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Hello and welcome to Daily Crunch for Monday, March 7, 2022! We have a packed newsletter today, so get hype for a news digest. But, first, Early Stage is next month and I have plane tickets, so the excitement-o-meter here in TechCrunch HQ Providence (aka my house) is off the charts. And to add to my general state of animation, we just announced that Slava Rubin and Sahil Lavingia are going to talk crowdfunding at the event! – Alex
The TechCrunch Top 3
- Twitter tries to restore service in Russia: While some tech companies are working to cut ties with Russia after the country’s government invaded Ukraine, others are trying to keep their services up in the country. Communications tools, for example, are not something that should shutter. So, amid reports that Twitter is hard to access in Russia, the company said that it’ working on it. Given rising levels of censorship in Russia, having Twitter back would be a boon.
- Despite rising costs, VCs continue to invest in BNPL startups: TechCrunch recently reported on Tabby raising a $54 million extension round, with Sequoia Capital India and STV leading the round. And we took a look at Klarna earnings, which showed the price of growing a large BNPL provider. There’s some tension between the two stories, as you can imagine.
- Samsung confirms breach: Separate from other recent high-profile hacks, Korean electronics giant Samsung has confirmed a breach. TechCrunch writes that “hackers obtained and leaked almost 200 gigabytes of confidential data, including source code for various technologies and algorithms for biometric unlock operations,” which is pretty freaking bad.
Startups and VC
Before we get into our usual rundown of discrete startup news, let’s talk self-driving cars. Pony.ai, a company with roots in both the US and China, TechCrunch writesjust saw its valuation climb to $8.5 billion with the first close of its Series D. That’s miles above its last valuation of $5.3 billion, and indicates that there is still ample capital in the market for self-driving tech. GoodI say, as I no longer want to drive.
- More signs of Africa’s startup market maturing: It wasn’t too long ago that a startup in Africa raising a $30 million round would have been big news. However, in the last few years, the continent’s startup activity and venture results have been accelerating. So much so that today TechCrunch wrote that Dash, a Ghanian startup that wants to “build connected wallets for Africans” just raised a $32.8 million seed round. Not bad!
- Faster blockchain transactions + privacy = Espresso? That’s the gist of the Espresso Systems project and its eponymous new ‘chain. Built by a “team of researchers from Stanford University’s applied cryptography research group,” Espresso is not the first crypto project to tackle similar tasks. But as the group is building a layer-one chain, instead of a layer-two chain atop Ethereum, we perked up at its announcement.
- ESGgo wants to measure ESG performance: Environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals are hot these days, as corporations want to at least appear to be giving a crap about more than just their near-term cash flows. However, once ESG goals are outlined, how can we tell if or when they are met? ESGgo wants to build software for just that niche.
- Circular.io wants to alleviate the tech talent crunch: Now flush with eight figures of capital, Circular.io has a neat model to help folks hire tech talent. Essentially, the company uses a “platform approach which encourages companies to recommend tech talent they were unable to hire to Circular’s recruitment network,” we write. Will that work at scale? Who knows! But given that every company is having a hard time hiring, we don’t think that the company will lack for TAM if its model does, in fact, scale.
- Cayena wants to digitize food prep procurement in LatAm: This is a fun one. Apparently, the procurement market for food preppers (bars, hotels, restaurants, etc.) in Latin America is fragmented and often done over the phone. Cayena wants to whack those inefficiencies with a generous dollop of technology. The startup launched in 2020, and has seen rapid growth since, we report.
- The war on gas (fees): If Espresso doesn’t upend the blockchain market, the issue of high gas (transaction) fees on popular blockchains will persist. Argent thinks it has a way around them, namely an updated crypto wallet. It is using zkSync to help it batch transactions for the Ethereum blockchain, hopefully lowering gas costs for its users. Crypto is still too hard to use, but this might make it cheaper, at least.
- Captain Fresh salutes new $500M valuation: The market for using tech to improve long-standing industries is no joke. Captain Fresh is a good example of the point. It’s doing “farm-to-retail” work in the seafood world, and just raised $100 million more for its efforts. Prosus Ventures and Tiger Global co-led the round, after investing in the company.
Robotics founders: Focus your pitch deck on problem-solving, not technology
The robotics industry is advancing in leaps and bounds, a literal statement for those who’ve seen Boston Dynamics’ Atlas robots pull off a parkour performance.
Even so, founders should be prepared to discuss practical applications, as opposed to just touting the benefits of their technology.
In a recent episode of TechCrunch Live with Agility Robotics co-founder and CTO Jonathan Hurst and Playground Global founding partner Bruce Leak, they looked back at how Agility’s early pitch deck related its impressive tech to the needs and wants of its prospective customers.
“From the customer’s point of view, you can see how they’d look at it and say, ‘Oh, I can imagine how this is going to solve my problem,'” says Hurst. “It’s not just technically interesting. That’s the transition right there.”
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Big Tech Inc.
- AppleTV+ comes to Xfinity: Look, this applies to the folks that it applies to. But it is good to see streaming services generally broaden their platform footprint. Why? Because that’s the direction we want things to move in as consumers.
- Chrome is fast on Mac and Android now, Google says: Hey look, browser competition! Chrome version 99 – yeah, not a typo – is setting new records on certain speed tests. Which means that Google can claim that it has the fastest browser out there, by some metrics. Though I have to say that it isn’t Chrome’s speed that I have worried about in recent years, having been more focused on how the Google browser eats RAM like a hungry hungry hippo after a marble.
- Instagram removes apps: Are you still using Instagram’s Hyperlapse or Boomerang products? Well, too bad; they are getting yoinked from app stores. This after Instagram said that it was going to remove its IGTV app to focus more on its main experience. Focus is good; shoving 2,348,238 things into a single app is not. Let’s see how this works out for the service.