Docker partners with AWS to improve container workflows

Docker and AWS today announced a new collaboration that introduces a deep integration between Docker’s Compose and Desktop developer tools and AWS’s Elastic Container Service (ECS) and ECS on AWS Fargate. Previously, the two companies note, the workflow to take Compose files and run them on ECS was often challenging for developers. Now, the two companies simplified this process to make switching between running containers locally and on ECS far easier.

docker/AWS architecture overview“With a large number of containers being built using Docker, we’re very excited to work with Docker to simplify the developer’s experience of building and deploying containerized applications to AWS,” said Deepak Singh, the VP for compute services at AWS. “Now customers can easily deploy their containerized applications from their local Docker environment straight to Amazon ECS. This accelerated path to modern application development and deployment allows customers to focus more effort on the unique value of their applications, and less time on figuring out how to deploy to the cloud.”

In a bit of a surprise move, Docker last year sold off its enterprise business to Mirantis to solely focus on cloud-native developer experiences.

“In November, we separated the enterprise business, which was very much focused on operations, CXOs and a direct sales model, and we sold that business to Mirantis,” Docker CEO Scott Johnston told TechCrunch’s Ron Miller earlier this year. “At that point, we decided to focus the remaining business back on developers, which was really Docker’s purpose back in 2013 and 2014.”

Today’s move is an example of this new focus, given that the workflow issues this partnership addresses had been around for quite a while already.

It’s worth noting that Docker also recently engaged in a strategic partnership with Microsoft to integrate the Docker developer experience with Azure’s Container Instances.

Creandum backs Amie, a new productivity app from ex-N26 product manager Dennis Müller

Amie, a new productivity app from ex-N26 product manager Dennis Müller, has picked up $1.3 million in pre-seed funding to “kickstart” development and hiring.

Backing 23-year-old Müller is Creandum — the European VC best known for being an early investor in Spotify — along with Tiny.VC and a plethora of angels. They include Laura Grimmelmann (Ex-Accel), Nicolas Kopp (CEO, N26 U.S.), Roland Grenke (Dubsmash co-founder) and Zachary Smith (SVP of product at U.S. challenger bank Chime).

Founded early this year and with a planned launch in early 2021, Berlin-based Amie is developing a productivity app that combines a person’s calendar and to-dos in one place. Previously called coco, it promises to work across all devices, with an interface that “works just like you think.”

“Back in the day, you had a calendar on your office wall, and a to-do list on a notepad,” Müller tells me. “You could take your list with you elsewhere, but not your calendar. Those were digitized instead of rethinking the flow. Most productivity apps solve very specific problems, creating a new one, [and] users need too many tools.”

Amie pre-release app screenshot.

Müller says Amie is built on the principle that “to-dos, habits and events all take time, and all belong in the same place.” Many people already schedule to-dos and the startup wants to offer the fastest way to create to-dos, schedule events, check your calendar “and even jump into Zoom calls.”

As a glimpse of what’s to come, Amie promises to let you drag ‘n’ drop to-dos into your day, or turn links and screenshots into to-dos. “With Amie’s Alfred-like app, you can create an event and invite people in a different timezone, all while other apps are still loading,” says the young company.

More broadly, Amie wants to act as a central workspace, letting you also do things like join video calls, take notes and do email, without the need to open extra browser tabs and therefore avoid “context switching.”

“Amie will target professionals who are currently using Google Calendar, due to our integration,” adds Müller. “The waitlist already counts thousands of users, who are mostly professionals working in the tech industry (e.g., designers, developers, bizdevs, etc.”

Coronavirus impact sends app downloads, usage and consumer spending to record highs in Q2

As the world continued to cope with the impact of the coronavirus outbreak, the second quarter of 2020 became the largest yet for mobile app downloads, usage and consumer spending. According to new data from app store intelligence firm App Annie, mobile app usage grew 40% year-over-year in the second quarter of 2020, even hitting an all-time high of over 200 billion hours during April. Consumer spending in apps, meanwhile, hit a record high of $27 billion in the second quarter. And app downloads reached a high of nearly 35 billion.

The growth in app usage has been fueled by social distancing and lockdown measures, as countries around the world try to quell the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Image Credits: App Annie

In India, for example, time spent in apps grew 35% in Q2 2020 from Q4 2019. Italy and Indonesia saw growth of 30% and 25%, respectively. In the U.S., time spent in apps grew 15%.

App Annie says now the average user is spending 4 hours and 20 minutes per day on their smartphones.

Image Credits: App Annie

But consumers aren’t just launching apps they already have installed on their phones — they’re also downloading new ones. In the second quarter, consumers downloaded nearly 35 billion new apps, an all-time high.

Google Play accounted for 25 billion of those downloads, representing 10% year-over-year growth. India and Brazil were the the two largest markets for Google Play in the quarter.

Image Credits: App Annie

iOS downloads grew 20% year-over-year to reach nearly 10 billion. The U.S. and China were iOS’s biggest markets for downloads, but the U.S. and Saudi Arabia saw the most quarter-over-quarter growth. The latter was likely attributed to a nationwide lockdown and school closures, driving app downloads in the country to a all-time high in April and 100% year-over-year growth on iOS.

Games were downloaded at record levels in the quarter, App Annie noted, totaling 14 billion games. In the first week of Q2, weekly mobile game downloads broke records at over 1.2 billion, and weekly download levels remained at 1 billion on average throughout the quarter, up 20% year-over-year.

Image Credits: App Annie

Non-gaming apps represented over half (55%) of the new downloads on Android and 70% of those on iOS.

More specifically, top categories outside of games included “Tools” and “Entertainment” on Google Play and “Photo and Video” and “Entertainment” on iOS. But other categories saw strong growth, including “Business,” “Health & Fitness” and “Education,” which saw quarter-over-quarter growth in downloads of 115%, 75% and 50% respectively on Google Play.

On iOS, “Health and Fitness,” “Shopping” and “Medical” apps saw strong quarter-over-quarter growth of 30%, 25% and 20%, meanwhile.

With record downloads and usage, consumer spending also grew significantly as a result, particularly among streaming video services.

Image Credits: App Annie

In the second quarter, consumers spent a record $27 billion in apps, up 15% year-over-year to $17 billion on iOS and up 25% to $10 billion on Android.

Games accounted for $19 billion of the spend, up 15% quarter-over-quarter. Google Play saw sizable growth at 25% quarter-over-quarter, which was 2x the growth rate on iOS.

Image Credits: App Annie

Non-gaming apps were 35% of the spend on iOS. The U.S. and China the largest contributors in both games and non-game apps on iOS in the quarter. However, the U.S. notably took back the top position as the largest market for consumer games — a spot previously held by China — with 30% quarter-over-quarter growth in Q2.

Non-games were 15% of the spend on Google Play. The U.S., Japan, and South Korea were the largest markets in both non-games and games alike on Google Play.

Top Google Play categories in addition to “Games” included “Social” and “Entertainment.” Growth in the “Entertainment” category was driven largely by Disney+ and Twitch, App Annie noted.

On iOS, “Entertainment” and “Photo and Video” were the largest categories by consumer spend, in addition to “Games.” Here, TikTok drove growth for the “Photo and Video” category, becoming the No. 1 top-grossing app on iOS App Store globally in Q2 2020 thanks to sales of virtual gifts used to tip streamers.

Image Credits: App Annie

While much of the activity taking place on mobile devices during the pandemic is related to having fun — like watching videos or playing games, for example — several of the top apps in the quarter were work-related.

Zoom, for instance, became the No. 2 of most downloaded app globally in Q2 2020. Google Meet was No. 7.

TikTok, meanwhile, was the top app by downloads and spending, and the No. 7 by monthly active users. That will likely change in the months ahead, due to its ban in India. A proposed U.S. ban has also recently seen TikTok rivals gaining ground. Amid this disruption, local competitors in India have seen increased usage, and elsewhere, competitors like Byte and Likee have surged.

Amazon’s Alexa heads Toni Reid and Rohit Prasad are coming to Disrupt

It’s hard to believe that Alexa was only announced in November 2014. In fewer than six years, the smart assistant has gone from consumer electronics curiosity to a nearly ubiquitous tech phenomenon. Launched alongside the first Echo device, Alexa has helped define a new paradigm of voice computing, alongside Apple’s Siri and Google’s Assistant.

According to recent numbers, 29% of U.S. internet users also use a smart speaker. With that demographic Amazon has been utterly dominant, with roughly 70% of all U.S. smart speaker owners using an Echo. Alexa’s reach spread far beyond that, of course, to all manner of smart home devices, laptops, cars, phones, wearables and TVs. We’re excited to announce today that the heads of Amazon’s Alexa team will be joining us at Disrupt this September to discuss the smart assistant’s growth and the future of voice computing.

Toni Reid is the vice president of Alexa Experience & Echo Devices at Amazon, a company she’s been with for over a decade. She’s being a driving force in Alexa’s dominance of the category. Rohit Prasad is the vice president and head scientist, Alexa Artificial Intelligence. He’s an expert in natural language understanding, machine learning, dialog science and machine reasoning.

Together the pair have been the driving force in Alexa’s growth and domination of the smart assistant category. Hear how it all got started from Reid and Prasad at Disrupt 2020 on September 14-18. Get a front-row seat with your Digital Pro Pass for just $245 or with a Digital Startup Alley Exhibitor Package.

As pandemic drags on, interest in automation surges

Today, the U.S. exceeded three million COVID-19 cases and 132,000 deaths. In several states, new hotspots have rolled back plans to reopen businesses. The novel coronavirus has — and will continue — to profoundly impact the way we live and work.

For the moment, that includes a shift in the employment status of many Americans. More than 50 million people have filed for unemployment since mid-March. And while many states have made efforts to reopen businesses and return some sense of normality, these moves have led to a spike in cases and may prolong the pandemic and its ongoing economic impact.

Technology has been a lifeline for many, from food delivery to the 3D printing I highlighted last week, which has worked to address a nation suffering from personal protective equipment shortages. Automation and robotics have also been a constant in conversations around tech’s battle against COVID-19.

Robots don’t get sick, tired or emotionally burnt out, and unlike us, they aren’t walking, talking disease vectors. Automation advocates like to point to the “three Ds” of dull, dirty and dangerous jobs that will eventually be replaced by a robotic workforce, but in the age of COVID-19, nearly any essential job qualifies.

The robotic invasion has already begun in earnest. The service, delivery, health care and sanitation industries in particular have all opened a massive gap over the past several months that automation has been more than happy to roll right through. A recent report from The Brookings Institute notes that automation arrives in the workforce in fits and starts — most notably, during times of economic downturn.

“Robots’ infiltration of the workforce doesn’t occur at a steady, gradual pace. Instead, automation happens in bursts, concentrated especially in bad times such as in the wake of economic shocks, when humans become relatively more expensive as firms’ revenues rapidly decline,” the study found. “At these moments, employers shed less-skilled workers and replace them with technology and higher-skilled workers, which increases labor productivity as a recession tapers off.”

Secretive data startup Palantir has confidentially filed for an IPO

Secretive big data and analytics startup Palantir, co-founded by Peter Thiel, said late Monday it has confidentially filed paperwork with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to go public.

Its statement said little more. “The public listing is expected to take place after the SEC completes its review process, subject to market and other conditions.”

Palantir did not say when it plans to go public nor did it provide other information such as how many shares it would potentially sell or the share price range for the IPO . Confidential IPO filings allow companies to bypass the traditional IPO filing mechanisms that give insights into their inner workings such as financial figures and potential risks. Instead, Palantir can explore the early stages of setting itself up for a public listing without the public scrutiny that comes with the process. The strategy has been used by companies such as Spotify, Slack and Uber. However, a confidential filing doesn’t always translate to an IPO.

A Palantir spokesperson, when reached, declined to comment further.

Palantir is one of the more secretive firms in Silicon Valley, a provider of big data and analytics technologies, including to the U.S. government and intelligence community. Much of that work has drawn controversies from privacy and civil liberties activists. For example, investigations show that the company’s data mining software was used to create profiles of immigrants and consequently aid deportation efforts by the ICE.

As the coronavirus pandemic spread throughout the world, Palantir pitched its technology to bring big data to tracking efforts.

Last week, Palantir filed its first Form D in four years indicating that it is raising $961 million. According to the filing, $550 million has already been raised and capital commitments for the remaining allotment have been secured.

With today’s news, the cash raise looks complementary to the company’s ambitions to go public. One report estimates that the company’s valuation hovers at $26 billion.

Palantir’s filing is another example of how the IPO market is heating up yet again, despite the freeze COVID-19 put on so many companies. Last week, insurance provider Lemonade debuted on the public market to warm waters. Accolade, a healthcare benefits company, similarly is sold more shares than expected.

Victress Capital, a fund founded by women to back women founders, just closed its second fund

Women start 40 percent of the businesses in the U.S., but they receive just 3% of venture funding. It doesn’t take a math whiz to recognize that such an extreme funding gap could spell opportunity, but it might help if you are math minded, a longtime investor, and happen to be woman and so conceivably understand certain products and pitches better than some men.

That was certainly the thinking of both Lori Cashman and Suzanne Norris, who came together in 2016 to form Boston-based Victress Capital, a consumer-focused, seed- and early-stage firm that just closed its second fund with nearly $22 million in funding to back gender diverse teams, meaning there is at least one woman on the founding team.

Cashman is a Duke grad who has spent her career as an investor, including previously cofounding a private equity firm, Linear Capital, to invest exclusively in owner-managed businesses. Norris, meanwhile, with two degrees Harvard, has been an investment banking analyst, a management consultant, and spent nearly four years as a VP focused on e-commerce with the company Kate Spade.

The two friendly acquaintances originally joined forces to enhance their “cognitive diversity,” says Cashman, scraping together a total of $2 million from friends and family so they could establish a track record.

Ultimately, they used that money to fund 14 startups by writing checks ranging from $100,000 to $150,000. A couple of them have already been acquired. Moxxly, which sold silent, wearable breast pumps, was acquired by Medela, a leading breast pump maker, in 2017. Last summer, it was shut down, but Cashman and Norris suggest that investors (another of whom was Randi Zuckerberg) got their money back and that they were happy to see it acquired by what seemed at the time like a strong strategic partner. A second portfolio company, Werk, more recently sold to a Chicago-based startup called The Mom Project for undisclosed terms.

Others of their bets include Daily Harvest, a direct-to-consumer organic food delivery business that has so far raised $43 million from investors, according to Crunchbase; Mented Cosmetics, a cosmetics company catering to women with darker skin tones that has raised $4 million to date; and Copper Cow Coffee, a young L.A.-based startup that makes organic Vietnamese coffee and has raised $3 million, per Crunchbase.

The idea all along was to raise a larger fund so that as Victress’s young portfolio matures, it can invest more into its breakout winners, as well as to fund other innovative young startups.

In fact, toward that end, Victress — whose newest fund came largely came from family offices — has added to its team in recent years. In February, it brought in Kate Castle, a longtime marketing partner at Flybridge Capital Partners who later cofounded XFactor Ventures as a partner. In 2018, it also hired HBS alum Madeline Keulen, who previously interned with Victress and is now a vice president. (Because of Norris’s background and network, Victress receives some of its deal flow from Harvard and HBS and typically brings in HBS students as interns.)

It wasn’t easy assembling its team — or its new fund. Norris half-kiddingly calls $20 million “no man’s land” in the eyes of institutional investors. Though they are just now closing the vehicle, they began assembling checks for it in late 2018 and have already funded seven startups that represent 25% of their new investing capital.

Still, they’re playing the long game and think the relationship-building they’ve done will pay off — both with institutional investors that will be tracking this second fund with an eye toward its third, and with venture firms around the country with whom they’ve syndicated deals and that now keep Victress in mind when meeting nascent startups with diverse founding teams.

A big win would help grow the outfit from here, too, of course. Only time will tell if they’ll have one, but Norris and Cashman talks enthusiastically about numerous portfolio companies, including Minneapolis-based Rae, which makes what it markets as libido-enhancing vegan vitamins. Rae sells its products directly to consumers but they’re also available at Target, a retail giant that, notably, has remained open throughout the pandemic.

Rae was able to secure such valuable real estate partly because its cofounder and CEO, Angie Tebbe, spent the previous 12 years as a senior director in merchandising at Target, where she oversaw the private label products in the chain’s beauty and wellness aisles. But Rae’s products are also priced affordably, with a 30-day supply of vitamins costing $14, compared with many alternatives that cost twice as much and more.

That’s partly what drew Victress to the company. Victress is focused on tech-enabled consumer services, marketplaces and digitally native brands. But if a startup in the last camp wants its attention, its products can’t be priced for the most affluent consumers with money to burn. Victress is far more interested in startups that aim to sell at an “authentic, accessible price point for the majority of America,” says Cashman.

Email is broken and Hey’s Jason Fried is here to fix it

Email is a critical tool in modern-day communications, so it’s natural that many entrepreneurs have tried to overhaul it over the years.

In the last decade, email client Mailbox came and went, Slack launched to try to give people an alternative to email and Superhuman emerged to help people more easily reach the promised land of Inbox Zero.

The latest startup to tackle email is project management software maker Basecamp, which launched Hey last month. Within its first 11 days of release, Hey received 125,000 signups, Basecamp founder and CEO Jason Fried tells TechCrunch. Those initial days also included some drama with the Apple App Store, but that’s not what this story is about. Instead, it’s about Hey’s approach, why Fried felt the need to try to rebuild email from the ground up and how he approaches product development.

“The last time people were really excited about email, really, in a broad scale was 16 years ago when Gmail came out in 2004,” Fried says. “I remember it feeling different in a lot of ways. It was really fast, they had archiving, which was a new concept at the time. It worked differently than what I was coming from, which was Yahoo Mail, which was sort of stuck in the past. And I think that’s where Gmail is today — stuck in the past and we’re trying to bring out something brand new with new thinking and new philosophies and a new point of view.”

At its core, Hey is about giving people control over their email and minimizing clutter so users can hear from the people who matter most, Fried says. But control comes at a price: Hey costs $99 per year, with additional fees for three- and two-character email addresses (two-character email addresses are $999 per year and three-character addresses are $349 per year).

“We got a taste of our own medicine because it was not cheap to buy hey.com,” Fried says. “So anything that short in the domain world just costs more. It’s like beachfront property almost, because it’s scarce — more desirable. So given that we have a three-letter domain, two- and three-letter email addresses are just going to cost more. There’s fewer of them and they’re more desirable.”

Hey’s current iteration is targeted toward individual users, but by the end of the year, the plan is to launch a formal enterprise version with collaborative features like shared messages and inboxes. In this unified Imbox (not a typo), people will be able to specify that they don’t want to see work email past a certain time or on weekends.

“A lot of email is collaborative in nature,” Fried says. “People end up forwarding emails around to show someone to get their take. We think that’s totally broken and really antiquated. So we have some stuff built into Hey for work, which lets people share threads with one another in a very different way and be able to have backchannel conversations about threads without having to have those conversations in another product or somewhere that is separate from the actual thread itself.”

There’s much more to this conversation, like how Hey landed on its hypothesis, why control is so important, how email shouldn’t feel like work and more. Below are Fried’s insights.

Daily Crunch: Uber confirms Postmates acquisition

You may have noticed that The Daily Crunch is publishing about six hours later than usual. Do not be alarmed! We decided that sending the newsletter later in the day was a better fit for the TechCrunch news cycle — hopefully, there will be fewer days when we hit Publish and then groan when we see a giant story break five minutes later.

We’re also taking the opportunity to rethink the newsletter format. The mission hasn’t changed — the goal is to deliver the day’s big tech headlines in an email that you can read in just a couple of minutes. But we know that different readers are focused on different areas of TechCrunch’s coverage, so moving forward, The Daily Crunch will be organized to make it easier to find the news that interests you.

Without further ado: Here’s your Daily Crunch for July 6, 2020.

The big story: Uber confirms Postmates acquisition

The reports last week were true: Uber announced today that it’s acquiring Postmates in an all-stock deal worth $2.65 billion. It looks like the restaurant delivery market is consolidating — Uber previously tried to acquire Grubhub, which ended up selling to the European company Just Eat Takeaway instead. The company said Postmates will continue to operate as a standalone app, but tech and delivery operations will be consolidated.

Meanwhile, Alex Wilhelm took a close look at Uber’s finances to help Extra Crunch readers understand why the company’s stock is up today, arguing that the acquisition could help Uber Eats “grow more quickly while bringing down its losses as a percent of revenue.”

The tech giants

US tech giants halt Hong Kong police help — After the Chinese government has passed a new security law undermining protections for Hong Kong, both Facebook and Twitter said that they will no longer process demands for user data from Hong Kong authorities. (In Facebook’s case, this also applies to WhatsApp.)

Instagram Reels tested in India following TikTok’s ban — Instagram may be taking advantage of India’s decision to ban TikTok by expanding its Reels feature, which allows users to create 15-second videos set to music.

Intel to invest $253.5 million in India’s Reliance Jio Platforms — Intel joins General Atlantic, Facebook and Silver Lake as an investor in India’s top telecom operator.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Here’s a list of tech companies that the SBA says took PPP money — Bolt Mobility, Getaround, Luminar, Stackin, TuSimple and Velodyne all took loans of $150,000 or more from the Paycheck Protection Program, according to the U.S. Treasury Department. But confusingly, some of the firms on the list (including Bird and Index) denied taking any loans.

Sequoia announces $1.35 billion venture and growth funds for India and Southeast Asia — Sequoia Capital India made more than 50 investments in India last year, putting it ahead of any other VC firm in the country.

Payfazz gets $53 million to give more Indonesians access to financial services — This Indonesian startup offers a number of mobile financial services, including bill payments and loans.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Four views: Is edtech changing how we learn? — Devin Coldewey, Natasha Mascarenhas, Alex Wilhelm and Danny Crichton have thoughts about whether digital learning can make quality education more accessible, or will simply widen existing divides.

As COVID-19 surges, 3D printing is having a moment — 3D printing has fallen out of the spotlight over the past couple of years, but the COVID-19 pandemic has changed all that.

(Reminder: Extra Crunch is our subscription membership program, designed to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

‘Hamilton’ gives Disney+ a holiday weekend bump in US, with app downloads up 74% — That’s according to data from Apptopia.

Original Content podcast: ‘Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga’ is a goofy delight — Every week, Darrell Etherington, Jordan Crook and I review the latest streaming movies and shows in a freewheeling discussion. In this episode, we were all pleasantly surprised by the new Will Ferrell movie on Netflix.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

Tech shares set fresh records despite uncertain economy

Despite record-setting COVID-19 infections, American equities rose today. All major indices gained ground during regular trading, while tech stocks did even better.

The Nasdaq Composite set new 52-week and all-time highs, touching 10,462.0 points before closing at 10,433.65, up 2.21% on the day. Similarly, a basket of SaaS and cloud companies that has risen and fallen more sharply than even the tech-heavy Nasdaq closed this afternoon at 1,908.30 after touching 1,952.39 points. Both results were 52-week and all-time highs.

Such is the mood on Wall Street regarding the health of technology companies. It’s not hard to find bullish sentiment, jockeying to push tech shares higher. Some examples of today’s enthusiasm paint the picture:

  • The recent IPO for Lemonade is now worth $4.7 billion, according to Yahoo Finance. That price gives it a Q1-annualized revenue run rate multiple of around 45x. For a SaaS company, that would boggle the mind. As we’ve written, however, Lemonade has very un-SaaS-like gross margins, and has higher churn. The company’s stock rose around 17% today for no clear reason.
  • Tesla rose over 13% today to $1,371.58 per share, another huge day of gains for the company now worth in excess of $250 billion. Analysts expect the firm to report $4.83 billion in revenue in its most recent quarter, according to Yahoo Finance. That’s less than the company reported in its year-ago June quarter when it saw $6.35 billion in revenue. Since July 1, 2019, Tesla shares have appreciated in excess of 450%, despite the company prepping to report what the market anticipates will be revenue declines.
  • Amazon and Netflix also set new records today to toss a few more names into the mix.

You can’t swing your arms without running into a reason why it makes sense for SaaS stocks to be trading at record valuation multiples, or why one company or another is actually reasonably valued over a long-enough time horizon.

It’s worth noting that this putatively rational public investor thinking doesn’t fit at all with what the tech set used to pound into my head about the public markets, namely that they are infamously impatient and thus utter bilge for most long-term value creation. Going public was garbage, I was told; you have to report every three months and no one looks out a few years.

Now, I’m being told by roughly the same people that the market is doing the very thing that they said it didn’t do, namely price firms for future results instead of trailing outcomes. Fine by me either way, frankly, but I’d like to know which story is true.

Happily, we’re about to see if all this high-fiving and enthusiasm is real.

Earnings season beckons, and it should bring with it a dose or two of clarity. If the digital transformation has managed to accelerate sufficiently that most tech companies have managed to greatly boost their near-term value, hats off to the cohort and bully for the startups that must also be enjoying similar revenue upswells.

But that doesn’t have to happen. There are possible earnings result sets that can cause investors to dump tech shares, as Slack learned a month ago.

The background to all of this is that there are good reasons to have some doubts about the current health of the national economy. And, sure, most people are willing to allow that the stock market and the aggregate domestic economy are not perfectly linked — this is no less than partially true — but each day the stock market steps higher and COVID-19 surges again leading to re-closings around the nation makes you to wonder if this is all for real.

Earnings season is here soon. Let’s find out.

Logistics are key as NYC startup prepares to reopen office

The future of offices will require “hot desks,” contact tracing and a volunteer task force run by employees to make sure their colleagues are washing their damn hands.

SquareFoot CEO Jonathan Wasserstrum says he’s bullish on the future of office spaces because his startup helps growing companies find office space. Since COVID-19 hit, his firm has spent the past four months talking to tenants and landlords to figure out what’s next.

But as the country reopens, Wasserstrum says offices will return. Business has already resumed in some capacity, so SquareFoot is soon heading back to its office with half of its staff and physical distancing plans in place. I spoke to Wasserstrum about what it’s like to return to the office amid a pandemic, from biggest hurdles to price tag.

Transportation is the biggest hurdle

Wasserstrum said his team is returning in shifts and has asked volunteers to be a part of the first cohort. “This is not about recruiting everyone back; it’s a methodical process to enable everyone to get what they need,” he told TechCrunch. “The complicating factor here that still needs to be grappled with is how each of these individuals will get to and from the office daily.”

US online grocery sales hit record $7.2 billion in June

Despite the slow reopening of the U.S. economy over the past several weeks, online grocery shopping is continuing to reach ever-higher numbers as Americans seem to be in no rush to return to the store. According to new research released today by Brick Meets Click and Mercatus, U.S. online grocery sales hit a record $7.2 billion in June, up 9% over May, as 45.6 million households turned to online grocery pickup and delivery services for a larger portion of their grocery needs.

This figure is higher than the $4 billion seen in March 2020, when the U.S. first went under coronavirus lockdowns. Since then, online grocery sales have been growing quickly — jumping to $5.3 billion in April, then $6.6 billion in May, as more consumers shifted their shopping to online services, grocery included.

The customer base for online grocery also grew from 39.5 million monthly actives in March to now 45.6 million as of June, the report found.

Remarkably, only 16.1 million customers were using online grocery as of August 2019, totaling then just $1.2 million in sales.

The growth isn’t just due to a large influx of new customers to online grocery, but also due to more frequent orders. Customers may be ordering from online services not only for their large “stocking up” trips, but also for those smaller grocery runs they would often do in between — to grab ingredients for their weekly recipes or to replace the more quickly depleted items, like milk, bread and other staples, perhaps.

Image Credits: Brick Meets Click / Mercatus

According to the new research, order frequency ticked up from 1.7 orders per month for active households in May to 1.9 orders in June, demonstrating this increase.

In addition, more retailers, including independents, have added capacity for online order fulfillment amid the coronavirus pandemic to meet consumers’ changing needs. This has also resulted in an increase in sales as more customers are able to shop online and get a time slot for delivery or pickup.

Walmart Grocery in April even began pilot testing a way to offer two-hour “Express” grocery delivery service to customers who were willing to pay an upcharge. The company said this was a direct result of its newly added capacity aimed at serving its online grocery customer base. Instacart, meanwhile, added new features in April aimed at opening more delivery windows. And many retailers — including Amazon, Walmart, Instacart and Shipt, among others — have been hiring to help address the growing number of online orders.

When asked about their increased usage of online grocery in June, consumers reported fears of contracting coronavirus as their main concern, the report said. Specifically, 44% of households claimed they had “high levels” of concern about someone in their home being infected, up 2 percentage points from the prior month. This increase was also almost entirely driven by the 9% increase among shoppers in the over-60 age segment.

But on the downside, the increased choice in online grocery providers has made it more difficult for services to attract repeat usage, the data indicates. As of June, the likelihood of a shopper to use a specific online grocery service again within the next 30 days now sits at 57%. While this figure did grow by 1 percentage point since May, it’s still far below the pre-COVID 74% repeat rate seen back in August 2019. 

General interest in online grocery was also growing. Among both active online grocery shoppers and those not active, 32% said they were either “extremely” or “very likely” to use a service in the next 90 days — up 2 percentage points from May. The interest, not surprisingly, was strongest in households that had used an online grocery service in June, with 57% showing strong interest, compared with only 17% of the non-active households.

The data for the research was sourced from 1,781 U.S. adults in June (6/24-6/25), with responses weighted by age to reflect the national population of U.S. adults. The firms’ prior surveys also used a similar methodology, timing and sampling.

“Even though some retailers have seen sales decline within their respective business, the new reality of increased capacity across the market – and related greater choice (or options) for shoppers – means that all grocery retailers will need to accelerate their efforts to make shopping online even more seamless to thrive going forward,” said David Bishop, partner and research lead, Brick Meets Click, in a statement.

Here’s a list of tech companies that the SBA says took PPP money

The U.S. Treasury Department released Monday a highly anticipated trove of data identifying every company that has received a loan of more than $150,000 from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) — a list that includes some of the hottest names in the tech startup world, including Bolt Mobility, Getaround, Luminar, Stackin, TuSimple and Velodyne.

The data, which lists the names of companies that received small business loans over $150,000, was the result of a push for greater transparency around the loans. The list also provides the number of jobs that each company said it plans to retain as a result of the funds.

The PPP loans became available to help prop up companies affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has prompted local and state governments to issue stay-at-home orders and close non-essential businesses. The $2 trillion CARES Act passed by Congress and signed by President Trump, included PPP loans designed to provide a direct incentive for small businesses to keep their workers on the payroll. The Small Business Administration, which handles the applications, will forgive loans if all employee retention criteria are met.

As illuminating as this dump of data is, it may contain inaccurate information. Both Bird and Index Ventures have issued statements that counter information provided by the federal government.

“Bird was erroneously listed as a company that filed for a PPP Loan,” according to an emailed statement from Bird. “We did not apply for nor did we receive a PPP Loan. We decided as a company not to file an application as we did not want to divert critical funding from small and local businesses.”

Bird CEO and founder Travis VanderZanden tweeted Monday that Citi had started an application while it awaited the company’s decision on whether to formally apply. Bird told Citi it decided not to apply and the bank told the company the temporary application had been cancelled.

Bird spoke with Citi early on, but decided not to apply for PPP b/c the money was more deserved by small and local businesses. Citi will confirm this. Not sure how we made the PPP list, but we're investigating. https://t.co/81HUJLKy4o

— Travis VanderZanden (@travisv) July 6, 2020

Index Ventures confirmed it has not applied for or received a loan. Andreessen Horowitz, which was also listed in the PPP data, confirmed that it has not applied for or received a loan in a statement to TechCrunch.

Earlier today, there was an erroneous entry that Index Ventures applied for a PPP loan. We can confirm that Index Ventures did not apply for a PPP loan at any point. Our legal team is looking into why our name is listed and looking to correct it ASAP.

— Index Ventures (@IndexVentures) July 6, 2020

Below is a list of tech startups and companies, including some venture firms that received money, either for themselves or on behalf of portfolio companies, from the program. The story is developing and we’re seeking to confirm the loans with companies. We will update throughout the day.

$150,000 to $350,000 range

  • Stackin, which connects millennials to fintech startups, raised a loan. soThis loan is notable because the fintech company raised a $12.6 million Series B financing in May, is listed in the loan data. CEO Scott Grimes did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
  • OpenResearch, formerly named Y Combinator Research, plans to retain 0 jobs. The nonprofit company rebranded in May, and announced that it is operating independently from Y Combinator and will no longer be affiliated with the incubator. This renaming announcement came after the nonprofit applied for a PPP grant.

$350,000 to $1 million range

  • Bolt Mobility, a city micromobility upstart, plans to retain 18 jobs

$1 million to $2 million range

  • SquareFoot, a New york-based office real-estate upstart, got a loan. According to The Information,  CEO Jonathan Wasserstrum got $1 million to avoid cutting the staff amid real estate transactions slowing down due to COVID-19.  

$2 to $5 million range

  • Self-driving trucking company TuSimple plans to save 324 jobs. TechCrunch recently reported that this startup, which gained unicorn status in 2019, has hired Morgan Stanley as it seeks $250 million in new funding.
  • Yeezy LLC, a company owned by Kanye West, is listed and the money will retain 106 jobs.

$5 to $10 million loan range

  • Getaround, a peer-to-peer car sharing service, plans to save 448 jobs. In a statement to TechCrunch, Getaround confirmed the loan and said that the program “helped reduce the otherwise  severe impact on the health of our organization,” due to lockdowns and coronavirus restrictions.
  • Luminar, a lidar sensor company, plans to retain 341 jobs
  • Turo, a peer-to-peer car-sharing service, does not disclose the number of jobs that will be retained.
  • Velodyne, a lidar sensor company, plans to save 450 jobs.

Developing …

Update: A few of the job numbers were entered incorrectly and have since been corrected. 

As COVID-19 surges, 3D printing is having a moment

COVID-19 will be remembered for many things — most undoubtedly negative. There are, however, some silver linings among the horrors of the deadliest pandemic in recent memory. Among them, if the sort of human ingenuity that shines whenever the world is faced with a similar crisis.

The simple truth of the matter is the world wasn’t prepared for a virus of this magnitude. It’s something that’s played out in country after country, as the novel coronavirus has continued to devastate communities across borders.

In spite of early warning signs, many nations — the U.S. certainly included — were caught off-guard, lacking the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) and other necessities required to battle the virus for a prolonged stretch. For many, taking on COVID-19 has required improvisation and resourcefulness — both, thankfully, qualities found in good volumes among the maker community that helped give rise to 3D printing technology.

If you’ve followed the technology even in passing over the last decade, you’re no doubt aware how much time evangelists spend justifying the usefulness of 3D printing beyond the the confines of desktop hobbyists. The defensiveness is certainly understandable. Consumer 3D printing has all of the trapping of an overhyped boom and bust. The truth of the matter is that it simply wasn’t ready for the mainstream moment many investors and members of the press were ready to thrust upon it.

But even as desktop 3D printing companies begun to scale back or shutter at an alarming rate, the industry has continued to have success stories among those who have further innovated and targeted the right market. Formlabs jumps out amongst the desktop market, with Carbon presenting a success story on the industrial side of the fence. What unites both beyond innovation is a focus on real-world case uses.