State AGs tell Facebook to scrap Instagram for kids plans

In a new letter, attorneys general representing 44 U.S. states and territories are pressuring Facebook to walk away from new plans to open Instagram to children. The company is working on an age-gated version of Instagram for kids under the age of 13 that would lure in young users who are currently not permitted to use the app, which was designed for adults.

“It appears that Facebook is not responding to a need, but instead creating one, as this platform appeals primarily to children who otherwise do not or would not have an Instagram account,” the coalition of attorneys general wrote, warning that an Instagram for kids would be “harmful for myriad reasons.”

The state attorneys general call for Facebook to abandon its plans, citing concerns around developmental health, privacy and Facebook’s track record of prioritizing growth over the well being of children on its platforms. In the letter, embedded below, they delve into specific worries about cyberbullying, online grooming by sexual predators and algorithms that showed dieting ads to users with eating disorders.

Concerns about social media and mental health in kids and teens is a criticism we’ve been hearing more about this year, as some Republicans join Democrats in coalescing around those issues, moving away from the claims of anti-conservative bias that defined politics in tech during the Trump years.

Leaders from both parties have been openly voicing fears over how social platforms are shaping young minds in recent months amidst calls to regulate Facebook and other social media companies. In April, a group of Congressional Democrats wrote Facebook with similar warnings over its new plans for children, pressing the company for details on how it plans to protect the privacy of young users.

In light of all the bad press and attention from lawmakers, it’s possible that the company may walk back its brazen plans to boost business by bringing more underage users into the fold. Facebook is already in the hot seat with state and federal regulators in just about every way imaginable. Deep worries over the company’s future failures to protect yet another vulnerable set of users could be enough to keep these plans on the company’s back burner.

Activist investor Starboard Value makes official bid for Box board seats in letter

Last week activist investor Starboard delivered a public letter rebuking the company for what it perceives as under performance. Today the firm, which owns 8% of Box stock, making it the company’s largest stock holder, took it a step further with an official slate of four candidates it will be putting up at the next stockholder’s meeting.

While the company rehashed many of the same complaints as in last week’s letter, this week’s explicitly stated its intent to run its own slate of candidates for the Box board. “Therefore, in accordance with the Company’s governance deadlines and in order to preserve our rights as stockholders, we have delivered a formal notice to Box nominating four highly qualified director candidates (the “Nominees”) for election to the Board at the Annual Meeting,” Starboard wrote in a public letter to Box.

Box responded in a press release that the Board as currently constituted categorically rejects this attempt by Starboard to take over additional seats.

“The Box Board of Directors does not believe the changes to the Board proposed by Starboard are warranted or in the best interests of all stockholders. The Box Board has been consistently responsive to feedback from all of its stockholders, including suggestions from Starboard, and open-minded toward all value enhancing opportunities. Furthermore, Starboard’s statements do not accurately depict the progress Box has made,” the Board wrote in a statement this morning.

Box further points out that the company overhauled the Board last year with three new board members specifically receiving Starboard approval.

What is driving Starboard to take this action? Like any good activist investor it wants a higher stock price and is seeking for more growth from Box. Activist investors often come in and try to extract value by brute force when they perceive the company is under performing. The end game were they successful could involve removing Levie as CEO or more likely selling the company and grabbing its profit on the way out.

Box asserted that “Starboard’s statements do not accurately depict the progress Box has made,” highlighting some of its recent financial performance including “a $127 million increase in free cash flow in fiscal 2021.” The former private-market darling also argued that its fiscal 2021 “revenue growth rate plus free cash flow margin [came to more than] 26%,” which beat its own target of 25% and was “nearly double” what it managed in its fiscal 2020.

This is a good time for a ‘yes, but‘: Yes, but Box’s ability to improve its profitability does not change the fact that its growth rate has been in steady decline for years. And while a company’s growth rate can cover nearly any sin, slowing growth that has already slipped into the single digits doesn’t cut Box much slack. (For reference, in its most recent quarter, the fourth of its fiscal 2021, Box grew just 8% on a year-over-year basis.)

It’s worth noting that the company did promise “accelerated growth and higher operating margins in the years ahead” in its most recent earnings call, but the company’s recent $500 million investment from KKR particularly irked Starboard, which asserts that it was akin to ‘buying the vote.’

“[Box] made several poor capital allocation decisions, including its recent entry into a financing transaction that we believe serves no business purpose and was done in the face of a potential election contest with Starboard at the 2021 Annual Meeting of Stockholders.”

Now it’s becoming a battle over more board seats. Box is putting up Levie, Verisign CFO Dana Evan and Peter Leav, Chief Executive Officer of McAfee and former Chief Executive Officer of BMC.

Starboard nominees include Deborah S. Conrad, former executive at Intel; Peter A. Feld, Starboard’s head of research; John R. McCormack, former CEO of WebSense and Xavier D. Williams, a director of American Virtual Cloud Technologies.

The vote will take place at the Box stockholder’s meeting, which has traditionally been held in late June or early July. To this point, the company has not put out the exact date publicly.

Axiom Space and NASA detail first fully private human launch to the Space Station, set for January 2022

Houston-based startup Axiom Space and NASA unveiled more details Monday about the forthcoming Axiom Mission 1 (AX-1), the first fully private human mission to the International Space Station.

The Axiom Mission 1 (AX-1) spaceflight mission will ferry four private astronauts to the International Space Station in January 2022. The eight-day mission will be launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida using a SpaceX Crew Dragon. While in space, the crew will be living and working in the U.S. segment of the ISS.

NASA will be paying Axiom $1.69 million for services associated with the mission, such as transporting supplies to the ISS, though that does not include other reimbursable agreements between the two entities.

There’s a “high degree of confidence in the late January date” for the launch, Axiom CEO Michael Suffredini said.

Axiom in January released the identity of the crew members: Canadian investor Mark Pathy, investor Larry Connor, and former Israeli pilot Eytan Stibbe. Leading the crew as mission commander is former NASA astronaut and Axiom Space VP Michael López-Alegría, who has four spaceflights under his belt.

Pathy, Connor and Stibbe will engage in research missions while onboard. Pathy will be collaborating with the Montreal Children’s Hospital and the Canadian Space Agency; Connor, the Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic; and Stibbe, to conduct scientific experiments coordinated by the Israel Space Agency at the Ministry of Science and Technology.

“Larry and Mark are very serious individuals who are dedicated to being the best they can be in the mold of a NASA astronaut and they’re not interested in being tourists,” López-Alegría said during the media briefing. “They want to do their part to improve humankind.”

To prepare for the mission, the four crew members will go on a “camping trip” in the Alaskan foothills for training in July, López-Alegría said. He will start full-time training around August, with Larry starting in September. The rest of the crew will start in October, with around two-thirds of their time dedicated to ISS-specific training and the rest dedicated to training with SpaceX. The staggered schedule is due to the differing responsibilities between the crew members while on board. Axiom will be using the same contractor that NASA uses to train its astronauts.

While Suffredini declined to specify how much the private astronauts paid for their space on the flight, he said he “wouldn’t argue with” widely reported figures in the tens of millions. The Washington Post in January reported that the ticket prices came in at $55 million each.

Prices may not always be so high, but Suffredini said that the industry is likely at least a decade away from serious price drops that might make space travel feasible for the average space-goer.

Axiom intends to offer astronaut flights – both private and national – to the International Space Station and eventually its own privately-funded space station. While Axiom has “things lined up” for AX-2, AX-3 and AX-4, “like everyone we have to compete for the opportunity,” Suffredini said. The number of missions to the ISS is limited because there are only two docking ports on the ISS, Station deputy manager Dana Weigel added. That suggests that additional stations will be necessary to meet the burgeoning demand for both commercial and scientific space missions.

The company also in January 2020 won a NASA contract to develop and install a commercial module to the Harmony docking port of the ISS as early as 2024.

Phil McAlister, NASA’s director of commercial spaceflight development, said that recent announcements on commercial spaceflights from Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic in addition to the Axiom mission have heralded “a renaissance in U.S. human spaceflight.”

“A lot of times history can feel incremental when you’re in it, but I really feel like we are in it this year. This is a real inflection point with human spaceflight,” he said.

Take your shot and apply to compete in Startup Battlefield at TC Disrupt 2021

Startup Battlefield, the world’s preeminent pitch competition, has launched hundreds of startups over the years — 922 if you want to be a stickler about it. The next Battlefield takes place at TechCrunch Disrupt 2021 on September 21-23. Yup, that sound you hear is opportunity knocking.

If you want a shot to compete against some of the most innovative early-stage startups in the world, apply to Startup Battlefield here before the application window closes on May 13 at 11:59 pm (PT). Still need a nudge? Keep reading.

Founders from these three startups took a chance, gave it their all and ended up winning the championship — and $100,000 — in their respective years: Canix (2020), Render (2019) and Forethought (2018). Oh, and Forethought scored a $9 million Series A investment after it won. Food for thought.

TechCrunch vets every application and will select roughly 25 startups to compete. It costs nothing to apply or compete — no fees, no equity slice. Participants receive weeks of (free!) training with the TC Battlefield team to make sure they’re primed up and ready to face a panel of expert VC judges.

Speaking of judges — you know, the peeps you need to impress, the folks who determine the winner? Yeah, them. We recently announced the first of our Startup Battlefield judges — Terri Burns, a partner at GV (formerly known as Google Ventures). We’re thrilled to have her on board.

Each startup team gets 6 minutes to pitch and present their demo — and then they’ll answer probing questions from the judges. Teams that move on to the second round do it all over again in front of a new panel of experts. Then it’s the finals and one last major push — pitch, demo, Q&A.

One team will emerge the Startup Battlefield 2021 champion, win the Disrupt Cup and take home a whopping $100,000 in prize money.

Beyond the actual competition, all Battlefield competitors receive a VIP experience — free demo space in the virtual Startup Alley, a free membership to Extra Crunch, complimentary tickets to future TC events and a private reception with members of the Startup Battlefield alumni community.

Don’t forget — everyone wants to learn more about the Battlefield contenders. Whether or not you win the whole shooting match, you’ll receive plenty of invaluable exposure to global investors, media outlets and potential customers.

Not a bad return for a small investment of your time and energy, amirite? Want a few more details about how Startup Battlefield works? You’ll find them here.

TC Disrupt 2021 takes place September 21-23, and when opportunity knocks, early-stage startup founders kick down the door. Strap on your boots and take your shot — apply to Startup Battlefield before May 13 at 11:59 pm (PT) and show the startup world what you’re made of.

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Disrupt 2021? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

Ford reveals three new details about its officially named F-150 Lightning electric pickup truck

Ford confirmed Monday that its all-electric pickup truck will be named the F-150 Lightning, resurrecting a name that once donned the SVT F-150 in the 1990s.

The company hasn’t said much about the powertrain, range or other specs. However, Ford President and CEO Jim Farley provided new details about the electric pickup that is coming to market next year. Most notably, it seems that the battery on the Ford F-150 Lightning will have the ability to power a home during an outage. Ford has touted the capability of its Hybrid F-150 to power a job site or tools, but this is the first time the company has said one of its vehicles could act as a backup generator to a home.

Farley also said the electric truck will have the capability to handle over-the-air software updates and will be quicker than the original F-150 Lightning performance truck, the V8-powered truck that debuted in 1993.

“Every so often, a new vehicle comes along that disrupts the status quo and changes the game … Model T, Mustang, Prius, Model 3. Now comes the F-150 Lightning,” Farley said in a statement. “America’s favorite vehicle for nearly half a century is going digital and fully electric. F-150 Lightning can power your home during an outage; it’s even quicker than the original F-150 Lightning performance truck; and it will constantly improve through over-the-air updates.”

Production of the electric pickup truck is expected to begin next spring at the company’s Ford Rouge Electric Vehicle Center.

The Ford F-150 Lightning will be revealed via a livestream May 19 at the company’s headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan. 

Hustle Fund wants to help spawn a new generation of angel investors

Kara Penn is the mother of four daughters and owner of Mission Spark, a management and strategy consulting company.

And now, thanks to Hustle Fund, she is also an angel investor.

Hustle Fund is coming out of stealth today with Angel Squad, a new initiative aimed at making angel investing more accessible to more people. To more people like Colorado-based Penn.

We believe that in order to increase diversity in the startup ecosystem, one thing that we must do is increase diversity — whether it be in regard to gender, race or geography — amongst angel investors,” said Hustle Fund co-founder and general partner Elizabeth Yin.

Via Angel Squad, Hustle Fund specifically aims to build an inclusive investor community, make minimum check sizes low and accessible (think as little as $1,000), provide “angel education” and give investors a way to invest alongside Hustle Fund.

“There’s been this misnomer, or at least I had this incorrect assumption that in order to become an angel investor, you have to be super rich and write $25,000 checks,” Yin told TechCrunch. “But the reality is actually in Silicon Valley, there are all these people running around investing $1,000 checks…and that’s something that’s a lot more accessible than then most people might think. And, part of the value of having this group is then we can accumulate a bunch of smaller checks to then write one larger check for a company.”

So far, Penn has invested in five startups across a range of sectors including real estate, food, apparel and finance. 

She describes herself as “a complete novice” in angel investing, and so far, she’s loving the experience.

I love Hustle Fund’s perspective that great hustlers can look like anyone and come from anywhere,” Penn told TechCrunch. “I’ve enjoyed being in a supportive community with differing levels of expertise, but where every question is welcomed.”

The experience is also broadening her exposure to technology and AI, the collection and use of data and the creation of new marketplaces in ways she never would have been exposed to before.

“As someone whose own company focuses exclusively on strategy in social impact organizations, I am also looking for how founders identify and bring to market creative solutions to complex problems, as well as exposure to a network of innovative people looking to solve hard issues in smart ways,” Penn said. “This exposure is helping me begin to think about applications of these approaches to difficult social problems.”

For some context, Hustle Fund is a venture firm founded by Elizabeth Yin and Eric Bahn, two former 500 Startups partners, with the goal of investing in pre-seed software startups. The firm has traditionally operated by investing $25,000 in a company, usually with a minimum-viable product, and then works with the team to help them grow. It does around 50 investments per year, according to its website. 

It recently closed on $33.6 million for a new fund.

“One of the things most important to us is this bigger mission of wanting to change the way the startup ecosystem is,” Yin said. “I noticed both as an entrepreneur and while running an accelerator, if you have a certain resume, went to certain schools, or were a certain race or gender, you have advantages in starting a company and getting funding. For many people, if you don’t tick those boxes, it can be very challenging. That’s why we’re investing in a lot of founders from all walks of life.”

Hustle Fund Venture Partner Brian Nichols had started a syndicate of Lyft alumni on AngelList. After doing a few deals, he opened up the syndicate to people outside of AngelList.

“I found there was a wide range of people looking to diversify into private markets, from all over the world with all types of backgrounds,” he said. “Hustle Fund and I had similar taste in companies I was investing in and I built a relationship with them in co-investments.”

Today, he’s helping run the fund’s Angel Squad initiative. So far, it has had two cohorts with over 150 investors total and true to the fund’s mission, those investors have been more diverse than typical angel syndicates: 46% of the members are female, 9% are underrepresented minorities and 32% are people who work outside of tech with professional roles such as lawyers, doctors and artists. Just one-third are based in Silicon Valley.

Every week, Angel Squad hosts an event which ranges from networking to a peek behind the curtain at opportunities at Hustle Fund is considering investing in to talking through why or why not to take a meeting with a founder.

“Imagine starting from zero, and if you could skip a bunch of steps and have Elizabeth (Yin) tell you how to do this before you lose a bunch of money in the process of evaluating a startup,” Nichols told TechCrunch. “Angel Squad is exactly what I wish had existed three or four years ago when I became interested in investing.”

Silicon Valley, Yin acknowledges, can be intimidating but the reality is that no one is an expert in everything.

“We’re trying to cultivate an environment where people are very kind — we have a no asshole rule, and that is a safe space where people can learn and feel like they can ask questions, and not have to know everything about angel investing. The reality is most people don’t. And we want to bring new people into this system.”

Besides not being an a-hole, other criteria in becoming a Squad Member include being able to add value and being an accredited investor.

“With rounds as competitive as they are today, we are looking for people who want to be actively supportive of the portfolio companies we’re investing in,” Nichols said. “Every person who wants to join the program is interviewed by someone from our team, who asks questions such as ‘What can you help a founder with?’ We are not looking for passive capital. That’s not super helpful at this point in the ecosystem.

Spring Sale: Save 10% on Extra Crunch membership

From now until May 16, TechCrunch readers can save 10% on an annual or two-year membership. That’s $89 per year in the U.S., with similar discounts for readers outside The States.

Grab a 10% discount on Extra Crunch here.  

Extra Crunch is a members-only community from TechCrunch. We help founders and startup teams get ahead. 

  • Discover the hottest startups through our late-stage deep dives (EC-1s)
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Since launching Extra Crunch, we’ve published thousands of articles on startup investment trends, fundraising, late-stage startups and more. Please consider joining our growing community of TechCrunch enthusiasts. 

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It’s the final homestretch to score a $99 pass to TC Disrupt 2021

We believe in rewarding early action with super savings. That’s exactly what you’ll get if you hit the brakes just long enough to buy a pass to TechCrunch Disrupt 2021 before our super early bird deal expires on Friday May 14, 11:59 pm (PST).

Seriously, hit that easy target, and you’ll attend our three-day startup-palooza for less than $100. You won’t find a better return on your investment of time or money. Disrupt, synonymous with opportunity, is where the global startup community gathers in virtual force to learn, show off their tech talent and network to build bigger, faster and smarter.

TechCrunch always delivers the leading minds, makers, investors and visionaries to deliver insight, explore developing trends and offer actionable advice that you can implement in your business now. Here are just a few of the notable speakers you’ll engage with at Disrupt. We’re still building the roster, so stay tuned for more heavy hitters to be added to the agenda.

  • Niko Bonatsos, managing director at General Catalyst
  • Saba Karim, head of accelerator pipeline at Techstars
  • Eleanor Morgan, chief product officer at InVisionApp

There’s still time for you to toss your gladiator hat into the ring and apply to compete in Startup Battlefield. Do you have what it takes to beat out some of the world’s top startups and take home $100,000? You’ll never know unless you apply before May 13, 11:59 pm (PST).

If you are an early stage startup and want to wring every ounce of opportunity out of Disrupt, consider exhibiting in Startup Alley. We’ve added extra features to help founders make the most of the virtual expo area. And file this under “but wait, there’s more!”  All early-stage startup that exhibit in Startup Alley are eligible to be one of the 50 startups selected for Startup Alley+ which gives you more exposure and more connection opportunities at no additional cost. The TechCrunch team will choose up to 50 startups for this VIP experience designed to provide more opportunities for exposure and growth before Disrupt begins. Learn more about the additional support you’ll receive if you’re selected for the Startup Alley+ program.

Pro Tip: Beat the super early bird deadline, and you’ll save $150 on a Startup Alley Pass. TechCrunch will select the Startup Alley+ participants by the end of June.

TC Disrupt 2021 takes place on September 21-23, but time to buy a pass for less than $100 is running out. Prices increase on May 14, 11:59 pm (PST). Beat the deadline and reap serious savings for taking early action.

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Disrupt 2021? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.