Extra Crunch Live: Join Hunter Walk for a Q&A May 7th at 1 pm ET/10 am PT

Fresh off our chat with Mark Cuban, Extra Crunch Live is not slowing down. We’re already gearing up for next week, which will bring us an investor from Sequoia, and, later in the week, Homebrew’s Hunter Walk.

Homebrew is a seed-stage venture capital fund that has invested in startups like Plaid, Cheddar, and Managed by Q, all of which sold for nine- and ten-figure sums. Hunter is one of the firm’s investing partners along with Satya Patel.

TechCrunch’s Danny Crichton and Alex Wilhelm (two-thirds of the Equity crew) will host the chat, posing the first rounds of questions before we bring in the audience to help steer the conversation. (You can sign up for Extra Crunch in advance, so that you don’t have to do so last-minute.)

What’s on the agenda? A few things. Seed deal pace is top of mind, as is changing seed-stage valuations. We’re also super curious about which verticals inside of Seed are doing the best and the worst. We’ll also dial in on what’s changing at the Series A level for various types of seed-stage startups, what metrics are the new gospel, and that sort of thing.

Homebrew last raised a $90 million fund in 2018, its third.

If there’s time, we’ll also nibble into what Homebrew is seeing from pre-seed investors, and if Seed II (Mango Seed?) is still a thing or not. (Oh, and his firm’s per-fund returns. That will be fun.)

It’s going to be a jam, not only because Hunter is one of the more interesting investors in Silicon Valley, but also because in an industry of brashness and bravado, he’s more thoughtful than most. So bring your questions and we’ll see you next Thursday.

Extra Crunch fam hit the jump for calendar notes and the Zoom link (YouTube to follow).


Here’s the information you’ll need:

  • May 7, 1 pm ET, 10 am PT, 5 pm GMT

    Source: Tech Crunch

New Red Hat CEO Paul Cormier faces a slew of challenges in the midst of pandemic

When former Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst moved on to become president at parent company IBM earlier this month, the logical person to take his place was long-time executive Paul Cormier. As he takes over in the most turbulent of times, he still sees a company that is in the right place to help customers modernize their approach to development as they move more workloads to the cloud.

We spoke to Cormier yesterday via video conference, and he appeared to be a man comfortable in his new position. We talked about the changes his new role has brought him personally, how he his helping his company navigate the current situation and how his relationship with IBM works.

One thing he stressed was that even as part of the IBM family, his company is running completely independently, and that includes no special treatment for IBM. It’s just another customer, an approach he says is absolutely essential.

Taking over

He says that he felt fully prepared for the role having run the gamut of jobs over the years from engineering to business units to CTO. The big difference for him as CEO is that in all of his previous roles he could be the technical guy speaking a certain engineering language with his colleagues. As CEO, things have changed, especially during a time where communication has become paramount.

This has been an even bigger challenge in the midst of the pandemic. Instead of traveling to offices for meetings, chatting over informal coffees and having more serendipitous encounters, he has had to be much more deliberate in his communication to make sure his employees feel in the loop, even when they are out of the office.

“I have a company-wide meeting every two weeks. You can’t over communicate right now because it just doesn’t happen [naturally in the course of work]. I’ve got to consciously do it now, and that’s probably the biggest thing,” he said.

Go-to-market challenges

While Cormier sees little change on the engineering side, where many folks have been working remotely for some time, the go-to-market team could face more serious hurdles as they try to engage with customers.

“The go-to-market and sales side is going to be the challenge because we don’t know how our customers will come out of this. Everybody’s going to have different strategies on how they’re coming out of this, and that will drive a lot,” he said.

This week was Cormier’s first Red Hat Summit as CEO, one that like so many conferences had to pivot from a live event to virtual fairly quickly. Customers have been nervous, and this was the first chance to really reconnect with them since things have shut down. He says that he was pleasantly surprised how well it worked, even allowing more people to attend than might pay to travel to a live event.

Conferences are a place for the sales team to really shine and lay the groundwork for future sales. Not being there in person had to be a big change for them, but he says this week went better than he expected, and they learned a ton about running virtual events that they will carry forth into the future.

“We all miss the face-to-face for sure, but I think we’ve learned new things, and I think our team did an amazing job in pulling this off,” he said.

No favorites for IBM

As he navigates his role inside the IBM family, he says that new CEO Arvind Krishna has effectively become his board of directors, now that the company has gone private. When IBM paid $34 billion for Red Hat in 2018, it was looking for a way to modernize the company and to become a real player in the hybrid cloud market.

Hybrid involves finding a way to manage infrastructure that lives on premises as well as in the cloud without having to use two sets of tools. While IBM is all in on Red Hat, Cormier says it’s absolutely essential to their relationship with customers that they don’t show them any favoritism, and that includes no special pricing deals.

Not only that, he says that he has the freedom to run the company the way he sees fit. “IBM doesn’t set our product strategy. They don’t set our priorities. They know that over time our open source products could eat into what they are doing with their proprietary products, and they are okay with that. They understand that,” he said.

He says that doing it any other way could begin to erode the reason that IBM spent all that money in the first place, and it’s up to Cormier to make sure that they continue to do what they were doing and keep customers comfortable with that. So far, the company seems to be heading in the same upward trajectory it was on as a public company.

In the most recent earnings report in January, IBM reported Red Hat income of $1.07 billion, up from $863 million the previous year when it was still a private company. That’s a run rate of over $4 billion, putting it well within reach of the $5 billion goal Whitehurst set a few years ago.

Now it’s Cormier’s job to get them there and beyond. The pandemic certainly makes it more challenging, but he’s ready to lead the company to that next level, all while walking the line as the CEO of a company that lives under the IBM family umbrella and all that entails.

Source: Tech Crunch

How this startup built and exited to Twitter in 1,219 days

By the summer of 2016, Marie Outtier had spent eight years as a consultant advising media agencies and martech companies on marketing growth strategy.

Pierre-Jean “PJ” Camillieri started as a music software engineer before joining one of Apple’s consumer electronics divisions. Inspired by Siri, he left to start Timista, a smart lifestyle assistant.

When the two joined forces to co-found Aiden.ai, the combination was potent — one was a consummate marketer, the other, a specialist in machine learning. Their goal: create an AI-driven marketing analyst that offered actionable advice in real time.

Humans who manage ad campaigns must analyze vast amounts of numbers, but Outtier and Camillieri envisioned a tool that could make optimization recommendations in real time. Analytics are vast and unwieldy, so theirs was a no-brainer proposition with a market crying out for solutions.

The company’s first office was at Bloom Space in Gower Street, London. It was just a handful of hot desks and a nearby sofa shared with four other startups. That summer, they began in earnest to build the company. A few months later, they had a huge opportunity when the still 100% bootstrapped company was selected for Techcrunch Disrupt’s Startup Battlefield competition.

Interviewed by TechCrunch, they explained their proposition: Marketers wanted to know where a digital marketing campaign was getting the most traction: Twitter or Facebook. You might need to check several dashboards across multiple accounts, plus Google analytics to compile the data — and even if you conclude that one platform is outperforming the other, that might change next week as users shift attention to Instagram, potentially wasting 60% of ad spend.

Aiden was intended to feel like just another co-worker, relying on natural language processing to make the exchange feel chatty and comfortable. It queried data from multiple dashboards and quickly compiled it into flash charts, making it easy to find and digest.

Eventually, instead of managing 10 clients, marketing analysts would be able to manage 50 using dynamic predictions as well as visualizations. Aiden incorporated Outtier’s expertise into its algorithms so it could suggest how to tweak a Facebook campaign and anticipate what was going to happen.

Was appearing at Disrupt a significant moment? “It was a big deal for us,” says Outtier. “The exposure gave us ammunition to raise our first round. And being part of the Disrupt Battlefield alumni gave us many meaningful networking and PR opportunities.”

A few weeks later the company had raised a seed round of $750,000. But not without difficulty. By this time Outtier was in the latter stages of pregnancy. Raising money under these circumstances was difficult, but, she says, “it can be done. It’s tougher than ‘normal circumstances.’ It’s a bit like running a marathon, but with a fridge on your back.”

Source: Tech Crunch

Banjo suspends state surveillance contracts after report details founder’s white supremacist past

Following an explosive report about the dark past of its founder and CEO Damien Patton, Utah-based company Banjo is facing a backlash in its own backyard. After revelations of Patton’s former ties to a branch of the KKK came to light, Utah’s Attorney General and the University of Utah froze their relationships with the company. Now, the company will suspend all of its contracts in the state.

Following the actions by the state AG’s office, Banjo announced that it would suspend all of its state contracts in Utah, “not ingesting any government data or providing any services to government entities” until an audit could be conducted. Banjo signed a $20.7 million contract with the state of Utah in 2019, a relationship set to span five years.

“The Utah Attorney General’s office is shocked and dismayed at reports that Banjo’s founder had any affiliation with any hate group or groups in his youth,” Reyes’ office said in a statement provided to TechCrunch. “Neither the AG nor anyone in the AG’s office were aware of these affiliations or actions. They are indefensible. He has said so himself. ”

In the investigation on Patton, OneZero revealed that not only did Patton have ties to active KKK members at the age of 17, but that in 1990 he drove a car past a synagogue in a Nashville suburb while a KKK member shot at the building. Following the incident, he reportedly went into hiding at a white supremacist training camp. According to the reporting, Patton’s affiliation with white supremacists continued into his adulthood after he enlisted in the U.S. Navy, though Patton frames those ties as solely during his youth, after he “was taken in” by white supremacists while living on the street.

In a statement to TechCrunch and published on the company’s blog, Patton expressed remorse for his actions while not directly addressing how his violent, extremist past never came up when telling his own story as a founder:

“I have worked every day to be a responsible member of society. I’ve built companies, employed hundreds and have worked to treat everyone around me equally. In recent years, I’ve sought to create technologies that stop human suffering and save lives without violating privacy. I know that I will never be able to erase my past but I work hard every day to make up for mistakes. This is something I will never stop doing.”

Once a proximity social networking app, Banjo pivoted in recent years to become a real-time intelligence platform for police departments and public officials. Its core product, Live Time, purports to provide “life-saving information in seconds” in order to mobilize emergency responses, but has faced criticism for its surveillance-driven mission. As Vice recently observed, the company’s desire to conduct realtime AI-powered monitoring on public surveillance camera feeds is “something that has terrified security and civil liberties experts for years.”

Reyes noted that while he “believe[s] Mr. Patton’s remorse is sincere,” the Utah AG’s office would suspend its use of Banjo while a third-party investigates the state’s implementation for “issues like data privacy and possible bias,” suggesting that other state agencies using Banjo should follow suit.

“Banjo’s mission is to save lives and minimize human suffering to help first responders in emergency situations while not invading people’s civil liberties and rights,” the company wrote in a blog post announcing plans to pause state contracts. “We are looking forward to the audit to show that we can build technology to help save lives and protect people’s rights.”

Source: Tech Crunch

Smart home startup Josh.ai raises $11 million to offer a home assistant alternative to Alexa

Directly taking on Google and Amazon generally seems to be an ill-advised strategy for a young startup. It’s even more complicated when you’re competing on the home assistants front, a technically complex, capital-intensive future platform into which both tech giants have dumped substantial sums.

Over the past few years, the small smart home startup Josh.ai has attempted to do just that, capitalizing on public distrust of the big voice platforms to sell an intelligent assistant to users weary of sticking a Google or Amazon-owned microphone in their homes. The company has built its business catering to customers seeking professionally installed pricey outfits in their home, costing upwards of $10,000 on the high end.

The company just secured its largest funding round to date, an $11 million Series A round, which brings the startup’s total funding to $22 million. A spokesperson for Josh.ai said their investors have asked not to be named, though he confirmed the round was led by corporate investors.

For people with an Echo Dot or Google Mini in their home, Josh.ai’s approach feels familiar. The platform boasts a number of third-party integrations, so you can use the platform to switch off lights, turn on devices, play music and answer some simple commands. Basically, the bulk of home-centric commands popular on Google Assistant and Alexa.

The startup recently introduced Josh Micro, its own take on the Echo Dot. It has a futuristic vibe and, because it’s installed by professionals, users are privy to a sleek look with wires neatly tucked away inside walls. CEO Alex Capecelatro says their competitors in the professionally installed space have been pushing wall-mounted screens with UIs that often aren’t updated and don’t age well. He hopes their more low-key display-free devices can keep less focus on the hardware and more attention on their software.

“Our philosophy is that you shouldn’t be talking to a puck, it should feel fully immersive,” he says.

Capecelatro had originally seen the best path to existing alongside Google and Amazon as working with them and leveraging their platforms, but he soon found that not working with them proved to be the startup’s biggest asset.

“In terms of direction, what became really clear in the past three years was the importance of privacy,” Capecelatro told TechCrunch. “A lot of our clients are just people who care about their privacy; it’s part of every conversation.”

On the tech side, Capecelatro says the startup’s platform is designed around its own natural language processing stack, so most voice requests can be processed locally, though the startup does leverage tech built by Google and Microsoft to handle speech-to-text processes. While the company uses anonymized data to improve its services, the startup has also introduced specific software features to keep privacy-focused users satisfied including their own take on a smart home incognito mode.

There are few silver bullets in smart home tech, and robust third-party support often leaves room for uncertainty, which in Josh’s case can mean the difference between lights turning on or staying off. Capecelatro says ensuring smooth compatibility with supported devices has been a pretty big focus for their engineering team.

“The more things we work with, the more things we have to QA and the more things that could be impacted,” he says.

While Capecelatro says that around 80-85% of their business goes to single-family homes, he says the startup is starting to find business in commercial sectors, outfitting hotels and condo buildings.

“The reality is we’ve found that the professional installed space is a really big market that the consumer companies don’t really think about,” Capecelatro says. “I think for us the likely future is that we’ll focus on areas where you have a professional installer in a non-residential arena.”

The company says the pandemic has actually given their business a bump, with April being their best month of sales to date as homeowners stuck in their houses look to finally act on long-considered home improvement projects.

Source: Tech Crunch

Johns Hopkins launches COVID-19 Testing hub to provide public access to testing data

The COVID-19 testing picture in the U.S. is far from easy to understand, given the disparate agencies and public and private health organizations involved. Johns Hopkins, building on its excellent work developing COVID-19 case tracking and basic information resources, has developed a new hub called the COVID-19 Testing Insights Initiative that breaks down what kinds of tests are available, as well as where they’re being administered in the U.S., and in what volume.

The new hub offers answers to commonly asked questions like how COVID-19 is currently diagnosed, what the differences are between the two major types of tests used (molecular and serological) and what is required for testing in terms of both payment and qualifying symptoms/exposure risk.

Crucially, it also provides a state-by-state breakdown of how many tests have been performed, graphed against the total number of confirmed cases and the number of deaths in that state. They also provide a report on the weekly rate of change in positive tests across all states, showing whether there’s been an increase in the namer of positive tests or a decrease on a week-over-week basis, and in either case, by how much.

Johns Hopkins notes that the data may not be consistent, since it’s being pulled from a number of publicly available sources, and it notes further that states themselves are not consistent. The school says it’s doing what it can to account for the irregularities that result from inconsistent reporting, but doesn’t want to misrepresent the data.

The overall picture of how many tests have been completed, as well as where and by who, along with positive results, has been a topic of a lot of confusion and debate. The White House has consistently provided numbers that are out of sync with the reality in terms of numbers reported by states, particularly when it comes to test volume.

The Johns Hopkins hub provides likely the best source yet for a good snapshot of the current state of testing on a state-by-state basis, and the resource will be updated regularly with new info as it becomes available. Widespread testing is a key ingredient in any effective COVID-19 control measures, and this should act as a sort of report card to provide an indicator how how well we’re doing on this front.

Source: Tech Crunch

Amazon to stream NFL’s Thursday Night Football through 2022, plus one exclusive game each season

The NFL’s Thursday Night Football is returning to stream on Amazon. The companies announced today they’ve renewed their agreement, which will allow Amazon Prime Video to offer a live, digital stream of Thursday Night Football to a global audience through the 2022 season. This time around, the NFL and Amazon also announced a new deal allowing Amazon to exclusively stream one NFL game globally on Prime Video and Twitch for each of the next three seasons.

Amazon and the NFL have been partnered on streaming Thursday Night Football since 2017, initially with a one-year deal that was said to be valued at $50 million. The companies renewed that agreement in 2018 for two more years, valuing each season at $65 million (or $130 million in total).

The terms of this new deal weren’t disclosed, but an initial report from CNBC claims the deal price has been upped once again. That makes sense, of course, given the new agreement is not only arriving two years later but also now includes an exclusive game.

Over time, the audience for the NFL games has grown slightly. The 2019 Thursday Night Football games delivered an average audience of 15.4 million viewers across all properties (broadcast, cable and digital), up 4+% from the 2018 games.

Digital streams in 2019 surpassed an average minute audience of over 1 million, up 43% year-over-year (729K). This includes the streams across Prime Video, Twitch, NFL digital, FOX Sports digital and Verizon Media mobile properties. (Note: TechCrunch’s parent company is owned by Verizon).

Viewers will be able to stream the 11 Thursday Night Football games broadcast by FOX through the Prime Video and Twitch websites and apps across living room devices, mobile phones, tablets and PCs. That makes the games available to Amazon Prime’s more than 150 million worldwide users in over 200 countries and territories, Amazon notes.

But Amazon won’t be the only place to watch most of these games.

The games are also broadcast by FOX in Spanish on FOX Deportes, and will be simulcast on the NFL Network. This continues the league’s “Tri-Cast” strategy, which includes a combination of broadcast, cable and digital distribution.

Meanwhile, Amazon’s exclusively streamed game isn’t a Thursday Night Football game, but instead is a regular season game played on a Saturday in the second half of the season. This game will also be televised over-the-air in the participating teams’ home markets.

As before, the digital streams will include access to Amazon features like X-Ray and Next Gen Stats powered by AWS. Prime members can pick from either the FOX or FOX Deportes broadcast and from a range of alternative audio options exclusive to Prime Video.

Amazon and the NFL will also collaborate on additional content and fan viewing experiences around the game streams in the future.

“As our relationship has expanded, Amazon has become a trusted and valued partner of the NFL,” said Brian Rolapp, chief media and business officer for the NFL, in a statement. “Extending this partnership around Thursday Night Football continues our critical mission of delivering NFL games to as many fans in as many ways as possible both in the United States and around the world,” he added.


Source: Tech Crunch

Juul is reportedly laying off 800 to 950 employees

Juul is set to eliminate between 800 to 950 jobs, according to a new report from The Wall Street Journal. Those massive cuts would amount to around a third of the Bay Area vaping giant’s entire workforce.

While the news comes amid a deluge of layoff reports, Juul’s troubles are said not to be a direct result from the COVID-19 pandemic. Rather, they stem from larger ongoing problems. After all, it wouldn’t be the first time the company has made a sizable cut to its staff — in October, it laid off around 650 people.

Juul wouldn’t confirm the specifics of the news, but does appear to acknowledge some big changes are afoot, as the company looks to restructure after struggles. “As part of our ongoing reset, we are constantly evaluating our operations and the best way to position our company for the long term,” it said in a statement. “We remain focused on earning the trust of our stakeholders to advance the potential for harm reduction for adult smokers while combating underage use.” According to reports, some of that evaluation comes in the form of figuring just how many jobs to cut. Figures are likely to be somewhere between one-quarter and 40% of its staff. A final decision will arrive “in the coming weeks.”

A memo leaked to the press notes similar sentiments from CEO K.C. Crosthwaite, who writes:

[W]e are continuing to evaluate our operations and the best way to position our company for the long term. We have made hard decisions over the last six months, and we still have hard decisions to make. You have my word that I will bring you all together when we have final decisions and details to announce.

Ongoing regulatory issues have become a major stumbling block for the company in recent years, along with a swift hit to sales. The company suffered a $1 billion loss last year — a steep drop after a rapid climb.

We’ve reached out for additional comment.

Source: Tech Crunch

Digging for dollar signs amid edtech’s current momentum

Edtech was long defined by stodgy sales cycles, sluggish adoption and splashy pitches to K-12 districts with tight budgets, but the COVID-19 pandemic turned that reputation on its head in short order.

Now, companies in the space are entering Q2 — traditionally a slower time reserved for product development and extra focus on existing clients — busier than ever. In this piece, we’ll unpack some of the dollar signs indicating that edtech may be entering a new era.

Broader investor interest

A number of edtech founders who are not seeking venture capital have recently told me their inboxes are cluttered with notes from investors looking to chat.

It’s a refreshing break from the usual fundraising doom-and-gloom we’ve been hearing about during this pandemic, but I want to note the nuance: We’re seeing investors who have never been interested in edtech become bullish on the category as a whole. If these investors put their money where their mouths are, we’ll start to see an uptick of venture funding sector-wide.

For EdSights, co-founded by sister duo Claudia and Carolina Recchi, doors are opening. Before COVID-19, they say they mainly attracted interest from opportunity investors and edtech investors. Now, they’re talking to a number of VCs, none solely from edtech-focused funds.

Source: Tech Crunch

GM delays GMC Hummer EV debut

GM said Wednesday that it will postpone its upcoming reveal of a GMC-branded electric Hummer due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Hummer EV debut, which was scheduled to occur May 20, is the latest automotive event to be delayed in recent months due to COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. The Geneva Motor Show and Cadillac’s Lyriq reveals were also canceled or postponed.

GM said it will reschedule the reveal and that development work on the GMC Hummer EV is “on track and undeterred.”

Earlier this year, GM announced it was bringing back the Hummer in a new electric form. Since the announcement, GM has teased the “super truck” in several videos, including a 30-second Super Bowl ad for the Hummer called “Quiet Revolution” that starred NBA  phenom LeBron James.

GM hasn’t released the base price of the vehicle, although it has shared some specs, including that it will produce the equivalent of 1,000 horsepower, have a 0 to 60 mph acceleration of 3 seconds and 11,500 feet of torque.

The Hummer EV will be produced at its Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant in Michigan. GM previously announced plans to 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 said at the time it will invest an additional $800 million in supplier tooling and other projects related to the launch of the new electric trucks.

Source: Tech Crunch