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The Saturday night before CES seems like a less than ideal time to drop some big smartphone news — but it appears Samsung’s hand was forced on this one. Granted, the smartphone giant has never been great about keeping big news under wraps, but this morning’s early release of a promo video through its official Vimeo channel was no doubt all the motivation it needed.

The company has just made the February 11 date officially official for the launch of its upcoming flagship. As for what the flagship will be called, well, that (among other things) leaves some room for speculation. Rumors have pointed to both the more traditional S11, along with the more fascinating jump to the S20.

I’ve collated a bunch of the rumors into an earlier post. The TLDR is even larger screens across the board, coupled with a bunch of camera upgrades and a healthy battery increase. The invite art, which matches the earlier the video, appears to confirm the existence of two separate devices, with different dimensions. That could well point to the reported followup to the Galaxy Fold. In additional to better reinforced folding (a follow up to last year’s issues), the device reportedly adopts a clamshell form factor, more akin to the newly announced Motorola Razr.

More info (and rumors) to come. As ever, we’ll be there (San Francisco) as the news breaks.


TechCrunch

It’s November. We’re eleven years into a bull run. And a protracted trade war with China — not to mention the impeachment proceedings — is 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 last 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 Smerklo previously bought a technology services company called ServiceSource that he ran for 12 years and eventually took public. His co-founder, 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 raised by LiveOak 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 Everlywell, 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 Smerklo to learn how Next Coast’s new and bigger fund might differ from its predecessor, 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 Next Coast 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,” Smerklo 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.”


TechCrunch

Disney plans to bring its on-demand video streaming service to India and some Southeast Asian markets as soon as the second half of next year, two sources familiar with the company’s plans told TechCrunch.

In India, the company plans to bring Disney+’s catalog to Hotstar, a popular video streaming service it owns, after the end of next year’s IPL cricket tournament in May, the people said.

Soon afterwards, the company plans to expand Hotstar with Disney+ catalog to Indonesia and Malaysia among other Southeast Asian nations, said those people on the condition of anonymity.

A spokesperson for Hotstar declined to comment.

Hotstar leads the Indian video streaming market. The service said it had more than 300 million monthly subscribers during the IPL cricket tournament and ICC World Cup earlier this year. More than 25 million users simultaneously streamed one of the matches, setting a new global record.

However, Hotstar’s monthly userbase plummets below 60 million in weeks following IPL tournament, according to people who have seen the internal analytics. The arrival of more originals from Disney on Hotstar, which already offers a number of Disney-owned titles in India, could help the service sustain users after cricket seasons.

The international expansion of Hotstar isn’t a surprise as it has entered the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. in recent years. In an interview with TechCrunch earlier this year, Ipsita Dasgupta, president of Hotstar’s international operations, said so far the platform’s international strategy has been to enter markets with “high density of Indians.”

In an earnings call for the quarter that ended in June this year, Disney CEO Robert Iger hinted that the company, which snagged Indian entertainment conglomerate Star India as part of its $ 71.3 billion deal with 21st Century Fox, would bring Star India-operated Hotstar to Southeast Asian markets, though he did not offer a timeline.

Disney+, currently available in the U.S, Canada and the Netherlands, will expand to Australia and New Zealand next week, and the U.K., Germany, Italy, France and Spain on March 31, the company announced last week.

Price hike

Disney, which debut its video streaming service in the U.S. this week and has already amassed over 10 million subscribers, plans to raise the monthly subscription fee of Hotstar in India, where the service currently costs $ 14 a year, one of the two aforementioned people said.

A screenshot of Hotstar’s homepage

The price hike will happen towards the end of the first quarter next year, just ahead of commencement of next IPL cricket tournament season, they said. The company has not decided exactly how much it intends to charge, but one of the people said that it could go as high as $ 30 a year.

In other Southeast Asian markets, the service is likely to cost above $ 30 a year as well, both of the sources said. The prices have yet to be finalized, however, they said.

Even at those suggested price points, Disney would be able to undercut rivals on price. Until recently, Netflix charged at least $ 7 a month in India and other Southeast Asian markets. But this year, the on-demand streaming pioneer introduced a $ 2.8 monthly tier in India and $ 4 in Malaysia.

Hotstar offers a large library of local movies and titles syndicated from international cable networks and studios Showtime, HBO, and ABC (also owned by Disney). In its current international markets, Hotstar’s catalog is limited to some local content and large library of Indian titles.

In recent quarters, Hotstar has also set up an office in Tsinghua Science Park in Beijing, China and hired over 60 engineers and researchers as it looks to expand its tech infrastructure to service more future users, according to job recruitment posts and other data sourced from LinkedIn.


TechCrunch

ByteDance has responded to a report in the Financial Times that said the Chinese Internet startup plans to go public in Hong Kong as early as the first quarter of next year. “There is absolutely zero truth to the rumors that we plan to list in Hong Kong in Q1,” said a spokesperson for the company, the owner of TikTok.

The Financial Times reported that ByteDance, which was founded in 2012 and is backed by investors including SoftBank, is preparing for a public listing by retaining law firm K&L Gates and hiring a chief legal officer and former U.S. officials to help address concerns by U.S. lawmakers that TikTok can pose “national security risks,” such as being compelled to turn over data from American users to Chinese authorities.

Speculation that ByteDance is gearing up for an IPO started last year when it closed a $ 3 billion funding round that put its valuation between $ 75 billion to $ 78 billion, making it the world’s most valuable startup.

ByteDance’s apps also include Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, news app Toutiao and TopBuzz, a news aggregation app for the U.S. market that the Financial Times reports it is planning to sell as it prepares for an IPO.

In September, Reuters reported that ByteDance had made between $ 7 billion and $ 8.4 billion in revenue for the first half of the year and had posted a profit in June.


TechCrunch

Weave, a developer of patient communications software focused on the dental and optometry market, was the first Utah-headquartered company to graduate from Y Combinator in 2014. Now, it’s poised to enter a small but growing class startups in the ‘Silicon Slopes’ to garner ‘unicorn’ status.

The business announced a $ 70 million Series D last week at a valuation of $ 970 million. Tiger Global Management led the round, with participation from existing backers Catalyst Investors, Bessemer Venture Partners, Crosslink Capital, Pelion Venture Partners and LeadEdge Capital.

The company was founded in 2011 and fully bootstrapped until enrolling in the Silicon Valley accelerator program five years ago. Since then, it’s raised a total of $ 156 million in private funding, tripling its valuation with the latest infusion of capital.

Weave

“Our aim with this funding round is to exceed our customers’ expectations at every touchpoint, investing heavily in the products we create, the markets we serve and the overall customer experience we provide,” Weave co-founder and chief executive officer Brandon Rodman said in a statement. “We will continue to invest in our customers, our products and our people to build a solid, sustainable, and scalable business.”

Weave charges its customers, small and medium-sized businesses, upwards of $ 500 per month for access to its Voice Over IP-based unified communications service. Rodman previously launched a scheduling service for dentists and realized the opportunity to integrate texting, phone service, fax and reviews to facilitate the patient-provider relationship.

While his second effort, Weave, has long been targeting the dentistry and optometry market, Rodman told Venture Beat last year the opportunities for the company are endless: “Ultimately, if a business needs to communicate with their customer, we see that as a possible future customer of Weave.”

Based in Lehi, Weave added 250 employees this year with total headcount now reaching 550. The company claims to have doubled its revenue in 2018, too. While we don’t have any real insight into its financials, given the interest it’s garnered amongst Bay Area investors, we’re guessings it’s posting some pretty attractive numbers.

“Weave has some of the best retention numbers we’ve ever seen for an SMB SaaS company,” Catalyst partner Tyler Newton said in a statement. “We’re continually impressed by their accelerated growth and results.”


TechCrunch

Project A, the Berlin-based VC, just raised a new $ 200 million fund (€180 million) to continue backing European startups at Seed and Series A stage.

In addition, the firm — whose investments include WorldRemit, Catawiki, Voi and Uberall — announced it will now have a presence in London and Stockholm in order to put people on the ground in what it says are “two of its favorite ecosystems.”

What better time, therefore, to catch up with the team at Project A, where we talked investment thesis, why Stockholm and London, and the increasing interest in Europe from U.S. LPs and VCs. Other subjects we touched on include diversity in venture, and, of course, Brexit!

TechCrunch: You last raised a fund in 2016, totaling €140 million, what changes have you noticed since then with regards to the types of companies you are seeing and the European ecosystem as a whole?

Uwe Horstmann: Entrepreneurs definitely matured a lot over the last few years. We see more and more of serial founders who combine drive with experience delivering great results. We also noticed an increase in more tech / product-centric and in B2B models.

This doesn’t come as a surprise as the market for consumer-oriented models started developing much earlier and is now reaching its limits after a few years. Many entrepreneurs gained experience in the Old Economy or have been consulting companies for a few years, learned about the struggle with products and processes first-hand and developed solutions specifically tailored to the industry’s needs.

We also notice a rise in professionalism in company setups and a higher ambition level in founding teams. This is probably also due to a more professional angel and micro fund scene that has developed in Europe.

TC: I note that you have U.S. LPs in the new fund, which I think is a first for Project A, and more broadly we are seeing a lot more interest from U.S. VCs in Europe these days. Why do you think that is, and how does this change the competitive landscape for deal-flow and the ambition of European founders?

Thies Sander: Having our first U.S. LPs on board makes us proud. LPs have noticed that European VC returns have really picked up during recent fund cohorts.


TechCrunch

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk delivered an update about Starship, the company’s nest generation spacecraft, which is being designed for full, “rapid reusability.” Musk discussed the technology behind the design of Starship, which has evolved somewhat through testing and development after its original introduction in 2017.

Among the updates detailed, Musk articulated how Starship will be used to make humans interplanetary, including its use of in-space refilling of propellant, by docking with tanker Starships already in orbit to transfer fuel. This is necessary for the spacecraft to get enough propellant on board post-launch to make the trip to the Moon or Mars from Earth – especially since it’ll be carrying as much as 100 tons of cargo on board to deliver to these other space-based bodies.

Elon Musk

These will include supplies for building bases on planetary surfaces, as well as up to 100 passengers on long-haul planet-to-planet flights.

Those are still very long-term goals, however, and Musk also went into detail about development of the current generation of Starship prototypes, as well as the planned future Starships that will go to orbit, and carry their first passengers.

The Starship Mk1, Mk2 and the forthcoming Mk3 and Mk4 orbital testers will all feature a fin design that will orient the vehicles so they can re-enter Earth’s atmosphere flat on their ‘bellies,’ coming in horizontal to increase drag and reduce velocity before performing a sort of flip maneuver to swing past vertical and then pendulum back to vertical for touch-down. In simulation, as shown at the event, it looks like it’ll be incredible to watch, since it looks more unwieldy than the current landing process for Falcon boosters, even if it’s still just as controlled.

SpaceX Starship Mk1 29

The front fins on the Starship prototype will help orient it for re-entry, a key component of reuse.

Musk also shared a look at the design planned for Super Heavy, the booster that will be used to propel Starship to orbit. This liquid-oxygen powered rocket, which is about 1.5 times the height of the Starship itself, will have 37 Raptor engines on board (the Starship will have only six) and will also feature six landing legs and deployable grid fins for its own return trip back to Earth.

In terms of testing and development timelines, Musk said that the Starship Mk1 he presented the plan in front of at Boca Chica should have its first test flight in just one to two months. That will be a flight to a sub-orbital altitude of just under 70,000 feet. The prototype spacecraft is already equipped with the three Raptor engines it will use for that flight.

Next, Starship Mk2, which is currently being built in Cape Canaveral, Florida, at another SpaceX facility, will attempt a similar high altitude test. Musk explained that both these families will continue to compete with each other internally and build Starship prototypes and rockets simultaneously. Mk3 will begin construction at Boca Chica beginning next month, and Mk4 will follow in Florida soon after. Musk said that the next Starship test flight after the sub-orbital trip for Mk1 might be an orbital launch with the full Super Heavy booster and Mk3.

Elon Musk 1

Musk said that SpaceX will be “building both ships and boosters here [at Boca Chica] and a the Cape as fast as we can,” and that they’ve already been improving both the design and the manufacture of the sections for the spacecraft “exponentially” as a result of the competition.

The Mk1 features welded panels to make up the rings you can see in the detail photograph of the prototype below, for instance, but Mk3 and Mk4 will use full sheets of stainless steel that cover the whole diameter of the spacecraft, welded with a single weld. There was one such ring on site at the event, which indicates SpaceX is already well on its way to making this work.

This rapid prototyping will enable SpaceX to build and fly Mk2 in two months, Mk3 in three months, Mk4 in four months and so on. Musk added that either Mk3 or Mk5 will be that orbital test, and that they want to be able to get that done in less than six months. He added that eventually, crewed missions aboard Starship will take place from both Boca Chica and the Cape, and that the facilities will be focused only on producing Starships until Mk4 is complete, at which point they’ll begin developing the Super Heavy booster.

Starship Mk1 night

In total, Musk said that SpaceX will need 100 of its Raptor rocket engines between now and its first orbital flight. At its current pace, he said, SpaceX is producing one every eight days – but they should increase that output to one every two days within a few months, and are targeting production of one per day for early in Q1 2019.

Because of their aggressive construction and testing cycle, and because, Musk said, the intent is to achieve rapid reusability to the point where you could “fly the booster 20 times a day” and “fly the [starship] three or four times a day,” the company should theoretically be able to prove viability very quickly. Musk said he’s optimistic that they could be flying people on test flights of Starship as early as next year as a result.

Part of its rapid reusability comes from the heat shield design that SpaceX has devised for Starship, which includes a stainless steel finish on one half of the spacecraft, with ceramic tiles used on the bottom where the heat is most intense during re-entry. Musk said that both of these are highly resistant to the stresses of reentry and conducive to frequent reuse, without incurring tremendous cost – unlike their initial concept, which used carbon fibre in place of stainless steel.

Musk is known for suggesting timelines that don’t quite match up with reality, but Starship’s early tests haven’t been so far behind his predictions thus far.


TechCrunch

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