Amid the IPO gold rush, how should we value fintech startups?

If there has ever been a golden age for fintech, it surely must be now. As of Q1 2021, the number of fintech startups in the U.S. crossed 10,000 for the first time ever — well more than double that if you include EMEA and APAC. There are now three fintech companies worth more than $100 billion (Paypal, Square and Shopify) with another three in the $50 billion-$100 billion club (Stripe, Adyen and Coinbase).

Yet, as fintech companies have begun to go public, there has been a fair amount of uncertainty as to how these companies will be valued on the public markets. This is a result of fintechs being relatively new to the IPO scene compared to their consumer internet or enterprise software counterparts. In addition, fintechs employ a wide variety of business models: Some are transactional, others are recurring or have hybrid business models.

In addition, fintechs now have a multitude of options in terms of how they choose to go public. They can take the traditional IPO route, pursue a direct listing or merge with a SPAC. Given the multitude of variables at play, valuing these companies and then predicting public market performance is anything but straightforward.

It is important to note that fintech is a complex category with many different types of players, and not all fintech is created equal.

The fintech gold rush has arrived

For much of the past two decades, fintech as a category has been very quiet on the public markets. But that began to change considerably by the mid-2010s. Fintech had clearly arrived by 2015, with both Square and Shopify going public that year. Last year was a record one with eight fintech IPOs, and there has been no slowdown in 2021 — the first four months have already produced seven IPOs. By our estimates, there are more than 15 additional fintech companies that could IPO this year. The current record will almost certainly be shattered well before the end of the year.

Fintech IPOs from 2000 to 2021

Image Credits: Oak HC/FT

Source: Tech Crunch

Roc Nation’s VC Neil Sirni lays out his investment strategy

Jay-Z’s Roc Nation announced in 2017 that it was forming a venture investment arm called Arrive. And the firm has been busy since then — co-founder and President Neil Sirni said Arrive has made 29 investments thus far.

At the same time, Sirni hasn’t really said much about those investments publicly, or about the broader strategy. So he reached out to me a few months ago, suggesting that he was ready to provide more details about Arrive.

“We’re now three years, 29 investments in and expanding – so it felt like the right time to start opening up a bit,” he said.

Over the course of a few back-and-forth emails, we discussed how Arrive fits into the larger aims of Roc Nation, how Sirni (a former Goldman Sachs executive) makes investment decisions and where he’s focusing next. (Spoiler: Southeast Asia is a big part of that answer.)

He was also eager to provide testimonials from Arrive’s portfolio companies — for example, founder Aaron Rasmussen said that “when Arrive commits to your mission, they commit,” while Helm co-founder and CEO Giri Sreenivas said that the firm “brings something that I don’t see in traditional institutional investors – legitimate operational expertise around brand and marketing.”

You can read our email Q&A, lightly edited for length and style, below.

What is Arrive and how does it fit into the larger Roc Nation umbrella?

Arrive is Roc Nation’s venture platform. Roc Nation is a full-service music and sports management, music publishing and entertainment company founded by Jay-Z. Roc Nation and its affiliated companies have built a diversified business that employs several hundred people. These businesses include artist and athlete representation, a portfolio of spirit brands, an apparel line, a philanthropy division that manages four charitable organizations, a content streaming service, a digital team that oversees social media accounts with over 1.4 billion followers, a sales and marketing division that works on countless partnerships with Fortune 500 companies, communications, video production and live event production, among others.

The Roc Nation infrastructure can add value to many different types of businesses across various stages, which is why we created Arrive. For consumer-facing businesses, Arrive leverages the Roc Nation infrastructure to help companies with branding, creative, marketing, communications, and other services. For enterprise, we use our broad network of B2B relationships to help with business development.

Being a strategic venture investor on the cap table of a portfolio company is not only about the investment but also how much human capital a fund can deploy to drive long-term, real and unique value for entrepreneurs and their businesses. So, we’re leveraging the broader Roc Nation platform to help portfolio companies and, in turn, receiving access to great entrepreneurs.

What kinds of investments do you normally make — types of companies, size of investment, etc?

We’re relatively sector and stage agnostic. We have dedicated capital in an early-stage fund that tends to focus on Series A to Series C, but we’ve also started to SPV growth and pre-IPO investments as we lay the foundation for a dedicated growth vehicle later this year.

How do you make investment decisions? Is Jay-Z involved in the process?

We gravitate toward companies that we can provide meaningful assistance to but that are outside of Roc Nation’s core industries of music and traditional sports. Thanks to our platform, that is an extremely broad opportunity set. To date, we’ve made 29 investments under the Arrive umbrella in everything from fintech, insurtech, edtech, health & wellness, social, and gaming. Geographically, we’re investing roughly 80% in North America, primarily the US, and 20% across Southeast Asia, namely, Singapore, Indonesia, and Vietnam. As a strategic investor, we never lead deals and always co-invest.

Our long-term focus is on driving real and unique value for our portfolio companies. If we remain hyper-focused on this mission, we believe we have the opportunity to build an enduring brand as a top tier strategic investor.

Jay-Z approves every Arrive opportunity; he, Juan Perez, and Desiree Perez are overwhelmingly supportive of Arrive and what we’re collectively trying to accomplish.

TechCrunch: What’s your biggest success story so far?

Neil Sirni: I’m very proud of being co-founder of Arrive and what it took to get here. In the grand scheme of things, we’re just getting started, but I’ve been an entrepreneur — after leaving a large public company — for over 10 years now. It’s been a roller coaster with many sacrifices, but I can understand and relate to our founders and their journey which makes this experience even more rewarding. The founders of Roc Nation have built their businesses brick by brick as well, so the entire organization is united by this entrepreneurial mindset. I still consider myself a founder and operator first, whose business happens to be making investments.

NEW YORK, NY – OCTOBER 20: Jay Z performs during Tidal X: 1020 at Barclays Center on October 20, 2015 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Taylor Hill/FilmMagic)

Given that Arrive has been around for a few years, what made you feel like this is the time to start talking more openly about the fund?

When Arrive launched a few years ago, I hated the idea of talking about what we’re going to do. Instead, we wanted to quietly actually go do it; learn, improve, build and, in the process, demonstrate that we’re not, and never will be, tourists in the venture ecosystem. We’re now three years, 29 investments in and expanding – so it felt like the right time to start opening up a bit.

What’s an example of an investment where working with Arrive/Roc Nation led to gains beyond the financial investment?

Arrive functions like many other investors in that we spend time understanding a company’s vision and then try to provide them meaningful levers to pull to help drive their success. Our toolkit is unique thanks to the Roc Nation platform and network. We’ve found that both our portfolio companies and their other investors, typically traditional venture funds, find those levers complementary and additive to the cap table.

Arrive typically works with portfolio companies across three main areas. The first is creative and brand marketing.  The second is business development and partnerships. The third is communications.

Communications efforts are generally focused on driving short-term or immediate awareness. Many of our portfolio companies receive broader press coverage when we invest in them. That initial attention typically dies down within a week or two although those news stories remain as searchable assets that the company might not otherwise have. While this can be of some value, especially for consumer businesses, we believe it’s at the bottom of the list compared to the long-term benefits that can be derived from Roc Nation’s underlying infrastructure in brand marketing and business development.

In terms of creative and brand marketing, we’ve likely saved our earlier stage portfolio, in aggregate, over a million dollars by providing brand and agency work at no cost.  Examples of this include campaign ideation, graphic design, video production, hosting live events, and product integrations, among other activities.

For business development and partnerships support, we have leveraged our network to help portfolio companies launch their own internal philanthropic platforms, leveraged our B2B relationships to introduce new partners and customers, brought in other strategic investors in a targeted way, helped companies navigate endorsement deals, and recruited non-technical executive talent to join their companies.

We don’t pretend to be a magic bullet, no investor can be, but we’re focused on continuously improving and building on the services that we provide to our portfolio companies. The founder journey is never a straight line and we pride ourselves on being willing to do whatever we can on their behalf. Stephen Francis, SVP at Arrive, and I are accessible to our portfolio companies any day and time.

Do you see these investments as primarily strategic for Roc Nation, or are you focused on financial returns?

‘Strategic’ investor, in the context of Arrive, refers to the strategic value that we bring to the cap table of a portfolio company.  We leverage that strategic value to get into deals and form relationships with entrepreneurs in whom we have high conviction.  Our ultimate goal is financial return and Arrive’s investments are not meant to be strategic in nature for Roc Nation as an operating company. Instead, an investment from Arrive is meant to be strategic for the portfolio company.

You said you’re stage agnostic with capital devoted to different stages. Can you say anything more what the breakdown is in terms of early stage vs. later growth deals, and how that might change with the new growth fund?

Of our 29 investments, I would classify 25 as early stage and 4 as growth.  In regards to percentage of capital, the 4 growth investments account for a little over 35% of total capital deployed. When we do have a dedicated growth fund, I expect the volume of growth investments to pick up to roughly 3 – 6 per year.

 What are your priorities for 2021?

At a high level our priorities are to build out a larger team to ensure that we’re staying very engaged with the portfolio as we scale and to continue being aggressive in deploying more capital to back great companies.

On a more granular level I’m looking forward to physically getting back to Southeast Asia, namely Singapore, Indonesia and Vietnam, on a regular basis. We’re really bullish on the region and believe it’s only a matter of time before more venture funds deploy significant capital there. We started to invest a lot of time there in 2019 as part of our plan to deploy roughly 30% of our early-stage fund in the region. That expansion has been hindered by COVID-19. However, I’ll make quarterly trips once travel normalizes. There is nothing like in-person interaction to build relationships and trust, especially internationally.

Source: Tech Crunch

Y Combinator-backed Uiflow wants to accelerate no-code enterprise app creation

TechCrunch recently caught up with recent Y Combinator graduate Uiflow, a startup that is building a no-code enterprise app creation service.

If you are thinking wait, don’t a number of companies already do that?, the answer is yes. But what Quickbase, Smartsheet and others are working on isn’t quite the same thing, at least from the startup’s perspective.

Uiflow, a Bay Area-based concern that has been alive for far less than a year, has built an app creation tool that works with whatever backend a large company currently employs, and helps its development team build apps collaboratively. As the startup explained in a public posting, customer developers can import Figma files while their engineers can use existing UI libraries, and product managers can quickly vet an app’s logic.

The service is akin to a “cross between Unity and Figma,” Uiflow says.

Here’s what its own user interface looks like, per a screenshot the company provided to TechCrunch after an interview:

Per Y Combinator, the company has closed a pre-seed round of more than $500,000. The company told TechCrunch that it has been talking to investors lately — as essentially every Y Combinator-backed startup does after their public unveiling —  but appears to be holding off raising more capital until it fully launches self-service of its product; the company may also accelerate its hiring efforts once its self-serve GTM motion is more broadly available.

The startup told TechCrunch that after its Product Hunt launch it picked up around 1,200 signups. It’s vetting the group and letting in some as pilot customers. Those customers currently pay the company, so it has revenue, although the startup is more product-focused at the moment than centered around boosting its short-term revenues.

Uiflow thinks that its target customers are companies with 250 or more workers, the scale at which a company begins to start thinking about its own UI elements. However, Uiflow is talking to companies with 100 to 1,000 customers, it said.

The five-person team is building a service in a market that is more than active at the moment. As TechCrunch has explored, private-market investors are bullish on the no-code space, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic bolstered the pace at which companies large and small moved toward digital solutions. No-code and low-code services came into greater demand as accelerating digital transformation efforts met the market’s general dearth of available developer talent.

TechCrunch has covered the no-code space extensively in recent quarters, given both rising market demand for its products and what seemed to be growing investor demand for shares in startups pursuing the model. All that’s to say that there’s a reasonable chance that we’ll hear from Uiflow soon regarding a fresh capital raise. Let’s see how long that takes.

In the meantime, here’s a photo of the Uiflow team. In 2021-style, it’s a Zoom shot:

From upper left, clockwise: Michael Tildahl, Eric Rowell (CTO and co-founder), Brian Lichliter, Rocco Cataldo and D. Sol Eun (CEO and co-founder). Via the company. 


Source: Tech Crunch

Pitch your startup to seasoned tech leaders, and a live audience, on Extra Crunch Live

TechCrunch is known for its pitch-offs. We’ve had them in cities all over the world, and heard from hundreds of startups who have shared the story of their company on our stages.

We’re excited to be bringing the pitch-off to Extra Crunch Live.

Anyone in the audience on an episode of Extra Crunch Live can virtually “raise their hand” to be selected to pitch in front of the audience and get feedback from our all-star guests.

On ECL, pitch-off startups will have two minutes to tell us about their company. This is the equivalent of an elevator pitch — imagine running into a VC or potential customer at a tech conference like Disrupt or bumping into them at a park. As such, no visual aids are allowed, including decks, videos, demoes, etc.

Essentially, what can you convey with your words, in a short time frame, to get people to both understand your startup and be excited about it?

This is a critical skill, and we’re creating the space for founders to practice and improve.

I’m amped to have Firstmark’s Rick Heitzmann and Orchard founder Court Cunningham as guests on Extra Crunch Live on May 5. This founder/investor duo know exactly what it takes to deliver a great pitch. Do you have what it takes? You can register here for free!

To be selected for the pitch-off, you must be present in the audience during the live show. Instructions on how to raise your hand will come at the top of the show, so don’t be late!

See you on Wednesday!

Source: Tech Crunch

ByteDance CFO assumes role as new TikTok CEO

Eight months after former TikTok CEO Kevin Mayer quit in the midst of a full-court press from the Trump administration against the Chinese-owned social media giant, TikTok finally has a new permanent leader.

ByteDance’s recently hired CFO Shouzi Chew will be assuming the role as TikTok CEO while still holding the CFO role at its parent organization, the company announced Friday morning. It’s a bold move, likely signaling that the company believes that the worst of its tussles with the U.S. executive branch are over as President Biden has seemed uninterested in picking up former President Trump’s pet project.

Vanessa Pappas, who was serving as interim CEO, will take the role of COO going forward.

“The leadership team of Shou and Vanessa sets the stage for sustained growth,” ByteDance CEO Yiming Zhang said in a press release. “Shou brings deep knowledge of the company and industry, having led a team that was among our earliest investors, and having worked in the technology sector for a decade. He will add depth to the team, focusing on areas including corporate governance and long-term business initiatives.”

Prior to joining ByteDance earlier this year, Chew was an executive at Xiaomi, with stints at DST and Goldman Sachs earlier in his career.


Source: Tech Crunch

Biden’s labor secretary thinks many gig workers should be reclassified as employees

Biden Labor Secretary Marty Walsh charged into the white hot issue of the gig economy Thursday, asserting that many people working without benefits in the gig economy should be classified as employees instead.

In an interview with Reuters, Walsh said that the Department of Labor is “looking at” the gig economy, hinting that worker reclassification could be a priority in the Biden administration.

“… In a lot of cases gig workers should be classified as employees,” Walsh said. “In some cases they are treated respectfully and in some cases they are not and I think it has to be consistent across the board.”

Walsh also said that the labor department would be talking to companies that benefit from gig workers to ensure that non-employees at those companies have the same benefits that an “average employee” in the U.S. would have.

“These companies are making profits and revenue and I’m not [going to] begrudge anyone for that because that’s what we are about in America… but we also want to make sure that success trickles down to the worker,” Walsh said.

Walsh’s comments aren’t backed by federal action, yet anyway, but they still made major waves among tech companies that leverage non-employee labor. Uber and Lyft stock dipped on the news Thursday, along with Doordash.

In the interview, Walsh also touched on pandemic-related concerns about gig workers who lack unemployment insurance and health care through their employers. The federal government has picked up the slack during the pandemic with two major bills granting gig workers some benefits, but otherwise they’re largely without a safety net.

Reforming labor laws has been a tenet of Biden’s platform for some time and the president has been very vocal about bolstering worker protections and supporting organized labor. One section of then President-elect Biden’s transition site was devoted to expanding worker protections, calling the misclassification of employees as contract workers an “epidemic.”

Biden echoed his previous support for labor unions during a joint address to Congress Wednesday night, touting the Protecting the Right to Organize Act — legislation that would protect workers looking to form or join unions. That bill would also expand federal whistleblower protections.

“The middle class built this country,” Biden said. “And unions build the middle class.”

Source: Tech Crunch

Spotify CEO says live audio content is the next ‘Stories’

Live audio experiences will be adopted by every major platform just like Stories have been, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek told investors on Wednesday’s earnings call. The streaming service recently acquired a live audio app, Locker Room, whose technology it expects to use to power a range of new live audio conversations centered around sports, culture and, of course music.

Investors were curious how exactly Locker Room would fit in with Spotify’s current offerings, given the streamer today is focused on delivering recorded content — music and podcasts — amd not some sort of live social networking experience.

Ek, mirroring what many in the industry have already been thinking, said he sees live audio as a new set of capabilities that will be broadly adopted by all. He basically dubbed it the next “Stories” — a feature popularized by Snapchat, but that eventually made its way to every platform.

“It’s really no different than how you think about Stories,” Ek said, explaining his thoughts on live audio. “Stories today exist on a format on a number of platforms, including Spotify, including, of course, Instagram, Snap and many others. So, I do look at [live audio] as a compelling feature set, and I think creators will engage in the places where they have the best sort of creator-to-fan affinity for the type of interactions that they’re looking for. And I think this is very similar to say how Stories played out historically.”

In other words, each platform may attract a certain kind of live audio creator, and Spotify sees its own potential in the realm of music and culture — the latter thanks to its existing and expansive investments in podcasts.

The interest in live audio emerged in the middle of a pandemic that trapped people at home and shut down traditional networking and large events, like conferences. But that doesn’t mean there’s no future for the format when the world opens back up.

Of course, Clubhouse gets credit for dring the interest in the live audio space as its exclusive invite-only status attracted a crowd of determined networkers (and clout-chasers) looking to participate in the next big thing. But as the app grew more popular, snagging big-name celeb guests — like Tesla founder Elon Musk, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, actor-turned-investor Ashton Kutcher, Drake, Oprah, and more — other tech companies began to take notice. Soon, everyone was building a Clubhouse clone.

Today, Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, Twitter, Discord, Telegram, and even LinkedIn have plans for live audio in various stages of development or availability.

Instead of starting from scratch, however, Spotify made an acquisition. Thanks to Locker Room, originally a place to discuss sports, Spotify said it would soon open up live audio to more professional athletes, writers, musicians, songwriters, podcasters, and “other global voices” who want to host real-time conversations.

In its first earnings call since the deal was announced, investors asked whether Spotify believed linear consumption of spoken word audio was more interesting than music streaming.

Ek explained how spoken word content may only be the beginning of what’s to come as the format evolves.

“As more people start engaging with a feature in a medium, you start seeing more and more professional creators jump on board. So I think it’s probably going to start out with spoken word content,” he said. “But specifically as it relates to Spotify, I think that there will be a lot of musicians that want to engage in everything from speaking to their fans to having listening parties and all other things because it’s so clear to them that on the Spotify platform, that engagement drives meaningful conversion to monetization opportunities just on the basis of our revenue model.”

Spotify said that the biggest request it gets from its over 8 million creators are to have more ways for them to connect with fans. Live audio, by its nature, would give them a very direct way to do just that, given Spotify’s reach  of over 350 million users.

In other words, live audio does not present some either/or scenario with regard to music streaming, as the investor’s question suggested. It’s more of a loop where one thing feeds the other. And “live,” apparently, could also mean music, not just chat.

For example, Ek hinted, when an artist has an album to promote, “you as the fan, may be able to experience that earlier than other consumers can.” Oh really?

Artists could also use live audio to talk about their thinking around writing a song, similar to what the Genius integration “Behind the Lyrics” today provides.

“I think it really comes down to the quality of the content,” said Ek. “And I think when I look at our 8 million creators, we have some of the world’s best storytellers on the platform, and that’s ultimately what people will tune into, and that’s what matters.”

But one area that could be difficult is moderation of live content. Live audio presents a whole new range of challenges for any company, as conversations can go off the rails quickly. And Spotify’s position on drawing line between free speech and policing misinformation or other inappropriate content is still somewhat murky. Its top podcaster Joe Rogan recently advised listeners to not get the Covid vaccine, if they were young and healthy, for example. Spotify declined to weigh in on this particular controversy. But it has removed some 40-plus episodes from the same podcast in the past — some for seemingly lesser violations, like an episode about Bulletproof Coffee and its health claims, for instance.

Before Spotify wades into live audio, it may want to first solidify its own values around creator content. It will need a careful, worst-case-scenario plan for what happens when a live session goes out of bounds, too.

Despite Ek’s optimism around live audio, Spotify’s stock tumbled after earnings as there were signs of slowing growth on the horizon, thanks to increased pressure from rivals, like Apple and Amazon. The company added 3 million paid subscribers in the quarter, but missed on expectations of monthly active users and lowered its full-year guidance. Revenues were up €2.1 billion ($2.6 billion) in the quarter, a 16% increase from the same period last year but down 1% from Q4 2020, raising concerns. But live audio could give fans a reason to tune back in more often in the future, if the Spotify can make the integration work.

Source: Tech Crunch

Healthcare is the next wave of data liberation

Why can we see all our bank, credit card and brokerage data on our phones instantaneously in one app, yet walk into a doctor’s office blind to our healthcare records, diagnoses and prescriptions? Our health status should be as accessible as our checking account balance.

The liberation of financial data enabled by startups like Plaid is beginning to happen with healthcare data, which will have an even more profound impact on society; it will save and extend lives. This accessibility is quickly approaching.

As early investors in Quovo and PatientPing, two pioneering companies in financial and healthcare data, respectively, it’s evident to us the winners of the healthcare data transformation will look different than they did with financial data, even as we head toward a similar end state.

For over a decade, government agencies and consumers have pushed for this liberation.

In 2009, the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH) gave the first big industry push, catalyzing a wave of digitization through electronic health records (EHR). Today, over 98% of medical records are digitized. This market is dominated by multi‐billion‐dollar vendors like Epic, Cerner and Allscripts, which control 70% of patient records. However, these giant vendors have yet to make these records easily accessible.

A second wave of regulation has begun to address the problem of trapped data to make EHRs more interoperable and valuable. Agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services have mandated data sharing among payers and providers using a common standard, the Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) protocol.

Image Credits: F-Prime Capital

This push for greater data liquidity coincides with demand from consumers for better information about cost and quality. Employers have been steadily shifting a greater share of healthcare expenses to consumers through high-deductible health plans – from 30% in 2012 to 51% in 2018. As consumers pay for more of the costs, they care more about the value of different health options, yet are unable to make those decisions without real-time access to cost and clinical data.

Image Credits: F-Prime Capital

Tech startups have an opportunity to ease the transmission of healthcare data and address the push of regulation and consumer demands. The lessons from fintech make it tempting to assume that a Plaid for healthcare data would be enough to address all of the challenges within healthcare, but it is not the right model. Plaid’s aggregator model benefited from a relatively high concentration of banks, a limited number of data types and low barriers to data access.

By contrast, healthcare data is scattered across tens of thousands of healthcare providers, stored in multiple data formats and systems per provider, and is rarely accessed by patients directly. Many people log into their bank apps frequently, but few log into their healthcare provider portals, if they even know one exists.

HIPPA regulations and strict patient consent requirements also meaningfully increase friction to data access and sharing. Financial data serves mostly one-to-one use cases, while healthcare data is a many-to-many problem. A single patient’s data is spread across many doctors and facilities and is needed by just as many for care coordination.

Because of this landscape, winning healthcare technology companies will need to build around four propositions:

Source: Tech Crunch

FAA authorizes SpaceX’s next three Starship test launches

SpaceX is continuing its Starship spacecraft testing and development program apace, and as of this afternoon it has authorization from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to conduct its next three test flights from its launch site in Boca Chica, Texas. Approvals for prior launch tests have been one-offs, but the FAA said in a statement that it’s approving these in a batch because “SpaceX is making few changes to the launch vehicle and relied on the FAA’s approved methodology to calculate the risk to the public.”

SpaceX is set to launch its SN15 test Starship as early as this week, with the condition that an FAA inspector be present at the time of the launch at the facility in Boca Chica. The regulator says that has sent an inspector, who is expected to arrive today, which could pave the way for a potential launch attempt in the next couple of days.

The last test flight SpaceX attempted from Boca Chica was the launch of SN11, which occurred at the end of March. That ended badly, after a mostly successful initial climb to an altitude of around 30,000 feet and flip maneuver, with an explosion triggered by an error in one of the Raptor engines used to control the powered landing of the vehicle.

In its statement about the authorization of the next three attempts, the FAA noted that the investigation into what happened with SN11 and its unfortunate ending is still in progress, but added that even so, the agency has determined any public safety concerns related to what went wrong have been alleviated.

The three-launch approval license includes flights of SN16 and SN17 as well as SN15, but the FAA noted that after the first flight, the next two might require additional “corrective action” prior to actually taking off, pending any new “mishap” occurring with the SN15 launch.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has at time criticized the FAA for not being flexible or responsive enough to the rapid pace of iteration and testing that SpaceX is pursuing in Starship’s development. On the other side, members of Congress have suggested that the FAA has perhaps not been as thorough as necessary in independently investigating earlier Starship testing mishaps. The administration contends that the lack of any ultimate resulting impact to public safety is indicative of the success of its program thus far, however.

Source: Tech Crunch

Digital comics startup Madefire is shutting down

R.I.P. Madefire, a startup that recruited high-profile artists to reinvent comics for new formats and platforms.

An announcement on the Madefire website states the company entered into “an assignment of benefit for creditors” (explained as “a state-level insolvency proceeding similar to bankruptcy”) earlier this month, which was then reported this morning in The Beat. As a result, no new books will be published, users will not be able to purchase any additional books and they’re also encouraged to download all their purchased content before the end of the month.

This news affects other apps built with Madefire’s technology. The Archie comics app has shut down as well, with the publisher writing, “We realize this comes as a surprise and we are making every effort to do right by our loyal customer base,” specifically by offering readers a free one-month subscription to Comixology Unlimited. (Amazon acquired digital comics platform Comixology in 2014, launching an Unlimited subscription service two years later.)

Madefire first launched in 2012, back when publishers were experimenting with formats like motion comics. The company described its titles as “motion books,” combining the animation and effects of motion comics with a more traditional reading experience.

“Motion comics are a passive experience, a watching experience that is tantamount to bad animation – it’s like watching a movie,” co-founder and CEO Ben Wolstenholme said at the time. “Motion Books is a reading experience, actively controlled by the reader – it’s like reading a book. Our goal is to be the best reading experience developed for the iPad.”

Perhaps the most impressive thing about the company was the artists it had enlisted before launch, including Dave Gibbons and Bill Sienkiewicz.

More recently, Madefire announced partnerships with other tech platforms, including Snapchat and troubled augmented reality company Magic Leap.

According to Crunchbase, Madefire had raised $16.4 million in funding from investors including True Ventures, Plus Capital, Kevin Spacey (yes, that Kevin Spacey) and Drake, but The Beat reports that the total was “even more than that.”

Source: Tech Crunch