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Monthly Archives: December 2020

'The Office' stars ring in 2021 with a *very* on-brand jello stunt



Nothing says “Happy New Year” quite like a good, old-fashioned…jello explosion? Well, OK!

During NBC’s 2021 New Year’s Eve celebration on Thursday, The Office stars Kate Flannery and Oscar Nunez made a surprise appearance to mark the sitcom’s official move from Netflix to Peacock. In a pre-taped stunt, the ludicrously likable sitcom alums reflected on the (to put it mildly) bumpy past few months and enthused over the promise of a fresh trip around the sun. 

Then, they topped off those cozy sentiments by putting some World’s Best Boss-style mugs — that read “2020: Best Year Ever” — inside of a yellow jello mold and blowing them up in the Dunder Mifflin parking lot. Obviously.  Read more…

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Sony to launch PlayStation 5 in India on February 2



Sony said on Friday that it will launch the PlayStation 5 in India on February 2, suggesting improvements in the supply chain network that has been severely throttled by the coronavirus pandemic.

The Japanese firm said it will begin taking pre-order requests for the new gaming console in India, which is the world’s second largest internet market, on January 12. The console will be available for pre-order at Amazon, Flipkart, Croma, Reliance Digital, Games the Shop, Sony Center, Vijay Sales and select other authorized retail partners, the company said.

The announcement today should allay concerns of loyal PlayStation fans, some of whom secured a unit from the gray market at a premium in recent months after India was not included in the first wave of nations for the PS 5. Fans have also been frustrated at Sony and its affiliated partners for not offering clarification or providing conflicting accounts in recent months.

More to follow…

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BadVR is using government grants to build a business that’s independent of venture capital



When the Los Angeles-based extended reality data visualization company, BadVR, first heard that one of its earliest benefactors, Magic Leap, was about to shed 1,000 jobs and was fighting for its life, the young startup was unfazed.

Despite the very public ties that BadVR had to Magic Leap, as one of the enterprise applications on the platform, the startup was more insulated than other businesses from the pivot away from consumer-focused apps.

The first step was finding money from the government’s Paycheck Protection Program to get more capital coming in and maintaining its headcount. Eventually, the company managed to land additional financing in the form of a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

It’s the second grant that the company has taken from the NSF and is an example of how startups can turn to government funding for capital and avoid some of the pitfalls of fundraising from venture capital.

To be sure, even Magic Leap’s trip to the brink of collapse wouldn’t have been that bad for BadVR, which makes enterprise applications for extended reality devices.

What the Magic Leap story shows is that companies don’t need to take venture capital to make it. Indeed, as costs come down for equipment and remote work democratizes access to a country that’s still teeming with engineering talent, thrifty startups can get the capital they need from government sources and corporate innovation grants.

That’s how BadVR got most of its $3.5 million in financing. Some money came from a grant from BadVR, while at least $1.25 million has come from the government in the form of two National Science Foundation cooperative agreements through the Small Business Innovation Research financing mechanisms.

A headset capture of BadVR’s climate change application, built for the Magic Leap One headset. Image Credit: BadVR

BadVR uses virtual and augmented reality tools to visualize geospatial data for a range of government and commercial applications. The startup’s tech is already being used by big telecom companies to accelerate the planning and deployment of 5G networks. And, within the public safety sector, the company’s tech is used to improve situational awareness for first responders and to reduce training, staffing, and operational costs.

“Society has become aware of the power of data and the impact it has on our daily lives.  It’s critically important that we make the access of data easy to every organization, regardless of technical skill level or background,” said Suzanne Borders, the chief executive and founder of BadVR, in a statement. 

For Borders, the key to tapping government funding is all about proper advance planning. “Those take a long time,” Borders said. “When you get awarded them, you’re looking at a year’s worth of effort. [Our grant] was a testament to us planning for that about a year ago.”

These grants are typically milestone-based, so as long as BadVR was hitting its targets, it could be fairly assured that the money would be there.

“NSF is proud to support the technology of the future by thinking beyond incremental  developments and funding the most creative, impactful ideas across all markets and  areas of science and engineering,” said Andrea Belz, Division Director of the Division of  Industrial Innovation and Partnerships at NSF. “With the support of our research funds,  any deep technology startup or small business can guide basic science into meaningful  solutions that address tremendous needs.”  

Other government competitions are providing the company with additional non-dilutive cash and a chance to kcik the tires on new capabilities.

A capture from BadVR’s augmented reality geospatial data environment, which allows users to visualize multiple live and historical datasets via overlays relevant to their environment. Image Credit: BadVR

That has translated into traction for the company’s Augmented Reality Operations Center. The AROC is a new offering for the product that visualizes data for first responders. Through a challenge hosted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, BadVR was able to work with the Eureka, Mo. Fire Department to develop a prototype for a specific emergency situation.

It’s an evolution of an early product the company had developed where enterprises can create digital twins of their factories or stores in virtual reality and do a walk-through to examine different conditions.

The visualization work that BadVR does isn’t necessarily all geo-spatial. The company can take all kinds of data and integrate that into an environment that makes the data easier to see. Borders sees the company’s services extending into creating all kinds of collaborative environments for companies.

“The system highlights things that are important to look at,” Borders said. “It’s virtualizing the data visualization experience and bringing it into an immersive environment — and building a more collaborative aspect to that experience.”

Since the COVID-19 pandemic has forced businesses across the country to operate virtually, Borders said the demand for the kinds of. products her company is building — with the government’s help — has only increased.

“That’s been due to increased demand for remote collaboration tools,” Borders said. “We’ve had increased interest in people across the board — but tools that have remote collaboration capabilities — and bring people together to one immersive data experience… those are taking off.”

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Bose’s latest sleep-centric earbuds mostly do the trick



It’s been a strange year for sleep. For me, levels have fluctuated between too little and too much, but have – more often than not – tended toward the former. 2020 gave most of us no shortage of excuses for sleep deprivation, from personal stresses to larger societal concerns.

And, thankfully, the past few years have seen no shortage of technological solutions to the problem of sleeplessness. Of course, the underpinning issues can be hard to isolate and even harder to treat. There’s no silver bullet. That’s the lesson I keep relearning at this job – no single piece of technology is going to cure all of my ills. (I’m sure it’s nothing that years of extensive and expensive therapy can’t fix.)

Sleep headphones are, in and of themselves, not an entirely new phenomenon. Bose got into the space in earnest back in mid-2018, offering one of the more polished (and pricey) approaches to the category. The company went in an entirely different direction than, say, Kokoon, which offers an over-ear solution.

The Sleepbuds are – as the name suggests – fully wireless earbuds. This second generation allows Bose to address some of the bigger issues with the original – include some major battery complaints. That was a pretty big strike against a $250 pair of headphones with, quite literally, one job.

The battery and connections complaints, I can state, off the bat, seem to have been addressed. The units I’ve been wearing to sleep off and on for a few weeks now haven’t had any major connection issues to speak of (assuming you keep your phone near your bed and all that entails), and the battery generally gets me through a full night bit a bit under 20% remaining. After you wake up, you toss them in the case and let them charge for the next several hours.

Image Credits: Bose

All told, the build is solid, as you’d expect/hope from the company name and accompanying price point. I really dig the design of these things, overall, from the illuminating metal charging case with its sliding lid to the earbuds themselves. As someone who finds the slightest irritants a major hurdle to falling asleep, I was pleasantly surprised by how unobtrusive the buds are. They slip on comfortably and stay flush with the ear, so nothing gets snagged. The soft and rubbery wings also do a great job keeping them in place.

The buds biggest limitation is actually by design. Like the originals, the Sleepbuds II only work with the included app. This is used to pair them, locate them and offers Bose’s library of music. The company generally does a good job curating its own sleep sounds, ranging from nature sounds like rain and wind to self-selected ambient tracks. I got in the habit of listening to the sounds of the ocean while reading Moby Dick each night. A pretty good way to fall asleep, all told.

I appreciate the decision to hamper the functionality to some degree – I suspect I would probably start listening to podcasts and TV shows on the thing, left to my own devices (so to speak). But I would love to see what the buds could do with, say, binaural beats or some other ambient selections. Ultimately, I think giving the consumer choice is ultimately a net positive.

That said, the headphones are well-tuned for their limited (but expanding) library of sounds. There’s no active noise canceling, but the passive cancelation of the buds themselves plus the on-board sound do a good job blocking out things like environmental noise or snoring. They’re probably no match for, say, construction noise, but do a good job with subtler barriers to sleep. They’ll also likely be a good choice for long flights, when we start doing those again.

There are a handful of headphones currently positioned for the sleep market, but Bose’s look to be the most polished package at the moment. The price will understandably be a barrier for many – and the limited sound library could be a dealbreaker for some. But if you have the money – and find getting and staying asleep tough – they’re well worth exploring.

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Elizabeth Warren hates Zoom as much as we all do



If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that Zoom meetings get very tiresome, very fast. Apparently, famous politicians are feeling the hurt as well. 

In a Politico profile of Elizabeth Warren published Thursday, the Massachusetts senator revealed she cannot stand video meetings. Politico described her as someone with “boundless energy [who] scorns Zoom, preferring to pace endlessly on telephone calls.” 

“That’s what I hate about Zoom. You’ve got to plunk your fanny in a chair,” she said. 

As someone who gets a strange urge to pace on calls, I totally get it. 

Zoom has, of course, taken over our lives in 2020, with no signs of relenting. Holidays, therapy sessions, happy hours, yep, it’s all on Zoom now. It’s gotten pretty rote, but you do what you have to do. Even if you’re a senator, apparently.  Read more…

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Extra Crunch’s Top 10 stories of 2020



I edited hundreds of stories in 2020, so choosing my favorites would be an exercise in futility.

Instead, I’ve tried to gather a sample of Extra Crunch stories that taught me something new. (Which means this top 10 list betrays my ignorance, a humbling admission for a know-it-all like myself.)

While narrowing down the field of candidates, I realized that we’re covering each of the topics on this list in greater depth next year. We already have stories in the works about no-code software, the emergence of edtech, proptech and B2B marketplaces, to name just a few.

Some readers are skeptical about paywalls, but without being boastful, Extra Crunch is a premium product, just like Netflix or Disney+. I know: We’re not as entertaining as a historical drama about the reign of Queen Elizabeth II or a space western about a bounty hunter.

But, speaking as someone who’s worked at several startups, Extra Crunch stories contain actionable information you can use to build a company and/or look smart in meetings — and that’s worth something. Thanks for reading, and I hope you have a very happy new year.


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Use discount code ECFriday to save 20% off a one- or two-year subscription


1. The VCs who founders love the most

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Managing Editor Danny Crichton spearheaded the development of The TechCrunch List earlier this year to help seed-stage founders connect with VCs who write first checks.

The TechCrunch List has no paywall and contains details and recommendations about more than 400 investors across 22 verticals. Once it launched, Danny crunched the data to pick out 11 investors for which “founders were particularly effusive in their praise.”

2. API startups are so hot right now

Image Credits: Juana Mari Moya(opens in a new window)/Getty Images (Image has been modified)

Alex Wilhelm uses his weekday column The Exchange to keep a close eye on “private companies, public markets and the gray space in between,” but one effort stood out: An overview of six API-based startups that were “raising capital in rapid-fire fashion” when many companies were trying to find their COVID-19 footing.

For me, this was particularly interesting because it helped me better understand that an optimal pricing structure can be key to a SaaS company’s initial success.

3. ‘No code’ will define the next generation of software
4. Tracking the growth of low-code/no-code startups

Image Credits: Richard Drury(opens in a new window)/Getty Images

Two stories about the advent of no-code/low-code software that we ran in July take the third and fourth position on this list.

I have been a no-code user for some time: Using Zapier to send automated invitations via Slack for group lunches was a real time-saver in the pre-pandemic days.

“Enterprise expenditure on custom software is on track to double from $250 billion in 2015 to $500 billion in 2020,” so we’ll definitely be diving deeper into this topic in the coming months.

5. ‘Edtech is no longer optional’: Investors’ deep dive into the future of the market

Image Credits: PM Images(opens in a new window)/Getty Images

Natasha Mascarenhas picked up TechCrunch’s edtech beat when she joined us just before the pandemic. Twelve months later, she’s an expert on the topic.

In July, she surveyed six edtech investors to “get into the macro-impact of rapid change on edtech as a whole.”

  • Ian Chiu, Owl Ventures
  • Shauntel Garvey and Jennifer Carolan, Reach Capital
  • Jan Lynn-Matern, Emerge Education
  • David Eichler, TCV
  • Jomayra Hererra, Cowboy Ventures

6. B2B marketplaces will be the next billion-dollar e-commerce startups

Image Credits: Kmatta(opens in a new window)/Getty Images

In 2018, B2B marketplaces saw an estimated $680 billion in sales, but that figure is expected to reach $3.6 trillion by 2024.

As companies shifted their purchasing online, these platforms are adding a range of complementary services like payment management, targeted advertising and logistics while also hardening their infrastructure.

7. Facebook’s former PR chief explains why no one is paying attention to your startup

Caryn Marooney, right, vice president of technology communications at Facebook, poses for a picture on the red carpet for the 6th annual 2018 Breakthrough Prizes at Moffett Federal Airfield, Hangar One in Mountain View, Calif., on Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017. Image Credits: Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group

Reporter Lucas Matney spoke to Caryn Marooney in August at TechCrunch Early Stage about how startup founders who hope to expand their reach need to do a better job of connecting with journalists.

“People just fundamentally aren’t walking around caring about this new startup,” she said. “Actually, nobody does.”

Speaking as someone who’s been on both sides of this equation, I most appreciated her advice about focusing on “simplicity and staying consistent” when it comes to messaging.

“Don’t let the complexity of your intellect cloud what needs to be simple,” she said.

8. You need a minimum viable company, not a minimum viable product

Image Credits: alvarez(opens in a new window)/Getty Images

In a guest post for Extra Crunch, seed-stage VC Ann Miura-Ko shared some of what she’s learned about “the magic of product-market fit,” which she termed “the defining quality of an early-stage startup.”

According to Miura-Ko, a co-founding partner at Floodgate, startups can only reach this stage when their business model, value propositions and ecosystem are in balance.

Using lessons learned from her portfolio companies like Lyft, Refinery29 and Twitch, this article should be required reading for every founder. As one commenter posted, “I read this thinking, ‘I need to add some slides to my deck!’

9. 6 investment trends that could emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic

10 January 2020, Berlin: Doctor Olaf Göing, chief physician of the clinic for internal medicine at the Sana Klinikum Lichtenberg, tests mixed-reality 3D glasses for use in cardiology. They can thus access their patients’ medical data and visualize the finest structures for diagnostics and operation planning by hand and speech. The Sana Clinic is, according to its own statements, the first hospital in the world to use this novel technology in cardiology. Image Credits: Jens Kalaene/picture alliance via Getty Images

During “the early innings of this period of uncertainty,” an article we published offered several predictions about investor behavior in the U.S.

Although we posted this in April, each of these forecasts seem spot-on:

  1. Future of work: promoting intimacy and trust.
  2. Healthcare IT: telemedicine and remote patient monitoring.
  3. Robotics and supply chain.
  4. Cybersecurity.
  5. Education = knowledge transfer + social + signaling.
  6. Fintech.

10. Construction tech startups are poised to shake up a $1.3-trillion-dollar industry

Image Credits: Steve Proehl(opens in a new window)/Getty Images

I’ve always found the concept of total addressable market (TAM) hard to embrace fully — the arrival of a single disruptive company could change an industry’s TAM in a week.

However, several factors are combining to transform the construction industry: high fragmentation, poor communication, a skilled labor shortage and a lack of data transparency.

Startups that help builders manage aspects like pre-construction, workflow and site visualization are making huge strides, but because “construction firms spend less than 2% of annual sales volume on IT,” the size of this TAM is not at all speculative.

11. Don’t let VCs be the gatekeepers of your success

Image Credits: PM Images(opens in a new window)/Getty Images

As a bonus, I’m including a TechCrunch op-ed written by insurtech founder Kevin Henderson that describes the myriad challenges he has faced as a Black entrepreneur in Silicon Valley.

Some of the discussions about the lack of diversity in tech can feel abstract, but his post describes its concrete consequences. For starters: he’s never had an opportunity to pitch at a VC firm where there was another Black person in the room.

“Black founders have a better chance playing pro sports than they do landing venture investments,” says Henderson.

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NYC MTA’s contactless fare system completes rollout, will phase out MetroCard in 2023



On the last day of 2020, New York City’s Metro Transit Authority announced that it has finished its roll out of contactless payment systems. With the addition of a final stop in Brooklyn, every MTA subway station and bus in the five boroughs now sports the OMNY “Tap and Go” system.

We got an early demo of the Grand Central terminals when the project rollout began last May. The system involves a major infrastructure overhaul as the transit authority looks beyond the iconic Metro Card to mobile payment systems from vendors like Apple, Google, Samsung and Fitbit – allowing users to use smartphones and smartwatches to swipe their way through the turn style.

The MTA had expected to finish the project by October – though COVID-19 put the kibosh on those plans along with so much else. The goal was pushed back to December, and it appears it’s been met with no time to spare.

MetroCards are sticking around for the time being – though the MTA expects they will be phased out at some point in 2023. Part of the transition involves the arrival of the OMNY Card, which use the new technology but function similarly to MetroCard. A reduced far version of the card is set to arrive for riders who qualify at some point in 2021. The new readers are also coming to the Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road systems.

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Goodbye Flash, goodbye FarmVille



While much of what made 2020 such an absolute nightmare will still be with us on January 1 (sorry!), we will really, truly be leaving Adobe Flash and FarmVille behind as we enter the new year.

The end of Flash has been a long time coming. The plugin, which was first released in 1996 and once supported a broad swath online content, has become increasingly irrelevant in a smartphone-centric world: iPhones never supported Flash, and it’s been just over 10 years since Apple’s then-CEO Steve Jobs published an open letter outlining the technology’s shortcomings.

Adobe has been planning for the end, announcing in 2017 that it would phase out Flash by the end of this year. Most web browsers have already stopped supporting Flash, and today is the official end date, with Adobe ending support itself — although there’s still one last “death of Flash” milestone on January 12, when the company will begin to block Flash content from playing.

In related news, Zynga announced recently that the end of Flash would also mean the end of FarmVille, since the game relies on the Flash plugin.

Like Flash, FarmVille feels like a remnant of a bygone internet era (a fact that makes me feel incredibly old, since I wrote plenty of words about both of them at the beginning of my career). Launched in 2009, FarmVille’s popularity paved the way for the ascendance of Zynga and of Facebook gaming, but both Zynga and gaming have largely moved on.

The company’s co-founder and former CEO Mark Pincus commemorated the occasion with a series of tweets outlining the game’s early development (spurred by the acquisition of startup MyMiniLife).

“FarmVille demonstrated that a game could be a living, always-on service that could deliver daily surprise and delight, similar to a favorite TV series,” Pincus wrote. “Games could also connect groups of people and bring them closer together.”

And just in case there are any FarmVille fans reading this story, don’t worry: you can still play FarmVille 2: Tropic Escape, FarmVille 2: Country Escape right now, and FarmVille 3 is still coming to mobile. Today is just the final day for the original game.

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After burning through $2 billion, Katerra gets a $200 million SoftBank lifeline to escape bankruptcy



SoftBank Group is reportedly investing $200 million to bail out Katerra, a startup that had hoped to remake the construction industry with a vertically integrated approach, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal.

Katerra’s shareholders reportedly approved the new investment on Wednesday, with the new lifeline from SoftBank coming on top of roughly $2 billion that the Japanese technology conglomerate had already committed to the venture.

Funds for the bailout, which will save Katerra from bankruptcy, will be coming from SoftBank’s Vision Fund 1, the Journal quoted Katerra chief executive Paal Kibsgaard as telling company shareholders in a message.

As part of the funding, the SoftBank-financed financial services firm, Greensill Capital, is cancelling around $435 million in debt in exchange for a 5% stake in the company, according to the Journal’s reporting.

This new bailout actually marks the second time that SoftBank has stepped in to dole out $200 million to Katerra this year alone.

In May, when Kibsgaard, the former head of oil services developer Schlumberger, was brought in to fix the company’s finances, SoftBank poured $200 million into the company so Kibsgaard could right the ship there, according to the Journal’s reporting.

Katerra has raised multiple hundreds of million dollar rounds from the Japanese technology conglomerate since its launch in 2015. Back in 2018, when the company closed on $865 million in financing, Katerra was claiming bookings for $1.3 billion worth of commercial and residential projects ranging from hospitality to student housing. That’s a large number, but a fraction of the $1 trillion spent on construction in the month of November 2018 alone, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Katerra has been hit by delays and cost overruns on some projects, while the COVID-19 pandemic delayed others. And irregularities that the company discovered in accounting practices also added to headaches, according to the Journal.

Despite its missteps, Katerra is on track to make serious cash this year, with revenue between $1.5 billion and $2 billion, according to details Kibsgaard gave to the Journal.

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Watch hundreds of people sing a sea shanty together, virtually



At this point, we’re all pretty sick of anything to do with video calls, but The Longest Johns have managed to do something surprising and cool. 

The folk group rounded up nearly 500 people to sing the sea shanty, “Leave Her Johnny.” The end result it a pretty neat recording, but what’s really cool is seeing all kinds of folks singing (and signing) along with the song. When the frame zooms out, and you see the joyful looks of folks doing their part, it’s pretty cool.

As the band wrote in its description of the video, “Hopefully this video gives you a bit of optimism for the future at the end of such a dreary year.” Read more…

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