Legged lunar rover startup Spacebit taps Latin American partners for Moon mission

UK-based lunar rover startup Spacebit, a company developing robotic exploration hardware for use on the Moon, announced two new partners that will help it develop and finalize its technology ahead of its target mission date of 2021. The Ecuadorian Civilian Space Agency (EXA) and Mexico’s Dereum will be providing the technology that Spacebit will employ on both its deployer and the robot rover it’s preparing for use on the Moon.

This marks the first time that Latin American companies will participate in a mission to the lunar surface, and Spacebit CEO Pavlo Tanasyuk was joined by Dereum CEO Carlos Mariscal and EXA COO Ronnie Nader to talk about the news at the International Astronautical Congress in Washington, D.C.

“We have Ecuador, and Mexico as our technical partners,” Tanasyuk said. “So in addition to this being the first lunar mission from the UK, it also is the first Latin American mission with a consortium of Latin American countries participating along with the UK.”

Both the EXA and Dereum have strong technical chops when it comes to spacecraft and space-based robotics, with the EXA sousing on developing technology that is “efficient, cheap and reliable,” according to Nader, while Dereum’s Mariscal said that his organization is well-known globally for its work on building robots for use in space, with an extensive track record. Their expertise should help a lot in Spacebit’s efforts to build, test and validate its robotic lunar rover, which employs a novel walking system for getting around, whereas all rovers to date have used wheels for transportation.

Spacebit CEO Pavlo Tanasyuk

Spacebit CEO Pavlo Tanasyuk

“We are planning on doing a swarm technology exploration plan, where we have multiple small spider walking rovers deployed from a wheeled mothership, along with being able to have some redundancy and the ability to do 3D LIDAR scanning of the interior  lunar caves and lava tubes,” Tanasyuk said.

“It’s essentially a data as a service business model,” he added, explaining how they’ll seek to monetize the business. “Our primary focus for early missions are to do exploration and mapping of lunar lava tubes to be able to characterize the lunar subsurface environment for potential suitability for future human habitation.”

Spacebit, founded in 2014, is funded privately via Tanasyuk himself, along with a couple of other private investors. He said that his company is fully funded through its first mission, a berth aboard the Peregrine Moon lander being launched by Astrobotic in 2021 (which itself has a price tag of $1.7 million he said). The first mission won’t be an entire swarm, but a single rover sent up as a demonstration unit to prove out its technology.

Source: Tech Crunch

Vendr, already profitable, raises $2M to replace your enterprise sales team

Vendr has developed an enterprise SaaS solution for managing enterprise SaaS.

The new startup, founded by InVision’s former head of enterprise sales Ryan Neu, is another standout from Y Combinator’s latest batch. Contrary to the majority of those businesses, however, Vendr is already profitable.

In classic YC fashion, the company has created software to sell to other startups and as such, it was quick to gain the confidence of top venture capital investors. Headquartered in Boston, Vendr has raised a $2 million round led by F-Prime Capital, with participation from Ashton Kutcher’s Sound Ventures, Joe Montana’s Liquid2 Ventures, Garage VC and angel investors including Canva co-founder & chief operating officer Cliff Obrecht and HubSpot COO JD Sherman.

The company offers subscription-based software, priced depending on company headcount, that helps fast-growing businesses buy and manage enterprise SaaS. In short, the product cuts the human out of the sales process, allowing companies to purchase or upgrade software using software. The goal isn’t to eliminate the sales profession, rather to put an end to “persuasion driven” sales, Neu explains, and to make enterprise software purchases as easy as consumer product purchases.

Vendr 1

Boston-based Vendr graduated from the Y Combinator startup accelerator earlier this year.

“We see software sales actually going away because most people are tired of being sold to, they are tired of being persuaded, they want to transact,” Neu, who previously led sales at HubSpot, tells TechCruch. “Vendr was created to allow people to transact software without actually having to talk to people.”

Founded 14 months ago, Vendr has reached $1 million in annual recurring revenue, which, for context, has historically been amongst the benchmarks necessary for a SaaS startup to raise its Series A. Neu says the company is growing 15% month-over-month with monthly recurring revenue currently sitting at $96,500. Already profitable, Neu says they want to put themselves in a position in which they don’t have to raise any additional outside capital.

“I can’t imagine looking at the bank account every month and watching it deplete,” Neu said. “We want to be in a position where we can control our own destiny.”

Vendr currently operates with a team of six employees and 19 customers including Canva, Grammarly, GitLab, Brex, HubSpot and InVision. The company is also backed by Okta’s general counsel Jon Runyan, AppDynamics’ COO Dan Wright and YC partner Aaron Epstein.

Source: Tech Crunch

A scalable plan for onboarding your first 500 employees

Employee onboarding isn’t all desk balloons and company T-shirts — it’s a critical moment when new hires begin integrating into the culture and workflows of their new company. So, it’s no surprise that one of the most frequently-asked questions among first-time founders is how to run a successful onboarding process.

It’s a delicate balance. Founders don’t want to immediately throw new employees into the deep end. But, at the same time, they must help recent hires develop an understanding of the company’s history, vision, structure and goals, as well as introduce them to all the tools, processes, projects and information they’ll need to get started. When it’s done well, employees should find the process professional, rewarding and motivating.

Research shows that 28% of turnover happens during the first 90 days of employment and that structured onboarding programs increase retention by 82%. In my own experience working in recruiting at tech companies Twilio and AirBnb and in talent for venture firms Andreessen Horowitz and Lerer Hippeau, I’ve seen this to be true first-hand.

Onboarding looks different at each stage of a growing startup and responsibilities change hands over time. Here’s a breakdown of who’s typically in charge of the process at each phase of growth in a startup’s journey, as well as a pro tip from a company currently operating at that stage.

0-10 employees

In the very early days, the founder or CEO is the appropriate person to lead employee onboarding. It’s usually she or he that gave the employee the initial offer. This person should make sure that new employees have guidance regarding how to find their place within the lean team. The new hire should be introduced to everyone, shown how employees communicate within the company, be given the rundown on policies, shown where to sit and helped with their computer and benefits setup. Plus, they should receive a personalized, warm welcome that makes them excited to be part of the brand-new venture.

“The little things matter: the welcome email, the Slack announcement that it’s their first day, bios including fun facts about them, the company swag on their desk, buying their favorite snack for the office and more all help to make them feel welcomed, which helps support a successful onboarding process,” says Florent Peyre, co-founder of Small Door, a tech-enabled veterinary practice.

10-50 employees

At this stage, a startup is adding real headcount and its leadership team should be thinking about hiring its first dedicated HR or People person. After the company brings on a recruiter or HR manager, she or he can take over the bulk of the onboarding responsibilities, which should begin before new staffers’ official start dates.

“One typical mistake is thinking that onboarding starts on someone’s first day,” says Nora Apsel, co-founder of online mortgage broker Morty. “In the week prior to starting, we send new teammates an onboarding document customized to their role which includes everything from resources on the finance and mortgage industry to the services that we use at Morty, what their first week will look like and who on the team they’ll be working with.”

50-100 employees

Once a company starts approaching 100 employees, its HR leader will likely need additional support. That’s when it’s time to make a second HR hire—typically an HR assistant or coordinator. She or he will handle administrative tasks such as managing the HRIS (Human Resource Information System), filing paperwork, helping run onboarding for all new hires and assisting with recruiting efforts, such as posting open roles.

Source: Tech Crunch

Substance abuse affects about 15% of American employees, Path wants to ensure they get help

America has an addiction problem.

It’s a problem that serial entrepreneur Josh Bruno has seen first hand. And it’s why he’s launched a new company called Path, which pitches access to specialized substance addiction treatment professionals as an employee health benefit, to do something about it.

I have unfortunately lost five friends now to alcohol and opioid overdoses. I want to five funerals in three years,” says Bruno. “Every time I would end up talking to friends and family afterwards… and everyone would ask, ‘What could we have done?’”

Now Bruno is doing something. 

While Alcoholics Anonymous and rehabilitation facilities provide one solution, Bruno says that neither one has the scope to address the enormity of the problem. 

Bruno things Path may be the avenue to best address the issue. The idea is to provide near-instant access to specialized providers of substance abuse treatment as a benefit that employers can offer to their staff.

As the founder of HomeTeam, which provided in-home senior care and a software toolkit to manage that care, Bruno already has an understanding of the healthcare marketplace.

“We plug in to an employer and provide a holistic solution for the employees. We bring a doctor, a therapy, and a coach,” says Bruno of the new service he’s launching. “We’re not a provider ourselves and we bring a network of providers.”

The business model evolved as Bruno began researching how things are currently done. “I have volunteered at AA and rehab facilities [and] I talked to labor union leaders across the country,” says Bruno. He also reached out to the nation’s 23 largest employers and shadowed treatment specialists to see how substance abuse treatment is currently handled.

“The first thing I saw is that 10% — or one in ten adults across the U.S. — have a substa”nce abuse disorder,” says Bruno. “That shocked people because it’s more than diabetes.”

What’s more, about 33% of mental health issues are actually addiction related, which can add additional stress on an employers’ healthcare costs.

The founding team at Path, which includes Bruno and Gabriel Diop, who heads partnerships; and Greg Moore, who leads product development all think of substance abuse treatment as an access issue. People looking for treatment simply don’t know where to go to get the most effective and afforda

“Today the health insurance company would give a  list of in network providers and it’s up to the patient to figure out where to go [and] 50% of time  they go out of network,” says Bruno. 

When Path works with a large employer, a phone call is made directly to the company and that call goes to a clinical social worker, who handles the intake of a prospective patient. The company has deals with addiction doctors in the geographies where it operates and can ensure that an assessment can be done within 48 hours.

After the assessment, a treatment plan is drawn up and the company will manage that process for the employer and the physician as well.

Path is already talking to two Fortune 100 companies about deploying its service. “It’s a targeted, regional service,” says Bruno. “Not a national service.”

The Los Angeles-based company has raised $5.35 million to date in a round of funding led by Upfront Ventures, with participation from Sequoia Benefits, Radian Street Capital, and angel investors including Barbara Wachsman, the former head of benefits at Disney; Amy Shannon the former head of benefits at Chevron, and Howard Cherny, the former head of benefits at Cisco.

“Put simply, Path plans to work with the best addiction treatment providers across the continuum in the US, which is exactly what is needed. Finally, a team is focusing on core issue of quality and cost-effective treatment,” said Kelly Clark, a member of the Path Clinical Advisory Board, and the former President of the American Society of Addiction Medicine.   

Not only can Path help to roll out access to treatment at scale, but the company can also reduce healthcare costs for companies, according to Bruno.

“It will lower the expense to the plan,” he says. “Approximately 30% to 50% of employees are going out of network for addiction treatment… that’s $25,000 to $50,000 per month.”

Path’s costs are substantially lower, and the company is only paid if members use the network, he said.

“Employers have made a commitment to the health and wellbeing of their employees. If mental health is a top priority for your organization, you can’t ignore [substance use disorders],” said Wachsman,  in a statement.


Source: Tech Crunch

Just 6% of US adults on Twitter account for 73% of political tweets…and they disapprove of Trump

A small number of prolific U.S. Twitter users create the majority of tweets, and that extends to Twitter discussions around politics, according to a new report from the Pew Research Center out today. Building on an earlier study which discovered that 10% of users created 80% of tweets from U.S. adults, the organization today says that just 6% of U.S. adults on Twitter account for 73% of tweets about national politics.

Though your experience on Twitter may differ, based on who you follow, the majority of Twitter users don’t mention politics in their tweets.

FT 19.10.23 PoliticsTwitter Most prolific political tweeters make up small share US adults Twitter public accounts

In fact, Pew found that 69% never tweeted about politics or tweeted about the topic just once. Meanwhile, across all tweets from U.S. adults, only 13% of tweets were focused on national politics.

The study was based on 1.1 million public tweets from June 2018 to June 2019, Pew says. 2,427 users participated.

DL 2019.10.23 politics on twitter 0 01

Similar to its earlier report about how prolific users dominate the overall conversation, Pew found there’s also a small group of very active Twitter users dominating the conversation about national politics — and they all tend to be heavy news consumers and more polarized in their viewpoints.

Only 22% of U.S. adults even have a Twitter account, and of those, only 31% are defined as “political tweeters” — that is, they’ve posted at least 5 tweets and have posted at least twice about politics during the study period.

Within this broader group of political tweeters, just 6% are defined as “prolific” — meaning they’ve posted at least 10 tweets and at least 25% of their tweets mention national politics.

This small subset then goes on to create 73% of all tweets from U.S. adults on the subject of national politics.

What’s concerning about the data is that it’s those who are either far to the left or far to the right who are the ones dominating the political conversation on Twitter’s platform. A majority of the prolific political tweeters (55%) say they identify as either “very liberal” or “very conservative.” Among the non-political tweeting crowd, only 28% chose a more polarized label for themselves.

This polarized subgroup also heavily leans left. For example, those who strongly approve of President Trump generated 25% of all tweets mentioning national politics. But those who strongly disapprove of Trump generated 72% of all tweets mentioning national politics. (They’re also responsible for 80% of all tweets from U.S. adults on the platform.)

DL 2019.10.23 politics on twitter 0 02

This isn’t a fully representative picture of U.S. politics. The share of U.S. adults on Twitter who strongly disapprove of Trump (55%) is 7 percentage points higher than the share of the general public that holds this view (48%).

Trump supporters, as a result, are under-represented on Twitter. Perhaps this is because they’ve flocked to alternate platforms; or because don’t tweet their views as often in public; or because they violate Twitter’s policies more often, resulting in bans. Or as is likely, it’s a combination of factors. In any event, the reasoning was beyond the scope of this study.

The study also found the prolific tweeters are highly engaged with the news cycle. 92% follow the news “most of the time,” compared to 58% of non-prolific political tweeters and 53% of non-political tweeters. They’re also civically engaged, as 34% have attended a political rally or event, 57% have contacted an elected official, and 38% have donated to campaigns.

Also of note, the political tweets are more likely to come from older users. Those ages 65 and older produce only 10% of all tweets from U.S. adults, but they contribute 33% of tweets related to national politics. And those 50 and older produce 29% of all tweets but contribute 73% of tweets mentioning national politics.

DL 2019.10.23 politics on twitter 0 04

These political tweeters also create so-called “filter bubbles” where they mostly follow people who think the same as they do. 45% of Democrats said they did this, compared with 25% of Republicans. Across all U.S. adults, 31% of Democrats said they did this, versus 15% of Republicans.

But there is one thing a majority of U.S. Twitter users can agree on: most (57%) believe any news they see on social media is “largely inaccurate.”

The full report is available here.

Source: Tech Crunch

The present and future of food tech investment opportunity

There is no bigger industry on our planet than food and agriculture, with a consistent, loyal customer base of 7 billion. In fact, the World Bank estimates that food and agriculture comprise about 10% of the global GDP, meaning that, food and agriculture would be valued at about $8 trillion globally based on the projected global GDP of $88 trillion for 2019.

On the food front, a record $1.71 trillion was spent on food and beverages in 2018 at grocery stores and other retailers and away-from-home meals and snacks in the United States alone. During the same year, 9.7% of Americans’ disposable personal income was spent on food — 5% at home and 4.7% away from home — a percentage that has remained steady amidst economic changes over the past 20 years.

However, despite a stalwart customer base, the food industry is facing unprecedented challenges in production, demand and regulations stemming from consumer trends. Consumer demands and focus have changed in recent years. An increasing focus by consumers on sustainability, health and freshness has placed significant pressure on the food industry to innovate.

Innovation imperative

In recent years, agtech innovators have created exciting new ways to harness the power of technology to enhance the world’s food supply. Agtech innovations are protecting crops and maximizing outputs — enabling structural changes in the agriculture system that could achieve important sustainability goals of lowering greenhouse gasses, reducing water use, ending deforestation and potentially even sequestering carbon back into soil.

But this is just the beginning. As everyone needs to eat (multiple times a day!), there remains a huge opportunity for investments in innovative food and beverage technology, or food tech, that better the health of our food ecosystem through novel ingredients and improved diets via better food distribution, preservation and access.

The opportunity to use technology to improve food is massive and extends to improving food usage and decreasing waste — a key to minimizing the environmental impacts of a growing human population. Cognizant of this huge opportunity, venture capitalists are closely tracking this space. According to PitchBook, funding for food tech has skyrocketed from about $60 million in 2008 to more than $1 billion in 2015. And unique investments from VCs and private equity funds have doubled from 223 in 2015 to 459 in 2017, according to CB Insights. In examining total investments made, along with exit activity, food tech has now surpassed agtech on both fronts. This is still relatively small, given the food tech sector’s large potential customer base globally of more than 7 billion people (and growing).

Key drivers of food tech investments

Consumers are getting pickier about what they eat. They are juggling hectic work and personal lives, and demand convenience when it comes to their meals. But this convenience cannot come at the expense of quality. Now more than ever, people want to know what’s in their food, where it came from and how its production and sourcing impacts the environment.

An increasing focus by consumers on sustainability, health and freshness has placed significant pressure on the food industry to innovate.

In years past, consumer packaged goods (CPG) incumbents rushed to deliver on these heightened demands — promising convenient, superior-quality food. But falling margins on commodity ingredients, coupled with industry consolidation, have discouraged these efforts, and many have refocused their attention — leaving the door open for a new wave of hungry (pun intended) innovators and startups.

Today’s consumers are not only looking for convenience and consistency, but are also seeking nutritious food that can be accessed with ease, limits waste creation and aligns with their personal brands. In reality, it has never been more difficult to be a food company. Consumer demands have expanded to include ethical mantras but have not given way to requirements of convenience. However, spending trends show that consumers are ready and willing to pay a premium for food tech innovations that can meet their ever-increasing needs of convenience, health and low environmental impact. The opportunity for food innovators to capitalize on these market demands is growing!

Food tech present

Today, grocery ordering and delivery represents the largest food tech category, while meal ordering comprises the greatest number of privately held, venture-backed startups in food tech globally. Last year was an exceptional year for food tech, with a record-breaking $16.9 billion in funding recorded. According to Crunchbase, the three biggest deals of the year included $1 billion for Swiggy, India’s leading online restaurant marketplace; $600 million for Instacart, a U.S. grocery delivery service; and $590 million for iFood, a Brazil-based restaurant marketplace.

While consumers still have an appetite (again with the puns!) for grocery ordering and delivery plays, investors are becoming increasingly cautious in the wake of meal kit service Blue Apron’s high-profile failure (among others), which emphasized challenges like scalability, the inability to patent food and spoilage and contamination concerns across the supply chain. These missteps have led many investors to turn their attention to new food tech frontiers.

Food tech future

There are three key areas in which food tech innovations are beginning to deliver completely new and novel approaches along the value chain. These areas represent technological approaches addressing serious pain points within the food industry, and we anticipate that these sectors will experience significant growth and investment attention in the coming years.

Consumer food tech

Consumer food tech is the segment within food technology investment that focuses on development of technologies primarily marketed toward the consumer. Be it plant-based meats, novel distribution systems or nutrition-based tech, this segment aims to assuage consumer-driven demands. Examples of consumer food tech innovators include alternative protein/diary, nutrition and meal kit distribution companies.

As the organic food trend reached its peak and began to commoditize, another food trend has risen to take its place. Plant-based, meatless, animal-free … regardless of the moniker given, it seems like everyone is getting into the meatless craze. News or ads trumpeting the arrival of “meatless meat” are unavoidable.

Fast food giants Burger King (via Impossible Foods) and McDonald’s (via Beyond Meat) are now serving meatless burgers on their menus, attracting new customers that typically shop for food at Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods. Memphis Meats is another example, as is the retail giant Ikea, which is working on a vegetarian version of its infamous Swedish meatballs.

But it doesn’t end there. Other innovative companies are working on the commercialization of alternative proteins such as Clara Foods (egg whites from cell cultures), and Ripple Foods and Oatly that are focused on developing dairy and nut-free milk alternatives. UBS estimates that the market for plant-based proteins alone could expand from just under $5 billion at present to some $85 billion over the next decade, at a roughly 28% growth rate year-over-year.

Meanwhile, companies like BrightseedJust and Renaissance Bioscience are blazing new trails on the biological and nutraceuticals front, seeking ways to produce food and nutritional supplements in cleaner, smarter and more sustainable ways.

Industrial food tech

While some companies focus on the food itself, many others are exploring how to process, package and distribute this new wave of sustainable, healthy and innovative food. Industrial food tech is the sub-segment of food tech that focuses on addressing fundamental business model and B2B pain points within the food industry. The companies include innovators in novel processing and packaging technology and new/functional ingredients that have improved nutritional, labeling or formulation characteristics.

Investments in food tech will continue to increase to help deliver on the promise of healthier, more sustainable food systems.

Food preservation technology companies like Apeel Sciences and Hazel Technologies are leading the way in reducing food waste, while improving produce quality during transportation. This is a massive issue ripe for innovation, as pre-consumer food waste comprises 40% of all food wasted in the U.S. Improved food-waste profiles could enable an overall reduction in required arable land.

Food processing/grading technologies will also be at the forefront of this segment; for example, food inspection startup P&P Optica has received financing to develop their food quality and foreign object detection technology. This hyperspectral tech has the potential to provide not only food-safety improvements in automated foreign object detection, but also to enable meat quality grading to be standardized and improved over time.

Coupled with a burgeoning sector in industrial ingredients like emulsifiers, sweeteners and firming agents, among other additives, this segment is growing quickly as large-scale food producers are facing consumer pressure to not only innovate, but also to do so sustainably. Companies like Aromyx are working to quantify things like taste and smell to help enhance production processes across a range of industries, from pharmaceuticals and chemicals to agriculture, food and beverages and consumer packaged goods.

Supply chain & procurement

The Chipotle contamination crisis (and others like it) underscores the importance of improving visibility into food supply chains. Safe Traces and other startups are helping to increasing food traceability by commercializing new modes of tracking food provenance. Consumer awareness regarding food fraud and requirements for food traceability, as well as records of provenance, are increasing. This has created a strong business case for innovation in the food supply chain to satisfy these demands. Changing consumer preferences for quality, convenience and gourmet products in food service has led to a rise in the category of fast-casual restaurants and placed pressure on fast food restaurants to rethink their delivery models.

Startups like Farmer’s Fridge (a Finistere portfolio company) and BingoBox package chef-curated meals and snacks in conveniently placed vending machines or unmanned, automated convenience stores. 6D Bytes uses AI and machine learning to prepare healthy food, like smoothies, while Starship Electronics has, in partnership with local stores and restaurants, introduced a fleet of robots that deliver food to people.

Innovators in this segment are focused on traceability, sustainability, improving freshness and eliminating food waste. For example, Good Eggs and Farmdrop deliver fresh and sustainably sourced grocery food in reusable packaging, while Full Harvest encourages the food supply chain to “shop ugly” by using imperfect or surplus produce that would have otherwise gone to waste.

Technology will continue to play an increasingly critical role in how the food we eat is produced, how it is packaged, how it is delivered, how it tastes, feels and smells and how it is reused and repurposed. Investments in food tech will continue to increase to help deliver on the promise of healthier, more sustainable food systems for the world. After all, we are what we eat.

Source: Tech Crunch

Snapchat falls despite Q3 beat, adding 7M users & revenue up 50%

The Snap-back continues. Snapchat blew past earnings expectations for a big beat in Q3, as it added 7 million daily active users this quarter to hit 210 million, up 13% year-over-year. Snap also beat on revenue, notching $446 million, which is up a whopping 50% year-over-year, at a loss of $0.04 EPS. That flew past Bloomberg’s consensus of Wall Street estimates that expected $437.9 million in revenue and a $0.05 EPS loss.

Snap has managed to continue cutting losses as it edges towards profitability. Net loss improved to $227 million from $255 million last quarter, with the loss decreasing $98 million versus Q3 2018.

CEO Evan Spiegel made his case in his prepared remakrs for why Snapchat’s share price should be higher: “We are a high growth business, with strong operating leverage, a clear path to profitability, a distinct vision for the future, and the ability to invest over the long term.” Snapchat’s share price had closed down 4% at $14.

Snapchat DAU Q3 2019

That’s partially because of the high cost of Snapchat’s growth relative average revenue per user. While it notes that it saw user growth in all regions, 5 million of the 7 million new users came from the Rest Of The World, with just 1 million coming from the North America and Europe regions. That’s in part thanks to better than expected growth and retention on its reengineered Android app that’s been a hit in India. But since Snapchat serves so much high-definition video content but it earns just $1.01 average revenue in the Rest Of World, it has to hope it can keep growing ARPU so it becomes profitable globally.

Some other top-line stats from Snapchat’s earnings:

  • Operating cash flow improved by $56 million to a loss of $76 million in Q3 2019, compared to the prior year.
  • Free Cash Flow improved by $75 million to $(84) million in Q3 2019, compared to the prior year.

Snapchat ARPU Q3 2019

Source: Tech Crunch

Databricks announces $400M round on $6.2B valuation as analytics platform continues to grow

Databricks is a SaaS business built on top of a bunch of open source tools, and apparently it’s been going pretty well on the business side of things. In fact, the company claims to be one of the fastest growing enterprise cloud companies ever. Today the company announced a massive $400 million Series F funding round on a hefty $6.2 billion valuation. Today’s funding brings the total raised to almost a $900 million.

Andreessen Horowitz’s Late Stage Venture Fund led the round with new investors BlackRock, Inc., T. Rowe Price Associates, Inc. and Tiger Global Management also participating. The institutional investors are particularly interesting here because as a late stage startup, Databricks likely has its eye on a future IPO, and having those investors on board already could give them a head start.

CEO Ali Ghodsi was coy when it came to the IPO, but it sure sounded like that’s a direction he wants to go. “We are one of the fastest growing cloud enterprise software companies on record, which means we have a lot of access to capital as this fundraise shows. The revenue is growing gangbusters, and the brand is also really well known. So an IPO is not something that we’re optimizing for, but it’s something that’s definitely going to happen down the line in the not-too-distant future,” Ghodsi told TechCrunch.

The company announced as of Q3 it’s on a $200 million run rate, and it has a platform that consists of four products, all built on foundational open source: Delta Lake, an open source data lake product; MLflow, an open source project that helps data teams operationalize machine learning; Koalas, which creates a single machine frame work for Spark and Pandos, greatly simplifying working with the two tools; and finally, Spark, the open source analytics engine.

You can download the open source version of all of these tools for free, but they are not easy to use or manage. The way that Databricks make money is by offering each of these tools in the form of Software as a Service. They handle all of the management headaches associated with using these tools and they charge you a subscription price.

It’s a model that seems to be working as the company is growing like crazy. It raised $250 million just last February on a $2.75 billion valuation. Apparently the investors saw room for a lot more growth in the intervening six months, as today’s $6.2 billion valuation shows.

Source: Tech Crunch

Facebook commits $1B to tackle affordable housing in California, other locations

California is in the midst of a serious housing crisis that’s ramifications stretch across the state. In the Bay Area, the crisis is often at its most visible due to the presence of tech mega-corps and the influx of highly paid tech workers that have exacerbated the problem.

It hasn’t been uncommon for some of these huge tech companies to take some responsibility for the issues and invest back into organizations seeking to promote affordable housing. In Seattle, Microsoft and Amazon have announced initiatives. In the Bay Area, Google announced a $1 billion ten-year-plan just a few months ago, and now Facebook is doing the same.

In a blog post attributed to Facebook CFO David Wehner, the company announced that they’ve set aside $1 billion to tackle affordable housing, and that they’re hoping this initiative will lead to the creation of “up to 20,000 new housing units.”

This–of course–isn’t going to be some lump sum check sent to the California government, it’s divvied up into a few different initiatives

  • California state: $250 million is being devoted to a partnership with the California state government to subsidize development on excess state-owned land “where housing is scarce.”
  • Bay Area: A $225 million chunk of the commitment is the value of Facebook-owned land that has been zoned for housing in Menlo Park. An additional $150 million is being contributed to The Bay’s Future Fund, an affordable housing investment fund. $25 million is going to help fund housing construction for essential workers in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties.
  • California and elsewhere: The last major chunk, $350 million is being set aside for “additional commitments” to the other listed initiatives as well as new efforts to address housing issues near Facebook offices outside of California.

For its part, the California government seems appreciative to have some help from major companies, though even hundreds of millions in aid is a drop in the bucket for how badly the California state government has mismanaged this issue.

“State government cannot solve housing affordability alone, we need others to join Facebook in stepping up – progress requires partnership with the private sector and philanthropy to change the status quo and address the cost crisis our state is facing,” a statement attributed to California Governor Gavin Newsom reads.

Source: Tech Crunch

Penske is getting into the car-sharing business, starting with Washington, DC

Transportation services giant Penske Corp. is backing a new car-sharing service called Penske Dash that launched Tuesday in Washington, D.C. and Arlington, Va.

The service is debuting at an awkward time for the industry. While some car-sharing operations, particularly peer-to-peer services, have expanded, others have struggled in the past year. GM’s Maven, BMW’s ReachNow, Car2Go and Lime are among the car-sharing companies that have scaled back or closed their businesses altogether.

In May, GM scaled back its Maven car-sharing company and stopped service in eight markets. BMW’s ReachNow service shut down so abruptly in Seattle and Portland that customers were still using the cars when the announcement was made. Meanwhile, transportation startup Lime closed its LimePod car-sharing service after less than a year of operations in Seattle and Car2Go pulled out of five North American cities.

Despite these headwinds, Penske Corp. Chairman Roger Penske seems keen to jump into the business.

“Penske Dash furthers our commitment to embrace new technologies while addressing the mobility needs for our consumers,” Roger Penske said in a statement, adding that the company intends to “remain at the forefront of new leading transportation solutions.”

Local operations will be led by Paul Delong, who previously served as president and CEO of Car2Go North America.

Penske Dash gives customers access to a fleet of Volkswagen Jetta SE vehicles that can be rented by the minute, hour or day through the app. The rental rates, which are $0.45 a minute or $15 an hour, include fuel, parking and insurance. Members are also supported with 24/7 access to a call center and a local fleet operations team.

Penske Dash describes itself as “free-floating,” although within Washington, D.C. it’s a bit more constrained than some other services that allow customers to park anywhere within a geographic area. Customers can park their Penske Dash vehicle in a public, unrestricted, street parking space in Arlington identified by Penske Dash. In Washington, D.C., customers must park in a parking spot marked by a Penske Dash sign in approved garages or lots, according to rules stated on its website.

Ridecell, a transportation software company, is providing the platform for the app. The startup, which developed a cloud-based mobility platform designed to help car-sharing, ridesharing and autonomous technology companies manage their vehicles, raised $60 million in a Series B round in late 2018.

Source: Tech Crunch