Robotics startup FJDynamics raises $70M to make manual labor easier

FJDynamics, founded by DJI’s former chief scientist Wu Di, just closed a Series B round of $70 million as it advances its goal to empower workers in the harshest environment with robotic technologies.

When I asked Wu what’s special about his company’s farming robots, he gave an answer that would make any publicist sweat: “I don’t think our technology is that special.” The startup’s vision, he said, is to make useful and affordable robots for the most labor-intensive industries.

“You can have the most advanced AI algorithms,” he continued, “But if the technology doesn’t work on the production line or the farm, because you don’t have any industry experience, then how does your technology benefit people?”

The technologies that Wu worked on before FJDynamics were cutting-edge in every sense. At DJI, he served as the chief scientist and oversaw the drone giant’s acquisition of the 180-year-old Swedish format camera maker Victor Hasselblad AB in 2017. Before returning to China, he spent a decade in Sweden, during which he earned a PhD in domain-specific processor design. He also worked as a vice principal at fabless semiconductor company Coresonic AB and a director at the Swedish luxury sports car maker Koenigsegg AB.

“After seeing all these first-class technologies, it’s a stretch to say we [FJDynamics] are a high-tech company,” said the founder, who donned a slightly faded checkered shirt and a pair of thin-rimmed glasses on the morning of our interview.

We were sitting in a makeshift meeting room, a partition comprising a few desks separated from the rest of the open-plan office by movable walls. The company, located in Shenzhen’s bustling tech hub Shenzhen, was fast expanding and approaching 1,000 employees.

Wu Di, founder and CEO of FJDynamics

In 2019, Wu left DJI to start FJDynamics. The company set out with a focus on agricultural robots, building tools like unmanned lawnmowers, orchard sprayers and feed pushing machines. It has since ventured into other fields that depend heavily on manual work, such as construction and manufacturing.

As Beijing invokes a digital upgrade in the country’s traditional industries, Chinese companies like FJDynamics are in hot demand by investors. FJDynamics itself has attracted a rank of heavyweight financiers, including Tencent and state-owned automaker Dongfeng Asset Management. DJI had a stake in the company early on but has since sold off its shares.

It declined to name its sole investor in its latest Series B round and only said it is a major internet firm in China. The funding, the company said, will allow it to “grow its suite of robotics automation technology across agriculture, facility management, construction and gardening, along with supporting the increasing demand of the company’s ESG product offerings in over 60 countries.”

Over the years, a handful of engineers have left DJI to set up their own shops or join others’ fledgling projects. Portable battery maker EcoFlow, hairdryer Zuvi, electric toothbrush brand Evowera are among the most high-profile ones. For Wu, what drove him away from a prestigious position at the world’s largest drone company was a sense of disconnection he felt making “luxury” hardware.

“If you look at how robotic technology is being applied, there are a lot of companies using drones and autonomous vehicles. But the majority of people on earth aren’t benefiting from it.”

“Agriculture, construction, gardening… Work conditions in these sectors are physically demanding and there are still a lot of us doing this kind of job. The question is how we use robotic technology to improve their work environment, and that doesn’t mean simply replacing them with robots,” said the founder.

Image Credits: FJDynamics’ cow feed pusher, printed with the logo of Sveaverken, a Swedish farming company it acquired

One of FJDynamics’ popular products is the automated feed pusher. To produce high-quality milk, cows need to be fed about ten times throughout the day. The routine requires farms to have staff on-site 24 hours. A farm with 500 cows, for example, needs about three grass feeders to take shifts. But in poorer countries, farms can’t afford to have as many workers and staff could be out tending to the cows all day even in the coldest season.

FJDynamics aims to make farmers’ work easier. Its vision-guided feeder, which costs about 20,000 euros each, can feed up to 500 cows a day. In 2019, it acquired the 110-year-old Swedish farming company Sveaverken, which has helped put the Chinese firm’s feed pushing robots to work.

“I never talk about technology to my customers. The farmer is more interested in whether my product can help improve the crop yield,” said Wu. “Every farmer is an economist.”

Because of the company’s vision in “making tech affordable”, margins are “modest” and the management is vigilant about operational costs.

At the moment, about 40% of the startup’s sales happen outside China across some 60 countries. Many Chinese companies expanding overseas are increasingly cagey about their origin, fearing hostility against anything labeled “Chinese”. Wu takes a more proactive approach.

“Even though I’ve lived in Europe for ten years, I can’t rip off my skin. I don’t think that’s important — whether it’s a Chinese, American or Swedish entrepreneur… As long as you build great products and bring benefits to my customers, there will be users.”

Data compliance is especially key to a company’s global expansion. FJDynamics provides the hardware and software while its local partners help deploy the “system” using the data. Microsoft Azure is its main cloud partner outside China to allow “elastic deployment while meeting data privacy requirements such as GDPR.”

“Our culture is that we don’t want the data,” Wu said.

Unlike smartphones or drones that require sophisticated processors, FJDynamics’ products use relatively simple chips that could be found in China, so the firm is likely immune from the recent supply chain disruptions, the founder reckoned.

While Wu may not be working on the most advanced technology anymore, he looks for ways to impart his knowledge. When he’s not developing the next farming robot, he lectures at the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen.

“I live a simple life that focuses on two things — product [FJDynamics] and education,” the founder said. “I’ve seen a lot and realized that money can’t change you or make you happier. So you need a simple goal, and achieving the simple goal makes your life happier.”

India’s Slice becomes unicorn with $220M funding from Tiger Global, Insight Partners and Advent

Rajan Bajaj, founder of fintech Slice, chimed in on a Twitter thread earlier this year and wondered aloud what he needs to do to turn his startup into a unicorn before he turns 30.

At just 28, Bajaj has figured it out.

Slice, which was valued at under $200 million in a financing round in June this year, has joined the unicorn club with a fresh $220 million fundraise, the startup said on Monday.

Tiger Global and Insight Partners co-led the Bangalore-based startup’s Series B round. Private equity firm Advent International’s Sunley House Capital, Moore Strategic Ventures, Anfa, and existing investors Gunosy, Blume Ventures, and 8i also participated in the round.

TechCrunch reported early last month that Tiger Global and Insight Global were in talks to back Slice. A source familiar with the matter told TechCrunch that the round could grow further to $250 million.

Slice has established itself as one of the market leading card-issuing firms in India. The startup offers a number of cards that are aimed at tech-savvy, young professionals in the country.

Image credits: Slice

And it’s a huge market.

Despite nearly a billion Indians having a bank account, only a tiny fraction of this population is covered by the South Asian nation’s young credit rating system. As we have outlined in the past, Indian banks heavily rely on archaic methodologies to determine an individual’s creditworthiness and whether they deserve a credit card. Their conclusion: it’s too risky to give a credit card or even a loan to most Indians.

Slice is tackling this by using its own underwriting system. Such is the confidence it has in its underwriting system that in September this year, it launched a card with $27 limit to tap into the nation’s 200 million population. In an interview with TechCrunch, Bajaj (pictured above) said the new card is gaining fast traction, but declined to share any figures.

The startup offers its customers a range of features such as the ability to pay the bill in three interest free instalments and access to discounts on purchase with scores of brands. Slice says it is issuing over 200,000 cards each month. With this, it has become the third largest card issuer in India after two banks, according to a person familiar with the matter.

“Slice has built a product that customers love, which we expect will result in continued growth and market share gains,” said Alex Cook, a partner at Tiger Global, in a statement. “We are excited to partner with Rajan and the team as they expand access to credit and deliver best-in-class customer experience.”

On the business front, the startup is clocking an annual revenue runrate of over $60 million, according to the source quoted above. The source requested anonymity as the details are private.

 

This is a developing story. More to follow…

Ant is changing how consumers borrow money from its app

In December 2020, Beijing laid out a guideline for Ant Group to “rectify” its business after calling off its IPO, which could have been the largest initial public offering in history. In the plan, regulators asked Ant to revamp its credit business, among other changes that would make it subject to the same set of regulations overseeing financial institutions. In other words, Ant can no longer get by with its freewheeling practices by calling itself a “tech” firm.

Nearly a year later, the Alibaba-affiliated fintech powerhouse showed that it has almost finished restructuring its popular consumer credit products.

Credit loan products contributed nearly 40% of Ant’s revenues in the six months ended June 2020, according to the firm’s prospectus filed last year. The two main products are Huabei (Spend), which launched in 2014 for daily expenditures by consumers, working like a virtual credit card. A year later Jiebei (Borrow) was introduced as a credit product for larger consumption transactions.

Under the old model, Ant originated loans that were then underwritten by third-party banks and other financial institutions. As of June 2020, about 98% of Ant’s credit balance originated through its platform was underwritten by its partner financial institutions or securitized, according to the firm’s prospectus.

Jiebei has split itself into two brands, users reported earlier this week. Credit lines extended by third-party banks are now called Xinyong Dai (Credit Loan) on Alipay, Ant’s flagship financial services app. Those provided by Ant’s consumer finance company, which was recently established at the behest of regulators, are staying under the Jiebei brand.

Huabei has similarly started a restructuring, which will show users which loans are extended independently by banks and which by Ant’s consumer finance firm. Huabei will focus on “small-ticket” everyday transactions, it said in a Weibo post.

“Following the brand differentiation, users applying for credit loan services will have more information about their credit providers to avoid brand confusion.”

Huabei also noted that it’s now submitting consumer credit information to a database overseen by China’s central bank. It started the routine in September after it established its consumer credit company, which, just like banks, need to report their credit information to the central bank in China.

Forest bags $8M seed round to acquire Japanese e-commerce brands 

Japan has been the birthplace of traditional arts and crafts since ancient times. Craftmanship, meticulous attention to detail and balance of design and functionality have contributed to creating unique Japanese products like pottery, traditional fabrics, washi (paper), woodwork, glasses, bento-boxes and more. 

This craftsmanship continues to be passed along from generation to generation and live on in modern Japan. However, the craftsmen and women, who do not always have the skills or tools to be influential merchants, have often been left behind in the rapidly evolving business environment in the 21st century.

In recent years, a growing number of e-commerce entrepreneurs have started to develop their own products and brands in response to a shift in consumer demand from cheap, mass-produced goods to diversified products that meet one’s unique needs and lifestyle. 

Forest, a Japanese e-commerce aggregator, seeks to identify sustainable, high-quality products and brands that embrace the spirit of Japan and help them grow and enter the global market by using the power of technology.

Forest announced today it has raised approximately $8 million (900 million yen) of seed round led by The University of Tokyo Edge Capital Partners (UTEC) and Nordstar Partners.

The startup will use the new capital to acquire more than 300 Japanese e-commerce brands that have been carefully crafted and curated by entrepreneurs. Forest will apply digital marketing strategies at scale, optimize sales and enhance inventory planning through data analytics, as well as support cross-border e-commerce expansion. 

Forest is currently in the process of finalizing its first acquisition. It will continue to look for brands that generate sales between $1 million and $5 million and target to acquire companies with more than $10 million of sales next year, said CEO of Forest Shingo Yuhara told TechCrunch. 

It also plans to raise around $20 million to $30 million debt and equity capital of Series A, targeting the first half of 2022, Yuhara said.  

Forest looks at marketplaces, including Amazon, Rakuten, Zozotown, Yahoo Japan sellers, Shopify and more. 

Forest, founded in July by Yuhara and COO Masa Mishizawa, will compete with other e-commerce aggregators like Rainforest, Una Brands and Thrasio in the global market. Forest said it is the first pure aggregator dedicated to the Japanese market. Given that Forest initially focuses on the Japanese market, it does not see Rainforest and Thrasio as its pure competitors, Yuhara said. 

Thrasio set up a Japanese office in March to acquire Japanese brands and products sold on Amazon Japan and other e-commerce platforms.  

The Japanese e-commerce market was estimated at $165 billion (19 trillion yen) as of 2020, according to a report by Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. 

“[The] investment into Forest is one of our largest seed round investments within the IT sector. In my previous life, I managed my family-owned apparel business and personally experienced the pains and limitations of a small business. I strongly believe that Forest can solve these problems and capitalize on the potential of these businesses through the power of technology,” said partner of UTEC Hiroyuki Sakamoto. “We look forward to working with the experienced Founders who seek to challenge this attractive market opportunity and we feel privileged to participate as co-lead investor.”   

“We are excited to be investing in Forest that is well-positioned to take advantage of the large opportunity in acquiring and scaling niche brands in Japan,” said managing partner Ole Ruch of Nordstar. 

TabTrader raises $5.8M for a mobile app that aggregates crypto exchange data

As many of the top cryptocurrencies seem to temporarily stabilize near all-time highs, users looking to speculate on tokens that are a bit more volatile are searching across exchanges to find deals.

Amsterdam-based startup TabTrader has been capitalizing on this search with a platform that aggregates prices and token availability across dozens of exchanges. While other platforms allow users to look at token prices across exchanges, most are desktop-optimized while TabTrader has built up a substantial presence for its mobile app on iOS and Android.

As different exchanges take different approaches toward onboarding new tokens, crypto traders are increasingly signing up for accounts on multiple exchanges and tracking prices across multiple apps with multiple notification types set for each. Many users rely on TabTrader for its cross-exchange price alert feature, notifying users when a particular token has gone above or below a certain value. While plenty of exchanges offer this functionality inside their native apps, the reliability and customizability of these push notifications has often been inconsistent.

CEO Kirill Suslov tells TechCrunch that the TabTrader app has more than 400,000 active users, with particularly strong presences in Europe and Asia.

The startup has adopted a Kayak-like model, aggregating prices for tokens and picking up rebate fees from exchanges when users make a purchase through the app. While users plug their wallet info into the app to easily make purchases through connected exchanges, Suslov says that TabTrader never has access to user funds.

Alongside these rebates, TabTrader also makes money through a $12 monthly subscription for a paid version, as well as advertising. Suslov says his 20-person team has scaled to reach their current audience without any paid marketing.

While tens of millions of users have created accounts on centralized exchanges like Coinbase and Binance, Suslov says that TabTrader’s biggest opportunity may be embracing so-called decentralized exchanges like Uniswap, which allow users to rapidly exchange tokens with other users.

Suslov says that while the exchanges have built out great technology in the back-end, the front-end interfaces aren’t as easy for users to navigate, leaving room for an aggregator like TabTrader to streamline the user experience while allowing users to explore decentralized exchanges for the first time. The startup says they’re starting with a number of Solana-based exchanges including Serum, Raydium and Orca.

“[Decentralized exchanges] are the hottest topic of 2021,” Suslov says.We raised to get onto this rocket ship.”

Suslov tells TechCrunch that TabTrader has banked $5.8 million in Series A funding from 100X Ventures, Hashkey Capital, Spartan Capital, SGH Capital, SOSV and Artesian Venture Partners.

India’s Spinny valued at over $1.75 billion in $280 million funding

Spinny, a Gurgaon-based startup that operates a platform to facilitate purchase and sale of used cars, is the latest firm to become a unicorn in the world’s second largest internet market.

Spinny has raised over $280 million in its Series E financing round, a source familiar with the matter told TechCrunch. The round, which is co-led by Tiger Global and Abu Dhabi Growth Fund, values Spinny at over $1.75 billion post-money, the source said.

This is the third funding round raised by Spinny this year. The startup was valued at about $700 million in July this year and $350 million in April.

The new round follows quarters of strong growth that saw Spinny expand to 15 Indian cities, up from fewer than half a dozen last year. The startup has grown its business by four times in the current calendar year, the source said, requesting anonymity as the figures are not public.

Spinny, which counts Elevation Capital and Accel among its existing backers, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Hundreds of thousands of used cars are sold in India each month. But buying them through the offline and traditional channel could prove to be a painstakingly long and high-risk process.

One of the biggest challenges people face in buying a used car is the trust factor, Niraj Singh, co-founder and chief executive of Spinny told TechCrunch in an interview earlier this year.

Spinny is addressing this by removing the traditional middlemen from the equation, thereby making it more affordable and reliable for customers to buy a used car. The startup buys cars from the owners, performs thorough and transparent inspection and then makes it available for customers to purchase.

Niraj Singh, a former teacher, co-founded Spinny. (Image credits: Spinny)

If a customer is not satisfied with the car that they have purchased from Spinny, they get a full refund, the startup says on the website.

The growth potential for Spinny and some other startups operating in this space is massive. The market for auto e-commerce currently has less than 1% penetration in India, according to analysts at Bernstein.

“This is largely because the auto market still requires physical inspections and the target market skews towards used vehicles — an unorganized market,” they wrote in a report earlier this year.

“The total addressable market in India is around $220 billion, which includes used vehicle purchase by consumers, auctions and remarketing, growth potential for the new vehicles market, and financing and advertisements. The total addressable market for only the used car market in US is over $800 billion,” they wrote in a report earlier this year.

Spinny is the second Indian startup to become a unicorn this week. India has produced over three dozen unicorns this year — more than all other years put together — after several high-profile global investors, including Tiger Global, SoftBank and Falcon Edge Capital, began to double down on the world’s second-largest internet market earlier this year at the height of the ravaging pandemic.

In a letter to shareholders earlier this year, Tiger Global identified India as one of the few markets where it was planning to deploy billions of dollars. SoftBank Group chief executive Rajeev Misra said earlier this month that the Japanese firm has invested more than $3 billion in India this year and can invest up to $10 billion in the country next year.

Ex-Microsoft exec Harry Shum leads ‘digital economy’ research center in Shenzhen

Overlooking a lush wetland in Hong Kong, the International Digital Economy Academy (IDEA) quietly opened last year.

The research institute sits on the northern bank of the Shenzhen River, which separates Hong Kong from mainland China. But technically, it’s located inside a special area straddling the two cities: the Shenzhen-Hong Kong Innovation and Technology Cooperation Zone. The name is self-explanatory. It’s a joint effort by the governments of Shenzhen and Hong Kong, with support from Beijing, to collaborate on scientific and technological research.

IDEA is one of the organizations that have set up inside the 3.89 km² special zone — which is about the size of 540 football pitches — and is a brainchild of Harry Shum. The renowned computer scientist was an executive vice president at Microsoft from 2013 to 2019 and also co-founded Microsoft’s largest research branch outside the U.S., Microsoft Research Asia.

Like his former colleague at Microsoft, Kai-Fu Lee, Shum was active in both the research and business sides of AI. Now at IDEA, his team aims to “develop disruptive innovative technologies based on social needs and give back to society in a way that allows more people to benefit from the development of the digital economy.” Several research directors at IDEA are also Microsoft veterans, including Yutao Xie and Jiaping Wang.

The sweeping regulatory clampdown on China’s internet firms has led to headlines saying Beijing has turned against tech. But the government’s intent is more nuanced. It’s zeroing in on Big Tech deemed harmful to the society and economy, companies that have encouraged financial market risks, gaming addiction, exploitation of gig workers, and other ills.

In the meantime, China remains fixated on its goal to promote fundamental research and reduce reliance on Western technologies. In Shenzhen, home to tech giants like Huawei, DJI and Tencent, the government is recruiting world-class scientists. Harry Shum and his team are among the latest to have joined the raft.

IDEA definitely has a buzzy name (and a great acronym). The term “digital economy” comes up often in President Xi Jinping’s speeches on how technology can be a driving force for the economy. The “digital economy has become a key force in restructuring the global economy and transforming the global competitive landscape in recent years,” the President said in October. “The internet, big data, cloud computing and other technologies are being increasingly integrated into all sectors of economic and social development.”

IDEA is examining how AI can transform industries like finance, manufacturing and medical care. This week, it announced it’s partnering with leading Chinese quant trader Ubiquant on a joint lab to work on “risk monitoring and avoidance for financial transaction markets,” as well as “basic infrastructure for high-performance computing systems.”

IDEA is just one of the many research labs that have sprung up across Shenzhen in recent years. The Shenzhen Institute of Data Economy, located on the Shenzhen campus of the Chinese University of Hong Kong with support from the government, is another group working to advance China’s digital economy.

India’s Blume Ventures raises $105 million in the first close of its fourth fund

Blume Ventures said on Wednesday it has raised $105 million in the first close of its fourth fund, less than two years after finalizing its previous fund, as investment activity intensifies in the world’s second largest internet market.

The 11-year-old firm, one of the largest Indian venture funds, said it expects its new fund to balloon to close to $200 million by March next year, which is when it hopes for the final close. Its current LPs include some multi-family office wealth management funds, sovereigns, and some corporates across Asia and Europe.

With the new fund, the investment firm will continue to focus on backing early stage startups in their pre-seed and pre-Series A rounds, said Karthik Reddy, co-founder and managing partner at Blume Ventures, in an interview with TechCrunch.

Blume Ventures — which counts online learning platform Unacademy, fintech Slice, hyperlocal delivery service Dunzo, edtech Classplus, used-car marketplace Spinny, and insurer Turtlemint among its portfolio startups — backs early stage startups and typically writes its starting check in the range of $1 million to $2.5 million.

Over the years, Blume Ventures has become one of the most respected venture firms in the country. Even the startups that don’t end up getting a check from the fund speak highly of its partners, according to many entrepreneurs with whom TechCrunch has spoken.

Wednesday’s announcement comes at a time when Indian startups are raising record amounts of capital. Sequoia Capital India, Tiger Global, Falcon Edge Capital, and SoftBank have increased the pace of their investments in India in recent quarters as they double down on finding winners in one of the last great growth markets.

The pandemic has also seen many firms aggressively scramble for new strategies. But Blume Ventures appears to follow the more conservative approach. The venture firm has written about 25 checks from its previous fund and still has some reserves to do follow-on rounds, said Reddy.

At the height of the pandemic, Blume Ventures was “slow and thoughtful” as it was not very comfortable with assessing firms over Zoom calls, he said. “We took our own time to write the last few checks,” he said.

“We are getting amazing love from large investors,” he said, adding that it may appear that some of the startups larger firms have backed in recent quarters have seen multi-fold jumps in valuations, but he pointed to some business-to-business e-commerce marketplaces and noted that their growth build-up had been in the works for three to four years.

With the firm’s $102 million third fund, Blume Ventures backed a number of firms in edtech and deep-tech SaaS spaces, he said. Reddy said it was too early to say how the third fund has performed, but added that it has probably never seen its portfolio firms reach the $50 million to $100 million valuations stage faster.

“But that’s natural. If you have a good founder, good story to tell, you don’t need a boat load of revenue to go and raise a double-digit round today,” he said, adding that by March the firm expects valuation of 10 portfolio startups from the third fund to be over $75 million. “This is a first-time experience for us. It took us much longer in previous funds.”

With the new fund, the largest for Blume Ventures, the firm expects to participate for longer in the lifecycle of its portfolio startups.

Samsung announces new advanced semiconductor site in Taylor, Texas 

Samsung Electronics announced today it has selected a site in Taylor, Texas, to build a new semiconductor wafer fabrication plant that is set to produce advanced logic devices. 

The estimated $17 billion investment, which will mark the largest investment made by Samsung in the U.S., is expected to create about 2,000 new jobs directly and thousands of related jobs once the new facility is in full operation. The funding will bring Samsung’s total investment in the U.S. to more than $47 billion since beginning U.S. operations in 1978. 

The Taylor site, about 16 miles from Samsung’s current manufacturing site in Austin, is expected to serve as a key location for Samsung’s global semiconductor manufacturing capacity along, with its latest new production line in Pyeongtaek, South Korea. 

The new facility will manufacture products based on advanced process technologies such as mobile, 5G, high-performance computing (HPC) and artificial intelligence (AI). 

Samsung’s decision comes amid a global chip shortage that has undermined industries from automobiles to electronics.

The company said it remains committed to supporting customers globally by making advanced semiconductor fabrication more accessible and meeting surging demand for semiconductor products.  

Samsung will start construction on the Taylor site, which will span more than 5 million square meters, in the first quarter of 2022, aiming to have production up and running in the second half of 2024.

“As we add a new facility in Taylor, Samsung is laying the groundwork for another important chapter in our future,” said Kinam Kim, vice chairman and CEO of device solution division at Samsung Electronics. “With greater manufacturing capacity, we will able to better serve the needs of our customers and contribute to the stability of the global semiconductor supply chain. We are also proud to be bringing more jobs and supporting the training and talent development for local communities, as Samsung celebrates 25 years of semiconductor manufacturing in the U.S.”

After reviewing multiple locations within the U.S. for a potential manufacturing plant, the decision to invest in Taylor was based on multiple factors, including the local semiconductor ecosystem, infrastructure stability, local government support and community development opportunities. 

Based on media reports, Samsung, which evaluated other locations such as Arizona, New York and South Korea for the new chip plant, picked Texas’ Williamson County because it offered a better tax policy. In July, Samsung Electronics applied for a tax break (from the Taylor Independent School District) to build a chipmaking factory in Taylor, Texas, according to a file submitted with Texas authorities in July. 

“It [Samsung] seeks a strong public partner to support the project through financial and other incentives (e.g., infrastructure and utility assistance). In connection with the project, the company is seeking rebates under Chapter 380 and 381 assistance from the Texas Enterprise Fund. In addition, the company is also pursuing incentives relating to certain infrastructure and utility improvements, rate reductions, and other non-cash benefits to support construction and operations of the proposed project,” as per the document. 

Samsung will also contribute financial support to create a Samsung Skills Center for the Taylor Independent School District (ISD) to help students develop future career skills and provide internships and recruiting opportunities. 

“Companies like Samsung continue to invest in Texas because of our world-class business climate and exceptional workforce,” said Governor Wayne Abbott. “Samsung’s new semiconductor manufacturing facility in Taylor will bring countless opportunities for hardworking Central Texans and their families and will play a major role in our state’s continued exceptionalism in the semiconductor industry.”

Samsung Group’s de facto leader Jay Y. Lee, visiting North America last week, met with the U.S. government officials in Washington, D.C. to discuss the second chip plant and semiconductor supply chain. Lee also met with other tech firm leaders, including Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and execs at Moderna and Verizon Wireless, to strengthen their business ties. 

Intel recently broke ground on two new chipmaking plants in Arizona. At the same time, TSMC started constructing a $12 billion chip factory in Arizona and announced its plan to build the first chip plant in Japan in October. Texas Instruments also unveiled its investment plan for four new semiconductor fabrication plants in Sherman, Texas. 

TechCrunch+ roundup: Why your title matters, part-time CFOs, Sequoia’s new model

Startup culture is informal, which is why some workers end up with job titles like “customer delight manager” or “product whisperer.”

That might work inside mature companies, but early-stage founders who are presenting themselves to investors must be more specific.

In an interview with Natasha Mascarenhas, B2B stealth startup founder Akshaya Dinesh recounted the time her team was rejected by an accelerator because they hadn’t yet picked a CEO.


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“We said something like, ‘We’re very early and we’re both technical so we’re kind of doing everything together,’ but if we had to choose it would be X,” said Dinesh.

Making sure each contributor has a clearly defined title gives potential investors a better understanding of the team and its abilities — and it will also help avoid future legal disputes.

But like it or not, it also means some founders will receive a larger slice of the pie than others.

“As we’ve learned through loud legal disputes and quieter signs, titles matter,” writes Natasha, who also interviewed several investors and legal experts. “Perhaps even more than the name of your startup does.”

In observance of the Thanksgiving holiday in the U.S., we won’t be publishing on Thursday, November 25 and Friday, November 26.

Thanks very much for reading!

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch+
@yourprotagonist

5 must-have board slides for SaaS sales and revenue leaders

Hand putting wooden five stars on table

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

Before he became a partner at Battery Ventures, Bill Binch was chief revenue officer at Pendo, a product analytics app.

In his former role, he was responsible for providing his company’s board with quarterly updates on growth and revenue.

“As a wise mentor once told me, no one ever gets a promotion from a board meeting, but people sure do get fired afterward,” he writes in an article about the five slides sales and revenue teams must get right:

  • Headline reel.
  • Detailed, five-quarter view.
  • Segments, geographies and verticals.
  • Pipeline.
  • Sales team health.

Data collection isn’t the problem: It’s what companies are doing with it

Rear view of young man walking towards detour on red background

Image Credits: Klaus Vedfelt (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Instead of raking in user data as a general practice, companies should aggregate information to optimize product development and create a superior customer experience, writes Maxim Kharchenko, director of fintech products at Rakuten Viber.

In a detailed TechCrunch+ post, Kharchenko uses examples to explain how companies can set up data fabrics, AI and decision intelligence frameworks to build a data-driven business without sacrificing user trust.

3 ways fractional CFOs can fast-track a startup’s success

red balloon with man helping people cross chasm

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

Bringing a CFO aboard is not a high priority at most early-stage startups.

It isn’t a critical role until the company reaches product-market fit, and the best ones are expensive to recruit and retain.

Hiring a part-time CFO may be a better option, particularly for companies that are shaping up their finances before seeking new funding, advises Ranga Bodla, head of industry marketing for Oracle NetSuite.

“With no sign that the flow of capital will ease in the near future, bringing in a fractional CFO could be a well-timed strategic move for startups with ambitious growth plans,” he writes.

What happened to Paytm’s IPO valuation?

In India, nearly every store has a placard with a Paytm QR code customers can use to pay for nearly anything.

Given its ubiquity, there was boundless optimism ahead of the fintech’s IPO last week. However, the stock tanked the next day and fell further this week.

It appears the public didn’t like the IPO price too much, Alex Wilhelm writes. Despite a growing merchant base and strong rise in GMV, it appears Paytm “is struggling to pull enough revenue from its work to cover the cost of doing business.”

In Amazon scuffle, Visa’s loss could be Affirm’s gain

Online shopping concept. Credit card and laptop computer on blue background 3D Rendering, 3D Illustration

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

Interchange fees can be costly for e-commerce retailers in more than one way — costly payment methods like credit cards lead to customers making fewer transactions and abandoning shopping carts.

And Amazon’s recent decision to stop accepting Visa cards on its U.K. site is evidence of just how much those costs can matter, writes Ryan Lawler.

A host of e-commerce platforms are increasingly moving to alternatives like buy now, pay later as customers tend to buy more often when given no-interest or interest-free payment alternatives, and providers like Affirm and Afterpay are poised to reap the benefits of this shift, Ryan writes.

“We’re likely to see more BNPL partnerships and adoption as retailers seek to grow their top-line sales, reach new customers and move beyond credit cards as a primary payment method.”

What open source-based startups can learn from Confluent’s success story

3D illustration of many arrows changing way to converge toward objective on kraft paper. Confluence background.

Image Credits: Olivier Le Moal / Getty Images

Founders are often told to perfect one product and only shift focus after they’ve either succeeded or failed at it.

But Confluent simultaneously built a cloud product while still figuring out its on-premise service business, writes enterprise reporter Ron Miller.

“The challenge for us was that we had a software offering with very large customers with lots of demands, and we had to [build] a cloud offering across all the different clouds while still servicing that [existing] customer base,” Confluent CEO and co-founder Jay Kreps told Ron.

“Growing the existing business and building something new are both pretty hard problems, so that was the big challenge for us.”

Kreps and Ron also spoke about how the dual focus paid off to help Confluent become a $22-billion publicly listed company, its early days, and why founders should trust their instincts.

As Sequoia changes its model, other permanent-capital VCs weigh in

Sequoia Capital announced in October that it would create a new structure that rolled up all of its investments into a single fund.

“Our industry is still beholden to a rigid 10-year fund cycle pioneered in the 1970s,” wrote partner Roelof Botha in a blog post.

The move to a more permanent, Registered Investment Adviser model is meant to counter that, several U.K.-based VC investors told Anna Heim and Alex Wilhelm.

“It takes a fund like Sequoia with the strength of their LP relationships to even consider this kind of option,” Molten Ventures partner Vinoth Jayakumar said.