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Extra Crunch roundup: Unpacking BuzzFeed’s SPAC, curb your meeting enthusiasm, more

Meetings should have a clear purpose, but instead, they’ve become a way to measure status and reinforce what is colloquially referred to as CYA culture.

There’s a kernel of truth in every joke, so whenever someone quips, “This meeting could have been an email!” you can bet that some small part of them meant it sincerely.

Few people know how to run meetings effectively and keep conversations on track. Making matters worse, attendees often don’t bother to prepare, which makes a boring session even less productive.

And then there’s the complication of workplace politics: How secure do you feel declining an invitation from a co-worker — or a manager?

“Every time a recurring meeting is added to a calendar, a kitten dies,” says Chuck Phillips, co-founder of MeetWell. “Very few employees decline meetings, even when it’s obvious that the meeting is going to be a doozy.”


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Changing your meeting culture is difficult, but given that 26% of workers plan to look for a new job when the pandemic ends, startups need to do all they can to retain talent.

Aimed at managers, this post offers several testable strategies that will help you boost productivity and say goodbye to poorly run, lazily planned meetings.

“Declining a bad meeting should never be taboo, and you should reiterate your trust in the team and challenge them to spend their and others’ time with more intention,” Phillips says. “Help them feel empowered to decline a bad meeting.”

Thanks very much for reading Extra Crunch, and have a great weekend.

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist

Why Amazon should pay attention to Shein

Image Credits: Shein

In the last year, online apparel shopping app Shein grew active daily users by 130%, reports Apptopia.

Each day, thousands of new products arrive on the app’s virtual shelves. Items are rapidly designed and prototyped before Shein’s contractors put them into production in Guangzhou factories — two weeks later, those SKUs arrive in fulfillment centers around the globe.

TechCrunch reporter Rita Liao examined how the company’s agile supply chain has become hot talk among e-commerce experts, but beyond a strong logistics game and data-driven product development, Shein’s close relationships with suppliers are integral to its success.

She also tried to answer a question many are asking: Is Shein a Chinese company?

“It’s hard to pin down where Shein is from,” answered Richard Xu from Grand View Capital, a Chinese venture capital firm.

“It’s a company with operations and supply chains in China targeting the global market, with nearly no business in China.”

Inside GM’s startup incubator strategy

General Motors Chief Engineer Hybrid and Electric Powertrain Engineering Pam Fletcher with the 2014 Spark EV Tuesday, November 27, 2012 at a Chevrolet event on the eve of the Los Angeles International Auto Show in Los Angeles, California. When it goes on sale next summer, the Spark EV is expected to have among the best EV battery range in its segment and will be priced under $25,000 with tax incentives. (Chevrolet News Photo)

Image Credits: Chevrolet

GM Vice President of Innovation Pam Fletcher is in charge of the company’s startups that tackle “electrification, connectivity and even insurance — all part of the automaker’s aim to find value (and profits) beyond its traditional business of making, selling and financing vehicles,” Kirsten Korosec writes.

Fletcher joined TechCrunch at a virtual TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 event to discuss what it’s like to launch a slew of startups under the umbrella of a 113-year-old automaker.

Investor Marlon Nichols and Wonderschool’s Chris Bennett on getting to the point with a pitch deck

Image Credits: MaC Venture Capital / Wonderschool

MaC Venture Capital founding managing partner Marlon Nichols and Wonderschool CEO Chris Bennett joined Extra Crunch Live to tear down the company’s early deck.

“The first thing that jumped out at all of us was just how bare-bones the presentation is: white text on a blue background, largely made up of bullet points,” Brian Heater writes before noting the CEO admitted that “not much changed aesthetically between that first pitch and the Series A deck.”

“It aligned with what we were valuing at the time,” Bennett says. “We were really focused on getting the product-market fit and really trying to understand what our customers needed. And we’re really focused on building the team.”

Dear Sophie: What options would allow me to start something on my own?

lone figure at entrance to maze hedge that has an American flag at the center

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Dear Sophie,

I’ve been working on an H-1B in the U.S. for nearly two years.

While I’m grateful to have made it through the H-1B lottery and to be working, I’m feeling unhappy and frustrated with my job.

I really want to start something of my own and work on my own terms in the United States. Are there any immigration options that would allow me to do that?

— Seeking Satisfaction

Investors’ thirst for growth could bode well for SentinelOne’s IPO

Alex Wilhelm calls SentinelOne’s looming debut “fascinating.”

“Why? Because the company sports a combination of rapid growth and expanding losses that make it a good heat check for the IPO market,” he writes. “Its debut will allow us to answer whether public investors still value growth above all else.”

Alex delves into an early dataset from SentinelOne and why public market investors still appear to value growth above anything else.

Before an exit, founders must get their employment law ducks in a row

Rubber ducks in a line

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

Guest columnist Rob Hudock, a litigator who focuses on helping companies recruit the best talent available while avoiding distracting workplace issues or lawsuits, lays out the importance of putting out any employment-related fires before an exit.

“Inattention to employment issues can have a significant impact on deals — from preventing closings and reducing the deal value to altering the deal terms or significantly limiting the pool of potential buyers,” he writes.

“Fortunately, such issues typically can be resolved well in advance with a little forethought and legal guidance.”

Practice agile, iterative change to refine products and build company culture

Building an excellent product and a standout company culture require the same process, Heap CEO Ken Fine writes in a guest column.

“At Heap, the analytics solution provider I lead, a defining principle is that good ideas should not be lost to top-down dictates and overrigid hierarchies,” he writes. “The best results come when you approach leadership like you would create a great product — you hypothesize, you test and iterate, and once you get it right, you grow it.”

Here, he lays out his method that argues in favor of iterative change, not “one-and-done decrees.”

a16z’s new $2.2B fund won’t just bet on the crypto future, it will defend it

The big news on Thursday was the announcement of Andreessen Horowitz’s new cryptocurrency-focused fund. Most focused on the eye-popping $2.2 billion figure, but Alex Wilhelm dug a bit deeper into the announcement to note that a16z isn’t just pumping a ton of money into the crypto space, it’s putting on gloves to fight for it.

Alex writes that “a16z intends to run defense for crypto in the American, and perhaps global, market. Crypto-focused startups are likely unable to tackle the regulation of their market on their own because they’re more focused on product work in a particular region of the larger crypto economy. The wealthy and connected investment firm that backs them will take on the task for its chosen champions.”

5 takeaways from BuzzFeed’s SPAC deck

Image Credits: Nicholas Kamm / AFP / Getty Images

Alex Wilhelm dives headfirst into BuzzFeed’s announcement that it plans to go public via a blank check company.

He looked at its historical and anticipated revenue growth (the latter is very sunny, which is not atypical for SPAC presentations), what makes up that revenue (more “commerce” as time goes on), its long-term profitability projections, as well as fun stuff, like the Pulitzer Prize-winning BuzzFeed News.

Admit it. You’re curious.

3 issues to resolve before switching to a subscription business model

Three issues leaders need to address before switching to a subscription business model

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

Moving from a pay-as-you-go model to a subscription service is more than just putting a monthly or yearly price tag on a product, CloudBlue’s Jess Warrington writes in a guest column.

“Executives cannot just layer a subscription model on top of an existing business,” Warrington writes. “They need to change the entire operation process, onboard all stakeholders, recalibrate their strategy and create a subscription culture.”

Warrington says that in his role at CloudBlue, companies often approach him for “help with solving technology challenges while shifting to a subscription business model, only to realize that they have not taken crucial organizational steps necessary to ensure a successful transition.”

Here’s how to avoid that situation.

Veo CEO Candice Xie has a plan for building a sustainable scooter company, and it’s working

An illustration of Veo founder Candie Xie

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin

Rebecca Bellan interviewed Veo CEO Candice Xie about the micromobility startup’s “old-fashioned way” of doing business.

“I understand people are eager to prove their unit economics, their scalability and also improve their matrix to the VC to raise another round,” Xie says. “I would say that’s OK in the consumer industry, like consumer electronics or SaaS.

“But we are in transportation. It is a different business, and transportation takes years of collaboration and building between private and public partners. … So I don’t see it happening from day one, turning over a billion-dollar company, while simultaneously having it all make sense for the cities and users.”

5 companies doing growth marketing right

Image of five round wooden balls moving up steps to represent growth.

Image Credits: jayk7 (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

All companies want more or less the same thing: growth. But how do you accomplish it?

Ideally, don’t start from scratch.

The race to grow faster is more pressing than ever before. … “[F]orward-thinking entrepreneurs and growth marketers simply must make time to study their competition, learn best practices and apply them to their own business growth,” Mark Spera, the head of growth marketing at Minted, writes in a guest column.

“Of course, you should still run your own experiments, but it’s just more capital-efficient to emulate than to trial-and-error from scratch. Here are five companies with growth strategies worth emulating — including the most important lessons you can begin applying to your business today.”

Musculoskeletal medical startups race to enter personalized health tech market

Human anatomy, hand, arm,muscular system on plain studio background.

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

With more than 50 million Americans suffering from chronic pain and musculoskeletal (MSK) medical problems, a number of startups are offering patients new products “that don’t resemble the cookie-cutter status quo,” reports Natasha Mascarenhas.

Startups hoping to enter this space have an uphill climb. Setting aside regulations that cover aspects like product packaging and marketing, they must compete with well-entrenched competition from Big Pharma as they try to partner with health insurance companies.

Natasha profiles three companies that are each taking a different approach to personalized health: Clear, Hinge Health and PeerWell.

Like the US, a two-tier venture capital market is emerging in Latin America

In the second part of an Exchange series looking at the global early-stage venture capital market, Alex Wilhelm and Anna Heim unpacked the scene in Latin America, discovering it looked a lot like the situation in the United States: slow Series A rounds, fast B rounds.

“Mega-rounds are no longer an exception in Latin America; in fact, they have become a trend, with ever-larger rounds being announced over the last few months,” they write.

Despite that, the funds aren’t being equitably distributed, and the region still lags behind its peers: Brazil has the most $1 billion startups in Latin America, with 12. The U.S., meanwhile, has 369, and China has 159.

But the Latin American market remains hot, if not quite as scorching as the U.S. and China.

Impossible adds ‘ground pork’ and ‘sausages’ to its lineup of plant-based foods

Impossible Foods made huge waves in the food industry when it came up with a way of isolating and using “heme” molecules from plants to mimic the blood found in animal meat (also comprised of heme), bringing a new depth of flavor to its vegetarian burger.

This week at CES, the company is presenting the next act in its mission to get the average consumer to switch to more sustainable, plant-based proteins: it unveiled its version of pork — specifically ground pork, which will be sold as a basic building block for cooking as well as in sausage form. It’s a critical step, given that pork is the most-eaten animal product in the world.

Impossible has set up shop in CES’s outdoor area, situated near a line of food trucks, and it will be cooking food for whoever wants to come by. (I tasted a selection of items made from the new product — a steamed bun, a meatball, some noodles and a lettuce wrap — and the resemblance is uncanny, and not bad at all.) And after today, the new product will be making its way first to selected Burger King restaurants in the US before appearing elsewhere.

It may sound a little far-fetched to see a food startup exhibiting and launching new products at a consumer electronics show, attended by 200,000 visitors who will likely by outnumbered by the number of TVs, computers, phones, and other electronic devices on display. Indeed, Impossible is the only food exhibitor this year.

But if you ask Pat Brown, the CEO and founder of Impossible Foods (pictured right, at the sunny CES stand in the cold wearing a hat), the company is in precisely the right place.

“To me it’s very natural to be at CES,” he said in an interview this week at the show. “The food system is the most important technology on earth. It is absolutely a technology, and an incredibly important one, even if it doesn’t get recognised as such. The use of animals as a food technology is the most destructive on earth. And when Impossible was founded, it was to address that issue. We recognised it as a technology problem.”

That is also how Impossible has positioned itself as a startup. Its emergence (it was founded 2011) dovetailed with an interesting shift in the world of tech. The number of startups were booming, fuelled by VC money and a boom in smartphones and broadband. At the same time, we were starting to see a new kind of startup emerging built on technology but disrupting a wide range of areas not traditionally associated with technology. Technology VCs, looking for more opportunities (and needing to invest increasingly larger funds), were opening themselves up to consider more of the latter opportunities.

Impossible has seized the moment. It has raised around $777 million to date from a list of investors more commonly associated with tech companies — they include Khosla, Temasek, Horizons Ventures, GV, and a host of celebrities — and Impossible is now estimated to be valued at around $4 billion. Brown told me it is currently more than doubling revenues annually.  

With his roots in academia, the idea of Brown (who has also done groundbreaking work in HIV research) founding and running a business is perhaps as left-field a development as a food company making the leap from commodity or packaged good business to tech. Before Impossible, Brown said that he had “zero interest” in becoming an entrepreneur: the bug that has bitten so many others at Stanford (where he was working prior to founding Impossible) had not bitten him.

“I had an awesome job where I followed my curiosity, working on problems that I found interesting and important with great colleagues,” he said.

That changed when he began to realise the scale of the problem resulting from the meat industry, which has led to a well-catalogued list of health, economic and environmental impacts (including increased greenhouse gas emissions and the removal of natural ecosystems to make way for farming land. “It is the most important and consequential issue for the future of the world, and so the solution has to be market-based,” he said. “The only way we can replace themes that are this destructive is by coming up with a better technology and competing.”

Pork is a necessary step in that strategy to compete. America, it seems, is all about beef and chicken when it comes to eating animals. But pigs and pork take the cake when you consider meat consumption globally, accounting for 38% of all meat production, with 47 pigs killed on average every second of every day. Asia, and specifically China, figure strongly in that demand. Consumption of pork in China has increased 140% since 1990, Impossible notes.

Pigs’ collective footprint in the world is also huge: there are 1.44 billion of them, and their collective biomass totals 175 kg, twice as much as the biomass of all wild terrestrial vertebrates, Impossible says.

Whether Impossible’s version of pork will be enough or just an incremental step is another question. Ground meat is not the same as creating structured proteins that mimic the whole-cuts that are common (probably more common) when it comes to how pork is typically cooked (ditto for chicken and beef and other meats).

That might likely require more capital and time to develop.

For now, Impossible is focused on building out its business on its own steam: it’s not entertaining any thoughts of selling up, or even of licensing out its IP for isolating and using soy leghemoglobin — the essential “blood” that sets its veggie proteins apart from other things on the market. (I think of licensing out that IP, as the equivalent of how a tech company might white label or create APIs for third parties to integrate its cool stuff into their services.)

That means there will be inevitable questions down the line about how Impossible will capitalise to meet demand for its products. Brown said that for now there are no plans for IPOs or to raise more externally, but pointed out that it would have no problem doing either.

Indeed, the company has built up an impressive bench of executives and other talent to meet those future scenarios. Earlier this year, Impossible hired Dennis Woodside — the former Dropbox, Google and Motorola star– as its first president. And its CFO, David Lee, joined from Zynga back in 2015, with a stint also in the mass-market food industry, having been at Del Monte prior to that.

Lee told me that the company has essentially been running itself as a public company internally in preparation for a time when it might follow in the footsteps of its biggest competitor, Beyond Meat, and go public.

“From a tech standpoint I’m absolutely confident that we can outperform what we get from animals in affordability, nutrition and deliciousness,” said Brown. “This entire industry is most destructive by far and has major responsibility in terms of climate and biodiversity, but it going to be history and we are going to replace it.”

CES 2020 coverage - TechCrunch