Daily Crunch: Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey steps down, board moves CTO Parag Agrawal to top spot

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Hello and welcome to Daily Crunch for November 29, 2021! It’s Monday, we’re back, you are back and the news is back. If you had hoped that the post-Thanksgiving, pre-holiday break period was going to be relaxed, no dice. As you have already seen in the subject line, we have a lot to get into. —Alex

P.S. We’re having a little Cyber Monday sale for TechCrunch Sessions: Space tickets!

The TechCrunch Top 3

  • Jack logs off: From Twitter’s CEO role, that is. This morning, double-CEO Jack Dorsey announced that he will bounce from his perch atop Twitter, handing off the chief executive reins to the company’s CTO. TechCrunch’s take is that the elevation of Parag Agrawal to the top role bodes well for the company’s larger crypto efforts.
  • Clearview AI irks U.K.: While we may disagree with the United Kingdom on what to call the trunk of a car or its hood, we can agree with the island nation that Clearview AI is not our favorite company. The facial recognition shop has been given a “provisional notice” that it is to “stop further processing of U.K. citizens’ data and to delete any data it already holds.” It’s also set to receive a fine.
  • Is e-commerce growth slowing? New data from the fake U.S. shopping holiday “Black Friday” showed lower digital spending than in 2020. TechCrunch added to that data point by trawling a series of recent disappointing earnings from e-commerce companies to wonder if the online market for selling stuff is seeing its growth slow.

Startups/VC

  • Positive social networking? What if your social network was a series of self-improvement challenges that you could undertake and then share results with your friends? That’s what startup Alms is cooking up. It’s something akin to the anti-Twitter, we reckon.
  • Yassir wants to build the North African super app: Flush with a $30 million Series A, Yassir’s service that provides things like ride-hailing and delivery is building a huge marketplace for its region. The “super app for geographic region X” is a fun model to take on, as it is good in that the TAM is huge, but tough in that point-solution competitors could prove tough to beat.
  • Today in great opening paragraphs: Our own Rebecca Bellan has a brilliant way of explaining what Foundry Lab, which just raised an $8 million round and came out of stealth earlier today, is building. So, instead of paraphrasing, here is the paragraph in its entirety:

Remember Easy Bake Ovens? You’d mix up some colored powder and water until a dough or batter formed, put it in a mold, pop it in the oven and before you knew it — ding! A disgusting treat. Foundry Lab, a New Zealand-based startup with backing from Rocket Lab’s Peter Beck, has figured out how to do something similar, except instead of chemicals and an “oven,” it’s metals and a microwave.

  • YallaMarket hopes that quick commerce is a global wave: Sure, there are 2,349 companies competing for quick delivery of goods in the U.K., but YallaMarket is betting that the model will also scale across the Middle East. It has raised just a few million thus far but is a company to keep tabs on.
  • If cloud is good, are clouds better? One of our two enterprise gurus, Ron Miller, has a post up today about Upbound. The gist is that the company has built a tool that helps companies manage their multi-cloud setup. Why multi-cloud? Per Ron, because companies today don’t want to get locked into a single provider. Makes sense. Upbound just raised $60 million.
  • Thought Machine raises $200M: B2B cloud banking concern Thought Machine is now a unicorn. Uncork the sparkling apple juice. We might yammer on more regarding the valuation threshold that the startup has reached, but, it was not alone:
  • Today in Tiger: Two rounds today! First, Indian credit card startup Slice is now a unicorn. And, in evidence that no startup name can be too dumb to succeed — hello “Google” and “TechCrunch” — Mr Yum has raised $65 million for its mobile ordering service.
  • I have to stop, but there was even more announced today, including rounds from FJDynamics and Motorway.

Product-led growth and signal substitution syndrome: Bringing it all together

Red stitching on gray fabric

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

Collecting data to optimize B2B marketing is notoriously difficult.

“Practitioners tend to see each new source of information about their potential buyers — each signal type — as a substitute for the last one that didn’t work,” according to Kerry Cunningham, senior principal at account engagement platform 6sense.

Embracing a product-led growth mindset allows organizations to look at users as signals, “just like form-fill leads, de-anonymized website traffic, visitors to your booth, and the rest,” says Cunningham.

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

Big Tech Inc.

  • Facebook whistleblower to chat about Section 230 with Congress: The leaker of a great number of internal Facebook documents will testify in front of Congress regarding U.S. laws relating to content moderation and the hosting of speech online. We are sure that Congress will ask substantive questions this time.
  • AWS wants to help robots: The major cloud computing platforms are a lot more than store-and-compute services. AWS has a new project called RoboRunner that wants to help fleets of robots work together more intelligently, for example. Also keep in mind that both AWS and Azure offer “ground station as a service” for satellite companies.
  • Today in big deals: One major bucket of hungry capital (Francisco Partners) is selling a morsel from its table (Quest Software) to another pile of cash (Clearlake Capital). The deal is worth $5.4 billion, far more than Francisco paid for the “legacy security vendor” back in 2012.

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AWS adds user monitoring and A/B testing to CloudWatch

Amazon CloudWatch was introduced way back in 2009 to help AWS customers view data about their cloud usage and spending. Today at the dawn of AWS re:Invent, the company’s cloud customer conference taking place in Las Vegas this week, the cloud division announced a couple of enhancements to the product.

Amazon has been building on the types of data provided by CloudWatch, and today it added user monitoring. With Real User Monitoring, AWS customers can understand when there is a problem with a deployment and take corrective action before customers really begin to feel it.

“Amazon CloudWatch RUM will help you to collect the metrics that give you the insights that will help you to identify, understand, and improve this experience. You simply register your application, add a snippet of JavaScript to the header of each page and deploy,” Amazon’s Jeff Barr wrote in a blog post announcing the feature.

This doesn’t exactly fall under the category of stunning innovation. It’s something companies like AppDynamics and New Relic have been doing for years, but as with most things Amazon they are providing a soup-to-nuts experience for customers inside AWS, and this type of monitoring lets you know when things could be going wrong with your AWS application.

The other new feature is a new experiments tool called CloudWatch Evidently, which helps developers set feature flags and run A/B tests inside an application they are building on top of AWS. Rather than just updating an app for every user, developers may want to test it on a limited subset of users and see if the new feature breaks anything, or if users prefer a particular approach or design more.

They can limit the people who see a new feature by setting a feature flag in the code and setting up the parameters for that feature. In addition, you can do A/B testing, another form of experimentation, that lets you test features with a certain subset of users to see which feature or design people prefer.

Neither of these is new either. Companies like Split.io have been doing more broad feature flag management for some time, and companies like Optimizely have been building companies around A/B testing.

CloudWatch Evidently is already available in 9 Amazon cloud regions with pay-as-you-go pricing, while CloudWatch RUM is also available now in 10 regions at a cost of $1 per 100,000 events collected.

Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen will talk Section 230 reform with Congress this week

Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen will go before Congress again this week, this time offering her unique perspective on the company’s moderation and policy failures as they relate to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the key legal shield that protects online platforms from liability for the user-created content they host.

The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology will hold the hearing, titled “Holding Big Tech Accountable: Targeted Reforms to Tech’s Legal Immunity,” this Wednesday, December 1 at 10:30 AM ET. Color of Change President Rashad Robinson and Common Sense Media CEO James Steyer will also testify on Wednesday.

The hearing is the latest Section 230-focused discussion from the House committee. In March, the chief executives of Facebook, Google and Twitter went before lawmakers to defend the measures they’ve taken to fight misinformation and disinformation — two major areas of concern that have inspired Democratic lawmakers to reexamine tech’s longstanding liability shield.

In an October Senate hearing, Haugen advocated for changes to Section 230 that would hold platforms accountable for the content that they promote algorithmically. While Haugen isn’t an expert on legislative solutions to some of social media’s current ills, given her time with Facebook’s since-dismantled civic integrity team, she’s uniquely positioned to give lawmakers insight into some of the most dangerous societal outcomes of algorithmically amplified content.

“User-generated content is something companies have less control over. But they have 100% control over their algorithms,” Haugen said. “Facebook should not get a free pass on choices it makes to prioritize growth, virality and reactiveness over public safety.”

Facebook’s former News Feed lead and current Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri is also set to testify before the Senate for the first time next week, addressing revelations in leaked documents that the company knows its business takes a toll on the mental health of some of its youngest, most vulnerable users.

In its announcement, the House Energy and Commerce committee cited four tech reform bills that Congress is currently mulling: the Justice Against Malicious Algorithms Act of 2021, the SAFE TECH Act, the Civil Rights Modernization Act of 2021 and the Protecting Americans from Dangerous Algorithms Act. The first bill, proposed by the committee holding Wednesday’s hearing, would lift Section 230’s liability protections in cases when a platform “knowingly or recklessly” recommends harmful content using algorithms.

Algeria’s Yassir picks up $30M to build a super app in North Africa

Yassir, an Algerian startup that provides on-demand services such as ride-hailing and last-mile delivery, has raised a $30 million Series A round.

The investment came from a long list of VCs and angel investors. VCs include WndrCo, DN Capital, Kismet Capital, Spike Ventures, Quiet Capital, Endeavor Catalyst, FJ Labs, VentureSouq, Nellore Capital and Moving Capital. The angel investors include Cleo Sham of Uber; Thomas Layton of Upwork, Opentable and Metaweb; Rohan Monga of Gojek; and Hannes Graah of Spotify and Revolut.

The company said in a statement that most of the investors from its $13.25 million seed round, which was previously undisclosed, participated as well.  

After earning a Ph.D. at Stanford and spending most of his professional life in Silicon Valley working at various companies, CEO Noureddine Tayebi returned to Algeria to get involved in the country’s nascent tech scene to start a company and build technical talent in the Maghreb region (Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia).

Most people in French-speaking Africa are unbanked due to a lack of trust in incumbents and inefficient banking solutions. Tayebi felt that providing on-demand services — which solves essential needs and, more importantly, builds trust to then provide payment services — was the catalyst to enable financial inclusion in the region.

He founded Yassir with Mahdi Yettou in 2017. The company started with ride-hailing services because the cities it targeted had dense populations and inefficient transportation services. Yassir progressed to offer last-mile delivery services, creating a multi-sided marketplace that brings drivers, couriers, merchants, suppliers and wholesalers to individual users on one platform.

Yassir

Yassir CEO Noureddine Tayebi. Image Credits: Yassir

According to Tayebi, the plan is to use the marketplace model to offer payment services to all parties involved and create a super app in the process.

“Our approach of solving the unbanked population problem is unique in the region by offering more of a ‘banking as a platform’ solution where daily services are at the heart of it all via a super-app marketplace,” he told TechCrunch.

“Such services not only build trust for all the sides of the marketplace but also use them as channels to offer these payment services, which we think is the approach that is most suited to the region. Most of our competitors are either on-demand services — ride-hailing or last-mile delivery only — or pure payment solutions. This gives us an edge over them as we build the network, the channels and the trust that are all key ingredients for the adoption of payment services at large scale.”

Yassir has seen exponential growth since launching four years ago. Last year, it was part of Y Combinator’s winter batch as the first Algerian startup in the accelerator. In terms of traction, over 3 million people and 40,000 partners in all its markets now use the platform. Tayebi said that Yassir generates revenues by taking a commission on the services it offers.  

This round of funding makes Yassir the most funded startup in Algeria and one of the most funded in the Maghreb and MENA region. Tayebi isn’t coy about saying his company aims for regional dominance in its category. Yassir also plans to gain market share outside the region into other markets, primarily sub-Saharan Africa and other “strategic geographies.”

The company will use the investment to achieve that as well as consolidate growth in its existing markets by launching new products and improving existing ones.

Yassir also plans to triple the size of its engineering team, a department the company is also particular about building locally.

“We are [a] 100% local champion, including tech talent, as we want to empower the tech talent in the region and hire them in each country we operate in. We want a success model that is fully from the region,” Tayebi said.

“Yassir is a natural evolution of companies seen elsewhere in the world,” WndrCo partner Anthony Saleh said in a statement.The moment we met the team, we saw the opportunity of entering an enormous market with a service taking the best of models we have seen elsewhere. We’re thrilled to be part of this supercharged journey.”

How one founder is turning complex decision-making into a developer tool anyone can use

Carolyn Mooney wants you to make your decision-making process code. She is the co-founder and CEO of Nextmv which helps companies make efficient decisions on a mass scale—think Amazon delivering packages or Uber plotting a route for an uber pool. In this week’s episode, she talks with Darrell and Jordan about Nextmv’s software that doesn’t just optimize decision making and route planning but also enables engineers to work on many different types of teams. Plus she talks about how coaching high school volleyball has made her a better leader and forced her to prioritize a work-life balance.

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AWS Braket gets improved support for hybrid quantum-classical workloads

In 2019, AWS launched Braket, its quantum computing service that makes hardware and software tools from its partners Rigetti, IonQ and D-Wave available in its cloud. Given how quickly quantum computing is moving ahead, it’s maybe no surprise that a lot has changed since then. Among other things, hybrid algorithms that use classical computers to optimize quantum algorithms — a process similar to training machine learning models — have become a standard tool for developers. Today, AWS announced improved support for running these hybrid algorithms on Braket.

Previously, to run these algorithms, developers would have to set up and manage the infrastructure to run the optimization algorithms on classical machines and then manage the integration with the quantum computing hardware, in addition to the monitoring and visualization tools for analyzing the results.

Image Credits: AWS

But that’s not all. “Another big challenge is that [Quantum Processing Units] are shared, inelastic resources, and you compete with others for access,” AWS’s Danilo Poccia explains in today’s announcement. “This can slow down the execution of your algorithm. A single large workload from another customer can bring the algorithm to a halt, potentially extending your total runtime for hours. This is not only inconvenient but also impacts the quality of the results because today’s QPUs need periodic re-calibration, which can invalidate the progress of a hybrid algorithm. In the worst case, the algorithm fails, wasting budget and time.”

With the new Amazon Braket Hybrid Jobs feature, developers get a fully managed service that handles the hardware and software interactions between the classical and quantum machines — and developers will get priority access to quantum processing units to provide them with more predictability. Braket will automatically spin up the necessary resources (and shut them down once a job is completed). Developers can set custom metrics for their algorithms and, using Amazon CloudWatch, they can visualize the results in near real time.

“As application developers, Braket Hybrid Jobs gives us the opportunity to explore the potential of hybrid variational algorithms with our customers,” said Vic Putz, head of engineering at QCWare. “We are excited to extend our integration with Amazon Braket and the ability to run our own proprietary algorithms libraries in custom containers means we can innovate quickly in a secure environment. The operational maturity of Amazon Braket and the convenience of priority access to different types of quantum hardware means we can build this new capability into our stack with confidence.”

Hear how growth investors spot space companies ready to blast off at TC Sessions: Space 2021

The space economy is booming and for the first time ever, there’s a fair amount of exit event activity. That should have later stage investors who focus on the area excited, and we’ll be able to ask them about it directly at our virtual TechCrunch Sessions: Space event on December 14-15.

Joining us for a panel focused on later stage investing in space tech, we’ll have Tess Hatch, partner at Bessemer Ventures, Sequoia’s Shaun Maguire and Lisa Rich of Xplore all on our stage at the event. We’ll look at the significant changes in the growth investment industry when it comes to space startups that have taken place this past year, and what it means to have a lot more companies actually shipping product and growing their customer base rather than being focused more on the research and development of groundbreaking tech.

Hatch, who herself has experience at both Boeing and SpaceX in addition to her investment experience, also stays close to the pulse of the industry (in addition to her investment work) by co-teaching a Stanford course on helping researchers commercialize their academic work.

Maguire’s focus as partner at Sequoia is on frontier tech, as well as fintech and enterprise (there’s a lot more crossover than you might expect!). His track record includes leading Sequoia’s investment in SpaceX, and he also led GV’s investment in Spinlaunch when he was a partner there prior to joining Sequoia in 2019.

Rich is herself an entrepreneur and founder, and has an extensive history of investing in both early stage and growth stage space companies, including Axiom Space, Made in Space, PlanetIQ and more. Rich’s own company, Xplore, also offers ‘space-as-a-service’ to customers, providing everything needed to host and operate a payload.

TC Sessions: Space 2021 takes place on December 14-15. Celebrate Cyber Monday and buy your 2-for-1 pass before November 29 at 11:59 pm (PT).

Is your company interested in speaking at TC Sessions: Space 2021? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

Product-led growth and signal substitution syndrome: Bringing it all together

A few years back, my former colleagues and I at SiriusDecisions introduced what we called the Intent Data Framework (IDF). About a year ago, we updated the model to include non-behavioral signals and called it the Buyer Signals Framework (BSF).

Already, it’s clear we left something out of the IDF and even BSF: product-led growth.

Signal substitution syndrome

Both versions of the framework were attempts to address a misunderstanding that was, and still is, so rampant in B2B that I have a name for it — signal substitution syndrome. The nature of this syndrome is simple: In B2B, both marketing and sales practitioners tend to see each new source of information about their potential buyers — each signal type — as a substitute for the last one that didn’t work.

If people are using the product, the need is not prospective or theoretical, it is actual.

The history of B2B could be written in the successive failure of these signals to be what we all hoped for. Whether it was people showing up at trade show booths, people filling out bingo cards from the back of magazines, the people and bots filling out website forms, webinar registrations, syndicated content leads, third-party intent signals, review site users, etc.

The misunderstanding that underwrites signal substitution syndrome is that any of these signals should be considered as sufficient — or even halfway decent — signals of buyer intent unto themselves. To be sure, by happenstance, some leads have occasionally turned into business in a way that can be seen and understood.


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But if there’s one thing that my time as an analyst taught me, it’s that leads are a depressingly high failure rate (95%-99%) signal. Intent data by itself is worse. However, they are both better than whatever we had before. In fact, none of these signals are, by themselves, actually expressions of intent. Expressions of interest? Sure. Intent, not so fast.

How product-led growth fits in

Along comes product-led growth (PLG) with the idea that we’ll offer a free or very low-cost version of our solutions and use adoption of them as the new signals that will lead to enterprise deal generation. Of course, not every product is amenable to a PLG motion. It’s pretty hard to imagine Oracle PLG-ing their manufacturing cloud, for example.

AWS launches new robotics programs

To kick of re:Invent, AWS’s flagship conference, the cloud computing giant today announced IoT RoboRunner, a new service for building applications that help large fleets of robots work together. This new service aims to provide the infrastructure necessary to build the work and fleet management applications necessary to run the kind of robot fleets that Amazon itself utilizes in its warehouses, for example.

The company also today announced a new robotics accelerator program.

At its core, RoboRunner helps developers build applications that integrate with robots from different manufacturers and manage the lifecycle of these applications. Currently, AWS argues, it’s too difficult to integrate robots from different vendors into a single system, leaving enterprises with a number of silos where they manage their robots, which in turn makes it hard to build applications where these heterogeneous fleets cooperate.

Image Credits: AWS

RoboRunner provides developers with a centralized data repository for their entire fleet, as well as a registry for modeling all of the destinations in a given facility and a registry for keeping track of all of the tasks performed by these robots.

The target customer for this service is large industrial enterprises that operate fleets of automated guided vehicles, mobile robots and robotic arms.

In addition to RoboRunner, AWS also announced a new robotics startup accelerator, the AWS Robotics Startup Accelerator, in collaboration with MassRobotics.

“Today, there are only a few successful commercial robotics companies, and there are a few big reasons for this,” AWS CTO Werner Vogels writes in today’s announcement. “First, finding a fit in the robotics product market is difficult because real-world environments are dynamic and unpredictable, so pairing the right niche with the right capabilities can be a challenge. Second, building robots with a high degree of autonomy and intelligence requires multidisciplinary skills that are hard to find and recruit for. Third, robotics is capital intensive and requires large up-front investment in sensors, actuators, and mechanical hardware even when they’re already commercially available.”

The new program is open to early-stage startups (less than $10 million in revenue and $100 million raised. The selected companies will get access to specialized training and mentorship from robotics experts and up to $10,000 in AWS credits.  

Foundry Lab raises $8M to quickly, cheaply create metal castings using a microwave

Remember Easy Bake Ovens? You’d mix up some colored powder and water until a dough or batter formed, put it in a mold, pop it in the oven, and before you knew it — ding! A disgusting treat. Foundry Lab, a New-Zealand based startup with backing from Rocket Lab’s Peter Beck, has figured out how to do something similar, except instead of chemicals and an “oven,” it’s metals and a microwave.

The company, which emerged from stealth on Monday with an $8 million Series A raise, is using “literally a microwave, but on steroids” to cast metal parts much quicker than metal 3D printing, according to David Moodie, founder and CEO of Foundry.

“It’s super easy for the user; they literally take the mold, throw in the cold metal powder or metal ingots, put it in the microwave, press the button and walk away,” Moodie told TechCrunch. “It even dings when it’s done. As easy as heating up a microwave dinner.”

(Foundry’s microwave has also been used to cook a typical New Zealand meat pie. It took only a few seconds and didn’t taste fantastic, according to Moodie.)

Typical casting systems like investment casting, 3D printing and die-casting take anywhere from one to six weeks to produce. Foundry says it has been able to turn around brake shoes for cars in under eight hours using molds that had been 3D printed using computer-aided design (CAD) molds and a giant microwave. The startup is currently working with zinc and aluminum, but has done some successful stainless steel trials and wants to move onto other metals like copper and brass in the future.

While Foundry’s tech has future applications in manufacturing industries where metal 3D printing can’t reach, the near-term goal is to help car manufacturing R&D teams develop production-identical, functional metal parts that can be used for testing and prototyping before committing to mass production.

“One of the companies we’re talking to is making up to 600 prototype cars before one reaches the market, so they’ll keep changing and keep iterating on it, and that can get expensive really quickly,” Moodie said, adding that tooling costs could be upwards of $50,000 to $100,000.

Moodie says before starting Foundry, he ran an industrial design consultancy business, designing products for mass manufacture. He felt frustrated that authorities would consistently reject patent applications because they were made with parts produced by 3D printers or CNC machines, and therefore, potentially made with the wrong physical structures.

“So I did the Kiwi thing and went to the shed and lucked my way into a system that worked,” he said, noting that much of his experimenting was done using standard microwaves during New Zealand’s latest lockdown, during which time Moodie couldn’t get into his workshop. “What we’re trying to solve is actual castings, trying to simulate a die casting but doing it fast and cheaply. If you machine to a tool to do a die casting, it’s typically three to six months to get that back.”

It’s still early days for Foundry. The company only has a couple of its very large microwaves out for trial with potential customers at the moment, but it will use the Series A funding, which came from Australian VC Blackbird, to get production-ready by the end of 2023.

Part of the funding will go toward hiring more staff. The company has grown quickly over the past few months, up from six staffers when it first started fundraising to 17 full-time employees now. The goal is to make it to around 35 over the coming months, a task that’s been difficult with New Zealand’s strict pandemic-related border closures.

“The whole border close thing is starting to hit us now,” said Moodie. “The country’s got two microwave experts, and they both have jobs. That’s been particularly difficult. So we’re trying to get someone to come across and help us.”

New Zealand is beginning to open up internally, with Auckland coming out of lockdown this week and the city borders opening up to the rest of the country in mid-December. Unless the new omicron variant holds things up, the country is expected to start inviting vaccinated travelers back starting April 30, 2022, giving Foundry and other New Zealand startups the chance to hire talent from abroad.

Even though Foundry is working out of New Zealand, it’s targeting markets in the United States and Europe. The company’s long game is to continue to work on the microwaves and get them to a point where they can produce the quantities needed for mass production.