Wij willen met u aan tafel zitten en in een openhartig gesprek uitvinden welke uitdagingen en vragen er bij u spelen om zo, gezamelijk, tot een beste oplossing te komen. Oftewel, hoe kan de techniek u ondersteunen in plaats van dat u de techniek moet ondersteunen.

Editor’s note: Get this free weekly recap of TechCrunch news that any startup can use by email every Saturday morning (7am PT). Subscribe here.

Which startups investors are actually first to backing the best companies? If you know this information before fundraising, you can avoid pitching investors who were always going to tell you that you’re “too early” anyway. The problem is that everyone claims credit for success, and by the time you pick through databases, investor sites, blogs, tweets and news clippings, you have no real idea who made what call when.

That’s why our solution is to just ask founders about who really made it happen. Our new product, The TechCrunch List, will feature the investors who wrote the first checks, to help any founder find the help they need when they need it. Here’s more, from Arman Tabatabai and Danny Crichton:

Over the next few weeks, we’re going to be collecting data around which individual investors are actually willing to write the proverbial “first check” into a startup’s fundraising round and help catalyze deals for founders — whether it be seed, Series A or otherwise (i.e. out of your Series A investors, the first person who was willing to write the check and get the ball rolling with other investors). Once we’ve collected, cleaned and analyzed the data, we’ll publish lists of the most recommended “first check” investors across different verticals, investment stages and geographies, so founders can see which investors are potentially the best fit for their company….

In all, The TechCrunch List will publish the most recommended “first check” writers across 22 different categories, ranging from D2C & e-commerce brands to space, and everything in between. Through some data analysis around total investments in each space, we believe our 22 categories should cover the entirety or majority of the venture activity today.

To make this project a success and create a useful resource for founders, we need your help. We want to hear from company builders and we want to hear from them directly. We will be collecting endorsements submitted by founders through the form linked here.

(Photo by Steven Damron used under Creative Commons).

Valley dealflow has continued through the pandemic

Despite much discussion about investors pulling back en masse from startup investing, a new survey out from Silicon Valley tech law firm Fenwick & West about activity in the region over April says that valuations went up, markdown rounds did not grow as a percentage of deals, and the overall pace of deals actually increased. The catch, Connie Loizos writes for TechCrunch, is that much of this was due to later-stage rounds, and of course, it is generalized across industries that have been variously propelled or pummeled by the pandemic.

Alex Wilhelm then looks at a couple additional reports for Extra Crunch, from Docsend and NFX. They appear to show ongoing investor activity growth since April, as well as growing founder optimism — but early stage did in fact appear to be more turbulent, as, ahem, one might expect if one has experience in early-stage fundraising. He separately notes that the latest tracking data sources appear to show a decline in startup layoffs. Both are, by the way, written as part of The Exchange, his new daily column about the latest trends in the startup world for EC subscribers (use code EXCHANGE to get 25% off a subscription).

Image Credits: Klaud Vedfelt (opens in a new window) / Getty Images (Image has been modified)

Beyond Valley dealflow (and its problems)

Juneteenth has been celebrated since 1866 to mark the end of slavery after the American Civil War. But this year, it is being taken up by tech companies as an official holiday to help show their concern for structural discrimination in the wake of the George Floyd killing and ensuing global protests. What does it really mean though? Here’s Megan Rose Dickey for TechCrunch:

Recognition of such a historic day is good. But the way these companies are publicly announcing their plans, seeking press as they do, suggests their need for some affirmative pat on the back. It’s perfectly acceptable to do the right thing and not get credit for it. It shows humility. It shows that a company is more interested in doing right by its workers than it is in saving face….

Instead, as Hustle Crew founder Abadesi Osunsade has said, tech companies need to go beyond one-off actions and form habits around racial justice work. Forming habits around hiring Black people, promoting Black employees, paying Black employees fairly, funding Black founders and making room for Black people in leadership positions is what will lead to concrete change in this industry.

Meanwhile, given the ongoing issues in fundraising, Delali Dzirasa of Fearless writes about other resources Black entrepreneurs can use to get their companies off the ground, including equity crowdfunding, mentor programs, 8(a) programs, SBA resources, and your local commercial banker.

Image Credits: PipeCandy

Online winners and also-rans during the pandemic

Two marketing experts shared fresh data on what categories are winning and losing during the pandemic for Extra Crunch this week, perhaps revealing where some of the founder and investor enthusiasm is coming from? First, here’s Ethan Smith of Graphite, who provides an overview of how money is being spent online during the pandemic using data from Branch through mid-May:

The good news for vendors overall is that people are still shopping online, but they’re buying different things and in different volumes than they used to. Kid/pet-oriented mobile activity and associated purchases have skyrocketed. We’ve also seen spikes in the purchase of activewear, fashion items, shoes and arts and crafts items, as people wait out the lockdown and prepare for what they hope will be a summer of freedom.

To dig into the direct-to-consumer category in more detail, here’s Ashwin Ramasamy of PipeCandy, who uses a mix of data sources to look at subcategory trends versus what the year might have looked like without a pandemic:

Kids, cookware and kitchen tools, apparel, fine jewelry, fashion, women’s health, mattresses, furniture and skincare actually deviated negatively from the forecast. This is not to say that these categories declined. We are actually saying that these categories didn’t keep up with the growth trends they orchestrated in 2019. That said, the devil is in the details. For instance, within furniture, there is a category of D2C brands that sell shelves and office furniture. Consumers did invest in them heavily, presumably to allow participants in the Zoom call to absorb more the titles of the books stacked in those shelves than from the calls themselves. Wine/spirits, grocery, fitness, baby care, pets and nutraceuticals did better than anticipated. Basically, anything that helped numb the reality (alcohol), sweeten the reality (food), distract from the reality (baby care and pets), survive the reality (fitness) or hallucinate an alternative reality (nutraceuticals) did well. I will leave you with another interesting conclusion we arrived at, through further research that is currently underway: The spotlight category in e-commerce is not direct to consumer — it is the mid-market and large pure-play e-commerce companies. It is one segment where the compounded quarterly growth rate of active companies is better than the 2019 average.

Around TechCrunch

Founders can reap long-term benefits after exhibiting in Disrupt’s Startup Alley

Extra Crunch Live: Join Superhuman’s Rahul Vohra for a live discussion of email, SaaS and buzzy businesses

Learn how to give your brand a distinct voice from Slack’s Head of Brand Communications Anna Pickard at TC Early Stage

New sessions announced at TC Early Stage from Dell, Perkins Coie and SVB

HappyFunCorp’s Ben Schippers and Jon Evans will talk tech stacks at TC Early Stage

Across the week

TechCrunch:

Where are all the robots?

Despite pandemic setbacks, the clean energy future is underway

TikTok explains how the recommendation system behind its ‘For You’ feed works

Chris Sacca advises new fund managers to strike right now

Extra Crunch:

What’s next for space tech? 9 VCs look to the future

How Liberty Mutual shifted 44,000 workers from office to home

Superhuman’s Rahul Vohra says recession is the ‘perfect time’ to be aggressive for well-capitalized startups

Investors based in San Francisco? That’s so 2019

How Reliance Jio Platforms became India’s biggest telecom network

4 months into lockdown, Eventbrite CEO Julia Hartz sees ‘exciting signs of recovery’

#EquityPod

From Alex:

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

Your humble Equity team is pretty tired but in good spirits, as there was a lot to talk about this week…

  • Epic Games is looking to raise a huge stack of cash (BloombergVentureBeat) at a new, higher valuation. We were curious about how its lower-cut store could help it gain inroads with developers big and small. That part of the chat, the take-rate of the Fortnite parent company on the work of others was very cogent to the other main topic of the day:
  • Apple vs. DHH. So Hey launched this week, and the new spin on email quickly overshadowed its product launch by getting into a spat with Apple about whether it needs to add the ability to sign up for the paid service on iOS, thus giving Apple a cut of its revenue. DHH and crew do not agree. Apple is under fire for anti-competitive practices at home and abroad — of varying intensity, and from different sources — making this all the more spicy.
  • Upgrade raises $ 40 million for its credit-focused neobank.
  • Degreed raises $ 32 million for its upskilling platform.
  • And, at the end, our take on the current health of the startup market. There have been a sheaf of reports lately about what is going on in startup land. We gave our take.

And that’s that. Have a lovely weekend and catch up on some sleep.

Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.


TechCrunch

SpaceX has launched its latest batch of Starlink satellites, growing the constellation by another 58 spacecraft just 10 days after its most recent Starlink launch. That brings the total number of operational Starlink broadband internet satellites on orbit to 538. SpaceX also split the payload for this Starlink mission for the first time, giving up two of its usual Starlink payload complement in order to also carry three Planet Skysat spacecraft on behalf of that client.

SpaceX’s latest Starlink launch was significant not only because it brings the company closer to its goal of actually operating a consumer-facing broadband internet service, which it hopes to begin doing for a limited pool of customers in the U.S. and Canada by later this year, but also because these Starlink satellites carried new modifications designed to make them more astronomer-friendly.

Starlink, because of its size and the relatively low-altitude orbit that they traverse, has been criticized by nighttime scientific observers because they present a potentially bright distraction as they pass overhead. SpaceX launched one Starlink satellite equipped with a new deployable sun visor it created that can block reflections of sunlight off of their antenna surfaces, and on this launch, each of the 58 satellites was outfitted with this new mitigating technology.

Hopefully, that means that Starlink can now exist more harmoniously with scientists who rely on Earth-based observation of the stars and night sky, but the ultimately proof will be in what difference these solar visors make when deployed in volume among the Starlink constellation.

This mission was also the first conducted under SpaceX’s formalized SmallSat Rideshare Program, which offers small satellite operators a chance to book a ride aboard an upcoming SpaceX launch in a relatively flexible, ‘on-demand’ manner using a web portal SpaceX created for the purpose. SpaceX’s efforts to offer more value to the rideshare business reflects a recognition that other launch providers like Rocket Lab, which tailor specifically to that market segment, are significant potential competition to its overall bottom line.

The launch today, which occurred at 5:21 AM EDT (2:21 AM PDT) also included a recovery landing of the Falcon 9 first stage booster used to propel the payload to space. This booster also previously flew on two of SpaceX’s Dragon cargo resupply missions to the International Space Station.


TechCrunch

The United Launch Alliance (ULA) is targeting a liftoff time of 9:14 AM EDT (6:14 AM PDT) today for an Atlas V rockets carrying the Boeing-built X-37B orbital test vehicle on behalf of the U.S. space force, which is an autonomous winged spaceplane that looks a little like a scaled down version of the Space Shuttle .

This is the sixth mission for the X-37B, though it’s the first flown under the U.S. Space Force’s supervision, since the space plane was previously operated by the Air Force before the formation of the new wing of the U.S. armed forces.

The X-37B runs various missions for the U.S., though its specific aims are actually classified. The uncrewed test vehicle spends long periods on orbit circling the Earth while conducting these missions, with its longest mission to date being a record 780 days for its flight that landed on October 27.

This launch was rescheduled from Saturday, due to poor weather conditions, and its delay means that the SpaceX Starlink mission that was scheduled to take off from Kennedy in Florida today is now pushed out to Tuesday, due to a tropical storm that looks to be developing on Monday at its original backup date.


TechCrunch

Everlywell was one of the first startups to announce that it was working on a self-administered, at-home COVID-19 diagnostic kit, but it initially sought out to ship kits before regulators made clear that this was not in line with its guidelines. Everlywell then became intent on working with the FDA to secure a proper Emergency Use Authorization for its kits before sending any to consumers, and that approach has paid off with the U.S. drug regulator issuing an EUA for Everlywell’s tech today.

Everlywell‘s COVID-19 Test Home Collection Kit is the first standalone sample collection kit to be granted a proper EUA by the FDA. Other kits have been in use through physician-prescribed and directed collection, and others still have been authorized specifically for use with one test (where provider of both kit and test are the same). This approval is unique because Everlywell is offering its sample kit independent of any specific testing lab, and can work with a variety of labs to potentially provide a broader testing footprint.

The test kits are then sent to one of two labs currently authorized under separate EUAs for COVID-19 testing, and the administration notes that this could expand to other test providers in future should they file for an EUA and provide the requisite data that goes along with the verification required for that emergency approval. The FDA cites Everlywell’s work in collecting and presenting data from studies including those supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to show that samples collected at home using its nasal swab collection method remain stable during shipping.

That data is also now available to others looking to provide similar test kit offerings, the FDA notes, which should reduce the burden of proof on anyone looking to gain authorization for a competing product. That could potentially open up testing even further, reducing a bottleneck that many public health professionals see as one of the key drivers of a successful recovery.

“The authorization of a COVID-19 at-home collection kit that can be used with multiple tests at multiple labs not only provides increased patient access to tests, but also protects others from potential exposure,” said Jeffrey Shuren, M.D., J.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health in a statement provided to TechCrunch. “Today’s action is also another great example of public-private partnerships in which data from a privately funded study was used by industry to support an EUA request, saving precious time as we continue our fight against this pandemic.”


TechCrunch

Despite the worldwide impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, global smartwatch shipments continued to grow during the first three months of the year, driven by online sales, says a new report by research firm Strategy Analytics.

Shipments grew 20% annually to reach 13.7 million units in the first quarter of 2020, up from 11.4 million units in the previous quarter. Apple Watch stayed in the top position, with 55% global market share, followed in second place by Samsung. Garmin rose to third place.

“Smartwatches are selling well through online retail channels, while many consumers have been using smartwatches to monitor their health and fitness during virus lockdown,” wrote Strategy Analytics senior analyst Steven Waltzer.

In the first quarter of 2020, 7.6 million Apple Watches shipped, a 23% increase from the 6.2 million shipped during the same period one year ago. Apple Watch’s market share grew from 54% to 55%.

Samsung shipped 1.9 million smartwatches, compared to 1.7 million last year, while its market share went down from 15% to 14%. Waltzer writes that Samsung’s smartwatch growth was slowed by the coronavirus lockdown in South Korea and new competition from rivals like Garmin .

Garmin took the number three position for the first time in two years, shipping 1.1 million smartwatches in the first quarter, a 38% increase from 800,000 a year ago. This grew Garmin’s share of the global smartwatch market from 7% to 8%, thanks to new models like the Venu with OLED color touchscreen.

Strategy Analytics expects global smartwatch shipments to slow in the second quarter of 2020 because of the pandemic, but recover during the second half of the year, as stores reopen and some consumers turn to smartwatches to help them monitor their health.

“Smartwatches continue to have excellent long-term prospects, as younger and older people will become more health-conscious in a post-virus world,” wrote analyst Woody Oh. “Smartwatches can monitor vital health signs, such as oxygen levels, and consumers may find comfort in having a virtual health assistant strapped to their wrist.”


TechCrunch

During these long, mundane physically-distant days, stretching on into an uncertain future like an ever-lengthening beigeish corridor, it’s impossible not to miss hanging out with friends. Especially the kind of hanging out where you’re not really doing anything in particular, not talking about any one thing—just kind of being.

As we continue to stay physically distant from one another, it can be hard to feel socially present with the tools we have. Even with Zoom and other more casual chat apps, video chat can feel sort of flat. (And for those of us lucky enough to be working from home, visiting friends after work with the same tools we use to do work stuff doesn’t always feel great.) More often than not, we sit, stationary at our designated video-chat-spot, trade reports from self-quarantine and maybe drag in a cat or a kid or two.

But even untethered from our desks with more playful video chat apps or innovations like Facebook’s Portal and its roving eye, there’s still something else that doesn’t get conveyed. With flat screens, we have little sense of our physical selves in relation to one another. Socializing spatially, as it turns out, is something we probably took for granted. But the gaming world has understood this for years.

Now more than ever, we need creative ways to feel present with other people. The whole crisis looks like a huge opportunity for the gaming industry, but also one for more transcendent digital social experiences that don’t just look like playing a few rounds of Call of Duty after work. Hopefully, these experiences could be so imaginative that we don’t even know what they could look like yet.

If VR had delivered on its early promise, we’d all probably be living in it right now. The idea of having some kind of shared virtual realm is still a potent one, but the additional hardware has proven too prohibitive to get the average person on board (for now, at least) and even the coolest VR experiences remain niche. Still, it’s clear that we want to come together, not just in Instagram DMs and email threads, but as avatars navigating shared spaces. Somehow.

Virtual worlds getting it right

If the mainstream crossover success of Animal Crossing is any indication, people have a huge appetite for virtual spaces right now. Even with Nintendo’s truly painful online multiplayer experience, there’s something fun and special about visiting a friend, bopping each other with nets and showing them your new digs.

In Animal Crossing, this is truly a more-than-the-sum-of-its-parts experience. The last time I genuinely laughed and could not stop was visiting my younger sister’s Animal Crossing island right after the game launched. In spite of the interface’s few emotes and harsh character limits, her weird sense of humor managed to bubble up through the game’s limitations. And those constraints made it more special, for some reason. When I left her island I felt a pang of sadness at leaving her funny little physical manifestation, running circles around my own. It felt different than signing out of a video chat or dropping out of a conversation via text.

These experiences are happening on an individual level, but also a collective one—and people are getting creative. One of the writers from Rogue One just made his own in-game Animal Crossing talkshow, complete with its own tiny guest couch and cityscape view.

A developer in New York even launched a dev conference that took place entirely on an Animal Crossing island. Much like a normal conference, “Deserted Island DevOps” boasted speakers, moderators and even talks to be uploaded to YouTube after the fact.

Plenty of players are using Animal Crossing for more intimate get-togethers too, like celebrating Ramadan and Passover last month or just gathering far-flung friends or family together in one place.

 

The pandemic is showing us that the sweet spot of mainstream virtual presence might be something more than a Zoom-like video conference but less than a full-on virtual reality experience. Video games, or more specifically video games as platforms, seem to be resonating right now, even among the kinds of people who wouldn’t identify as gamers. That last bit is important.

This is something that Fortnite maker Epic Games has been doing right for a while now. There’s a reason that Fortnite, like Animal Crossing, brought non-gamers into the fold. Sure, Fortnite is fun and addictive, but lots of games are fun and addictive—and Fortnite is much harder than a lot of those games.

Epic’s real innovation is its buttery-smooth social layer that seamlessly connects players across platforms. If you can talk a friend into downloading an app, you’re in business. Of course, other games get this right too (Minecraft comes to mind, of course, and others) but timing is everything right now. And Fortnite’s team is cleverly iterating on its already-good ideas.

This week, Epic added a new deliberately chill game mode called Party Royale to Fortnite—a new island just for hanging out with friends. Littered with appropriately zany non-lethal weapons like throwable hamburgers and paintball guns, Party Royale is a designated space where you can take a group and chat while doing mindless yet amusing nonsense, like awkwardly kicking a soccer ball around (I did this with a total stranger for 20 minutes for some reason!) or driving virtual ATVs off virtual precipices.

And like much of Epic’s battle royale hit, the island itself is over-the-top weird, stocked with everything from a pirate ship to a music festival grounds awash in colorful lights, gigantic neon dancers and a very psychedelic vibe, molly not included. There’s even a drive-in movie screen, like another area of the main game, which could signal interesting things to come. If we’re lucky and Epic expands it out, Fortnite’s newest casual online virtual space could evolve into something pretty interesting.

Fortnite is a game ostensibly about killing people before they kill you, but it’s also a concert venue—and that hints at Epic’s deeper ideas about the game as a versatile social platform. The game held its latest big in-game show event last month, this time featuring a skyscraper-height Travis Scott who performed as he stormed around a bucolic-turned-kaleidoscopic version of the Fortnite map. 12 million people tuned in, besting the 10 million who played during the more modest Marshmello in-game EDM show a year prior. Whether you even listen to his music or not, the wildly visually imaginative event was, by all accounts, cool as hell.

Video games should evolve to meet the moment

For anyone who’s spent any time in massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs), this will all sound familiar. These games have long, vibrant history of drawing huge numbers of people together into persistent shared virtual spaces and letting them express themselves. Curating outfits, decorating spaces and even making choices around playstyle and faction affiliation are all ways to express aspects of who you are and what you’re about in a virtual world populated by other people doing the same. As someone who played World of Warcraft for years, this was the real appeal of the game for many of us. The game itself—quests, dungeons and the rest—was secondary.

During its peak ten years ago, World of Warcraft had as many active subscribers as players who tuned into the Travis Scott event—12 million. Since then, gaming exploded into the mainstream and by late 2018, Fortnite boasted almost 80 million active players. Online multiplayer itself bounded forward too, mostly through the success of blockbuster first-person shooters—usually grim, well-funded and vaguely or overtly militaristic games that routinely court one kind of gamer. Playful, candy-colored shooters like Fortnite, Splatoon and Overwatch emerged to extend a hand to casual players, even non-gamers, but there’s still plenty of room for online gaming to move beyond shooters.

The wild popularity of Minecraft carved out a path for cooperative gaming not just because building stuff is incredibly fun, though that’s true too, but because doing anything new with friends in a virtual space is really cool. Scrappier games like the incredible No Man’s Sky could do for exploration what Minecraft did for building, but with an indie developer’s budget, big ideas about multiplayer play can only get so far. Historically, the lion’s share of industry resources still get funneled toward reliably profitable military-style shooters. But with the world changing, trends could transform too. Just look at sales of Animal Crossing’s social feng shui sim dominating sales during the first months of the epidemic.

There’s a big opportunity right now for games offering a common social experience that’s magnetic enough to draw in the kind of people who don’t even play games. For those of us stuck at home, imaginative gaming worlds offer not just their usual escape from the moment’s stresses, but a way to share space when we can’t come together.

We just need more of them to visit.


TechCrunch

NASA and SpaceX have set a specific date and time target for their historic first astronaut launch aboard a private spacecraft from U.S. soil, with a planned date of May 27 and a target liftoff time of 4:32 PM EDT (1:32 PM PDT) from Kennedy Space Center, at SpaceX’s Launch Complex 39A (LC-39). The mission had been previously announced too be tracking towards a mid- to late-May launch timeframe, but now we know exactly when the agency and SpaceX hope to launch astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley for this inaugural trip to the International Space Station.

The launch is the first crewed mission in NASA’s Commercial Crew program, which seeks to return American launch capabilities to U.S. soil through private partnerships, with both SpaceX and Boeing taking part and developing their own separate launch vehicles and crew craft. SpaceX has taken all the steps necessary to get to this stage ahead of Boeing, and this flight, called Demo-2, while still technically part of the test program, will see NASA’s astronauts visit the space station for “an extended stay,” with a full duration yet to be determined.

This final test will validate each aspect of the Crew Dragon and Falcon 9 launch system, including the pad from which the rocket takes off, the operational facilities on the ground, orbital systems and astronauts procedures. Pending successful completion of all those elements, Crew Dragon should be set for full operational certification, after which time it can begin regularly scheduled service of reliving astronauts to and from the ISS.

For the mission, Crew Dragon will launch with Behnken and Hurley, then enter orbit and rendezvous with the ISS, which should occur around 24 hours after liftoff. The spacecraft is designed to dock fully autonomously with the station (and has done so on a previous occasion during an uncrewed demo mission) and then Behnken and Hurley will disembark and join as members of the ISS crew, performing research on the orbital science platform.

The Crew Dragon flying this mission is designed to stay on orbit for around 110 days, but its actual length of stay will be decided by how ready the commercial crew mission to follow is at the time of launch. That Crew Dragon, which is the fully operational version, is designed for stays of at least 210 days, and the crew complement of four astronauts, including three from NASA and one from Japan’s space agency, is already determined. If all goes well, it’ll happen sometime later this year.

Crew Dragon from Demo-2 will perform an automated undocking from the ISS with Behnken and Hurley on board when it is ready to leave, and then they’ll re-enter Earth’s atmosphere and have a controlled splashdown landing in the Atlantic Ocean, where a SpaceX ship will pick them up and bring them back to Florida.

Obviously, NASA and SpaceX are facing challenges along with everyone else with the global COVID-19 crisis ongoing, but the agency has taken extra precautions to ensure this mission continues, since NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine notes that continued U.S. access to, and presence within the ISS is critical.


TechCrunch

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