Fisker-Foxconn EV partnership ‘moving faster than expected,’ CEO Henrik Fisker says

U.S. electric automaker Fisker expects operating expenses to reach between $490 million and $530 million this year, a slight increase in its business outlook for the year that is driven by R&D spending on prototypes for its Ocean SUV, testing and validation of advanced technology, hiring and its “accelerating” partnership with Foxconn.

The company, which reported its second-quarter earnings Thursday after market close, raised its business outlook for expectations for key non-GAAP operating expenses and capital expenditures for the full year up from its previous guidance of $450 million to $510 million. The earnings report pointed to R&D spending on prototype activities in 2021 driven by testing and validation on advanced driver assistance systems, powertrain and user interface. The company also noted an increase in spending on in-house costs, such as virtual validation software tools, hiring and virtual and physical testing to account for recently tightened Euro NCAP and IIHS safety regulations.

Co-founder, CFO and COO Geeta Gupta Fisker added during an investor call that the company made a strategic decision to develop internal capabilities to test and validate, instead of relying solely on third parties.

Co-founder and CEO Henrik Fisker said in an interview Thursday its partnership with Foxconn, which is “moving faster than expected,” also is contributing to an increase in spending.

“We were really aligned,” Fisker said in an interview Thursday. “I mean it’s a very unique business deal because we are both investing into this program; it’s not like we just hired Foxconn to make a car.”

Fisker has two vehicle programs in the works. Its first electric vehicle, the Fisker Ocean SUV, will be assembled by automotive contract manufacturer Magna Steyr in Europe. The start of production is still on track to begin in November 2022, the company reiterated Thursday. Deliveries will begin in Europe and the United States in late 2022, with a plan to reach production capacity of more than 5,000 vehicles per month during 2023. Deliveries to customers in China are also expected to begin in 2023.

In May, Fisker signed an agreement with Foxconn, the Taiwanese company that assembles iPhones, to co-develop and manufacture a new electric vehicle. Henrik Fisker said the two companies moved on the design “fairly quickly,” and are now diving into the engineering and technical details that include working on a patent for a new way of opening a trunk and other technological innovations.

“We have accelerated really quite fast and we probably will have some early prototypes already by the end of this year,” he said.

The companies have also decided that this EV will be designed for the urban lifestyle.

“You can’t make a car for everybody,” he said. “You can’t make a car for a farmer and for somebody who lives in an apartment; those are two different vehicles, so we chose the urban lifestyle for this vehicle.”

Production on the Project PEAR car, which stands for Personal Electric Automotive Revolution, will be sold under the Fisker brand name in North America, Europe, China and India. Pre-production is expected begin in the U.S. by the end of 2023, and will then ramp up into the following year, Fisker said Thursday.

Henrik Fisker didn’t reveal the U.S. manufacturing location. He did make a recent visit to Foxconn’s manufacturing facility in Wisconsin, noting it was an “impressive” facility, as was the region’s supply chain. The final decision is Foxconn’s, Fisker noted. However, Fisker wants to produce the electric vehicle in a state that allows automakers to sell directly to customers. Wisconsin currently prohibits this practice.

“That’s going to be one of the main things that has to change for us to go to the store and sell our electric vehicle,” he noted.

Earnings results

Here are the basics from the company’s second-quarter earnings. Keep in mind two important factors: Fisker wasn’t publicly traded at this time last year, there are no year-over-year comparisons available yet; and this company is essentially pre-revenue, although they did bring in $27,000 from merchandise sales.

Fisker reported it generated $27,000 in revenue, a 22% bump up from the previous quarter. The automaker reported a net loss of $46.2 million, or $0.16 per share, compared to a net loss of $176.8 million in the previous quarter. That large net loss in the first quarter comes from changes in how the SEC treated non-cash items and resulted in warrants liability of $138 million in Q1. The public warrants are now retired and the company says will no longer have these impacts on future earnings.

Loss from operations were $53.1 million in the second quarter compared to a loss of $33 million in the first quarter. Importantly, the company has held onto its cash using what it describes as an “asset light” approach, which means it’s not building a factory, instead relying on partners. Cash and cash equivalents were $962 million as of the quarter ended June 30, slightly lower than the $985.1 million in the first quarter.

Best Buy investing millions in Brown Venture Group, a firm exclusively backing BIPOC founders

Last summer, in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, Best Buy committed to “do better” when it came to supporting communities of color. As part of the retail giant’s self-proclaimed mission to better address underrepresentation and technology inequities, the company announced today that it is investing up to $10 million in Brown Venture Group.

Minnesota-based Brown Venture Group is a three-year-old venture capital firm that has pledged to exclusively back Black, Latino and Indigenous technology startups in “emerging technologies.” Black and Latin communities were the recipients of just 2.6% of total funding in 2020, according to Crunchbase data. 

Brown Venture Group is in the process of fundraising for its targeted inaugural $50 million fund, 75% of which has been committed, according to its principals. This means that Minneapolis-based Best Buy’s pledge to invest “up to $10 million” could represent as much as 20% of the total capital raised, making it a lead LP in the fund.

Brown Venture Group co-founder and managing partner Dr. Paul Campbell said that in the early days of forming the firm, he and co-founder Dr. Chris Brooks were told by “multiple people locally” that they should leave the Twin Cities metro area because “all the capital was on the coasts.”

“We just made a firm decision in the very early stages to stay put in the Twin Cities and that we wanted this to be a Twin City story,” Campbell told TechCrunch. “So when we thought about our Twin Cities ecosystem and who we wanted to be leading partners with, Best Buy was at the top of the list. So we are just more than excited to have Best Buy as a lead LP in our fund.” 

For its part, Best Buy — which notched $47 billion in revenue last year — said the move is aimed at helping “break down the systemic barriers often faced by Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) entrepreneurs — including lack of access to funding — and empowering the next generation within the tech industry.

The company added: “The partnership with Brown Venture Group will work toward making the technology startup landscape more inclusive and creating a stronger community of diverse suppliers.”

In conjunction with announcing Best Buy’s commitment to the fund, the company and venture firm said they would jointly launch an entrepreneurship program at Best Buy Teen Tech Centers to help develop young entrepreneurs through education, mentorship, networking and funding access.

Brown Venture Group — whose name was chosen to represent an “inclusive” skin color of the groups it represents — has so far invested in five companies, including clean energy startup Ecolution kwh.

Ten million dollars seems like a drop in the bucket for a company that generated sales of $47 billion last year. Best Buy said this initiative is just one of several that it has underway to support BIPOC businesses, including plans to provide $44 million to expand college prep and career opportunities for BIPOC students and a pledge to spend at least $1.2 billion with BIPOC and diverse businesses by 2025. The company has also said that by 2025 it will fill one out of three new non-hourly corporate positions with BIPOC employees and hire 1,000 new employees to its technology team, with 30% of them being diverse, specifically Black, Latinx, Indigenous and women.

“We’re committed to taking meaningful action to address the challenges faced by BIPOC entrepreneurs,” Best Buy CEO Corie Barry said in a written statement. “Through partnerships like this, we believe we can begin to do this by helping to build a stronger, more vibrant community of diverse innovators in the tech industry, some of whom we hope will become partners of Best Buy in the future.”

Daily Crunch: Google reveals new designs and improved chip for Nest Cam and Doorbell

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Hello and welcome to Extra Crunch for August 5, 2021. What goes up must come down. Mostly. That’s the lesson from Robinhood’s stock this week. It shot higher yesterday. And today it fell sharply. Something something stonks. Regardless, we have big news from Apple, Facebook, a host of startups and even some drones for you today.

A quick reminder that tomorrow is the last day for early-bird Disrupt tickets. Be there or be a big lame! We’re also excited to announce that TechCrunch is launching another newsletter! This Week in Apps by Sarah Perez launches this Saturday morning, August 7, and is the place to go for all of your app news goodness. Be sure to sign up here. — Alex

The TechCrunch Top 3

  • Apple to scan iPhones for abusive content involving children: Apple’s privacy push is running into its efforts to limit the sharing of known child sexual abuse material. Its plan, that it has yet to roll out, will work at the device level to “identify if a user uploads known child abuse imagery to iCloud without decrypting the images until a threshold is met and a sequence of checks to verify the content are cleared.”
  • When a startup should leave a market: In the wake of news that Deliveroo may leave the Spanish market, TechCrunch wanted to learn more about when a startup should leave a particular city or country to its competitors. So we rounded up some smart VCs and got to asking questions. The short answer is that you want gold and silver medals to build a unicorn, not bronze.
  • Facebook redesigns its privacy settings: And TechCrunch’s Devin Coldeway is not impressed, writing that Facebook has “taken the ‘privacy settings’ settings and scattered them mischievously among the other categories.” If you are a Facebook user, it’s always a good time to check your privacy setup on the social platform. It just may take a little longer now.

Startups/VC

We have a strong batch of startup stories below, but to kick things off have a bite of the latest drone story from Brian Heater. It’s rather tasty. Heater dug into the warehouse drone space, a somewhat natural environment for the tech as large storage buildings aren’t bothered by buzzy sounds, and often boxes in those buildings feature bar codes and are stacked vertically.

Now, our usual rundown:

  • Quora launches subscriptions to access certain answers: Creators who love answering questions, Quora would like your attention. Long-running Q&A site Quora is rolling out Quora+ — natch — that will cost $5 per month, and allow access to content that creators decide should cost money to access.
  • When is a startup going to build the hub for all our subscriptions to digital content so that we can stop having to use password managers for everything? Someone build that, please.
  • Allocations raises $4M to power small PE funds: This one is cool. Allocations has built tech that enables fund managers to quickly spin up new private equity funds and SPVs. And the startup’s tech handles boring things like paperwork and capital calls. The thesis here is that there will be many more smallish PE funds in the future. The solo GP movement indicates that Allocations might be barking up the correct money tree.
  • Ad astra for Astra: That’s the news from space launch vehicle company Astra, which is targeting August 27 for its first commercial launch. Sure, Boeing is struggling to make its rocket go up, but seeing Astra chase better-known launch systems is good news. More competitors, more rockets in time. And then you and I can go to space.
  • OffLimits raises $2.3M for healthy cereal: Here in America we like our breakfasts sweet. That means our cereals are often loaded with sugar, and are thus both killing us while also making us smile. OffLimits is making cereal that is healthy (alas) but tasty, as well as “organic, vegan [and] gluten-free.” That sounds less fun than Cap’n Crunch, but as I’d like to avoid eventual limb amputation, perhaps the startup is onto something.
  • From the world of edtech, TechCrunch’s Natasha Mascarenhas has a big piece out today looking at two companiesCoderhouse and Crehana — that are working in the reskilling space in Latin America. Reskilling, the teaching of new tricks to workers already in the market, is a big market. And Latin America is becoming a pretty key market for edtech, so make sure you don’t miss this one.
  • Cent raises 300,000,000 cents to help make sense of NFTs: Remember when @Jack sold his first tweet as an NFT? The platform that made that transaction possible just raised $3 million. Or as we noted before, 300 million cents. Regardless of how you prefer to write out monetary sums — 12,000,000 quarters! — the latest Cent deal indicates that VCs are still more than willing to bet on NFTs in particular, and the cryptoeconomy more broadly.

TechCrunch’s Ron Miller covered a huge $125 million Series E for Bluecore today. The new capital made the e-commerce personalization platform the world’s newest unicorn. At least for a few hours. I asked Miller why he covered the round. Here’s what he said:

Bluecore is part of the omnichannel personalization market. It’s an area that thrived during the pandemic as more commerce shifted online and it became more imperative to offer more targeted messaging. The round is a sign that investors see the value in this and are willing to bet big money on companies like Bluecore being successful long term.

There, a look behind the curtain!

A blueprint for building a great startup founding team

Assembling a startup’s team is harder than assembling 10 IKEA dressers and the stakes are much higher.

Starting with the assumption that 90% of startups will fail and the most successful ones take an average of six years to IPO, founders have to make careful decisions about who they invite to join the founding team.

Is a stellar engineer a great choice? Or a terrible choice? Should your product person be opinionated or a team player? Are you even the best choice for CEO?

ThoughtSpot CEO Sudheesh Nair shared some of his thoughts about building a sturdy leadership team and drafted a thorough checklist for entrepreneurs who are putting a crew together. His initial advice?

“Investors love founder-CEOs, and founders are often fantastic candidates for this role. But not everyone can do it well, and more importantly, not everyone wants to.”

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Big Tech Inc.

  • Twitter Spaces adds co-hosting capabilities: Now you can enlist your friends to help you manage your next live audio conversation on Twitter. Yes, Spaces, Big Tweet’s chatroom tool, is expanding its feature set. You can now have a host, two co-hosts and up to 10 speakers at once. Just don’t, because that would be more noise than signal.
  • Qualcomm wants to buy Veoneer: Qualcomm is offering $800 million more than what Magna International offered for Swedish automotive tech company Veoneer. The chip company is willing to cough up $4.6 billion for the asset. Why? Because Veoneer builds “advanced driver assistance systems, decision-making vehicle hardware and software.” So consider this a long-term bet by Qualcomm that self-driving tech is going to be everywhere. Eventually.
  • Automakers want more government money: Cars are going electric, and the U.S. government has big goals to boost their domestic market share and production volume. Automakers are like, hey, how about some help. To that end a group of automotive OEMs are asking for the “timely deployment of the full suite of electrification policies committed to by the Administration in the Build Back Better Plan.” That means money in the form of consumer incentives and a charging network.
  • Which feels a bit odd given that GM is making oodles of money at the moment. Surely it can deploy some of that capital? Also I hear that money is cheap at the moment.
  • Google refreshes its Nest lineup: Finally for the day, Google’s Nest division has refreshes ready for its Nest lineup of cameras and doorbells. Nest is a bit of a dark horse inside of Google, given that it’s a hardware division at what is nearly entirely a software business. Still, the new hardware looks quite nice.

TechCrunch Experts: Growth Marketing

Illustration montage based on education and knowledge in blue

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

TechCrunch wants you to recommend growth marketers who have expertise in SEO, social, content writing and more! If you’re a growth marketer, pass this survey along to your clients; we’d like to hear about why they loved working with you.

If you’re curious about how these surveys are shaping our coverage, check out this interview Miranda Halpern did with Ward van Gasteren, founder of Grow with Ward, “Which person should you hire: A growth hacker or a digital marketer?

How Uber plans to rebound from massive Q2 losses stemming from driver incentives

Uber’s second quarter earnings revealed greater than expected losses, in large part due to the company’s massive $250 million stimulus package launched in April to incentivize drivers back onto the app after a pandemic-induced shortage. 

The company reported a loss of $509 million before EBITDA. For comparison, Lyft reported a positive adjusted EBITDA in the quarter at $23.8 million the day before. Uber’s losses point to a larger problem facing the app-based ride-hailing industry: The triple threat of lagging driver supply, the cost of attracting them, and the Covid-19 Delta variant looming in the periphery. 

“Drivers increasingly want to get back on the road,” said CEO Dara Khosrowshahi during the earnings call on Wednesday. “In June, 60% of inactive drivers told us they intended to start driving again within a month. That’s up from 40% in April. And 90% of drivers told us they expect to come back by September. We’re also beginning to see marketplace metrics revert to normalcy in several markets with surge levels and wait times back to nearly normal in Miami, Atlanta, Dallas, Houston and Phoenix. But in major cities like New York, San Francisco and LA, demand continues to outpace supply and prices in late times remain above our comfort levels.”

Khosrowshahi said Uber is expecting the driver momentum that has been picking up over the last few months to continue, even as Uber tapers off its “post-pandemic” incentives for drivers. But the thing is, the pandemic is far from over. Only 50% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, and the CDC has said the highly contagious Delta variant has caused between 80% and 87% of all U.S. Covid-19 cases in the last two weeks of July. Many computer models predict case counts will peak sometime between mid-August and early September, bringing as many as 450,000 daily cases.

Lockdowns haven’t been the only things causing driver shortages: Drivers don’t want to risk their lives during a pandemic for what is often argued to be meager pay. Uber’s losses and attempts to attract more drivers also come as the company is back on stage as a potential threat to gig workers’ labor rights. Uber is part of a coalition of app-based ride-hailing and on-demand delivery companies that filed a petition this week to introduce a ballot measure in Massachusetts that would define drivers as independent contractors, not employees – similar to what happened last year in California with Proposition 22.

“I took the incentives that they used to get people back, and I think most drivers that have any brains did the same,” an Uber driver called Jay who’s been driving since 2013 told TechCrunch. “And once the incentives ran out, I stopped driving, because I’m losing money when I drive for them now. They have cut the rates so low that it doesn’t make any sense anymore to work for them, and that’s why people are having such a hard time getting an Uber. You have these disgustingly out of touch billionaires running this company into the ground.” 

Despite these setbacks, Khosrowshahi – presumably one of the “out of touch billionaires” Jay references – went on to assure investors that Uber expects to achieve total company EBITDA profitability by the end of the year. Uber is hoping its investments in what it calls the “earner experience” will help retain workers. 

“From doubling down on our app quality to targeted and personalized reengagement campaigns, to completely redesigning our onboarding flow to make it easier and faster than ever to earn safely, to rolling out unique programs like free language learning from Rosetta Stone, or free tuition with ASU, our earner Super App is unique in the depth and breadth of earnings opportunities we can offer drivers and couriers globally,” he said.

If mobility continues to take a hit, as it has recently in cities like Sydney, Australia due to persistent lockdowns, Khosrowshahi says Uber can fall back on its other businesses, like freight, Uber Eats and courier service. Khosrowshahi said there’s been a trend of Uber Eats and courier orders increasing as rides decrease.

Last November, Uber acquired online food delivery app Postmates, which the company says has resulted in nearly 5 million additional consumers, 160,000 couriers and over 25,000 merchants migrating from Postmates to Uber Eats, as well as helping Uber establish itself as a category leader in Los Angeles and New York City.

Uber has also expanded into new verticals recently like grocery, convenience and alcohol delivery, with U.S. gross bookings in June nearly tripling from December 2020 levels and doubling in the U.K. and France.

“The differentiator that we have is the audience and the Uber platform,” said Khosrowshahi. “We were actually one of the latest players to build up a delivery business, and we built it based on the Uber brand, the marketplace-matching technology that we have, the pricing technology, routing, etc[…] We’ve got bigger datasets than anyone else. We’re able to train our algorithms over much larger global data points versus our competitors, which allow us to build a matching, routing, incentives, marketing engine that is more personalized and just has greater capabilities than anyone else.”

Khosrowshahi also noted that the company has ops teams on the ground in every market so it can understand the right inventory per marketplace.

“It all translates into: Lower cost of customer acquisition, higher lifetime value, lower overheads and greater tech capabilities. That’s the differentiator.”

Aside from hitting its EBITDA goals by Q4, Khosrowshahi said Uber expects total company gross bookings to be between $22 and $24 billion, and total company adjusted EBITDA to be better than a loss of $100 million for Q3.

Duolingo is working on a math app for kids

Duolingo, best known for its whimsical owl and language-learning app, is working on a new product to add to its growing suite: a math app, according to CEO Luis von Ahn. The co-founder mentioned the app during an interview last week, the same day that Duolingo officially listed in the stock market.

After the interview, TechCrunch reached out to Duolingo to get more information about the app, but the company declined to provide more detail because it is “still very early” in the development process. It did say that users may learn more about it later this month at Duocon, Duolingo’s annual free conference. A May job posting shows that Duolingo has been looking for a learning scientist with a PhD in mathematics to help build out a new math app alongside a “small cross-functional team.”

The listing hints that the app will be focused on serving younger learners. It mentions that Duolingo wants candidates to have classroom experience and knowledge about teaching K-12 level math, especially with younger students between 3rd and 8th grade.

Duolingo’s current users feel mixed about the idea of Duolingo getting into math.

In an interview on IPO day, CEO Luis von Ahn said that users may see Duolingo accelerate its math app and that the company plans to expand beyond language learning through upcoming acquisitions. That may calm some qualms around Duolingo needing to put a ton of resources toward an entirely new piece of software or curriculum.

“If there are other subjects where we think somebody is doing a pretty good job and they have a similar mission to us, and they have a similar company culture,” Duolingo may consider acquiring the company, von Ahn said in the interview.

Math-focused edtech companies include Khan Academy, Brilliant.org, Photomath, Numerade and the recently acquired Symbolab.

For Duolingo, the math app is another chapter in its history of experimentation. The company has churned through hundreds of ideas in its decade of existence, which have had varying degrees of success.

Over the past few years, it built a product suite beyond its core app, which includes Duolingo ABC, a literacy app for kids and the Duolingo English Test. Meanwhile, Duolingo’s “graveyard” of failed ideas includes a few retired monetization strategies and AI-powered chatbots. Popular features like leaderboards sputtered before they succeeded. And math, interestingly, has always been in the back of von Ahn’s head.

As mentioned in the Duolingo EC-1, von Ahn has always said that he and his co-founder, Severin Hacker, were thinking about making Duolingo a math app before they eventually decided on language learning.

“I love math, but if you learn math, math itself can’t make you any money,” von Ahn said in a previous interview. “You learn math to learn physics to become an engineer, whereas knowledge of English directly improves your income potential in most countries of the world.”

One user wrote that “[math] is such a key skill to learn…[and] hopefully this may provide better resources especially to those with such limited access, while being inspirational and equally engaging to those of us with more opportunities.”

Others seemed to want Duolingo to invest inwardly on its language-learning service before moving outward to other areas. “It’s odd that Duo should consider branching into Maths when its coverage of the majority of languages (with the notable exception of French and Spanish) leaves a great deal to be desired,” one user wrote.

The company can only teach from a beginner to a low-intermediate level of language fluency according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). About 30% to 40% of Duolingo courses are in some stage of CEFR alignment, per the company’s last pull of metrics from May.

It may be too soon to assume how Duolingo’s math app would look, what it would offer or even if it will be monetized. Regardless, it will be Duolingo’s first formal foray into an area of education beyond language.

The company will need to find not only the product, but the philosophical overlap between the two subjects. Language learning is a skill that is benefited by cultural context and nuance, while math revolves around the goal of getting to the one right answer. However, both areas of education require methodical thinking and the ability to apply functions to get to answers. Ultimately, both rely on what Duolingo often argues is its biggest product: motivation to open up an app, and pay attention to what’s happening on the screen.

Which person should you hire: A growth hacker or a digital marketer?

Ward van Gasteren embraces the “growth hacker” term, despite the fact that some in the profession prefer the term “growth marketing” or simply “growth.” What’s the difference to him? The hacking part should be a distinct effort from ongoing marketing efforts, he says.

“Growth hacking is great to kickstart growth, test new opportunities and see what tactics work,” van Gasteren said. “Marketeers should be there to continue where the growth hackers left off: build out those strategies, maintain customer engagement and keep tactics fresh and relevant.”

“The choice between working with a growth hacker versus a digital marketer is not a one-or-the-other choice; the fields are very different in focus and actually complementary to each other.”

Based in The Netherlands, he has developed his own growth hacking courses, Grow With Ward, and worked with large companies like TikTok, Pepsi and Cisco, and startups like Cyclemasters, Somnox and Zigzag. In the conversation below, van Gasteren shares the importance of building internal processes around growth for the long term, the state of growth today and his own development.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You’re a certified growth hacker — how do you think this sets you apart from others? How has this certification changed the way you approach working with clients?

I was part of the first-ever class from Growth Tribe (when they still offered multimonth traineeships), which was an amazing experience. The difference that a certification shows is that you know that a certified growth hacker has knowledge of the beginning-to-end process of growth hacking, and that this person is supposed to look at more than just a single experiment to hack their growth.

There are a lot of cowboy growth hackers who simply repeat the same tactics, instead of trying to work from a repeatable process, where you identify problems through data, have a non-biased prioritization process for ideas and will focus on long-term learnings over direct impact. A proper certificate shows that you know what it takes.

When do you think clients should invest in the beginner growth hacking course you offer on your website rather than investing in working with you directly?

I created the course to make growth hacking available to a larger audience. I noticed that almost all other growth hacking courses fell into one of two buckets: (1) cheap (<$200), but focused on superficial growth tactics, or (2) good quality in-depth content, but very expensive ($1,500-$5,000). And I believe everybody should have access to that knowledge of how to build a systematic process to achieve long-term sustainable growth, so I created my own course, since I know that working one-on-one with me is also too expensive for most people.

Especially if you’d look at students or junior marketeers, for whom I created a proper beginner growth hacking course that will teach you 20% of the knowledge that is necessary to achieve the first 80% of the results.

Growth hacking does have some noticeable differences from marketing, as outlined on your website. How should clients make the decision between working with you, a growth hacker, instead of with a marketer?

The choice between working with a growth hacker versus a digital marketer is not a one-or-the-other choice; the fields are very different in focus and actually complementary to each other. Growth hacking is great to kickstart growth, test new opportunities and see what tactics work. Marketeers should be there to continue where the growth hackers left off: build out those strategies, maintain customer engagement and keep tactics fresh and relevant. You shouldn’t hire a growth hacker to maintain your marketing strategies; they’re excited to make new growth steps and would get bored when they can’t test new ideas.

Most of the time, I help a client get up to speed, show which opportunities are valuable and give them a strategy to execute. Then I hand it over to marketing for the long-term execution and coach them on the execution, and step back in when there’s a need for new growth input.

What are some common misconceptions about growth hacking?

A lot of growth hackers still present growth hacking as a perfect approach, where thanks to our data-driven way of working we can always make the right moves. But that’s not true: The hard data that you see in your analytics tools, can only tell you what is slowing down your growth, but not why your growth slows down there. While the “why” is what we build our experiments on top of … many growth hackers just fill that with their own assumptions to keep their speed, but that’s not sustainable long term.

Next to the hard data, you need soft data: the why. And that comes from talking with customers, running hypothesis-focused experiments (not result-focused) and maybe by looking at your feedback from customer support or surveys. Every time I implement a soft data feedback loop with my clients, I see that we increase our experiment effectiveness from 1 in 10 up to 1 in 3.

What trends are you seeing in the growth hacking world right now?

The growth industry is definitely maturing. Less hacks, more teams, more focus on velocity. Everybody within the field is getting to know the best practices very quickly and implementing them even quicker. So then what? We need more knowledge, more qualitative feedback and a more systematic approach to scale up our impact, to be able to rise above best practices and implement truly relevant and sophisticated tactics for our businesses. Since the field is maturing, you see people starting to get rid of the shoestring tools.

For this reason, I’m currently rolling out a growth management tool for growth teams, called Upgrow, where teams can more easily manage their experiment velocity, report to stakeholders with the click of a button and make sure that they systemize the knowledge retention from their articles to build companywide knowledge. And you see that mature growth teams need this kind of software to really level up and manage these trends that are putting stress on their process due to the growth of their company.

What do startups continue to get wrong?

Most startups just keep perfecting their product forever-and-ever: “Just this one extra feature and then we go live.” I can understand that, since north-star metrics, NPS scores and product-led growth are dominating the conversation around startup growth nowadays, but let me be real: You will never be fully done. There will always be a next feature. And you will only have a benefit if you grow alongside your customers. Put a “coming soon” on your website for the features that are in the making, and just start selling and scaling up your growth efforts: Different channels bring different kinds of users, who will have new demands, so you have to be adapting all the time. Not just now.

New Apple technology will warn parents and children about sexually explicit photos in Messages

Apple later this year will roll out new tools that will warn children and parents if the child sends or receives sexually explicit photos through the Messages app. The feature is part of a handful of new technologies Apple is introducing that aim to limit the spread of Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM) across Apple’s platforms and services.

As part of these developments, Apple will be able to detect known CSAM images on its mobile devices, like iPhone and iPad, and in photos uploaded to iCloud, while still respecting consumer privacy.

The new Messages feature, meanwhile, is meant to enable parents to play a more active and informed role when it comes to helping their children learn to navigate online communication. Through a software update rolling out later this year, Messages will be able to use on-device machine learning to analyze image attachments and determine if a photo being shared is sexually explicit. This technology does not require Apple to access or read the child’s private communications, as all the processing happens on the device. Nothing is passed back to Apple’s servers in the cloud.

If a sensitive photo is discovered in a message thread, the image will be blocked and a label will appear below the photo that states, “this may be sensitive” with a link to click to view the photo. If the child chooses to view the photo, another screen appears with more information. Here, a message informs the child that sensitive photos and videos “show the private body parts that you cover with bathing suits” and “it’s not your fault, but sensitive photos and videos can be used to harm you.”

It also suggests that the person in the photo or video may not want it to be seen and it could have been shared without their knowing.

Image Credits: Apple

These warnings aim to help guide the child to make the right decision by choosing not to view the content.

However, if the child clicks through to view the photo anyway, they’ll then be shown an additional screen that informs them that if they choose to view the photo, their parents will be notified. The screen also explains that their parents want them to be safe and suggests that the child talk to someone if they feel pressured. It offers a link to more resources for getting help, as well.

There’s still an option at the bottom of the screen to view the photo, but again, it’s not the default choice. Instead, the screen is designed in a way where the option to not view the photo is highlighted.

These types of features could help protect children from sexual predators, not only by introducing technology that interrupts the communications and offers advice and resources, but also because the system will alert parents. In many cases where a child is hurt by a predator, parents didn’t even realize the child had begun to talk to that person online or by phone. This is because child predators are very manipulative and will attempt to gain the child’s trust, then isolate the child from their parents so they’ll keep the communications a secret. In other cases, the predators have groomed the parents, too.

Apple’s technology could help in both cases by intervening, identifying and alerting to explicit materials being shared.

However, a growing amount of CSAM material is what’s known as self-generated CSAM, or imagery that is taken by the child, which may be then shared consensually with the child’s partner or peers. In other words, sexting or sharing “nudes.” According to a 2019 survey from Thorn, a company developing technology to fight the sexual exploitation of children, this practice has become so common that 1 in 5 girls ages 13 to 17 said they have shared their own nudes, and 1 in 10 boys have done the same. But the child may not fully understand how sharing that imagery puts them at risk of sexual abuse and exploitation.

The new Messages feature will offer a similar set of protections here, too. In this case, if a child attempts to send an explicit photo, they’ll be warned before the photo is sent. Parents can also receive a message if the child chooses to send the photo anyway.

Apple says the new technology will arrive as part of a software update later this year to accounts set up as families in iCloud for iOS 15, iPadOS 15, and macOS Monterey in the U.S.

This update will also include updates to Siri and Search that will offer expanded guidance and resources to help children and parents stay safe online and get help in unsafe situations. For example, users will be able to ask Siri how to report CSAM or child exploitation. Siri and Search will also intervene when users search for queries related to CSAM to explain that the topic is harmful and provide resources to get help.

Founders must learn how to build and maintain circles of trust with investors

Many VCs tout their mentorship and hands-on approach to founders, especially those who run early-stage startups. But in the recent era of lightning-fast rounds closing at sky-high valuations, the cap tables of early-stage startups are becoming increasingly crowded.

This isn’t to say that the value VCs bring has diminished. If anything, it’s quite the opposite — this new dynamic is forcing founders to be extremely selective about exactly who is sitting around their mentorship table. It’s simply not possible to have numerous deep and meaningful relationships to extract maximum value at the early stage from seasoned investors.

Founders should definitely pursue big rounds at sky-high valuations, but it’s important that they recognize how important it is to manage who they allow into their mentorship circles. Initially, founders should make sure their first layer consists of the real “doers” — usually angels and early venture investors who founders meet with weekly (or more frequently) to help solve some of the most granular problems.

Everything from hiring to operational hurdles all the way to deeper, more personal challenges like balancing family life with a rapidly growing startup.

This circle is where the real mentorship happens, where founders can be open and vulnerable. For obvious reasons, this circle has to be small, and usually consist of two to six people at most. Anything more simply becomes unwieldy and leaves founders spending more time managing these relationships than actually building their company.

How founders manage their VC circles can mean the difference in success or failure for a thousand different reasons.

The second layer should consist of the “quarterly crowd” of investors. These aren’t necessarily people who are uninterested or unwilling to participate in the nitty gritty of running the company, but this circle tends to consist of VCs who make dozens of investments per year. They, like their founders, aren’t capable of managing 50 relationships on a weekly basis, so their touch points on company issues tend to move slower or less frequently.

Examples of Product Backlogs and How to Manage Them

Product backlogs come in all shapes and sizes, many of them very, very long. So how can a product manager (PM) organize and structure all these ideas so the right ones always make it to the top? That takes a combination of technology and teamwork.

In this post, we’ll cover a few product backlog examples from a few different angles and how these formats can help you prioritize ideas. 

Product backlogs

First off, I’d like to make clear that these suggestions are around the product backlog, which is separate from the development backlog. I touch on development backlogs a bit more below. (I also have some choice words for weighted scoring algorithms!)

The job of a product manager or product owner is to look at all the things that the team could do, and ultimately decide what the team should do. This means time spent discovering, validating, and invalidating different hypotheses and solutions that are listed as tickets in a backlog.

The backlog is only as valuable as the conversations it enables. These collaborative conversations around your roadmap are essential to building the best version of your product! Product managers, product owners, developers, and people from other functional teams should all be able to read, question, discuss, and understand where the product is headed and why.

That said, here are some ways your team can structure all of the tickets, ideas, and possibilities so that discussions and backlog grooming are smoother and more efficient.

Ways to view a product backlog

List

This format is as straightforward as it sounds. Everything you could possibly do is listed here. In a way, it’s the heart of a product backlog, a valuable collection of feedback, ideas, and discovery.

But, although each ticket is likely tagged, categorized, and color-coded, this long list might not be the best format for actually managing and prioritizing ideas. It’s great as a repository and reference point, but it’s not much of a tool for conversation or decision making.

Priority Chart

This approach literally charts ideas according to effort and impact, providing a super clear overview of quick wins, worthwhile investments, and no-go ideas. Each ticket is represented as a dot on the chart. The effort required to make it happen is measured on the X axis, its impact on the business is measured on the Y axis. 

As a result, each quadrant represents a category of solutions: low effort-high impact (the easiest decisions), high effort-high impact, low effort-low impact, and the section you likely won’t touch — high effort-low impact. 

In ProdPad you can filter this even further according to customer demand, team popularity, or how thoroughly the product spec has been written.

Priority chart - a different way to view a product backlog

Workflow

Here you can view your backlog through the whole product management workflow, from acknowledging brand new ideas to QA testing fully developed features. Each ticket appears at whatever stage of development it currently sits.

The great perk of this format is that it provides full visibility into the product development process, especially to people on other teams. They can see the status of certain features of fixes and learn about what else is in the pipeline.

Internal transparency is a key part of most company cultures, and ProdPad’s workflow view helps create it across teams.

Roadmap

You can also look at your long list of ideas through the lens of your product roadmap. Don’t look at the backlog as a whole. It’s too much information which, taken all together at once, doesn’t really tell you anything about what you should do next.

Instead, think back to your roadmap and the problems you’re trying to solve. Problem A will have corresponding ideas for solutions in the backlog, as will Problems B and C. So if your team prioritizes at the problem level, then that organizes the backlog according to ideas A, then ideas B and C. It becomes clear what your options are and why you might try them. In ProdPad, this view is simply called “Your roadmap,” and it’s one of my favorite approaches.

Quick note on development backlogs

The structure or style of the backlog will always follow the development method of the team.

For example, a Kanban backlog will cater to a pull flow. The most important tickets will be at the top of the list, and developers pick from the top as they have the capacity. The team typically has three buckets of items in development: doing, testing, done. Each bucket has a limited number of items according to how many developers are actually on the team.

Scrum backlogs cater to a push flow. The tickets are scoped, selected, and prioritized according to what can fit within a one, two, or three-week sprint — however the team structures its dev cycles. A definitive number of tickets are approved for this sprint, and they’ll move through development as a batch.

How not to manage a product backlog

The #1 piece of advice I have on what not to do is unfortunately a widespread practice in the product management world: using weighted score algorithms. I’m talking about RICE and ICE and other acronyms that are used to prioritize backlogs automatically.

Weighted scoring algorithms just aren’t as helpful as we want them to be. In my experience, here are the outcomes of using them:

  • The product manager ignores the algorithm. The system will suggest a certain top 5 items, but the PM immediately starts on item 7 because they intuitively know that #7 solves a real problem for the business.
  • The product manager ignores their own intuition. Never a good idea. Now they’ll likely spend time working on what’s actually the wrong thing.
  • The product manager tweaks the algorithm to match their intuition. The algorithm becomes increasingly complex without telling them anything new. What a waste of time!

Plus, relying on technology to tell us what technology to build misses a very crucial element I’ve already mentioned a few times here (and many other places on this blog): conversation. Collecting feedback and collaborating on potential solutions should be on-going throughout the development process, not just when we create a ticket or write a user story.

At the end of the day, no matter how you structure or view your backlog, remember that it is a living, dynamic record of your team’s creativity and your product strategy. The backlog doesn’t dictate what you will do; rather it’s a tool for decision making and direction taking. 

The post Examples of Product Backlogs and How to Manage Them appeared first on ProdPad | Product Management Software.

Creators can now monetize their expertise on Quora

In May, Yahoo! Answers shut down after helping the internet answer its most burning questions since 2005. But now, Quora, which began as a question-and-answer site but expanded to incorporate blogging, is making its platform more appealing to creators.

Quora says it’s “on track to be cash flow positive from ads alone,” implying that the platform isn’t currently in the black. But Quora sees tapping into the creator economy and subscriptions as a way to turn a profit.

“We want to make sharing knowledge more financially sustainable for creators,” Quora CEO Adam D’Angelo wrote in a blog post. “Even though many people are motivated and able to spend their time writing on Quora just to share their knowledge, many others could share much more with financial justification to do so.”

Quora’s first new product is Quora+ — subscribers will pay a $5 monthly fee or a $50 yearly fee to access content that any creator chooses to put behind a paywall. These are the same rates that Medium, which has no ads, charges for its membership program.

Rather than paying select creators, subscribers will pay Quora. Then, each subscriber’s payment will be distributed to creators “in proportion to the amount each subscriber is consuming their content, with more of a subscriber’s contribution going to writers and spaces the subscriber follows.” Creators have the option to enable a dynamic paywall on Quora+ content, which would give free users access to certain posts if Quora thinks they’re likely to convert to paid membership; there’s also an “adaptive” paywall option, which uses an algorithm to decide whether to paywall content for a specific user on a case-by-case basis. This is supposed to help creators strike a balance between monetizing their content and growing their audience to find new potential subscribers.

Quora told TechCrunch that it is still experimenting with Quora+ and can’t yet say what percentage it will take from subscriptions.

The other option is for creators to write paywalled posts on Spaces, which are like user-created publications on Quora. Quora will take 5% of the subscription fee, which the creator can choose at their own discretion — comparatively, the direct-to-consumer blogging platform Substack takes 10% of writers’ profits, which makes Quora a competitive alternative. Other platforms like Ghost ask for a $9 monthly fee, but let writers retain their revenue — for writers making at least $180 per month, Ghost would be more profitable than Quora.

“We’re able to sustainably commit to taking only a minimal fee without needing to increase it in the future because we make enough revenue from ads to fund most of the platform’s development and operations,” D’Angelo wrote. Substack, meanwhile, doesn’t have ads.

Quora reached a $1.8 billion valuation in 2017 after raising $85 million, and at the time, the platform had 190 million monthly users. Now, according to D’Angelo’s blog post, over 300 million people use Quora each month. Despite this user growth, Quora laid off an undisclosed amount of staff in its Bay Area and New York City offices in January 2020.

Space subscriptions will launch today for English language users in 25 countries, including the U.S. The rollout of Quora+ will be less immediate as Quora invites select writers to test the platform and determine what works best for subscribers and creators.