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Upstarts emerge to chase Tesla’s lead in electric vehicles

A slew of well-funded new entrants backed by massive amounts of capital are chasing Tesla’s lead in an effort to power the next generation of the electric vehicle industry. Electric vehicle startups have raised more than $2 billion in the U.S. over the first months of 2018 alone, a huge increase over the $650 million raised in 2017, according to data from PitchBook . And the investment trends point to more competition for Tesla from established car companies and upstart manufacturers alike in the next few years. All of this activity is thanks to the size of the industry that’s in play. The market for electric passenger vehicles is expected to reach $356.5 billion by 2023 led by $205.9 billion in sales coming from the Asia-Pacific region, according to predictions from the market intelligence firm, Absolute Reports . Given those numbers, it’s no wonder that investments into electric vehicle companies and the enabling technologies for them keep climbing — and most of the cash commitments are being made in newly formed companies. PitchBook data indicates that early-stage deals are on the rise, with 15 investments into startup electric vehicle companies in 2017. (It’s important to note that PitchBook data, and the work of other market intelligence firms, is somewhat fuzzy and imprecise.) In 2018, first investments accounted for the bulk of the $2 billion raised. Many of these electric vehicle challengers emerged from the wreckage of other companies that had sought the pole position in the race for auto-industry dominance. Several new companies have emerged from the collapse of Faraday Future and Fisker Automotive, even as both companies found themselves reborn with new leases on life thanks to redoubled capital commitments from global billionaires, Chinese companies awash in money and traditional venture firms angling for a shot at Tesla’s market dominance. Tesla’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year (to date) While the size of the electric vehicle market is one factor motivating the competition, another is the series of miscues from Tesla, the independent electric vehicle market leader, which has competitors wondering if the wheels are coming off Elon Musk’s big bet. By any measure, Tesla has had a very bad year.

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Real Vision, a media platform for finance and business, raises $10 million

Real Vision is entering the crowded business and financial new space with a bang. The company, which recently raised a $10 million Series B after a $5 million A, is working on a number of new initiatives including distribution on Apple TV, a content distribution partnership with Thomson Reuters and an upcoming documentary on PBS. The documentary, “A World on the Brink,” will focus on threats to the global economy. The team is aiming at viewers ages 36-45 instead of the older Boomers who prefer cable financial news far. “Unlike most video-based media businesses where short-form video is deemed to have the highest user engagement, Real Vision have found that almost 70% of their customers who start a half, or an hour-long, video will watch all of it. This engagement in long-form content is breaking boundaries within the industry,” said co-founder and CEO Raoul Pal. “Sensationalism and clickbait is at an all-time high. Traditional financial news has continued to degenerate into attention-seeking sound bites that are at best of little value and at worst, downright dangerous.” Pal worked at Goldman Sachs before moving into media. “I lamented on the state of financial media – how it had let the ordinary person down repeatedly in 2000 and 2008 and was busy treating finance as entertainment and not taking into account that this was peoples live savings they were dealing with. I also noted how far financial programming had become versus the fast-changing world of on line video. Viewing habits and content types were changing but the financial TV incumbents hadn’t changed,” he said “I decided that it was time for someone to disrupt the way in which television worked – particularly with regard to financial and business information.” The team will use the cash to create programming aimed at “those who want to create new business opportunities and startups, manage new enterprises and leverage new technology.” The videos can run as long as 90 minutes but usually hit the five to thirty-minute mark

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Bail reform has a complex relationship with tech

On any given day in the United States, more than 450,000 people are behind bars awaiting their constitutionally mandated fair trial. None of them have been convicted of a crime — they’ve been accused of committing a crime, but no formal ruling of guilt or innocence has been made. That means these hundreds of thousands of people are incarcerated simply because they don’t have the financial means to post bail.  Bail was originally designed to incentivize people to show up for their court dates, but it has since evolved into a system that separates the financially well-off from the poor. It requires arrested individuals to pay money in order to get out of jail while they await trial. For those who can’t afford bail, they wind up having to sit in jail, which means they may be at risk of missing rent payments, losing their jobs and failing to meet other responsibilities.  Money bail is all too often a common condition to secure release from jail while a case is in progress. Cash bail systems result in leaving many people incarcerated, even though they haven’t been convicted of a crime.  The cash bail system in the United States is one of the greatest injustices in the criminal justice system, ACLU Deputy National Political Director Udi Ofer tells TechCrunch. Bail reform, Ofer says, is a “key way to achieve” the goals of challenging racial disparities in the criminal justice system and ending mass incarceration.  As we explored in “ The other pipeline ,” the criminal justice system in the United States is deeply rooted in racism and a history of oppression. Black and Latino people comprise about 1.5 million of the total  2.2 million people incarcerated in the U.S.  adult correctional system, or 67 percent of the prison population, while making up just 37 percent of the total U.S. population,  according to the Sentencing Project . With a criminal justice system that disproportionately affects people of color, it’s no wonder why the cash bail system does the same . For one, people of color are 25 percent more likely than white people to be denied the option of bail, according to a pre-trial study by Dr

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Apple says it will return $100B to investors with a massive new program after a strong Q2

Apple ended up with a pretty decent report for its second quarter, beating analyst expectations on most of its metrics — but it is making a huge move in terms of returning capital to investors. The company said it is announcing a new $100 billion buyback program and increasing its dividend by 16%. That means that Apple investors are going to get more of an opportunity to snap up the value the company has created over time as it’s continued to grow significantly. While Apple in the past several months a lot of the momentum that carried it to a market cap nearing $1 trillion, the company’s stock has still risen around 80% in the past two years. Not surprisingly, the stock today is soaring (by Apple standards) in extended trading, with shares rising nearly 5% after the report. Last quarter Apple CFO Luca Maestri said the company expected to be “net cash neutral” over time, signaling that it might start returning more capital to shareholders through its dividend and share buyback programs. That’ll be important for the company, which thanks to the tax bill last year will be able to repatriate a significant amount of the cash it holds outside of the U.S. These kinds of returns are pretty common with larger companies that generate a ton of cash — Apple already had some buyback programs in place, for example — but investors have always dinged Apple for not deploying its massive pile of cash. This quarter, however, Apple’s pile of cash actually fell . Apple continued to add more and more cash to its reserves, though a significant amount of it was overseas. This quarter it fell to $267.2 billion, down $17.9 billion from the last quarter. From August 2012 to March 2018, Apple has returned around $275 billion in capital to Wall Street.

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To win back consumers, big brands should invest in R&D and innovation

Ryan Caldbeck Contributor Ryan Caldbeck is the founder and chief executive of the consumer and retail investment marketplace CircleUp . More posts by this contributor What Silicon Valley tech VCs get wrong about consumer investing We are on the verge of a consumer M&A avalanche The world of consumer goods is changing. Consumer tastes are becoming more and more fragmented and big incumbents continue to lose market share to upstart brands . It’s often difficult for these incumbents to figure out how to respond. CPG is full of smart people, but many of the biggest brands have seen their sales stagnate or decline over the past several years. Consumer companies can increase profit and deliver shareholder value by either growing in revenue or cutting costs, but the strategies these companies have taken to try to turn the tide just aren’t working. When they innovate, they only make incremental changes to products (like reducing the fat of a potato chip), instead of offering consumers new products that they actually want. Or they spend billions on advertising to convince consumers that they should buy existing products. If they can’t increase revenue, they’ll cut spending by stripping out valuable business teams or merging with other consumer companies to slash costs (à la Kraft-Heinz ). These strategies do not position Big CPG for long-term success; I’d like to suggest a few that might. Before I dig in here, I want to say upfront that I don’t have all the answers (or even most of them). I’m the CEO of a startup with 65 employees — not a massive corporation with 30,000 employees. The insights I hope to share are gathered from more than a decade working in consumer investing and helping consumer companies grow, but they’re ultimately insights from the outside looking in. Replace “Kellogg’s” with the name of PepsiCo, Estée Lauder, Nestlé, Kraft -Heinz or countless other big brands and the observations should still resonate.

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Elon Musk’s Boring Co. raises $113 million to chase a pipe dream

Elon Musk’s tunneling startup The Boring Company has raised $113 million to fund its vision of the near/distant future of transportation, according to newly filed SEC docs first spotted by CNBC . The startup, which is centered around the goal of creating underground tunnels, plays a central part in Musk’s integrated view of urban transportation that he hopes will shape how the public moves about in a quick and efficient way. Last month, Musk announced that the company would be adjusting its plans to prioritize pedestrian traffic over vehicles. A major part of the company’s early efforts have been in fighting for permits and contracts with city governments. Though Musk has indicated that he hopes to use the company to alleviate the problems of LA traffic, the company is also currently actively engaged in working with cities across the U.S. Today’s documents don’t offer much insight into the details of the round beyond the cash amount and the fact that there were 31 undisclosed participants in the equity funding. The company has gotten some press for its less than conventional “fundraising methods” so far, where it has sold pre-orders of branded hats and, yes, flamethrowers .  

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The psychological impact of an $11 Facebook subscription

Would being asked to pay Facebook to remove ads make you appreciate their value or resent them even more? As Facebook considers offering an ad-free subscription option, there are deeper questions than how much money it could earn. Facebook has the opportunity to let us decide how we compensate it for social networking. But choice doesn’t always make people happy. In February I explored the idea of how Facebook could disarm data privacy backlash and boost well-being by letting us pay a monthly subscription fee instead of selling our attention to advertisers. The big takeaways were: Mark Zuckerberg insists that Facebook will remain free to everyone , including those who can’t afford a monthly fee, so subscriptions would be an opt-in alternative to ads rather than a replacement that forces everyone to pay Partially decoupling the business model from maximizing your total time spent on Facebook could let it actually prioritize time well spent because it wouldn’t have to sacrifice ad revenue The monthly subscription price would need to offset Facebook’s ad earnings . In the US & Canada Facebook earned $19.9 billion in 2017 from 239 million users. That means the average user there would have to pay $7 per month How ad-free subscriptions could save Facebook However, my analysis neglected some of the psychological fallout of telling people they only get to ditch ads if they can afford it, the loss of ubiquitous reach for advertisers, and the reality of which users would cough up the cash. Though on the other hand, I also neglected the epiphany a price tag could produce for users angry about targeted advertising. What’s Best For Everyone This conversation is relevant because Zuckerberg was asked twice by congress about Facebook potentially offering subscriptions. Zuckerberg endorsed the merits of ad-supported apps, but never ruled out letting users buy a premium version. “We don’t offer an option today for people to pay to not show ads” Zuckerberg said, later elaborating that “Overall,  I think that the ads experience is going to be the best one. I think in general, people like not having to pay for a service

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Sesame Street turns to Kickstarter to fund autism book

Julia is Sesame Street’s first autistic character and her mission is to make neuroatypical kids feel more comfortable and understand that there are kids out there just like them. She’s a sweet little muppet and now she’s getting her own Kickstarter campaign. The campaign is raising $75,000 to produce content and a free book featuring Julia and her friends. They’ve just hit $10,000 in funding and it’s growing fast. $100 gets you a plush Julia doll and if they reach $150,000 they will print a paper copy of the new Julia book. The project aims to help reduce bullying of autistic children and the Sesame Street team will work with experts to create content and a book around Julia’s adventures. From the team: Julia’s television debut was greeted with hundreds of media stories and millions of social media impressions, but the biggest marker of our success was the overwhelming response from the autism community and beyond. Parents say their autistic children have more playdates because of Julia. Teachers report that their students are more inclusive in their play. One mother told us that she used the first Julia storybook to explain to her daughter that she, too, has autism. Her daughter responded, “So I’m amazing too, right?” This is Sesame Street’s first Kickstarter and it’s really wonderful.

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CardUp raises $1.7M to help small businesses get more out of their credit cards

CardUp founder and CEO Nicki Ramsay (front, second from right) with her team CardUp , a Singapore-based startup that enables users to make large, recurring payments by credit card even to recipients that don’t accept cards, has raised $2.2 million SGD (about $1.7 million) led by Sequoia India and SeedPlus. This is CardUp’s first institutional investment round and will be used to expand its business serving small- to medium-sized enterprises. Before launching CardUp in 2015, founder and chief executive officer Nicki Ramsay worked at American Express for seven years, where her last position before leaving was director of international business development in the Asia-Pacific region. Ramsay says she created CardUp to solve challenges for both credit card users and providers. “In my years spent in the payments industry, we repeatedly set the same goal, which was to increase credit card usage, but a lot of initiatives actually just ended up shifting share from one card issuer to another,” Ramsay told TechCrunch in an email. “CardUp extends the way you can use credit cards, so it really grows the pie. On top of this was my own personal frustration that I was getting limited value from my credit card as I couldn’t use it for any of my big expenses.” CardUp claims it’s seen an average monthly user growth rate of 41% since launching in late 2016, which it attributes to the fact that it doesn’t require payment recipients to sign up for a CardUp account, too, reducing barriers to adoption. It’s also inked partnerships with major financial institutions like UOB, Citibank, Bank of China and Mastercard to promote its services. Over the last 12 months, more than $55 million SGD in payments were made through CardUp, which it says represents more than one percent of overall credit card spend growth in Singapore from 2016 to 2017. CardUp positions itself as the middleman between organizations that don’t usually accept credit cards, such as landlords or the government, and people who want to use their cards for recurring payments so they can take advantage of things like reward programs and extended credit terms. The company’s value proposition for small business owners is the ability to use their existing credit card limits to extend business payables up to 55 days, interest-free, which means they have more working capital and cash flow. Ramsay says the company plans to pursue SMEs in Singapore and other countries as well, targeting the many types of payments that are still usually made by checks or transfers, including payroll expenses, rent and supplier invoices. “A trillion dollars is still spent by check or bank transfer in Singapore alone, that’s 30 times that of the credit card industry,” she said. “Globally, 124 trillion in business payments is still going via cash, transfer or check, and only 1% of that is currently captured on cards. Right now we’re very encouraged by the strong user adoption we’ve seen, validating the need for our service locally, and are therefore focused on capturing this large local market opportunity, but of course the pain point we are solving for SMEs is universal, and so new markets are on the horizon.” In a press statement, SeedPlus operating partner Tiang Lim Foo said “SMEs are the main economic driving force in Asia, but are currently underserved.

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Regulation could protect Facebook, not punish it

You know what tech startups hate? Complicated legal compliance. The problem is, Facebook isn’t a startup any more, but its competitors are. There have been plenty of calls from congress and critics to regulate Facebook following the election interference scandal and now the Cambridge Analytica debacle . The government could require extensive ads transparency reporting or data privacy protections. That could cost Facebook a lot of money, slow down its operations, or inhibit its ability to build new products. But the danger is that those same requirements could be much more onerous for a tiny upstart company to uphold. Without much cash or enough employees, and with product-market fit still to nail down, young startups might be anchored by the weight of regulation. It could prevent them from ever rising to become a true alternative to Facebook. Venture capitalists choosing whether to fund the next Facebook killer might look at the regulations as too high of a price of entry. STANFORD, CA – JUNE 24: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (R) hugs U.S. President Barack Obama during the 2016 Global Entrepeneurship Summit at Stanford University on June 24, 2016 in Stanford, California.

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Medium is now paying partners cash bonuses for quality work

A year ago, publishing platform Medium debuted a new business model where readers could pay a monthly fee to access exclusive, curated content, and would reward participating partners by offering a revenue share based on a metrics like time spent reading and the more explicit “claps” – Medium’s form of the “Like.” Now, Medium will reward select partners with direct cash bonuses as well, doled out at the company’s discretion. The update was first noticed by Hunter Walk, who tweeted about the change after receiving a cash bonus of $100 for his Medium story , “Giving Visionary Women Their Due.” In an email sent to him by Medium, the company said it wanted to offer an update on how his earnings were calculated. “In addition to earning money when Medium members engage with your work, our system added bonuses to stories that our editors designate as high quality in important topic areas,” the email read. Until now, Medium rewarded partners based on engagement with the story from each individual subscriber. The $5 per month subscription fee is distributed to each partner who had a story or stories the individual subscriber read during the month. It’s worth noting the stark contrast between this model and traditional social media, where publishers are rewarded on clicks and shares – something which encourages clickbait and sensational posts. Not only was Medium already rewarding time spent reading – typically, one of the ways to measure content quality – it’s now directly seeding its network by paying for the kind of work it wants to see. Quality is something Medium has been thinking a lot about, which is why it introduced the subscription model . Without advertising, there’s less of a commercial incentive to publish and spread misinformation, Medium CEO Ev Williams (pictured above) had previously said . While originally open only to publishers, Medium last fall expanded the partner program to any author on its platform. That means, anyone would be eligible to receive these cash rewards. Payments are deposited into partners’ bank account monthly, and can be tracked on the Partner Dashboard. Reached for comment (as there had been no formal announcement), Medium confirmed this is the first week the cash bonuses have been added to its partner payouts. The subject matter Medium is looking for will vary, we’re told, but will include “deep, insightful, expert stories” that the company believes its members will enjoy. (A sample selection is here .) To determine which stories receive a bonus, Medium curators will read all content published for members, then mark those they believe to be high-quality in an important topic area in order to reward the author.

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Pandora doubles down on ad tech with acquisition of AdsWizz for $145 million

Pandora announced this morning it’s acquiring digital audio ad technology firm AdsWizz for $145 million, as a combination of at least 50 percent cash, with the remaining paid in either cash or stock at Pandora’s discretion. The company, whose technology will be used to upgrade Pandora’s own ad tech capabilities, will continue as a subsidiary headed by CEO Alexis van de Wyer . AdsWizz offers an end-to-end technology platform that powers music platforms, podcasts and broadcasting groups. Customers include Cox Media Group, iHeartRadio, TuneIn, Entercom, Omnicom Media Group, Spotify, Deezer, PodcastOne, GroupM, and others. Its software suite includes a variety of ad technology capabilities, including dynamic ad insertion, advanced programmatic platforms, ad campaign monitoring tools, and more. Above: AdsWizz’ AudioMatic platform for programmatic buying  It has also developed a number of new audio formats, like ShakeMe which has users shake their phones to trigger an action while listening to an ad; ads that can target users based on an activity like jogging or a situation like cold weather; ads that can be customized based personalized data; and others. Pandora says it will leverage the acquisition to capitalize on the growth in digital audio advertising, which is up 42 percent year-over-year, according to the IAB. We understand that Pandora was interested in where AdsWizz’ roadmap aligned with Pandora’s specifically in the areas of audio monetization and ad-buying capabilities. It believes that by joining forces, it will be able to ship and launch new products faster. Once integrated with Pandora, advertisers will be able to transact through AdsWizz’s global marketplace across Pandora and other audio publishers, the company says. Pandora says that it will continue to invest in AdsWizz technology that supports its core business and the wider industry – or, in order words, Pandora isn’t ripping away AdsWizz from its competitors in streaming at this time. “Since I joined Pandora six months ago, I have highlighted ad tech as a key area of investment for us. Today we took an important step to advance that priority and accelerate our product roadmap,“ said Roger Lynch, CEO of Pandora, in a statement. “With our scale in audio advertising and AdsWizz’s tech expertise, we will create the largest digital audio advertising ecosystem, better serving global publishers and advertisers — while improving Pandora’s own monetization capabilities.” The deal comes at a time when Pandora continues to generate the majority of its revenues from advertising, despite its entry into the subscription business with its own rival to Apple Music and Spotify.

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Square Cash now supports direct deposits for your paycheck

 It seems like each new feature Square adds to its Cash app brings it one step closer to being a de-facto bank account for its users. Case in point, the app just rolled out support for ACH direct deposits, meaning users can now get their paycheck or other deposits put directly into their Cash app balance. Like other features in the peer-to-peer payments app setting up direct deposits is almost… Read More

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12 questions about the future of HQ trivia and its $15M fundraise

 HQ is redefining mobile, creating through its twice-daily trivia games a sense of urgency that pierces the monotony of our social feeds. Now it’s raised a big round of funding to turn its scrappy operation into the Jeopardy from tomorrow. But just like its 12-round games, we’ve got 12 questions (and some answers) for HQ. Read More

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