We need more video games that are social platforms first, games second

During these long, mundane physically-distant days, stretching on into an uncertain future like an ever-lengthening beigeish corridor, it’s impossible not to miss hanging out with friends. Especially the kind of hanging out where you’re not really doing anything in particular, not talking about any one thing—just kind of being.

As we continue to stay physically distant from one another, it can be hard to feel socially present with the tools we have. Even with Zoom and other more casual chat apps, video chat can feel sort of flat. (And for those of us lucky enough to be working from home, visiting friends after work with the same tools we use to do work stuff doesn’t always feel great.) More often than not, we sit, stationary at our designated video-chat-spot, trade reports from self-quarantine and maybe drag in a cat or a kid or two.

But even untethered from our desks with more playful video chat apps or innovations like Facebook’s Portal and its roving eye, there’s still something else that doesn’t get conveyed. With flat screens, we have little sense of our physical selves in relation to one another. Socializing spatially, as it turns out, is something we probably took for granted. But the gaming world has understood this for years.

Now more than ever, we need creative ways to feel present with other people. The whole crisis looks like a huge opportunity for the gaming industry, but also one for more transcendent digital social experiences that don’t just look like playing a few rounds of Call of Duty after work. Hopefully, these experiences could be so imaginative that we don’t even know what they could look like yet.

If VR had delivered on its early promise, we’d all probably be living in it right now. The idea of having some kind of shared virtual realm is still a potent one, but the additional hardware has proven too prohibitive to get the average person on board (for now, at least) and even the coolest VR experiences remain niche. Still, it’s clear that we want to come together, not just in Instagram DMs and email threads, but as avatars navigating shared spaces. Somehow.

Virtual worlds getting it right

If the mainstream crossover success of Animal Crossing is any indication, people have a huge appetite for virtual spaces right now. Even with Nintendo’s truly painful online multiplayer experience, there’s something fun and special about visiting a friend, bopping each other with nets and showing them your new digs.

In Animal Crossing, this is truly a more-than-the-sum-of-its-parts experience. The last time I genuinely laughed and could not stop was visiting my younger sister’s Animal Crossing island right after the game launched. In spite of the interface’s few emotes and harsh character limits, her weird sense of humor managed to bubble up through the game’s limitations. And those constraints made it more special, for some reason. When I left her island I felt a pang of sadness at leaving her funny little physical manifestation, running circles around my own. It felt different than signing out of a video chat or dropping out of a conversation via text.

These experiences are happening on an individual level, but also a collective one—and people are getting creative. One of the writers from Rogue One just made his own in-game Animal Crossing talkshow, complete with its own tiny guest couch and cityscape view.

A developer in New York even launched a dev conference that took place entirely on an Animal Crossing island. Much like a normal conference, “Deserted Island DevOps” boasted speakers, moderators and even talks to be uploaded to YouTube after the fact.

Plenty of players are using Animal Crossing for more intimate get-togethers too, like celebrating Ramadan and Passover last month or just gathering far-flung friends or family together in one place.


The pandemic is showing us that the sweet spot of mainstream virtual presence might be something more than a Zoom-like video conference but less than a full-on virtual reality experience. Video games, or more specifically video games as platforms, seem to be resonating right now, even among the kinds of people who wouldn’t identify as gamers. That last bit is important.

This is something that Fortnite maker Epic Games has been doing right for a while now. There’s a reason that Fortnite, like Animal Crossing, brought non-gamers into the fold. Sure, Fortnite is fun and addictive, but lots of games are fun and addictive—and Fortnite is much harder than a lot of those games.

Epic’s real innovation is its buttery-smooth social layer that seamlessly connects players across platforms. If you can talk a friend into downloading an app, you’re in business. Of course, other games get this right too (Minecraft comes to mind, of course, and others) but timing is everything right now. And Fortnite’s team is cleverly iterating on its already-good ideas.

This week, Epic added a new deliberately chill game mode called Party Royale to Fortnite—a new island just for hanging out with friends. Littered with appropriately zany non-lethal weapons like throwable hamburgers and paintball guns, Party Royale is a designated space where you can take a group and chat while doing mindless yet amusing nonsense, like awkwardly kicking a soccer ball around (I did this with a total stranger for 20 minutes for some reason!) or driving virtual ATVs off virtual precipices.

And like much of Epic’s battle royale hit, the island itself is over-the-top weird, stocked with everything from a pirate ship to a music festival grounds awash in colorful lights, gigantic neon dancers and a very psychedelic vibe, molly not included. There’s even a drive-in movie screen, like another area of the main game, which could signal interesting things to come. If we’re lucky and Epic expands it out, Fortnite’s newest casual online virtual space could evolve into something pretty interesting.

Fortnite is a game ostensibly about killing people before they kill you, but it’s also a concert venue—and that hints at Epic’s deeper ideas about the game as a versatile social platform. The game held its latest big in-game show event last month, this time featuring a skyscraper-height Travis Scott who performed as he stormed around a bucolic-turned-kaleidoscopic version of the Fortnite map. 12 million people tuned in, besting the 10 million who played during the more modest Marshmello in-game EDM show a year prior. Whether you even listen to his music or not, the wildly visually imaginative event was, by all accounts, cool as hell.

Video games should evolve to meet the moment

For anyone who’s spent any time in massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs), this will all sound familiar. These games have long, vibrant history of drawing huge numbers of people together into persistent shared virtual spaces and letting them express themselves. Curating outfits, decorating spaces and even making choices around playstyle and faction affiliation are all ways to express aspects of who you are and what you’re about in a virtual world populated by other people doing the same. As someone who played World of Warcraft for years, this was the real appeal of the game for many of us. The game itself—quests, dungeons and the rest—was secondary.

During its peak ten years ago, World of Warcraft had as many active subscribers as players who tuned into the Travis Scott event—12 million. Since then, gaming exploded into the mainstream and by late 2018, Fortnite boasted almost 80 million active players. Online multiplayer itself bounded forward too, mostly through the success of blockbuster first-person shooters—usually grim, well-funded and vaguely or overtly militaristic games that routinely court one kind of gamer. Playful, candy-colored shooters like Fortnite, Splatoon and Overwatch emerged to extend a hand to casual players, even non-gamers, but there’s still plenty of room for online gaming to move beyond shooters.

The wild popularity of Minecraft carved out a path for cooperative gaming not just because building stuff is incredibly fun, though that’s true too, but because doing anything new with friends in a virtual space is really cool. Scrappier games like the incredible No Man’s Sky could do for exploration what Minecraft did for building, but with an indie developer’s budget, big ideas about multiplayer play can only get so far. Historically, the lion’s share of industry resources still get funneled toward reliably profitable military-style shooters. But with the world changing, trends could transform too. Just look at sales of Animal Crossing’s social feng shui sim dominating sales during the first months of the epidemic.

There’s a big opportunity right now for games offering a common social experience that’s magnetic enough to draw in the kind of people who don’t even play games. For those of us stuck at home, imaginative gaming worlds offer not just their usual escape from the moment’s stresses, but a way to share space when we can’t come together.

We just need more of them to visit.

Source: Tech Crunch

Original Content podcast: Netflix’s ‘Middleditch & Schwartz’ might change your mind about improv

We’ll admit it: Some of your Original Content podcast hosts are a little skeptical about improvised comedy.

Of course, we can enjoy improv when it’s done well. It’s just that we’ve seen it done less well, often by friends who are so enthusiastic without being particularly funny. And our friends aside, live improv has rarely been translated successfully into an on-screen show or special.

So we had some reservations going into “Middleditch & Schwartz” on Netflix, which consists of three hourlong improv specials. But our doubts were quickly demolished as we watched the mind-bogglingly talented Thomas Middleditch (“Silicon Valley”) and Ben Schwartz (“Parks & Recreation”) spin up dizzyingly complex plots based on just a few prompts from the audience, bringing to life dozens of characters and tying everything together into a big comedic climax right as their time is runs out.

And sometimes, the show is even better when things don’t go smoothly — when they’re forced to backpedal out of a narrative dead end, or when they struggle to remember the names of the character they’re playing at a given moment, or the accent they should be using.

Before we get to our review, we also discuss our thoughts on the current battle between NBCUniversal and big movie theater chains, over the studio’s decision to release “Trolls World Tour” directly to video-on-demand and potentially to follow suit with other films.

You can listen to our review 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 can also send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

And if you’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaksdown:
0:00 Intro
0:30 NBCUniversal news
18:00 “Middleditch and Schwartz” review

Source: Tech Crunch

Startups Weekly: SaaS companies should target burn to match ARR during pandemic

[Editor’s note: Get this weekly recap of TechCrunch news that any startup can use every Saturday morning by email (7am PT). Just subscribe here.] 

How well is SaaS overcoming business impacts of the pandemic? First, there’s no negative impact on the revenues of big cloud infrastructure providers visible so far, according to a new research report out that we covered on TechCrunch this week. While some spending may have pulled back, growth from more remote work and other activities have maintained the overall momentum.

However, startups across the category could be “looking at around a 30% miss to plan in Q2,” Alex Wilhelm concludes based on a long interview with Mary D’Onofrio, a growth investor focused on the category at Bessemer Venture Partners. “This has tempered investor growth expectations. But even more than raw growth figures, SaaS investors are looking for efficient growth. In Bessemer’s eyes, a 1:1 ratio of ARR add to burn is the target. It won’t be easy. Startups selling to SMBs are going to hurt worse by rising churn than enterprise-focused startups, while startups selling to larger customers may struggle with new customer adds given travel restrictions. So, enterprise-focused startups will likely lean more on upsells than new logo adds. Those will also prove difficult, even if they won’t slow completely.”

She and Bessemer had already developed a series of metrics to analyze the health of cloud companies, including a ‘Cash Conversion Score‘ and a Nasdaq emerging cloud index. Check out the rest of the article on Extra Crunch for how D’Onofrio sees those numbers being affected now.

A fond farewell to Josh Constine

This newsletter focuses on key meta topics for startups, and sometimes that means getting even more meta and talking about changes at TechCrunch. Josh Constine will be leaving us for the VC world, where he’ll be investing and heading up content with SignalFire.

If you have ever thought that Josh would be the one to really get your hot new consumer product idea first, you now have a new reason to talk to him. Read his thoughts on the new job in this personal post (and ongoing newsletter).

If you’re not familiar with the name, you’ve still read Josh quite a bit this decade if you’ve been reading TechCrunch — or tech news in general. He started here with me in late 2011 writing about Facebook and social trends, and has become one of the most influential writers on social and startup topics today. In addition to his traffic stats, top journalist rankings*, etc that one can measure most easily, we have watched his analysis regularly result in major changes to the main products of leading consumer internet companies in the world today.

His repertoire expanded over the years to include huge scoops (like Bing’s child-porn problem or Facebook’s secret VPN), memes (Zoombombing) and many appearances across global stages.

He has accomplished almost all of what great tech writers can accomplish and I cannot say I’m surprised that he wanted to try his hand at investing, having known him since before we first worked together last decade. I believe he’ll succeed as an investor, and be a force for good in that role like he has been here.

There is one thing I think he should still do as a professional writer, though — write a book. About his own life in the startup world this past decade. Trust me, you’d want to read it.

*Here’s how to find other great tech reporters who cover what you do

…Besides just reading this site, of course. Josh was the #1 ranked author on Techmeme, the news aggregator of record for the tech industry, by a number of measures. Want to find the right reporter to talk to, besides him? Go to Techmeme.com/lb to find expert TechCrunch authors and some of our most worthy competitors across 43 industry categories, including AI, e-commerce, enterprise software and many more. [Note: This is an unpaid plug for a great independent tech media product, we don’t normally run third-party shoutouts in here.]

Startup fundraising updates… keep those teeth gritted

We have a few writers tracking the latest ins and outs of fundraising during pandemic, here are notable updates from this week:

“Some of our peers in the Valley have up to 40% of their companies that need an infusion or some sort of bridge to get through,” Mike Janke, co-founder of early-stage cybersecurity investment firm Datatribe, told Jon Shieber. “These companies that had higher valuations that came out of the Valley have had to do more drastic cuts.” Startups that raised cash in markets outside the Bay Area have not had as much difficulty, he says, because they’re more efficient. “When you see regions like Boston, the DC corridor, Austin and Boulder, those companies don’t raise as big a round and they’re a little more financially conservative.”

One wonders if these hubs will see comparative growth sooner and stronger than the Valley itself? Meanwhile, the screws continue to twist in today’s term sheets.

“Let’s say you were a founder and you were doing great and you were on track and you were going to start raising your Series A or Series B, you know, in May,” Freada Kapor Klein of Kapor Capital explained to Megan Rose Dickey during an EC Live interview on Tuesday. “Well, you’re screwed. And so we see VCs sitting on the sidelines, waiting for the startups to almost go under and then put the most draconian term sheet in from of them where they wipe everybody off the cap table, where if you don’t put in your pro rata — we’ve got one of these going on right now — if you don’t put in your pro rata, we’re going to lose at least 90% of our investment.”

As Alex Wilhelm noted in a separate article, even if startups can keep revenue up and burn-rate down (see first item above), investors are slowing their pace of putting money in. Companies that should have been able to raise will no longer be able to at worthwhile terms.

Kapor suggested that some companies might want to consider broader options. For example, if a company thinks it is headed towards losing control to investors who have different motives, it may be able to re-establish itself as a public benefit corporation to spell out the mission and preserve it in the charter (to a degree).

A simpler answer for many startups is to drop all fundraising goals and focus on profitability. “Genuinely, it’s not rocket science,” Bryce Roberts of Indie.vc tells Megan in an interview. “Profitability isn’t this crazy, elusive thing. It’s literally more achievable than a Series A round. It’s way more achievable than a Series B round. If you look at the kind of fall-off between those rounds, most entrepreneurs would be better off finding their path to profitability and scale.” Instead, Roberts reminds us that you do not need anyone’s permission to do a startup. You can figure out how to do it yourself like countless great founders before you.

Immigration to the US still possible

Resident immigration lawyer Sophie Alcorn does a regular Q&A column for us, responding to reader questions about the US process. A one “Scientist in South San Francisco” asked her what the impact was of a recent attempt to suspend green cards in a TechCrunch column this week. We’re highlighting the answer because we know that Scientist is far from alone:

“The proclamation that President Trump signed last Wednesday falls far short of the outright suspension of immigration he tweeted about on Monday. The order places a very limited 60-day moratorium on issuing green cards to individuals seeking to come to the U.S. from abroad. Aimed at protecting job opportunities for unemployed Americans and relieving U.S embassies and consulates of the green-card processing workload, this “temporary suspension” has already begun. It’s possible that it could be extended beyond 60 days….

What this new policy actually means is that no employment- or family-based green cards will be issued to candidates living outside of the U.S. except for spouses and dependent children of American citizens, physicians, nurses, or other healthcare professionals who are coming to the U.S to perform research or work to combat COVID-19 in the next couple of months.”

She separately breaks down immigration issues combined with PPP loans for those facing such complexities in this Extra Crunch column.

Hopefully, in any case, this country will soon return to being a place where people want to move.

VCs talk startups in gaming during the pandemic

In our investor surveys this week, media analyst Eric Peckham caught up with top investors in gaming, part of an ongoing series he’s been doing since last year. But this time around, he talked about the COVID-19 impact on social gaming and MMOs, and separately on esports. Here’s one key part from Ryann Lai of Makers Fund:

Peckham: What’s different about MMO (massively multiplayer online) game studios founded recently versus those founded three or so years ago? Any distinct change in strategies, team composition, etc.?

Lai: I like to think that every game is becoming more MMO-esque with persistent social profiles and deeper social interactions. The “traditional” MMOs themselves are seeing ever-increasing player expectations on visuals, narratives, social systems, and accessibility (e.g., less grind, shorter sessions, cross-play, etc.).

On the supply side — we’ve seen a continued democratization of multiplayer-centric development driven by a) decrease in development and operating costs, as well as b) availability of talents and specialized backend solutions providers that empower smaller (both in size and budget) and more distributed teams to have “MMO” ambition.

Around TechCrunch

Extra Crunch Live: Join Roelof Botha for a live Q&A on May 6 at 2pm ET/11am PT

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

Atlassian co-founder and co-CEO Mike Cannon-Brookes is coming to Disrupt SF 2020

Across the week


When regulation presents a (rare) opportunity

Quarantine creates new opportunities for video makers, according to a Butter Works report

A new pro bono portal just launched for lawyers looking to help people hit hard by the pandemic

Cleo Capital’s Sarah Kunst launches a fellowship for laid-off workers

Equity Monday: Startups run low on cash, and why some Internet tailwinds are fading

Extra Crunch

5 tips for starting a business with a stranger

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

Precursor Ventures’ Charles Hudson on ‘the conversation no one has during an upmarket’

A full-time VC & part-time ER doctor shares his thoughts on COVID-19

Digging for dollar signs amid edtech’s current momentum


There is money in design tools, but do designers have a target on their backs?

Source: Tech Crunch

This Week in Apps: Zoom gets busted, TikTok’s new record, contact tracing API launches

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the Extra Crunch series that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support and the money that flows through it all.

The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 204 billion downloads and $120 billion in consumer spending in 2019, according to App Annie’s “State of Mobile” annual report. People are now spending 3 hours and 40 minutes per day using apps, rivaling TV. Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus.

In this Extra Crunch series, we help you keep up with the latest news from the world of apps, delivered on a weekly basis.

This week we’re continuing to look at how the coronavirus outbreak is impacting the world of mobile applications, including the latest on the U.S. and other international efforts to develop contact-tracing apps, plus the use of live-streaming apps as fundraising tools, the impact of quarantine on iPad apps and more. We’re also tracking news related to Zoom’s latest backtrack, WhatsApp’s plans to enter the credit market, the Instagram pods discovery, TikTok best quarter (better than any app… ever), Facebook’s plan for virtual dating and more.


Apple News hits 125M monthly active users

The COVID-19 pandemic has driven a significant increase in how many people are using Apple’s News app on their mobile devices, tablets and Macs. During Apple’s earnings call this week, the company revealed Apple News now sees over 125 million monthly active users in the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and Australia, up from 100 million in January. Apple, however, did not note how many were subscribed to its $9.99/month premium news service, Apple News+.

Apple & Google release first version of the exposure notification API

Source: Tech Crunch

Equity Shot: 1% is the new “growth”

Happy Saturday and welcome back to an Equity Shot, a short-form episode of Equity where we drill into one particular topic. There was so much news this week in our main areas of focus — startup funding rounds, new venture funds, that sort of thing — that we had to exclude earnings from the main show! (But really, check it out, as it was a good time.)

Sad, I know. Everyone surely noticed the loss, but we gathered once again on Friday afternoon to dig into the results all the same. A big thanks to Danny, Natasha and Chris for gathering ’round one more time to get through:

  •  SaaS and enterprise earnings: We dug into Microsoft’s results (TechCrunch coverage here), along with notes on quarterly results from Atlassian, Zendesk and ServiceNow. The gist is that big corp SaaS did fine in Q1, but there are varying levels of concern regarding the future.
  • Subscription content: Spotify is doing fine and Netflix smashed it, according to Danny (TechCrunch coverage here, and here, respectively). Spotify also managed to eke out the world’s funniest net income result, while Netflix shot forward like a hare from a trap. In short, we may be listening to fewer podcasts, but we sure as hell aren’t getting off the couch.
  • Advertising shops: While the advertising world melts down in spectacular fashion, tech shops that are ad powered did kinda OK. Facebook did what it always does, wowing with results and this time telling investors that April was looking better than March. Snap grew like hell, surprising investors, even if its overall cost structure is broken when compared to its revenue. Twitter was the miss of the bunch, struggling the most after telling investors it was still seeing COVID-19 issues in April. And, finally, Alphabet did Google things, so its stock went up, COVID-19 be damned.

We avoided Tesla because who can be bothered, and managed the shortest note on Apple ever recorded on a business podcast. All that and we had some fun. Hugs from Equity; we’ll be right back Monday morning!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 AM PT and Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

Source: Tech Crunch

An already struggling smartphone market takes a big hit from COVID-19

Quarter after quarter, familiar stories have appeared. The smartphone market, once seemingly bulletproof, has suffered. The list of factors is long, and I’ve written about them ad nauseam here, but the CliffsNotes version is: costs are too high, innovation is too incremental and most people already own a device that will be plenty good for the next few years.

But 2020 was going to be different. Smartphone makers were set to finally give consumers a reason to upgrade in the form of 5G. The first handsets appeared in earnest last year, but between a much wider carrier roll out, lower-cost 5G radios from Qualcomm and the arrival of a 5G iPhone, this was going to be the year the next-gen wireless technology helped reverse the smartphone slide.

And then COVID-19 disrupted everything. For many of us, life is on hold — and will likely continue to be for months. I’m writing this from my home in Queens, N.Y., the hardest-hit county in the hardest-hit country in the world. It still feels strange to type that, even though it’s been a reality for a month and half now.

Purchasing a smartphone is most likely the last thing on anyone’s mind during what is shaping up to be the worst global pandemic since the 1918 flu pandemic. With a number of key manufacturers reporting quarterly earnings this week, the numbers are starting to bear out this disconnect. Earlier this week, both Samsung and LG reported weak mobile numbers. Yesterday, Apple reported revenue of $28.96 billion, down from $31.1 billion the same time last year.

More troubling, all three companies appeared to be united in suggesting that the worst might be yet to come. Samsung suggested that both mobile and TV demand would “decline significantly” in the following quarter. LG used virtually the same exact wording, stating that, “market demand is expected to decline significantly YoY due to COVID-19 pandemic.” For its part, Apple simply didn’t issue guidance for the next quarter, a surefire indication of uncertainty in these uncertain times — to borrow a phrase from every commercial airing currently.

Source: Tech Crunch

KlearNow raises $16 million to bring customs clearance industry into the digital age

Customs is the sieve of international supply chains. And yet despite its critical role, clearing customs for freight brokers can be a slow and opaque process reliant on manual data entry and prone to errors.

Silicon Valley-based KlearView has developed a platform that aims to bring customs clearance into the digital age. Now, with $16 million new funding, Klearview aims to expand its geographic reach and to improve its product to cover increasingly complex export-import verticals and time-sensitive shipments.

The company is has certification to handle any import into the U.S., no matter what the commodity is. Klearview is close to getting certified in Canada and UK, and plans to expand to Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and Germany. Klearview has about two dozen customers.

The Series A funding round was led by GreatPoint Ventures with additional participation from Autotech Ventures, Argean Capital and Monta Vista Capital . Ashok Krishnamurthi, managing partner at GreatPoint Ventures, will join KlearNow’s board. Daniel Hoffer from Autotech Ventures joining as a board observer.

“This is a significant opportunity to transform an archaic industry that is key to global commerce,” Krishnamurthi said in a statement.

The freight ecosystem is filled with different players from the factories and port authorities to the ship lingers and the last-mile delivery companies. Each of them have their own systems.

“There’s no one system that you can transmit the data to,” KlearView founder and CEO Sam Tyagi said in a recent interview. “So everybody dumps technology down to a PDF or a PNG or some sort of format that everybody can read. The broker gets those documents, and then they print it out — so now they become non-digital.”

If you go to any customs brokers office they look like the old doctor’s office where all those folders are there with nicely arranged, really organized but very manual process,” he added. From here, Tyagi said, a broker will read off from those printed out documents and type the information into another system that is communicated to Customs and Border Patrol’s system.

“It is very manual, it’s very small, and they work in a siloed system,” Tyagi said. “There is no visibility for the customer, or the importer and it’s very costly because of the manual intervention.”

KlearNow developed a digital customs clearance platform that aims to be agnostic. This allows importers, customs brokers and freight forwarders to integrate with local customs authorities and conduct business on a single digital platform remotely and in real time. The platform automates this process to eliminate errors and reduces the time to clear customs. KlearView says it can slash customs clearance times from hours to minutes.

The startup is also betting that its platform will find new customers in this remote work era that was caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Custom brokers, who might normally travel into central offices and manage physical paperwork, are now faced with completing that task from home.

“Remote work is impossible for these people,” because they often need to access large format printers, Tyagi said. 

The company said its digital platform can funnel new clients, like these newly remote workers, directly to brokers for global customs clearance.

Tyagi said the company has also added new capabilities in response to COVId-19, such as expediting their FDA module to clear much-needed medical supplies and is temporarily offering free clearance for non-profit organizations that are importing masks, hand sanitizers, and ventilators.

Source: Tech Crunch

Smart driving assistant Automatic is shutting down

Automatic, makers of a connected car dongle, emailed customers today to announce that the company will shut down all operations May 28. The company says it’s the casualty of the COVID-19 shutdown.

“Like many other companies in the United States, the COVID-19 pandemic has adversely impacted our business,” it writes, “and we have made the difficult decision to discontinue the Automatic connected car product, service, and platform.”

The information, also posted to the company’s site, notes that service will remain active until the end of day on May 28, at which point its services will cease. That includes crash alerts, location sharing and roadside assistance. The “Log in with Automatic” service and third-party apps will shut down a month later.

Founded in California in 2011, the startup was purchased by satellite radio conglomerate SiriusXM six years later. Automatic’s $100 dongle gained traction for its easy to use car-monitoring system. It launched an SDK for third-party app developers in May 2015, raising a $24 million round the following month. It also managed to partner with a number of key insurance providers over the years, thanks to its ability to offer additional insights into driving habits.

The company came under fire last May after it announced that it would be ending support for the first two generations of its products. As of this May, support will end for the new products, as well. Automatic will be offering some rebates for a limited number of customers. 

Source: Tech Crunch

SpaceX and NASA break down what their historic first astronaut mission will look like

NASA and SpaceX’s most defining moment of our current space era is coming up at the end of this month, with its Demo-2 mission on May 27. The mission will be the first-ever launch for SpaceX with humans on board, and for NASA, it’ll mark the first return to U.S.-based astronaut launches since the Shuttle program flew its last flight in 2011. On Friday, representatives from both SpaceX and NASA briefed the media on the mission and the specifics of what it will involve when astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley board the Crew Dragon for its debut crewed performance.

The first thing to note about this mission is that it’s still technically a test, as noted in the “demo” name. This is the capstone demonstration in a series of such missions that will fully human-rate the SpaceX Crew Dragon and Falcon 9 for operational use. As noted during today’s press briefings, a big chunk of the actual human rating process occurs during this final mission — in fact, the majority of the actual final human rating happens on this flight, despite the many years of preparation and live tests to date, including the Demo-1 mission, which was essentially a full round-trip flight, just without any astronauts on board.

Even though it’s technically a demonstration, the stakes couldn’t be higher — SpaceX has a lot to prove here, and it bears the utmost responsibility in terms of keeping Behnken and Hurley safe for the duration of the mission. Which, it turns out, is actually going to be longer than originally planned: NASA says the mission will last anywhere between 30 days and 119 days, depending on a few different factors, the most significant of which being how quickly the agency ends up being able to launch the first operational Commercial Crew mission, Crew-1, which will carry four astronauts, including two from NASA and one from Japan’s space agency. The Crew Dragon used on this Demo mission could technically remain on orbit for over 200 days, but the purpose of this mission was not originally intended to be staffing the International Space Station, though that’s now part of the plan as a sort of stretch goal.

The teams also revealed today that the Crew Dragon used for Demo-1 will carry not only the astronauts, but also some cargo for the ISS. SpaceX also flies dedicated ISS resupply missions using its non-crew Dragon capsule, but this Crew Dragon will bring just a few additional supplies and scientific material along for the ride.

In terms of timeline, the mission begins with a launch and ascent, followed by the second-stage separation (with Crew Dragon attached). The first-stage booster performs a flip and “boostback burn,” which sets it on its path to return to Earth for a powered landing. Meanwhile Dragon separates from the second stage in space, and heads on to the ISS, which it’ll reach in anywhere from between two and 48 hours after liftoff depending on the position of the space station at the time of launch.

The exact launch time could vary greatly depending on weather, and there are a number of launch opportunities in late May through June in case there’s a need to scrub. Weather during this time in Florida can be a bit hard to accurately predict, as noted by SpaceX’s head of commercial crew, and the conditions necessary to trigger a scrub are less severe than they would be for a mission where there aren’t any humans on board, out of an abundance of caution.

Once the Crew Dragon is in space on its way to the ISS, however, the capsule will rendezvous with the station through a series of phased burns and then an approach, followed by an automated docking process once it reaches close proximity to the station. Crew Dragon has a fully automated docking process, and bypasses entirely even the need for astronauts on board the ISS to capture the spacecraft using the robotic Canadarm, which has been required for the older Dragon capsules and other astronaut-bearing Soyuz craft.

Once docked, Crew Dragon will pressurize and the hatch will open so the astronauts can board and carry on their mission with their colleagues on the station. On board the ISS, Benhken and Hurley will perform duties including conducting experiments and running maintenance on the orbital research platform, before they eventually depart by climbing back into Crew Dragon, undocking, jettisoning the “trunk” or cargo compartment of the capsule, performing a deorbit burn to get into reentry position and then deploying parachutes once in the Earth’s atmosphere to slow their final descent into the Atlantic Ocean. From departure to splashdown should take approximately 24 hours.

Other logistics details shared by the teams performing the mission include that the crew will enter a mandatory quarantine beginning on May 16 and lasting until the mission date, and that mission control crew who need to be on site for the launch will be observing a six-foot distancing rule because of COVID-19, and control stations have been arranged to make this possible.

The mission itself doesn’t sound all that complex when broken down step-by-step, but it represents the culmination of years of hard work on both SpaceX and NASA’s part. The U.S. has been without a homegrown ride to the ISS since 2011, and this is the closest yet we’ve gotten to a return to an era of regular human spaceflight from American soil, so it’s definitely going to be something you’ll want to watch live when the launch happens on May 27.

Source: Tech Crunch

Guilded raises $7 million for its competitive gaming-focused chat app

Gaming platforms have earned serious clout with investors in recent years. Add in the VC excitement surrounding collaboration tools and it’s no surprised there’s interest in backing another gaming chat app.

Guilded is creating a chat platform designed for competitive gaming and esports that focuses heavily on keeping gamers organized and connected with their teams.

The startup’s sell is that Discord (currently valued at $2 billion) has moved too broadly in recent years and that their feature set isn’t actually focused on what competitive gamers are looking for, forcing them to turn to spreadsheets and form submissions when they’re looking to get serious about organization.

“Discord is really great for a lot of communities, but we’re building chat specifically for gamers,” Guilded CEO Eli Brown told TechCrunch.

Guilded just announced that they’ve raised $7 million in Series A funding led by Matrix Partners. Initialized Capital, Susa Ventures and Sterling.VC also participated in the deal. Guilded was in Y Combinator’s S17 class.

Guilded is a bit more tightly organized than Discord, with the focus more dialed in on teams and server-based structures. The deep integration of scheduling and calendars is perhaps the biggest differentiation of the platform.

In addition to text chat, users can create inline events, upload documents and post screen captures as well. You can fire up the app while you’re actually playing a game and use voice chat to communicate with your server. Guilded currently supports more than 400 titles.

As with any new communications tool, Guilded’s challenge will be chipping away at competing products, namely Discord, and achieving a critical mass of users and servers that can self-sustain moving forward.

Looking ahead, the platform is looking to get deeper into facilitating gameplay. Users can already browse through public servers to immediately join or apply to be accepted to a private server and these servers can be further broken down into individual groups or channels. Guilded is building out a tournaments feature to match servers with similar skill levels to each other, a feature that’s launching in the coming months.

Source: Tech Crunch