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Astra encounters anomaly during pre-launch testing, will evaluate options for next attempt

2020, March 25 - 1:22am

Rocket launch startup Astra, which had been attempting to claim DARPA’s prize for successful demonstration of flexible space launch capabilities until earlier this month, will not be moving forward with an attempted flight of its launch vehicle this week as planned. The company’s “One of Three” rocket ran into an “anomaly” during pre-launch testing in preparation for its flight this week, and the schedule for a make-up launch is currently is currently up in the air.

“Astra’s launch vehicle ‘One of Three’ suffered an anomaly following an otherwise successful day of testing in Kodiak in preparation for a launch this week,” explained Astra CEO and founder Chris Kemp via email. “Fortunately, our own hardware was the only thing harmed, and our team is already hard at work to determine the root cause so that we can improve the vehicle’s design. As a result of yesterday’s anomaly we will no longer be attempting a launch this week. We do intend to attempt another launch from Kodiak once conditions with coronavirus improve and we have resolved the cause of yesterday’s incident.”

Astra’s launches are set to take off from Kodiak Launch Complex, which is located at the Pacific Spaceport Complex in Alaska. The company had challenges with weather conditions leading up to its attempts to win the $2 million DARPA prize, the deadline for which expired at the beginning of March, but the anomaly yesterday had to do with the vehicle hardware itself, and not external conditions. Local news additionally reported this morning that while the emergency response triggered by the anomaly had ended, the “area is still hazardous and should be avoided,” according to Alaska Aerospace CEO Mark Lester.

Kemp also cited the current coronavirus crisis in his statement to TechCrunch, and while that doesn’t look like it contributed to any technical issues, the ongoing global pandemic definitely seems likely to impact any attempted work that would involve repairs or rescheduling the launch at this time.

Categories: Business News

Startup valuations drop as exits are delayed and the stock market reprices tech

2020, March 25 - 1:00am

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.

The public markets are in turmoil as the economic impact of COVID-19 comes into focus; however, it is less clear what the impact of the changing value of public companies today will have on the valuations of private firms.

Startup valuations are impacted by a host of factors, one of which is the value of their public comparables (comps); if public comps lose value, private startup comps tend to earn lower valuations. This leads us to a key question: Are the stock market’s recent declines impacting the value of private startups?

To get an answer, TechCrunch spoke with Phil Haslett, the chief revenue officer at EquityZen. Haslett is a founder at the company, which helps owners of stock in private startups sell their shares to interested buyers. We were curious if there was a noticeable impact on prices so far and how demand might be shifting on both sides of its marketplace.

Public prices, private values

Categories: Business News

Instagram launches Co-Watching of posts during video chat

2020, March 25 - 12:03am

Now you can scroll Instagram together with friends, turning a typically isolating, passive experience into something more social and active. Today Instagram launched Co-Watching, which lets friends on a video chat or group video chat browse through feed posts one user has Liked or Saved, or that Instagram recommends.

Co-Watching could let people ooh, ahh, joke and talk about Instagram’s content instead of just consuming it solo and maybe posting it to a chat thread so friends can do the same. That could lead to long usage sessions, incentivize users to collect a great depository of Saved posts to share and spur more video calls that drag people into the app. TechCrunch first reported Instagram was testing Co-Watching a year ago, so we’ll see if it managed to work out the technical and privacy questions of operating the feature.

The launch comes alongside other COVID-19 responses from Instagram that include:

  • Showing a shared Instagram Story featuring all the posts from you network that include the “Stay Home” sticker
  • Adding Story stickers that remind people to wash their hands or keep their distance from others
  • Adding coronavirus educational info to the top of results for related searches
  • Removing unofficial COVID-19 accounts from recommendations, as well as virus-related content from Explore if it doesn’t come from a credible health organization
  • Expanding the donation sticker to more countries so people can search for and ask friends for contributions to relevant nonprofits

These updates build on Instagram’s efforts from two weeks ago, which included putting COVID-19 prevention tips atop the feed, listing official health organizations atop search results and demoting the reach of coronavirus-related content rated false by fact checkers.

But Co-Watching will remain a powerful feature long after the quarantines and social distancing end. The ability to co-view content while browsing social networks has already made screensharing app Squad popular. When Squad launched in January 2019, I suggested that, “With Facebook and Snap already sniffing around Squad, it’s quite possible they’ll try to copy it.” Facebook tested a Watch Together feature for viewing Facebook Watch videos inside Messenger back in April. And now here we are with Instagram.

Squad is the new screensharing chat app everyone will copy

The question is whether Squad’s first-mover advantage and option to screenshare from any app will let it hold its own, or if Instagram Co-Watching will just popularize the concept and send users searching for more flexible options like Squad. “Everyone knows that the content flooding our feeds is a filtered version of reality,” Squad CEO Esther Crawford told me. “The real and interesting stuff goes down in DMs because people are more authentic when they’re 1:1 or in small group conversations.”

Squad, which lets you screenshare anything, including websites and your camera roll, won’t be fully steamrolled. When asked if Instagram would build a full-fledged screensharing feature, Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri said they’re “Not currently working on it . . . screensharing is not at the top of the list for us at Instagram.”

With Co-Watching, Instagram users can spill the tea and gossip about posts live and unfiltered over video chat. When people launch a video chat from the Direct inbox or a chat thread, they’ll see a “Posts” button that launches Co-Watching. They’ll be able to pick from their Liked, Saved or Explore feeds and then reveal it to the video chat, with everyone’s windows lined up beneath the post.

Up to six people can Co-Watch at once on Instagram, consuming feed photos and videos but not IGTV posts. You can share public posts, or private ones that everyone in the chat are allowed to see. If one participant is blocked from viewing a post, it’s ineligible for Co-Watching.

Co-Watching could finally provide an answer to Instagram’s Time Well Spent problem. Research shows how the real danger in social network overuse is passive content consumption, like endless solo feed scrolling. It can inspire envy, poor self-esteem and leave users deflated, especially if the highlights of everyone else’s lives look more interesting than their own day-to-day reality. But active sharing, commenting and messaging can have a positive effect on well-being, making people feel like they have a stronger support network.

With Co-Watching, Instagram has found a way to turn the one-player experience into a multi-player game. Especially now with everyone stuck at home and unable to crowd around one person’s phone to gab about what they see, there’s a great need for this new feature. One concern is that it could be used for bullying, with people all making fun of someone’s posts.

But in general, the idea of sifting through cute animal photos, dance tutorials or epic art could take the focus off the individuals in a video chat. Not having one’s face as the center of attention could make video chat less performative and exhausting. Instead, Co-Watching could let us do apart what we love to do together: just hang out.

Categories: Business News

Dear Sophie: How is COVID-19 affecting immigration?

2020, March 24 - 11:15pm
Sophie Alcorn Contributor Share on Twitter Sophie Alcorn is the founder of Alcorn Immigration Law in Silicon Valley and 2019 Global Law Experts Awards’ “Law Firm of the Year in California for Entrepreneur Immigration Services.” She connects people with the businesses and opportunities that expand their lives. More posts by this contributor

“Dear Sophie” is an advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

“Dear Sophie” columns are accessible for Extra Crunch subscribers; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one or two-year subscription for 50% off.

Dear Sophie:

There’s a lot of misinformation going around the internet on immigration right now. Can you provide a clear explanation of how immigration policies are shifting in response to COVID-19?

— Overwhelmed in Palo Alto

Categories: Business News

Where top VCs are investing in D2C

2020, March 24 - 10:30pm

If you’re looking for toothbrushes, skin-care face masks, mattresses, glasses or even socks, there’s a digitally-native, direct-to-consumer (D2C) company or two that can help you out.

And thanks to smart digital marketing, the cult followings that ensue and the economics of e-commerce, D2C has changed how we relate to consumer goods (while attracting a waterfall of investment dollars).

Globally, D2C startups have raised between $8 billion to $10 billion in known venture capital across more than 600 deals since the start of 2019, according to Crunchbase data. The industry was catalyzed by a number of nine-figure deals for companies like Glossier, which sells makeup products, and Ro, which is a telehealth startup.

Indeed, when prepping this post for publication, our list of notable D2C rounds since the start of 2019 grew long enough that we abandoned the idea of including a digest. The sector has been active across a host of verticals, making it hard to sum up in terms other than rounds and dollars invested.

But those are trailing indicators of what is going on between D2C startups and their investors. TechCrunch was curious, especially in the wake of the troubled Casper IPO, how investor sentiment might have shifted and what venture capitalists are looking for in the category.

To get a grip on the matter, we caught up with Nicole Quinn from Lightspeed Venture Partners, Ben Lerer and Caitlin Strandberg from Lerer Hippeau, Gareth Jefferies from Northzone, Matthew Hartman of Betaworks Ventures, Alexis Ohanian of Initialized Capital and Luca Bocchio of Accel.

We got into advice for founders looking to raise, whether influencer marketing is worth it and which channel one investor says is an “all-but-closed door for most D2C companies.” We’ll start with a summary of the three trends that stood out the most from our collected answers and then share the full investor digests.

Three key themes for D2C in 2020
Categories: Business News

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