that can reduce the stigma of poverty that people were experiencing at the cash register,” including by “creating a plastic card that they just swipe at the register” — like the rest of us.

Propel has taken a “fairly conservative approach to data” he adds. Because Propel is dealing with highly sensitive information, it doesn’t run data in the background of anyone’s phone, retrieving information only when someone opens the app, which he says users do seven times a month, on average.

Most important, says Chen, Propel isn’t trying to replace Conduent or any of a small number of other electronic benefit transfer (EBT) processors that make money via contracts with states. “We’re a direct-to-consumer software play that makes no money from the government and is not looking to [secure] government contracts. Instead of trying to displace them, we’re trying to work with them, and we think we can do it in a way that’s productive for all parties.”

Which takes us back to that farm bill.

If Conduent can’t be persuaded to see Propel’s side of the story, the startup — and others trying to help low-income Americans — may have no recourse, not unless Congress steps in. In fact, part of why the farm bill is reauthorized on a regular basis owes to changes in modern tech.

While lawmakers fight to see how much of its budget they can cut, they might also take into consideration stories like that of Propel, and well-meaning founders like Chen. Maybe they think a government contractor should be able to stamp out a company that it sees as competitive. We hope they do not. If they want to see more startups innovate on behalf of low-income Americans — and they should — they need to protect the companies doing the innovating. Updating the farm bill to protect these kinds of emerging and civic-minded technologies is at least one step in the right direction.

Source: Tech Crunch

Here’s how SF wants to regulate electric scooters

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is gearing up to present its proposal for electric scooter permitting. This comes after the SF Board of Supervisors approved an ordinance for the SFMTA to create a permitting process to better regulate the plethora of electric scooters from Bird, Lime and Spin.

The SFMTA’s proposal lays out a 24-month pilot program, which would grant up to five permits and 500 scooters per permit. As part of the program, electric scooter companies would need to provide user education and insurance, share its detailed trip data with the city, have a privacy policy that protects user data, offer a low-income plan and operate in a to-be-approved service area.

That means the city would allow no more than 2,500 electric scooters on the streets at any one time. In order to receive a permit, each company would need to first pay an application fee of $5,000 and show how they would ensure safe use and proper storage of scooters.

“The SFMTA supports innovative solutions that have the potential to complement our existing transportation network,” the proposal states. “Powered Scooter Share Programs introduce a new transportation option that may be convenient for users making short trips or as a “last mile” solution when paired with public transit. Furthermore, if Powered Scooter Share users replace trips they would otherwise have taken by automobile, they have the potential to reduce traffic congestion, parking demand, and carbon emissions. SFMTA staff have received numerous emails from Powered Scooter Share Program users expressing their support for these programs.”

The SFMTA’s proposal also describes how the city has received numerous complaints from residents pertaining to electric scooters. The complaints cover improper parking that blocks sidewalks and access to doors, as well as someone tripping over a scooter that was left on a sidewalk.

“This is of particular concern to members of the public who travel in a wheelchair or who have visual impairments, and have greater difficulty seeing and avoiding (or moving) Powered Scooter Share Scooters blocking their path,” the proposal states. “The SFMTA has been informed of one instance in which a person with a visual impairment fell after tripping on a scooter, as well as a report of a person breaking a toe after tripping on a Powered Scooter Share scooter.”

As of earlier this week, the San Francisco Department of Public Works had impounded 319 scooters, resulting in impoundment fees of $5,774 for Bird, Lime and Spin. As part of the proposed permitting process, companies would need to pay $10,000 for a “public property repair and maintenance endowment” in the event the city incurs additional costs due to the damaging of public property or needing to store improperly parked scooters.

The SFMTA Board of Directors is holding a public hearing next week to consider implementing this permit process.

Source: Tech Crunch

EcoFlow raises $4M from unconventional investors to grow its mobile power business

EcoFlow, a Chinese hardware firm developed by former JDI engineers that sells portable power stations, has pulled in a Series A round of over $4 million ahead of the imminent launch of new products and an international sales expansion.

The Shenzhen-based company has taken an interesting route. Founded in 2016, the startup burst on to the scene when it launched its River product in an Indiegogo campaign that pulled in $1 million. Today, River is available in the U.S. where it is sold via Home Depot, Camping World, Amazon, HSN and the EcoFlow website for $699 upwards.

That’s pretty impressive progress for a young company, and CEO and co-founder Eli Harris told TechCrunch in an interview that relationships with key partners are at the core of that. In particular, EcoFlow has raised strategic investment from supply chain partners rather than traditional VC and that is the case again. This new $4 million came courtesy of battery makers Guangzhou Penghui Energy and SCUD Group, industrial design tooling factory ESID, and supply chain-focused firms Delian Capital and Chunjia Assets.

Names that aren’t known in Silicon Valley, for sure, but the key is what they bring to the table.

“Our investors are almost entirely vertically integrated with every component in our supply chain,” Harris said. “That gives us access to these top-tier manufacturers that no startups could enjoy and help us get direct access to vendors at large companies.”

Aside from reaching quality components and getting a good price, relationships with these component makers help EcoFlow with its cash flow — always a challenge puzzle piece for hardware startups. Harris explained that the relationships allow his company to delay paying for components rather than having to pay upfront — before product is sold and revenue comes in — which optimizes the books and means the capital can be put to work on R&D, sales and marketing and more.

The River itself is touted as industry-leading portable power. Aside from an aesthetic nice design, the li-ion-based device has a total output of 500 watts, weighs just 11 pounds and features two quick-charge USB ports, two USB type C ports, two standard USB ports, two AC outlets, two DC outlets and one 12V car port.

Now EcoFlow is doubling down with plans to launch two new products before the end of this year. Harris isn’t providing specific details right now, but he said the company is looking to take advantage of its promising growth.

“We think we are around 18 months ahead of the market in terms of engineering capabilities. Most experienced battery players are going after electronic vehicles and industrial opportunities, while smaller players have issues getting to manufactures, talent and money to build portable energy solutions,” he said.

While $699 may make the product a luxury for some — despite a $100 discount right now — Harris said that the price is likely to decrease going forward as technology develops.

“Batteries are expensive products but we will see costs come down with the expansion of the EV market, so we’ll be trending in the right direction. But people who understand the tech don’t think it is an expensive product,” Harris explained.

“A lot of the tech we use now will be utilized in future products so that’ll mean lower development costs as we leverage existing IP. We’re also exploring using second life batteries since cells are one of the biggest expenses of the product,” he added.

Working with those battery makers that it also counts as investors could help on that second-life battery push, which could cut the costs to one-fourth of what EcoFlow pays now.

While tactically selected investors are a boon for many reasons, Harris admitted that they do require educating of the investor-investee relationship as it is unconventional in their space. But, he said, increasingly large component and manufacturing firms are keen to do startup investments to help get new ideas, open relationships in the U.S. and explore other new areas of focus.

“A lot of the manufacturing industry players have been stuck in that OEM wheelhouse and there’s more competition now. The previous models of just churning out product might not be sustainable, and margins are thinner,” he said.

Most immediately, EcoFlow is looking to expand sales beyond the U.S and Canada with plans to move into Europe later this year. It also plans to raise a “significant” funding round before 2018 is out as the two new products hit the market.

Source: Tech Crunch

CultureCrush breaks out of the swipe right box

Most dating apps are aimed at a general population, but people of color and immigrants are rarely well-represented. CultureCrush wants to fix that. This app, created by a team led by former attorney Amanda Spann, lets you search the dating pool by nationality, ethnicity and tribe in an effort to help fish out of water find a match.

“We have 24,000 users, 5% of which are premium paid users, and the app has generated revenue every month since its existence. Upon our relaunch, we anticipate this number to rapidly accelerate,” said Spann. “CultureCrush is the only app of its kind that enables you to search by nationality, ethnicity, and tribe. We have nearly 1,000 tribes from across the continent of Africa. Akin to JDate, CultureCrush allows users to connect with others from specific ethnic or national backgrounds. Anyone who grew up in a specific culture understands the magic of connecting with others from the same or similar background. CultureCrush improves upon the JDate model by establishing an inclusive ecosystem where all cultures can find and date each other, or any other culture they like.”

The app also supports friend-to-friend matchmaking and has a three-day message countdown that dumps matches after 72 hours. The app is similar to other niche dating services like BlackPeopleMeet, PlentyOfGeeks and even Trump.Dating. There’s someone for everyone, the thinking goes, but sometimes you have to shrink the pool.

Spann created the app in Chicago after talking with a friend of hers from Nigeria. She said her friend found it difficult to date especially because of the cultural divide she experienced on traditional dating apps. Further, Spann and her friend felt uncomfortable on traditional dating apps after getting fetish comments like “Hi Chocolate Goddess.” For her, enough was enough.

“It’s predicted that by the end of this year African-Americans will be the most represented out of any ethnic group online. Pairing this with the fact that African-Americans are currently spending nearly 48 billion on travel annually and 8.7 percent of the overall US black population is comprised of immigrants, we believe that 2018 is ripe with opportunity for CultureCrush,” she said. “We’re excited to see how our users respond to the new features and we are looking forward to focusing our energy and attention back into growing our user base after our initial setbacks.”

“We decided to pursue the project after observing that mainstream dating apps often fail to account for cultural preferences and rarely yield positive experiences for users of color,” said Spann. “Imagine being a Nigerian man who just moved from Lagos to Chicago for med school, it might be nice to meet a local woman from your tribe. Or being a Jamaican woman spending a week in Copenhagen for work who wants to grab a drink with someone of Caribbean descent. Or what if you are an African-American who lives in a predominately white community, having difficulty meeting other people of color,” she said.

The app is available now and you can sign up to be notified when the new app hits the stores.

Source: Tech Crunch

Tesla shareholder wants to remove Elon Musk from chairman position

Ahead of Tesla’s annual shareholder meeting in June, stockholder Jing Zhao has submitted a proposal to replace the board’s chairman, Elon Musk, with an independent director. Musk, the chief executive officer at Tesla, has been chairman of the board since 2004.

“Although the current leadership structure, in which the positions of Chairman and CEO are held by one person, could provide an effective leadership for Tesla at the early stage, now in this much more highly competitive and rapidly changing technology industry, it is more and more difficult to oversee Tesla’s business and senior management (especially to minimize any potential conflicts) that may result from combining the positions of CEO and Chairman,” Zhao wrote in his proposal.

Zhao, who holds 12 shares of the company’s common stock, also noted Musk’s positions at SolarCity and SpaceX, and how Musk’s involvement could lead to conflicts down the road. But the likelihood of this happening is slim to none.

And the board has already expressed its opposition, recommending a vote against this proposal. In its statement, the board says Tesla’s success would not have been possible without Musk at the helm of both the board and the company itself.

“In light of the significant future opportunities for growth and the careful execution needed in order for the Company to achieve it, the Board believes that the Company is still best served by Mr. Musk continuing to serve as Chairman,” the board stated. “Moreover, the role of the Lead Independent Director protects the Company against any potential governance issues arising from a non-independent director serving as Chairman. This position is vested with broad authority to lead the actions of the independent directors and communicate regularly with the Chief Executive Officer. Additionally, the Company now has seven independent directors following the addition of two additional independent directors in July 2017.”

I reached out to Tesla for comment and the company directed me to the board’s response. Here it is in full:

The Board believes that the Company’s success to date would not have been possible if the Board was led by another director lacking Elon Musk’s day-to-day exposure to the Company’s business. In light of the significant future opportunities for growth and the careful execution needed in order for the Company to achieve it, the Board believes that the Company is still best served by Mr. Musk continuing to serve as Chairman.

Moreover, the role of the Lead Independent Director protects the Company against any potential governance issues arising from a non-independent director serving as Chairman. This position is vested with broad authority to lead the actions of the independent directors and communicate regularly with the Chief Executive Officer. Additionally, the Company now has seven independent directors following the addition of two additional independent directors in July 2017. The Board believes that the broad authority of the Lead Independent Director and the presence of six other independent directors ensures that the Board acts independently. This current Board structure also is consistent with majority practice at large public companies: according to the 2017 Spencer Stuart Board Index, 72% of companies in the S&P 500 do not have an independent board chairman.

The proponent acknowledges that a combined Chief Executive Officer and Chairman is an effective form of leadership for an early-stage company, until it faces increased competition and rapid technological changes. The Board believes that it is precisely during times when a company must quickly adapt to constant change and outside pressures that Board leadership needs to be lockstep with the Company’s operations. Our achievements to date notwithstanding, the Company is still at a point in its development where we must execute well in order to realize our long-term goals, and separating the roles of Chief Executive Officer and Chairman at this time would not serve the best interests of the Company or its stockholders.

Source: Tech Crunch