Don’t miss today’s Startup Alley Ask Me Anything Session at 1pm PT

Today’s the day for all you early-stage startup founders to learn everything you’ve always wanted to know about Startup Alley but were afraid to ask (10 points if you get that pop culture reference). We’re live-streaming an Ask Me Anything session from the TechCrunch LinkedIn page today at 4 p.m. ET/ 1 p.m. PT, and it’s not too late to register for this free event.

Learn about the benefits, opportunities and exposure that come from exhibiting your business in Startup Alley — from founders just like you.

The AMA kicks off with a quick overview of Disrupt and Startup Alley, and then we’ll move into a panel discussion moderated by the Startup Alley team. Our panel of fierce founders and veteran exhibitors includes Felicia Jackson, inventor and founder of CPRWrap; Khrys Hatch, Capital Program Manager at Launch Tennessee; and Luke Heron, founder and CEO of Testcard. Heron’s startup has the added distinction of earning a TC Top Pick designation in 2019 — be sure to ask him about that experience.

Now, 2020 is a year like no other — not exactly a newsflash, right? Digital Startup Alley may be virtual, but the connections and opportunities that come from exhibiting there are very real. Still, you have questions. We get it. That’s why Emma Comeau, our Director of Events, will join us toward the end of the session to talk about what you, the Disrupt community, can expect at this year’s conference. You can ask her anything, too.

Today’s the day, founders. Join us for the Digital Startup Ask Me Anything Session — it’s free — at 4 p.m. ET/ 1 p.m. PT. Simply RSVP on the TechCrunch LinkedIn page, bring your burning questions and keep your business moving forward.

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Disrupt 2020? Contact the sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

Source: Tech Crunch

America’s cheapest electric vehicles are coming courtesy of Chinese automaker Kandi

Chinese electric vehicle and parts manufacturer Kandi Technologies Group is officially bringing two EVs to the United States through its subsidiary Kandi Americanews that has prompted run up in its share price in the past day. 

Kandi shares opened at $3.88 a share on Wednesday, jumping to $16.51 today. Shares have now settled below $9.

Kandi Technologies has been talking about bringing EVs to the United States for a couple of years. Now, two models are arriving as early as the end of 2020, beginning in a limited area in Texas. Both are priced under $30,000 before federal incentives.

kandi auto electric car K23

Image Credits: Kandi America

The two models heading to the U.S. are Kandi’s compact K27 vehicle that comes with a 17.69 kWh battery and a range of up to 100 miles, according to the automaker (although it’s unclear if these are EPA estimates or another standard). The K27 starts at $20,499, and is eligible for the $7,500 federal income tax credit. That would put the K27 at just under $13,000, although again it’s unclear if this includes the destination fee.

The larger K23 is also coming to the U.S. market. This small electric SUV has a 41.4 kWh battery and a driving range of more than 180 miles. The K23 starts at just under $30,000, again before applying federal incentives.

Both of those vehicles, even without the federal incentives, are less expensive than other EVs sold in the U.S., including the Tesla Model 3, Nissan Leaf, Hyundai Ioniq and Kia Kona EV — to name a few.

The aim is middle class U.S. consumers. It’s a group that has had few affordable EV choices, Kandi Technologies Chairman Xiaoming Hu said in a statement. Kandi America CEO Johnny Ta echoed those sentiments.

“Electric vehicles have been valued for years for their efficiency, sustainability and innovation. However, owning the ‘it’ car often eluded consumers who desired a great EV alongside all the other comforts of modern living. Kandi is changing that by revolutionizing the EV-buying experience for many,” Tai said. “Kandi’s mission is to make electric cars accessible to all.”

The two models clearly hit the affordability standard. The question is whether they will tick the other important boxes for customers here, a list that includes reliability and performance.

The vehicles will be sold by Garland, Texas-based Kandi America, the trade name of Kandi’s wholly owned subsidiary SC Autosports, LLC. Sales will initially focus on the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the company said.

Source: Tech Crunch

Rocket launch startup Astra readies for orbital test flight as early as Sunday

Rocket launch startup Astra is readying for its first orbital flight test, set to take place either this weekend or next week, weather permitting. The company will launch its ‘Rocket 3.1’ from Kodiak, Alaska – and while these are technically classified as orbital test flights, the company was quick to caution journalists on a press call on Thursday that it doesn’t necessarily believe each the three initial launches it has planned will make it all the way to orbit proper.

“We don’t intend to get a hole-in-one here,” said Kemp. “It’s a par three course. We intend to really accomplish enough to ensure that we’re able to get to [orbital] flight after three flights, and for us, that means a nominal first stage burn, and getting that upper stage to separate successfully. After that, pretty much everything that we learn is additional upside, and will be just delighted if that upper stage lights and we’ll be delighted if the upper stage teaches us something so that so that our next flight can even be more successful.”

Astra’s approach to building and launching rockets differs somewhat from its competitors. The startup only incorporated three years ago, and it’s building its rockets in Alameda, California – not far from Oakland. The Rocket 3.1 is a roughly 40-foot launch vehicle that carries a small payload, roughly equivalent to one of the small sats that make up the large constellations currently being launched for operation in low Earth orbit by a number of companies (for reference, SpaceX launches 60 of these on each of its Starlink missions).

When I spoke to Kemp ahead of their original attempt to win a DARPA launch challenge (since ended with the prize unclaimed), he stressed that they’re looking to build in volume at low cost, with the expectation of a higher tolerable margin for failure than other new space launch companies like SpaceX and Rocket Lab.

“Rather than trying to spend many years doing it first time, we’re iterating towards orbit,” Kemp said during Thursday’s conference about their debut attempt next week.

This is a do-over after the original planned attempt which suffered an anomaly that led in a total loss of the vehicle. That was a ‘Rocket 3.0’ model, and the company has upgraded the design and worked out a number of issues, including the one that led to that failure, with the ensuing time. The gap between now and that attempt at the end of March includes delays resulting from COVID-19, though Astra was eventually declared one of very few companies still allowed to maintain a staffed office since it’s considered important to national security.

These three initial test flights won’t carry any payload, in part because Astra fully expects to lose at least the first vehicle. But Astra’s model actually allows for some operational failures in exchange for economics that allow much less expensive individual launch costs than are currently possible with either SpaceX or Rocket Lab’s rideshare missions as options for small satellite operators.

The first Astra test launch is currently targeting sometime between a window that spans August 2 to August 7, between the hours of 7 PM and 9 PM PDT (6 and 8 PM local time in Kodiak) . So far, weather isn’t looking great for Sunda, but the company notes the weather shifts quickly and plans to keep a close watch and adapt accordingly.

Source: Tech Crunch

Study: U.S. adults who mostly rely on social media for news are less informed, exposed to more conspiracies

A new report from Pew Research makes an attempt to better understand U.S. adults who get their news largely from social media platforms, and compare their understanding of current events and political knowledge to those who use other sources, like TV, radio, and news publications. The top-level finding, according to Pew, is that social media news consumers tend to follow the news less closely and end up less informed on several key subjects.

That seems to reinforce a belief that many people already hold, of course — that people who get their news primarily from Facebook, for example, aren’t as informed.

But it’s important to understand how Pew Research came to this conclusion and debate to what extent it means the platforms are at fault, which is unclear from this data.

The firm first asked people how they most commonly get their news.

About one-in-five (18%) said they mostly use social media to stay current. That’s close the percentages of those who say they use local TV (16%) or cable TV (16%) news, but fewer than those who say they go directly to a news website or app (25%). Another 13% said they use network TV and only 3% said they read a newspaper.

Image Credits: Pew Research

To be clear, any study that asks users to self-report how they do something isn’t going to be as useful as those that collect hard data on what the consumers actually do. In other words, people who think they’re getting most of their news from TV may be, in reality, undercounting the time they spent on social media — or vice versa.

That said, among this group of “primarily” social media news consumers, only 8% said they were following the key news story of the 2020 U.S. election “very closely,” compared with 37% of cable TV viewers who said the same, or the 33% of print users who also said this. The social media group, on this topic, was closer to the local TV group (11%).

On the topic of the coronavirus outbreak, only around a quarter (23%) of the primarily social media news consumers said they were following news of COVID-19 “very closely.” All other groups again reported a higher percentage, including those who primarily used cable TV (50%), national network TV (50%), news websites and apps (44%), and local TV (32%) for news.

Related to this finding, the survey respondents were also asked 29 different fact-based questions about news topics from recent days, including those on Trump’s impeachment, the COVID-19 outbreak, and others. Those who scored the lowest on these topics were the consumers who said they primarily used social media to get their news.

Across 9 questions related to foundational political knowledge, only 17% of primarily social media news consumers scored “high political knowledge,” meaning they got 8 to 9 of the questions right. 27% scored “middle political knowledge” (6-7 right) and 57% scored “low political knowledge” (5 or fewer right.) The only group that did worse were those who primarily relied on local TV.

Image Credits: Pew Research

45% of who got their news from news primarily via websites and apps, meanwhile, had “high political knowledge,” compared with 42% for radio, 41% for print, 35% for cable TV, and 29% for network TV.

The social media group of news consumers was also more exposed to fringe conspiracies, like the idea that the pandemic was intentionally planned. Nearly a quarter (26%) of those who primarily got their news via social media said they had heard “a lot” about this conspiracy, and a sizable 81% said they had at least “a little.” This was significantly higher than all other news platforms, and a indication of how much conspiracies can spread across social media.

Image Credits: Pew Research

And yet, the same social media group reported they’re less concerned about the impact of made-up news. Only around four-in-ten (37%) said they were “very concerned” about the impact of made-up news on the 2020 elections, for example, which was lower than every other group except for local TV viewers (35%). Cable TV viewers had the most concern, at 58%.

More concerning, perhaps, is the power these conspiracies have to sway minds. Among those social media news consumers aware of the COVID-19 conspiracy, 44% who used social media to often get COVID-19 news said the theory was at least “probably true.” Only 33% of those who relied less on social media for COVID-19 news said the same.

Image Credits: Pew Research

The study went on to compare social media news consumers knowledge of other topics, like COVID-19 impacts and related health news, with those who got their news from other sources, using similar methods. Again, the social media group came away the least knowledgeable.

Image Credits: Pew Research

Pew’s conclusion from its research is that social media users are less informed, which seems fairly accurate on these specific topics. But the implication — or at least, what some people might take away from this report — is that they’re less informed because they rely on social media as their primary news source. That’s not necessarily true, given this data.

One issue with that conclusion has to do with social media demographics. The firm’s research also found that social media news consumers skewed young — 48% of those who mostly used social media for news were between 18 and 29, for example. They also tended to have lower levels of formal education, as only 26% had a college degree, versus 47% of those who read news websites or the 49% who turn to print. (Of course, this lack of higher education is likely, in part, tied to the fact that social media users skewed younger.)

Image Credits: Pew Research

Historically, we know young people don’t engage with politics at the same level as older adults. They turn out at lower numbers during elections. They can be less engaged in their local politics because they’re relocating for college or for new jobs; because they haven’t made voting a habit, and often miss registration deadlines. They may have had a poor education in civics to begin with and haven’t yet filled in the gaps the way older adults have. Many also feel alienated from politics. And so on.

On other topics, young people may also feel similarly distanced and disengaged. Many young adults have been unconcerned by the coronavirus outbreak, for example, thinking it only impacts older people, and carrying on as usual.

Their lack of knowledge, then, about the news may be due not to the platform where it’s consumed, but their interest and engagement with the topics in general.








Source: Tech Crunch

Impossible Foods starts selling in Walmart and expands distribution of its new sausage product

Impossible Foods said today that it will now be available in Walmart, the largest meat market in America.

The deal with Walmart and other retail locations across the country increases the company’s physical footprint by fifty times.

Impossible Foods will now be available at over 2,000 Walmart Supercenters and Neighborhood Markets across the country and the company will be selling its frankenmeats on the company’s websites and mobile apps.

The company also provided updates on its Impossible Sausage rollout.

First revealed at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this year (was it only a few months ago?), the sausage substitute is now in over 22,000 restaurants and is available for even more restaurants in the US through foodservice distributors. The company collaborated with Yelp to bring the sausage onto the menus of some of the nation’s highest rated diners on the crowdsource ratings’ service’s platform.

Impossible is now also in the influencer game with a direct-to-consumer e-commerce site pitching free deliveries for orders over $75 within the continental United States.

Impossible Foods also took the opportunity of its latest update and Walmart announcement to throw some shade at the traditional meat industry, noting that the company had not seen any COVID-19 outbreaks at its manufacturing facilities even as slaughterhouses that became COVID-19 hotspots.

Source: Tech Crunch

Before buying Instagram, Zuckerberg warned employees of ‘battle’ to ‘dislodge’ competitor

In one of the first substantive moments at Wednesday’s major tech hearing, Facebook’s 2012 acquisition of Instagram came under fire, unearthing a few new revelations about the company’s internal thinking at the time.

Alluding to new documents provided to the committee as part of its ongoing year-long antitrust investigation, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler said emails between Mark Zuckerberg and other Facebook executives at the time tell “a very disturbing story.”

Nadler went on to declare that Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram violated antitrust laws. “If this was an illegal merger at the time of the transaction, why shouldn’t Instagram now be broken off into a separate company?” Nadler asked.

In a video question and answer session on April 6, 2012 — three days before announcing the Instagram acquisition — Zuckerberg describes the threat posed by the social photo sharing app, mentioning Facebook’s own “not awesome” mobile app that users only “tolerate.”

“They’re growing well. We need to dig ourselves out of a hole. The good news is, we’ve been doing that. The bad news is that they are growing really quickly, they have a lot of momentum and it’s kind of going to be tough to dislodge them. We have a hard battle ahead of ourselves there.”

In emails obtained by the committee, Nadler quotes Zuckerberg saying “one thing about startups is you can often acquire them” — and beginning with Instagram, Facebook has certainly done that.

“I’ve always been clear that we viewed instagram as both a competitor and as a complement to our services,” Zuckerberg said Wednesday, defending the company and downplaying Nadler’s critiques.

“At the time, almost no one thought of them as a general social network,” Zuckerberg claimed.

The reality is that Instagram was already wildly popular, with more than 100,000 daily downloads in Apple’s App Store. “At 27 million registered users on iOS alone, Instagram was increasingly positioning itself as a social network in its own right — not just a photo-sharing app,” TechCrunch’s Sarah Perez wrote at the time.

Given the climate of the deal, the House Judiciary chairman threatened that unwinding the merger would be appropriate, even eight years later.

“… Facebook saw Instagram as a powerful threat that could siphon business away from Facebook so rather than compete with it, Facebook bought it,” Nadler said.

“This is exactly the same kind of anticompetitive action that the antitrust laws were designed to prevent.”

Source: Tech Crunch

Extra Crunch Live: Join our Q&A tomorrow at noon PDT with Y Combinator’s Geoff Ralston

From Airbnb to Zapier, and Coinbase to Instacart, many of the tech world’s most valuable companies spent their earliest days in Y Combinator’s accelerator program.

Steering the ship at Y Combinator today is its president, Geoff Ralston . We’re excited to share that Ralston will be joining us on Extra Crunch Live tomorrow at noon pacific.

Extra Crunch Live is our virtual speaker series, with each session packed with insight and guidance from the top investors, leaders and founders. This live Q&A is exclusive to Extra Crunch members, so be sure to sign up for a membership here.

Ralston took on the YC President role a little over a year ago shortly after Sam Altman stepped away to focus on OpenAI.

In the months since, Y Combinator has had to reimagine much about the way it operates; as the pandemic spread around the world, YC (like many organizations) has had to figure out how to work together while far apart. In the earliest weeks of the pandemic, this meant quickly shifting their otherwise in-person demo day online; later, it meant adapting the entire accelerator program to be completely remote.

While still relatively new to the president seat, Ralston is by no means new to YC. He joined the accelerator as a partner in 2012, and his edtech-focused accelerator Imagine K12 was fully merged into YC’s operations in 2016.

Source: Tech Crunch

Leverage AI to optimize customer service outcomes

As offices worldwide shift to remote work, our interactions with customers and colleagues have evolved in tandem. Professionals who once relied on face-to-face communication and firm handshakes must now close deals in a world where both are rare. Coworkers we once sat beside every day are now only available over Slack and Zoom, changing the nature of internal communication as well.

While this new reality presents a challenge, the advancement of key technologies allows us to not just adapt, but thrive. We are now on the precipice of the biggest revolution in workplace communication since the invention of the telephone.

It’s not enough to simply accept the new status quo, particularly as the overall economic climate remains tenuous. Artificial intelligence has much to offer in improving the way we speak to one another in the social distance era, and has already seen wide adoption in certain areas. Much of this algorithmic work has gone on behind the scenes of our most-used apps, such as Google Meet’s noise-canceling technology, which uses an AI to mute certain extraneous sounds on video calls. Other advances work in real-time right before our eyes — like Zoom’s myriad virtual backgrounds, or the automatic transcription and translation technology built into most video conferencing apps.

This kind of technology has helped employees realize that, despite the unprecedented shift to remote work, digital conversations do not just strive to recreate the in-person experience — rather, they can improve upon the way we communicate entirely.

It’s estimated that 65% of the workforce will be working remotely within the next five years. With a more hands-on approach to AI — that is, using the technology to actually augment everyday communications — workers can gain insight into concepts, workflows and ideas that would otherwise go unnoticed.

Your customer service experience

Roughly 55% of the data companies collect falls into the category of “dark data”: information that goes completely unused, kept on an internal server until it’s eventually wiped. Any company with a customer service department is invariably growing their stock of dark data with every chat log, email exchange and recorded call.

When a customer phones in with a query or complaint, they’re told early on that their call “may be recorded for quality assurance purposes.” Given how cheap data storage has become, there’s no “maybe” about it. The question is what to do with this data.

Source: Tech Crunch

The Hummer EV is shaping up to be GM’s electric answer to the Ford Bronco and Tesla Cybertruck

The video below contains the first glimpse at the upcoming electric GMC Hummer. The preview video is short, full of nonsense buzzwords, but still telling. It’s clear GM identified two main competitors against the upcoming Hummer: The Ford Bronco and Tesla Cybertruck.

The Hummer EV was announced pre-COVID 19 during the Super Bowl. At the time, GM promised it would feature 1,000 HP from the electric powertrain. Since then, little has been released about the upcoming vehicle, though GM maintains it’s still on track for production in the fall of 2021.

The video released today sports a handful of expected features and capabilities. Interestingly enough, these features are on both sides of the motoring spectrum. If categorized, they fall into two groups: on-road thrills and off-roading adventure. The video paints a clear picture: GM is targeting the Hummer EV against the Tesla Cybertruck and the Ford Bronco — both vehicles that are getting a lot of attention because of their capabilities and design.

For positioning against the Cybertruck, GM is touting the Hummer EV’s power of 1,000 HP and 11,500 lb-ft of torque (though this number is derived in a different fashion than usual). It’s also saying the massive truck can hit 60 mph in 3 seconds, which is in the same realm as the top sports cars. Lastly, the video teaser stated the Hummer EV has an Adrenaline Mode, which is easy to assume is similar to Tesla’s Ludicrous mode, along with improved self-driving capability.

For the Bronco, GM is showing the Hummer EV’s off-roading features, including a so-called Open Air Infinity Roof and Modular Sky Panels, which is likely similar to the Bronco’s expansive removable roof. Even more telling is the Crab Mode mentioned in the video. Crab Mode is likely a high-torque rock crawling mode for when bouldering off-road. With the crazy amount of torque available, the Hummer EV will probably be able to crawl up impressive inclines.

Pricing and exact availability have yet to be announced, and the same can be said about the Tesla Cybertruck. And don’t forget about the upcoming electric Ford F-150. There’s a war of the electric pickup coming, and I’m here for it.

Source: Tech Crunch

Lawmakers argue that big tech stands to benefit from the pandemic and must be regulated

In his opening statements, the chairman of Wednesday’s historic tech hearing argued that regulating tech’s most dominant players is vital in the midst of the ongoing pandemic that has driven even more of American life online.

“Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, these corporations already stood out as titans in our economy,” House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee Chair David Cicilline said. “In the wake of COVID-19, however, they are likely to emerge stronger and more powerful than ever before.”

The argument that tech stands to benefit from the COVID-19 crisis is a smart one — and a timely attack that’s difficult to dispute. While many major companies in other industries are struggling, grappling with layoffs or filing for bankruptcy, many of tech’s largest companies stand to emerge from the economic storm largely unscathed if not better off.

In his own opening remarks, ranking member Jim Sensenbrenner also argued that because Americans are relying more on online companies than ever before, tech’s power must be examined in light of the pandemic.

“That responsibility comes with increased scrutiny of your dominance in the market,” Sensenbrenner said.

It’s not the first warning about tech companies amassing more power in the throes of the coronavirus crisis. A handful of members of Congress have called attention to mergers planned during the pandemic, citing concerns about adequate scrutiny for deals that could make tech’s already huge companies even larger and more dominant.

In April, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) proposed the Pandemic Anti-Monopoly Act, which would freeze mergers during the crisis, calling out big tech specifically. “The LEAST we should do is halt big mergers during COVID to slow the consolidation of sectors,” Ocasio-Cortez said.

Cicilline also previously called for a freeze on “mega-mergers” and pushed for such a ban to be included in the economic stimulus package passed by Congress.

“As hard as it is to believe, it is possible that our economy will emerge from this crisis even more concentrated and consolidated than before,” Cicilline said. “As American families shift more of their work, shopping and communication online, these giants stand to profit.”

Source: Tech Crunch