Tesla CEO Elon Musk unveiled the much-anticipated Cybertruck electric pickup in LA on Thursday, and the vehicle is obviously getting a lot of attention for its eye-catching and unique design. It looks more like a rover designed for space exploration than a truck – and analogy in this case is particularly fitting, because the Cybertruck is clad in the same stainless steel alloy that Musk’s other company SpaceX will use as the skin of its forthcoming Starship spaceship.
“It is, it is literally bulletproof to a nine millimeter handgun,” Musk said on stage during the unveiling. “That’s how strong the skin is – it’s ultra-hard, cold-rolled stainless steel alloy that we’ve developed. We’re going to be using the same alloy in the Starship rocket, and in the Cybertruck.”
Musk had previously revealed at an event unveiling the full-height Starship Mk1 prototype that it would go with stainless steel for the outer shell, with an additional glass tile covering layer for the half of the space craft that will endure the highest heat from re-entry (the ship is designed to essentially belly-flop down through Earth’s atmosphere prior to landing). The Super Heavy booster that the Starship will ride atop during its exit will be clad entirely in stainless steel. The reasoning for going with that material was a combination of cost and effectiveness, since it’s actually remarkably good at withstanding and shedding high heat.
Using the same stainless steel alloy across both Tesla and SpaceX will obviously provide some cost efficiencies – especially if the Cybertruck manages to become a high-volume production vehicle (unlikely because of its controversial design, but perhaps possible based on the economics if Tesla can stick to the price points it revealed on stage). There’s another way that the Cybertruck could benefit SpaceX’s work, and Elon alluded to it on Twitter ahead of the event – Mars will need ground transportation, too.
Yes, Musk said in a tweet that the “pressurized edition” of the Cybertruck will be the “official truck of Mars.” As always with Elon, sometimes it’s difficult to suss out exactly where the line lines between jokes and actual plans with what he tweets, but I think in this instance he actually means this literally, at least at this stage in the game.
A Cybertruck rover for astronaut use on Mars could theoretically benefit both Tesla and SpaceX because of efficiencies in cross-production and engineering, and as the stainless steel alloy case illustrates, one of the big benefits of designing things for space has always been that the resulting technology often turns out to have really beneficial applications on Earth, too.
Prince Andrew, The Duke of York, is to completely step down from his role as head of the Pitch@Palace initiative he set up at Buckingham Palace to showcase entrepreneurs, and the operation will be relaunched as ‘Pitch’ without any royal involvement, according to a well-placed source close.
Despite indications on Thursday that the Duke had decided to stay on in the private sector after stepping aside from all public duties, TechCrunch understands there is to be “no further royal involvement” according.
This week, Pitch@Palace’s major sponsors – including Barclays Bank – were reportedly furious that the Duke had declined to resign. Other backers including KPMG, Standard Chartered and Bosch pulled out earlier this week. Mark Eavis, a director of Pitch@Palace who runs an advertising agency, quit his role on Tuesday.
The Duke, who founded Pitch@Palace, which matches investors and corporate partners with startup companies, was previously due to host a Pitch@Palace event at St James’s Palace next month. But a planned trip to Bahrain to promote the event was canceled on Thursday night amid the furor surrounding his disastrous BBC Newsnight interview.
Yesterday royal sources said Pitch@Palace would be moved to his “private portfolio”. But it’s understood that previous sponsors have won the battle to force the Prince to resign from the initiative completely.
Pitch@Palace will now be rebranded as “Pitch” by the directors, who are headed up by Amanda Thirsk (pictured), formerly the Prince’s private secretary, a role now abolished after the Duke stepped down from public duties.
The Duke was the “significant” controller of Pitch@Palace Global Ltd, the private company set up to run the events. A controversial clause in the terms and conditions recently revealed on Twitter, showed that it was entitled to a 2% equity share of any company that went through the Pitch@Palace program for three years, has, say sources, been removed from the conditions to apply.
One VC I spoke to about the terms said he was “aghast” that such a clause had been inserted in the application document.
A source told TechCrunch that the terms had “never been actioned” and would no longer continue with the new Pitch entity.
Pitch@Palace was a glitzy event, using all the prestige of its royal connections – soldiers from the Household regiment as part of the theatrical staging – to showcase often over-looked startups and entrepreneurs. Although venture capitalists attended early versions of the event when it launched in 2014, in recent years its switch into more impact-led companies and charities had meant institutional investors tended to steer clear.
Speaking to Techcrunch, a well-placed source said: “The directors of Pitch are keen to find another way for it to survive after several years as an extremely successful initiative which helped many under-served entrepreneurs.”
“In a week or so there will be a full statement about its future,” they added.
“The directors are looking for a new home for ‘Pitch’ out of the Palace, as an independent, going concern.”
They also said “new sponsors are coming on board and several old sponsors are sticking with it. It would be a massive shame if it collapsed.”
According to the Pitch@Palace web site, it claimed to have generated £1.345m economic activity, 6,323 jobs, 39% of its winners were female, created 1,042 Alumni and saw 2,842 pitches.
Picture: Getty Images
Comedian Sacha Baron Cohen has waded into the debate about social media regulation.
In an award-acceptance speech to the Anti Defamation League yesterday the creator of Ali G and Borat delivered a precision takedown of what he called Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s “bullshit” arguments against regulating his platform.
The speech is well worth watching in full as Cohen articulates, with a comic’s truth-telling clarity, the problem with “the greatest propaganda machine in history” (aka social media platform giants) and how to fix it: Broadcast-style regulation that sets basic standards and practices of what content isn’t acceptable for them to amplify to billions.
“There is such a thing as objective truth,” said Cohen. “Facts do exist. And if these Internet companies really want to make a difference they should hire enough monitors to actually monitor, work closely with groups like the ADL and the NAACP, insist on facts and purge these lies and conspiracies from their platforms.”
Attacking social media platforms for promulgating “a sewer of bigotry and vile conspiracy theories that threaten our democracy and to some degree our planet”, he pointed out that freedom of speech is not the same as freedom of reach.
“This can’t possibly be what the creators of the Internet had in mind,” he said. “I believe that’s it’s time for a fundamental rethink of social media and how it spreads hate, conspiracies and lies.”
“Voltaire was right. Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities — and social media lets authoritarians push absurdities to billions of people,” he added.
Cohen also rubbished Zuckerberg’s recent speech at Georgetown University in which the Facebook founder sought to appropriate the mantle of ‘free speech’ to argue against social media regulation.
“This is not about limiting anyone’s free speech. This is about giving people — including some of the most reprehensible people in history — the biggest platform in history to reach a third of the planet.”
“We are not asking these companies to determine the boundaries of free speech across society, we just want them to be responsible on their platforms,” Cohen added.
On Facebook’s decision to stick by its morally bankrupt position of allowing politicians to pay it to spread lying, hatefully propaganda, Cohen also had this to say: “Under this twisted logic if Facebook were around in the 1930s it would have allowed Hitler to post 30-second ads on his solution to the ‘Jewish problem’.”
YouTube also came in for criticism during the speech, including for its engagement-driven algorithmic recommendation engine which Cohen pointed out had singlehandedly recommended videos by conspiracist Alex Jones “billions of times”.
Just six people decide what information “so much of the world sees”, he noted, name-checking the “silicon six” — as he called Facebook’s Zuckerberg, Google’s Sundar Pichai, Alphabet’s Larry Page and Sergey Brin, YouTube’s Susan Wojcicki, and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey.
“All billionaires, all Americans, who care more about boosting their share price than about protecting democracy. This is ideological imperialism,” he went on. “Six unelected individuals in Silicon Valley imposing their vision on the rest of the world, unaccountable to any government and acting like they’re above the reach of law.
“It’s like we’re living in the Roman Empire and Mark Zuckerberg is Caesar. At least that would explain his haircut.”
Cohen ended the speech with an appeal for societies to “prioritize truth over lies, tolerance over prejudice, empathy over indifference, and experts over ignoramuses” and thereby save democracy from the greed of “high tech robber barons”.
Meet Bellman, a new French startup that wants to improve residential building management using technology and a fair amount of human interactions. The startup has been co-founded by Antonio Pinto, who previously co-founded TV Time.
“I know this space quite well because I’m the son of a caretaker so I grew up in the caretaker’s apartment until I was 17,” Pinto told me.
In France, the vast majority of property management of residential buildings is handled by private companies. As co-owners of the hallways, elevator and common space of your building, you get together every few years to decide if you want to work with a third-party company to handle all the pesky tasks that come with property management.
And Bellman wants to replace those companies as they often have outdated processes, which leads to poor customer satisfaction. Foncia, Citya, Nexity and Immo de France dominate the market. But due to high churn rates, they regularly buy smaller residential property management companies.
“I started having problems myself with my property management company. I sent an email just to say that the elevator wasn’t working and they replied asking me ‘hello, what’s your address?’” Pinto said. According to him, a CRM with the name of the co-owners, their email addresses and their building address seemed like a basic feature.
Bellman focuses on two values — responsiveness and transparency. And it starts with a tech platform. The startup has developed a service to help property managers do their job properly. In addition to centralizing information, Bellman hopes to automate some of the most repetitive tasks.
Residential building co-owners regularly receive updates via emails as this is the most direct way to reach them. If you want to download invoices and other paperwork, you can connect to Bellman’s website to see all your documents.
As a full-stack property management company for residential buildings, Bellman has hired in-house property managers. “We have property managers who have 5 to 10 years of experience,” Pinto said.
Each property manager can manage around 50 buildings. Bellman doesn’t want to compete on price, so it costs as much as a legacy property management contract. You can expect to pay around €20 per apartment per month for a building with 20 apartments for instance. Bellman then acts as the help desk for the building.
But Bellman wants to help its clients save money by renegotiating contracts with partners — elevator maintenance, heating maintenance, cleaning company, water, electricity, insurance, taking care of the garden, etc. There are roughly 40 different contracts per building, and legacy property management companies don’t have time for that.
Bellman wants to detect if you’re paying too much for heating for instance. It could be because there’s a broken part in the heating system, and the startup could detect unusual activity.
Finally, the startup also takes care of administrative tasks, such as general meetings or collecting money from co-owners ahead of some construction work.
Bellman is just starting for now. It is currently available in Paris and nearby cities as property managers need to be able to go the building. The startup manages a dozen buildings right now.
But Bellman has already raised $2.2 million (€2 million) from Connect Ventures and around 30 business angels (Xavier Niel/Kima Ventures, Michael Benabou, The Family, Jean-David Blanc, Nicolas Brusson, Nadra Moussalem, Antoine Martin…).
According to the company, there are other European countries with a similar system, such as Belgium, Spain, Portugal and Italy. It could open up some opportunities when it comes to international expansion.
After Elon Musk had left the stage Thursday evening, the crowd — still excited and a little stunned from the Tesla Cybertrunk reveal — converged to the back doors that led outside where a gigantic queue quickly formed.
Media got their own area, the VIPs another, and finally, the other invited guests were in the main, and much longer line. Everyone was waiting for a ride in the Tesla Cybertruck, and TechCrunch was among those who captured the ride.
The ride was short; just a skosh over two minutes overall. But it was long enough to take note of several features. The dash, which looks like sandstone, is actually a kind of compressed paper. A 17-inch screen is mounted in the center.
The pickup bed, called the vault, is lit up and visible. But if the lockable storage was closed, the window would no longer be visible. Instead, the rear mirror provides streaming video to allow the driver to see behind the vehicle.
Other interior features like the seats seemed more pedestrian. The interior was spacious with lots of headroom. A long glass roof stretched across the roof.
Check out the video for the whole ride, which included a quick moment of acceleration just past 60 miles per hour.
India’s RazorPay, one of the largest payments processing firms in the country, today announced a range of new services aimed at startups, businesses, merchants and freelancers as the Bangalore-based firm expands the reach of its financial platform in the nation.
The startup, which raised $75 million from Ribbit Capital and others in June this year, today introduced a new kind of corporate credit card and some banking services for startups and SMEs, and a new payment option for individuals to quickly receive money from their clients.
All of these services are solving some major challenges faced by tens of millions of businesses in the country. Even as startups are increasingly getting acceptance in Indian homes, banks in the nation are still wary of offering some financial services to them. Most “unprofitable” startups today can’t get a corporate credit card from a bank in India, for instance.
For its corporate credit card, Razorpay will assess other factors such as the flows and collections to determine who is eligible, the Bangalore-based startup’s founders — Harshil Mathur and Shashank Kumar — told TechCrunch in an interview.
The new corporate credit card, issued by RBL Bank, will allow businesses to access credit between Rs 50,000 ($700) and Rs 25,00,000 ($34,800). If they are able to pay it back in within 50 days, they will avoid any interest.
Razorpay also announced it is launching current accounts service. “While personal banking ecosystem in India has scaled tremendously in recent years, business banking is still old school,” said Mathur. “Most processes are still manual, and there is no communication among your invoice, payroll, booking systems. People have to deal with spreadsheet files.”
To solve this, Razorpay has built a neo banking platform. “As a business, if you want to create a current account bank with a bank, we take care of it. Everything — your transactions, and payables — happens on Razorpay’s platform and you can manage them through a single dashboard,” he said.
As part of this platform — and also as a standalone offering — Razorpay is offering a payroll management service. “One of the most common challenges in a business is how they handle payrolls. Most of these payrolls work with different systems such as HR and accounting. Again, you have to create spreadsheet files and provide it to the bank which does the processing. What our goal is that we will provide one single platform to manage payments better,” Mathur added.
To work on this service, Razorpay said it has acquired payroll and HR management software firm Opfin for what a person familiar with the matter said “a couple of millions of dollars.” Razorpay founders declined to comment on the amount.
And last, Razorpay has launched a new payment option for unregistered businesses such as mom and pop stores and freelancers. Millions of individuals in India today engage in business with one another, corporate companies, and clients overseas. For them, there exists a very limited set of options to receive payments from others and do it at a real-time pace.
Razorpay may have an answer. The company has launched a service that will allow individuals or businesses to create and send a link through text or email to their clients and receive payment in real-time. When the client clicks on the link, a payment gateway loads up that supports a range of paying options. “We support 100 currencies, so a person can have their money delivered from any country,” Mathur said. Another startup — Bangalore-based Instamojo — offers a similar functionality.
The announcements today illustrate Razorpay’s aggressive expansion into India’s burgeoning financial services market. The startup generates about 70% of its revenue today from its core business of processing payments.
More than 600,000 businesses in India including giants such as airline Indigo, Bombay Stock Exchange, conglomerate Reliance, Sony, ride-hailing service Ola and budget hotel operator Oyo Rooms today use Razorpay’s payments processing service. The two founders said they want RazorPay to be the financial cloud for businesses.
In recent years, the company has launched lending and a range of other services. Together with neo-banking services, Razorpay’s Kumar said he expects to have these generate 40 to 45% of revenue.
Razorpay today competes with a handful of companies including Naspers-owned PayU and legacy firms such as BillDesk. The startup, which focused on payments for the first two and a half years, says that business has grown by 600-700% year-over-year.
“We crossed a billion dollar in payments processing in September 2017. Now we are doing 10 billion,” Mathur said. “Our goal with today’s announcements is to have 20 to 30% of our merchants join and use our current account platform.”
Well, I don’t think that was supposed to happen.
In what was one of the more surreal product launches I’ve seen, Tesla debuted its $39,900 Cybertruck pickup tonight. After running through some specs and hitting the truck’s door with a sledge hammer, Elon asked an on-stage companion to demonstrate the strength of the Tesla “Armor Glass” by throwing a solid metal, baseball-sized ball at the driver side window.
It… did not go well.
While the glass didn’t completely shatter, it did appear to crack from edge to edge. So they tried it again on the rear passenger window… and it cracked too.
Was this a gag? A “Hah hah! Just kidding, here’s a test on the real glass!” sort of thing? Nope. Elon stood in front of the truck, two broken windows and all, and completed the presentation.
While no one would expect most standard windows to stand up to a test like this, even Elon seemed surprised by the results. “We threw wrenches, we threw everything.” he said on stage. “We even literally threw a kitchen sink at the glass, and it didn’t break. For a little weird reason it broke now, I don’t know why.”
“We’ll fix it in post,” he followed up with a laugh. The video went private on Tesla’s YouTube channel about 30 seconds after the live stream was over.
And with that, the undeniable truth that is “live demos never work” lives on.
Elon Musk revealed Thursday evening the Tesla Cybertruck, a futuristic vehicle that seemed stripped straight out of a post-apocalyptic era movie.
The Tesla Cybertruck, which Musk unveiled in dramatic fashion and to the hoots and hollers of invited guests at the Tesla Design Center in Hawthorne, California, is made of cold-rolled steel, armored glass that did crack in one demonstration, and adaptive air suspension.
And yet despite its cubist look and performance specs, its price is rather modest.
Tesla will offer three variants of the cybertruck. The cheapest version, a single motor and rear wheel drive model, will cost $39,900, have a towing capacity of 7,500 pounds and more than 250 miles of range. The middle version will be a dual-motor all-wheel drive, have a towing capacity of more than 10,000 pounds and be able to travel more than 300 miles on a single charge. The dual motor AWD model is priced at $49,900.
The third version will have three electric motors and all-wheel, a towing capacity of 14,000 pounds and battery range of more than 500 miles. This version, known as “tri motor” is priced at $69,900.
Musk touted the acceleration of the Cybertruck as well, showing a video at one point of the truck beat a Porsche 911 off the line. Musk said the “tri motor” version can travel from 0 to 60 miles per hour in under 2.9 seconds. The single motor rear wheel is the slowest off the line with a 0 to 60 mph acceleration of less than 6.5 seconds.
Tesla said customers can put down a $100 deposit. They’ll be able to complete their configuration as production nears in late 2021. Tri Motor AWD production is expected to begin in late 2022.
Musk mentioned on Twitter the desire to produce a pickup truck in April 2017, before the first Model 3 sedans had been handed over to customers and the CEO had entered production hell. At the time, Musk tweeted that a pickup truck would be unveiled in 18 to 24 months.
If Tesla were to hit that mark it would be bringing its electric truck to market after GM and Rivian have started delivering their products.
Rivian is expected to begin vehicle production of its electric R1T pickup truck in the second half of 2020. GM CEO Mary Barra said Thursday during an investor conference that the automaker plans to bring an electric pickup truck to market in 2021. Ford also is planning an electric F-150 truck.
It’s unclear how much demand there will be for electric pickup trucks. However, the demand for gas- and diesel-powered trucks is growing. Large trucks account for 14.4% of new vehicle sales through October, compared to 12.6% in 2015, according to Edmunds.
Midsize trucks accounted for 3.7% of new vehicle sales through October, compared to 1.5% in 2014.
Automakers are keen to tap into that growth since trucks and SUVs, which tend to have higher profit margins than sedans. And those margins could continue to increase if automakers can keep costs down.
The average transaction price of a full-size truck (gas and diesel) crossed $50,000 for the first time in September, and continues to climb, according Jessica Caldwell, the executive director of insights at Edmunds. The average transaction price of a full-size truck was $50,496 in October, and a midsize truck was $36,251.
It’s November. We’re eleven years into a bull run. And a protracted trade war with China — not to mention the impeachment proceedings — are causing some nervousness about what next year will hold.
Little wonder that venture firms, which have been writing checks faster than ever in recent years, are also stocking up on dry powder. In the 10 days alone, some of the many firms to announce new funds include Boldstart Ventures, Drive Capital, .406 Ventures, CAVU Venture Partners, Unusual Ventures, Northzone, Kindred Ventures, EQT Ventures, Inspired Capital, and Norwest Venture Partners.
Newly in the same company is Next Coast Ventures, a firm that just closed on $130 million in fresh capital commitments to pursue a thematic approach and that is focused for right now on the future of work, the rise of digital natives, the death of traditional retail, and the ways that ubiquitous connectivity is changing marketplaces.
It’s the second fund for the firm, which closed its debut fund with a very respectable $85 million, thanks in large part to the backgrounds of its two managing directors. Michael Smerlko previously bought a technology services company called ServiceSource that he ran for 12 years and eventually took public. His cofounder, Thomas Ball, previously spent more than a decade with Austin Ventures.
Interestingly, for many years, Austin Ventures was the only game in town in Austin, but that has changed meaningfully since it announced in 2015 that it wouldn’t be raising more capital. Not only has Next Coast just gathered up more capital, but so have numerous other regional firms this year. In April, for example, we reported on the newest, $105 million, fund raisedLiveOak Ventures. Meanwhile, Silverton Partners, one of the city’s most active investors, is zeroing in on a new $120 million fund just one year after closing a $108 million fund, and several other firms — including ATX Ventures and Quake Capital — are trying to raise sizable new funds.
As for Next Coast, some of its many current bets include Everylywell, a company that sells tens of in-home diagnostic tests and that closed on $50 million in funding earlier this year, and AlertMedia, a cloud-based mass notification system that aims to streamline notifications across devices and platforms and which raised $25 million in Series C funding back in January. (You can check out a longer list of its investments here.)
The firm has also seen five companies in its portfolio sell to acquirers (all for undisclosed terms). While one has yet to be announced, the other four are OnRamp, a cloud hosting company that sold last year to a data and IT company called LightEdge; the personal finance startup Clarity Money, which sold to Goldman Sachs last year; the wardrobe tech company Finery, which sold to Stitch Fix in September; and the smart oven maker Brava, which just yesterday disclosed that it’s being acquired by Middleby, an industrial equipment company.
We were in touch yesterday with Smerlko to learn how Next Coast’s new and bigger fund might differ from its predecessor, by the way, and the answer seems to be: not much. He said check sizes will increase, from a range of $3 million to $7 million into Series A stage companies to more like $5 million to $10 million at the upper end.
He also suggested that NextCoast remains as committed as ever to uncovering and funding talent regionally, something that’s getting easier all the time, evidently. “Austin’s entrepreneurial and startup ecosystem is absolutely booming,” Smerlko wrote us via email. “It’s never been cheaper to start a company, and places like Austin with a high quality of life, growing available capital and a strong entrepreneurial spirit will continue to be a hotbed for founders and tech talent.”
The highest court in Pennsylvania has ruled that the state’s law enforcement cannot force suspects to turn over their password that would unlock their devices.
The state’s Supreme Court said compelling a password from a suspect is a violation of the Fifth Amendment, a constitutional protection that protects suspects from self-incrimination.
It’s not an surprising ruling given other state and federal courts have almost always come to the same conclusion. The Fifth Amendment grants anyone in the U.S. the right to remain silent, which includes the right to not turn over information that could incriminate them in a crime. These days, those protections extend to the passcodes that only a device owner knows.
But the ruling is not expected to affect the ability by police to force suspects to use their biometrics — like their face or fingerprints — to unlock their phone or computer.
Because your passcode is in stored your head and your biometrics are not, prosecutors have long argued that police can compel a suspect into unlocking a device with their biometrics, which they say are not constitutionally protected. The court also did not address biometrics. In a footnote of the ruling, the court said it “need not address” the issue, blaming the U.S. Supreme Court for creating “the dichotomy between physical and mental communication.”
Peter Goldberger, president of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, who presented the arguments before the court, said it was “fundamental” that suspects have the right to “to avoid self-incrimination.”
Despite the spate of rulings in recent years, law enforcement have still tried to find their way around compelling passwords from suspects. The now-infamous Apple-FBI case saw the federal agency try to force the tech giant to rewrite its iPhone software in an effort to beat the password on the handset of the terrorist Syed Rizwan Farook, who with his wife killed 14 people in his San Bernardino workplace in 2015. Apple said the FBI’s use of the 200-year-old All Writs Act would be “unduly burdensome” by putting potentially every other iPhone at risk if the rewritten software leaked or was stolen.
The FBI eventually dropped the case without Apple’s help after the agency paid hackers to break into the phone.
Brett Max Kaufman, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s Center for Democracy said the Pennsylvania case ruling sends a message to other courts to follow in its footsteps.
“The court rightly rejects the government’s effort to create a giant, digital-age loophole undermining our time-tested Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination,” he said. “The government has never been permitted to force a person to assist in their own prosecution, and the courts should not start permitting it to do so now simply because encrypted passwords have replaced the combination lock.”
“We applaud the court’s decision and look forward to more courts to follow in the many pending cases to be decided next,” he added.