GBatteries let you charge your car as quickly as visiting the pump

A YC startup called GBatteries has come out of stealth with a bold claim: they can recharge an electric car as quickly as it takes to fill up a tank of gas.

Created by aerospace engineer Kostya Khomutov, electrical engineers Alex Tkachenko and Nick Sherstyuk, and CCO Tim Sherstyuk, the company is funded by the likes of Airbus Ventures, Initialized Capital, Plug and Play and SV Angel.

The system uses AI to optimize the charging systems in electric cars.

“Most companies are focused on developing new chemistries or materials (ex. Enevate, Storedot) to improve charging speed of batteries. Developing new materials is difficult, and scaling up production to the needs of automotive companies requires billions of $,” said Khomutov. “Our technology is a combination of software algorithms (AI) and electronics, that works with off-the-shelf Li-ion batteries that have already been validated, tested, and produced by battery manufacturers. Nothing else needs to change.”

The team makes some bold claims. The product allows users to charge a 60kWh EV battery pack with 119 miles of range in 15 minutes as compared to 15 miles in 15 minutes today. “The technology works with off-the-shelf lithium ion batteries and existing fast charge infrastructure by integrating via a patented self-contained adapter on a car charge port,” writes the team. They demonstrated their product at CES this year.

Most charging systems depend on fairly primitive systems for topping up batteries. Various factors — including temperature — can slow down or stop a charge. GBatteries manages this by setting a very specific charging model that “slows down” and “speeds up” the charge as necessary. This allows the charge to go much faster under the right conditions.

The company bloomed out of frustration.

“We’ve always tinkered with stuff together since before I was even a teenager, and over time had created a burgeoning hardware lab in our basement,” said Tim Sherstyuk. “While I was studying Chemistry at Carleton University in Ottawa, we’d often debate and discuss why batteries in our phones got so bad so rapidly — you’d buy a phone, and a year later it would almost be unusable because the battery degraded so badly.”

“This sparked us to see if we can solve the problem by somehow extending the cycle life of batteries and achieve better performance, so that we’d have something that lasts. We spent a few weeks in our basement lab wiring together a simple control system along with an algorithm to charge a few battery cells, and after 6 months of testing and iterations we started seeing a noticeable difference between batteries charged conventionally, and ones using our algorithm. A year and a half later of constant iterations and development, we applied and were accepted in 2014 into YC.”

While it’s not clear when this technology will hit commercial vehicles, it could be the breakthrough we all need to start replacing our gas cars with something a little more environmentally friendly.

CES 2019 coverage - TechCrunch

Microsoft continues to build government security credentials ahead of JEDI decision

While the DoD is in the process of reviewing the $10 billion JEDI cloud contract RFPs (assuming the work continues during the government shutdown), Microsoft continues to build up its federal government security bona fides, regardless.

Today the company announced it has achieved the highest level of federal government clearance for the Outlook mobile app, allowing U.S. Government Community Cloud (GCC) High and Department of Defense employees to use the mobile app. This is on top of FedRamp compliance the company achieved last year.

“To meet the high level of government security and compliance requirements, we updated the Outlook mobile architecture so that it establishes a direct connection between the Outlook mobile app and the compliant Exchange Online backend services using a native Microsoft sync technology and removes middle tier services,” the company wrote in a blog post announcing the update.

The update will allow these highly security-conscious employees to access some of the more recent updates to Outlook Mobile, such as the ability to add a comment when canceling an event.

This is in line with government security updates the company made last year. While none of these changes are specifically designed to help win the $10 billion JEDI cloud contract, they certainly help make a case for Microsoft from a technology standpoint.

As Microsoft corporate vice president for Azure Julia White stated in a blog post last year, which we covered, “Moving forward, we are simplifying our approach to regulatory compliance for federal agencies, so that our government customers can gain access to innovation more rapidly.” The Outlook Mobile release is clearly in line with that.

Today’s announcement comes after the Pentagon announced just last week that it has awarded Microsoft a separate large contract for $1.7 billion. This involves providing Microsoft Enterprise Services for the Department of Defense (DoD), Coast Guard and the intelligence community, according to a statement from DoD.

All of this comes ahead of a decision on the massive $10 billion, winner-take-all cloud contract. Final RFPs were submitted in October and the DoD is expected to make a decision in April. The process has not been without controversy, with Oracle and IBM submitting formal protests even before the RFP deadline — and more recently, Oracle filing a lawsuit alleging the contract terms violate federal procurement laws. Oracle has been particularly concerned that the contract was designed to favor Amazon, a point the DoD has repeatedly denied.

Opendoor competitor Knock raises $400M

Home trade-in platform Knock has brought in a $400 million investment to accelerate a national expansion and double its 100-person headcount.

Foundry Group has led the Series B funding round in New York-based Knock, with participation from Company Ventures and existing investors RRE Ventures, Corazon Capital, WTI and FJ Labs . Knock co-founder and chief executive officer Sean Black declined to disclose the startup’s valuation.

Founded in 2015, Knock helps its customers find a new home, then buys it for them outright in cash. That way home-buyers — who are often in the process of selling an old home and purchasing a new home at the same time — are able to move into their new home before listing their old one. Knock doesn’t purchase your old home but it does help with repairs in hopes of getting its customers the most value out of the sale. Ultimately, Knock receives a 3 percent commission from both the buyer and the seller of the original home.

“We are trying to make it as easy to trade in your house as it is to trade in your car,” Black told TechCrunch.

Knock is led by founding team members of Trulia, a platform for real estate listings, including Black and co-founder and chief operating officer Jamie Glenn. The pair wanted to build an end-to-end market place where people could trade in their homes at a reduced cost, with less stress and uncertainty.

“Good luck finding anyone who’s bought or sold a home and said they had a great experience doing it,” Black said. “It’s something people just hate and dread. We can make it better and faster and transparent and stress-free.”

The investment in Knock comes amid consistent year-over-year growth in venture capital deals for real estate technology companies. According to PitchBook, deal count in the sector has been increasing since 2010, with 351 deals closing in 2018 — a record for the space. Capital invested looks to be leveling out, with $5 billion funneled into global real estate tech startups in 2017 and $4.65 billion invested last year.

“We are at that part of the evolution cycle of the internet; the low-hanging fruit has been taken,” Black explained. “[Real estate] is so inefficient. Mostly consumers have no idea what is going on. They have no sense of control or empowerment. I just think it’s ripe for disruption.”

SoftBank is responsible for the largest deals in the space as an investor in Knock’s biggest competitors. The Vision Fund has deployed capital to both Compass and Opendoor in rounds that valued the companies at $4.4 billion and north of $2 billion, respectively. Katerra, a construction tech startup also backed by the Vision Fund, is said to be raising an additional $700 million from the prolific Japanese investor at a more than $4 billion valuation, per a recent report from The Information.

Knock previously raised a $32 million Series A in January 2017 in a round led by RRE Ventures, and is currently active in Atlanta, Charlotte, Raleigh-Durham, Dallas and Fort Worth.

Roku explains why it allowed Infowars on its platform

Roku has just made a bad decision with regard to its growing advertising business by associating its brand with the toxic conspiracy theorist, Alex Jones. As Digiday first reported this morning, Roku has chosen to add to the Roku platform as a supported channel the Infowars live show hosted by Jones, much to the disgust of customers now hammering the company on its social media platforms.

The company, apparently, is opting for the “we’re a neutral platform” defense in the matter, despite the fact that most major platforms have backed away from this stance with regard to Jones.

Apple, Facebook, Spotify, YouTube, Twitter, Periscope, Stitcher, Pinterest, LinkedIn and even YouPorn have removed Infowars from their respective platforms.

The decision to allow the channel comes at a time when Jones and Infowars are in the headlines again because of a recent update in the legal battle between the Sandy Hook families and the Infowars program. The families are suing the conspiracy theorist for spreading the false claim that the school shooting was an elaborate hoax, and that Infowars peddled these stories to stoke fear and sell more products like survivalist gear and gun paraphernalia, The New York Times reports.

A judge has ordered Infowars to turn over to the families internal documents that relate to its business plan or marketing strategies, the shooting itself, crisis actors or mass shootings in general.

Roku’s decision to allow the channel at all is a poor one not only in terms of taking a moral stance on complicated matters (if you’re of the mindset that’s something companies should do) — it seems to go against Roku’s own policy that bans content which is “unlawful, incites illegal activities or violates third-party rights.”

This is the same general premise that saw Infowars banned everywhere else.

Because of Jones’ claims, the Sandy Hook families have received death threats and have been continually harassed, even offline. Jones has also promoted other theories that led to violence, like Pizzagate.

Roku’s position, seemingly, is that the channel hasn’t done any bad stuff yet on its platform, never mind its past.

Such a cynical move by @Roku here. In light of very public lawsuits against him by the Sandy Hook parents who’ve been targeted by him, why would they decide now to stream his show? https://t.co/FkUrdzPLMD

— Sleeping Giants (@slpng_giants) January 15, 2019

Many Roku customers on social media are threatening to boycott. A search for terms including “roku,” “boycott” and others related to the news are picking up speed on Twitter, the #boycottroku hashtag has just now re-appeared, as well. (It was used previously by customers protesting the NRA channel.)

Given Amazon Fire TV and Roku’s tight race and Roku’s hunt for ad revenue through newer initiatives like its Roku Channel, a boycott could have material impact. (It looks like Amazon picked the right day to launch its updated Fire TV Stick with the new Alexa remote. At $40, it’s not going to be hard for consumers to switch streamers, if it comes to that. A search for “infowars” in Amazon Fire TV apps is not currently returning results, if you’re curious.)

Roku has become one of the top streaming media device makers in the U.S. and globally, recently having reached nearly 24 million registered users. Digiday notes that it’s projected to generate $293 million in advertising in 2018, per eMarketer, putting it just behind Hulu.

Apparently, Roku believes it can distance itself from the content it hosts on its platform.

That’s not a good look for advertisers, however, many who won’t want their brand appearing anywhere near Infowars. And because Roku runs ads right on its homescreen, that means advertisers’ content can actually sit directly beside the Infowars channel icon, if not in the program itself.

For example:

It may also make advertisers hesitant to work with Roku on other initiatives because it shows a lack of understanding over how to manage brand safety, or because they fear a consumer backlash.

Roku’s full statement is below:

Our streaming platform allows our customers to choose from thousands of entertainment, news and special interest channels, representing a wide range of topics and viewpoints. Customers choose and control which channels they download or watch, and parents can set a pin to prevent channels from being downloaded. While the vast majority of all streaming on our platform is mainstream entertainment, voices on all sides of an issue or cause are free to operate a channel. We do not curate or censor based on viewpoint.

We are not promoting or being paid to distribute InfoWars. We do not have a commercial relationship with the InfoWars.

While open to many voices, we have policies that prohibit the publication of content that is unlawful, incites illegal activities or violates third-party rights, among other things. If we determine a channel violates these policies, it will be removed. To our knowledge, InfoWars is not currently in violation of these content policies.

UPDATE, 1/15/19, 2:43 PM ET: 

Following Roku’s statement about its decision, Josh Koskoff, the Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder attorney representing several Sandy Hook families suing Jones after his repeated claims that the Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax, has released a statement as well:

Roku’s shocking decision to carry Infowars and provide a platform for Alex Jones is an insult to the memory of the 26 children and educators killed at Sandy Hook. Worse, it interferes with families’ efforts to prevent people like Jones from profiting off innocent victims whose lives have been turned upside down by unspeakable loss. We call on Roku to realize this and immediately pull the program. Until then, the families will be switching to alternate streaming providers that know the difference between authentic – if provocative – opinions and a lying opportunist seeking to make money by any means possible. There is no amount of anticipated revenue that could possibly justify Roku’s calculated decision.

UPDATE, 1/15/19, 10:55 PM – Roku has decided to pull the Infowars app down.

After the InfoWars channel became available, we heard from concerned parties and have determined that the channel should be removed from our platform. Deletion from the channel store and platform has begun and will be completed shortly.

— Roku (@Roku) January 16, 2019

Getaround early investor sues car-sharing startup for $1.79 million

Getaround is getting around the courthouse. One of the car-sharing startup’s early investors, Geoffrey Shmigelsky, is suing the company, alleging fraud and unfair conduct.

“Our client supported Getaround and Mr. Zaid from the very start, only to be swindled out of $1.785 million that went straight into the pockets of Mr. Zaid’s family and friends, as we allege,” Gaw | Poe LLP Partner Samuel Song said in a statement. “Our client deserved better than this from a person he had supported and trusted for years, and we’ll do what it takes to get what rightfully belongs to him.”

Getaround, however, says “these claims are totally unfounded and we’re looking to get the case dismissed,” Getaround Director of Marketing Communications Jacqueline Tanzella told TechCrunch over the phone.

Specifically, the lawsuit alleges Getaround executives tricked Shmigelsky into selling his shares to their friends and family for $1.79 million less “than what they knew they were worth.” Early last year, investors became interested in purchasing Shmigelsky’s shares, the lawsuit states. But because Getaround is still a private company with scarce public financial information, “they struggled to value Plaintiff’s shares.” That’s when Shmigelsky said he asked Getaround CEO Sam Zaid for the information.

The lawsuit alleges:

Mr. Zaid saw an opportunity and agreed to help. Getaround had a contractual right of refusal to purchase any shares Plaintiff tried to sell, under the same terms and conditions of any sales agreement that Plaintiff entered into with a prospective buyer. Thus, Mr. Zaid was in a position to provide information designed to drive down the value of Plaintiff’s shares, and if Plaintiff agreed to a transaction at a lower price, Mr. Zaid could cause Getaround to exercise its right of first refusal to buy Plaintiff’s shares at a large discount off its true value. Moreover, since Getaround also had the right to assign its right of first refusal to whoever it wanted, Mr. Zaid could cause Getaround to exercise its right to purchase Plaintiff’s shares (at a discounted price) and then gift that opportunity to Mr. Zaid’s friends and family.

Based on the information Zaid and Getaround CFO Adam Kosmicki provided him, Shmigelsky alleges he sold 300,000 shares at $1.80 per share. He also alleges Zaid and Kosmicki concealed the information that Getaround was on the verge of closing an $18 million funding round priced at $7.75 per share. After allegedly invoking its right of refusal, Getaround bought back Shmigelsky’s shares at $1.80 per share.

But since those deals were not yet finalized and still in discussions, Tanzella said, “we were legally bound not to disclose anything that wasn’t complete and to fruition.”

Getaround then allegedly allowed Zaid and Getaround CTO Elliot Kroo’s family and friends to buy those shares for $540,000. Had that stake been valued at $7.75 per share, Shmigelsky would’ve made $2.33 million.

“It’s a really unfortunate situation,” Tanzella said. “I know the team did the best they could.”

Getaround also pointed out that the company helped facilitate the sale of Shmigelsky’s shares on the secondary market five times.

“This complaint seems to be driven by seller’s remorse,” Tanzella said.

Shmigelsky seeks no less than $1.79 million for compensatory and special damages. Getaround, however, does “plan on having this fully dismissed in court,” Tanzella said.

You can read the full complaint below.

President Bolsonaro should boost Brazil’s entrepreneurial ecosystem

Romero Rodrigues
Contributor

Romero Rodrigues is a managing partner at Redpoint eVentures, the Brazilian-focused arm of the Silicon Valley venture firm Redpoint.

In late October following a significant victory for Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil’s presidential elections, the stock market for Latin America’s largest country shot up. Financial markets reacted favorably to the news because Bolsonaro, a free-market proponent, promises to deliver broad economic reforms, fight corruption and work to reshape Brazil through a pro-business agenda. While some have dubbed him as a far-right “Trump of the Tropics” against a backdrop of many Brazilians feeling that government has failed them, the business outlook is extremely positive.

When President-elect Bolsonaro appointed Santander executive Roberto Campos as new head of Brazil’s central bank in mid-November, Brazil’s stock market cheered again with Sao Paulo’s Bovespa stocks surging as much as 2.65 percent on the day news was announced. According to Reuters, “analysts said Bolsonaro, a former army captain and lawmaker who has admitted to having scant knowledge of economics, was assembling an experienced economic team to implement his plans to slash government spending, simplify Brazil’s complex tax system and sell off state-run companies.”

Admittedly, there are some challenges as well. Most notably, pension-system reform tops the list of priorities to get on the right track quickly. A costly pension system is increasing the country’s debt and contributed to Brazil losing its investment-grade credit rating in 2015. According to the new administration, Brazil’s domestic product could grow by 3.5 percent during 2019 if Congress approves pension reform soon. The other issue that’s cropped up to tarnish the glow of Bolsonaro coming into power are suspect payments made to his son that are being examined by COAF, the financial crimes unit.

While the jury is still out on Bolsonaro’s impact on Brazilian society at large after being portrayed as the Brazilian Trump by the opposition party, he’s come across as less authoritarian during his first days in office. Since the election, his tone is calmer and he’s repeatedly said that he plans to govern for all Brazilians, not just those who voted for him. In his first speech as president, he invited his wife to speak first which has never happened before.

Still, according to The New York Times, “some Brazilians remain deeply divided on the new president, a former army captain who has hailed the country’s military dictators and made disparaging remarks about women and minority groups.”

Others have expressed concern about his environment impact with the “an assault on environmental and Amazon protections” through an executive order within hours of taking office earlier this week. However, some major press outlets have been more upbeat: “With his mix of market-friendly economic policies and social conservativism at home, Mr. Bolsonaro plans to align Brazil more closely with developed nations and particularly the U.S.,” according to the Wall Street Journal this week.

Based on his publicly stated plans, here’s why President Bolsonaro will be good for business and how his administration will help build an even stronger entrepreneurial ecosystem in Brazil:

Bolsonaro’s Ministerial Reform

President Temer leaves office with 29 government ministries. President Bolsonaro plans to reduce the number of ministries to 22, which will reduce spending and make the government smaller and run more efficiently. We expect to see more modern technology implemented to eliminate bureaucratic red tape and government inefficiencies.

Importantly, this will open up more partnerships and contracting of tech startups’ solutions. Government contacts for new technology will be used across nearly all the ministries including mobility, transportation, health, finance, management and legal administration – which will have a positive financial impact especially for the rich and booming SaaS market players in Brazil.

Government Company Privatization

Of Brazil’s 418 government-controlled companies, there are 138 of them on the federal level that could be privatized. In comparison to Brazil’s 418, Chile has 25 government-controlled companies, the U.S. has 12, Australia and Japan each have eight, and Switzerland has four. Together, Brazil-owned companies employ more than 800,000 people today, including about 500,000 federal employees. Some of the largest ones include petroleum company Petrobras, electric utilities company EletrobrasBanco do Brasil, Latin America’s largest bank in terms of its assets, and Caixa Economica Federal, the largest 100 percent government-owned financial institution in Latin America.

The process of privatizing companies is known to be cumbersome and inefficient, and the transformation from political appointments to professional management will surge the need for better management tools, especially for enterprise SaaS solutions.

STEAM Education to Boost Brazil’s Tech Talent

Based on Bolsonaro’s original plan to move the oversight of university and post-graduate education from the Education Ministry to the Science and Technology Ministry, it’s clear the new presidential administration is favoring more STEAM courses that are focused on Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics.

Previous administrations threw further support behind humanities-focused education programs. Similar STEAM-focused higher education systems from countries such as Singapore and South Korea have helped to generate a bigger pipeline of qualified engineers and technical talent badly needed by Brazilian startups and larger companies doing business in the country. The additional tech talent boost in the country will help Brazil better compete on the global stage.

The Chicago Boys’ “Super” Ministry

The merger of the Ministry of Economy with the Treasury, Planning and Industry and Foreign Trade and Services ministries will create a super ministry to be run by Dr. Paulo Guedes and his team of Chicago Boys. Trained at the Department of Economics in the University of Chicago under Milton Friedman and Arnold Harberger, the Chicago Boys are a group of prominent Chilean economists who are credited with transforming Chile into Latin America’s best performing economies and one of the world’s most business-friendly jurisdictions. Joaquim Levi, the recently appointed chief of BNDES (Brazilian Development Bank), is also a Chicago Boy and a strong believer in venture capital and startups.

Previously, Guedes was a general partner in Bozano Investimentos, a pioneering private equity firm, before accepting the invitation to take the helm of the world’s eighth-largest economy in Brazil. To have a team of economists who deeply understand the importance of rapid-growth companies is good news for Brazil’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. This group of 30,000 startup companies are responsible for 50 percent of the job openings in Brazil and they’re growing far faster than the country’s GDP.

Bolsonaro’s Pro-Business Cabinet Appointments

President Bolsonaro has appointed a majority of technical experts to be part of his new cabinet. Eight of them have strong technology backgrounds, and this deeper knowledge of the tech sector will better inform decisions and open the way to more funding for innovation.

One of those appointments, Sergio Moro, is the federal judge for the anti-corruption initiative knows as “Operation Car Wash.” With Moro’s nomination to Chief of the Justice Department and his anticipated fight against corruption could generate economic growth and help reduce unemployment in the country. Bolsonaro’s cabinet is also expected to simplify the crazy and overwhelming tax system. More than 40 different taxes could be whittled down to a dozen, making it easier for entrepreneurs to launch new companies.

In general terms, Brazil and Latin America have long suffered from deep inefficiencies. With Bolsonaro’s administration, there’s new promise that there will be an increase in long-term infrastructure investments, reforms to reduce corruption and bureaucratic red tape, and enthusiasm and support for startup investments in entrepreneurs who will lead the country’s fastest-growing companies and make significant technology advancements to “lift all boats.”

Global VC market sees highest-ever concentration of supergiant dollar volume in Q4 2018

Jason Rowley
Contributor

Jason Rowley is a venture capital and technology reporter for Crunchbase News.

For the global VC industry, 2018 was a supergiant year. Crunchbase projects that 2018 deal and dollar volume surpassed even the high-water mark left by the dot-com deluge and the drought that followed.

As covered in Crunchbase News’s global VC report reviewing Q4 and the rest of 2018, projected deal volume rose by 32 percent and projected dollar volume jumped 55 percent since 2017. For all of 2018, Crunchbase projects that well over $300 billion was invested in equity funding rounds across all stages of the venture-backed company life cycle. (This figure includes an estimate of transactions that were finalized in 2018, but won’t be publicized or added to Crunchbase until later. More on how Crunchbase projects data can be found at the end of that report.)

Is the market mostly buoyed by the billions raised by the biggest private tech companies, or is a rising tide in this extended aquatic metaphor raising all ships? In other words, is the bulk of the capital going to only a handful of the largest rounds? That’s what the numbers show.

In the global VC pool, capital is definitely sloshing toward rounds totaling $100 million or more. In the chart below, you can see what percent of reported global VC dollar volume was raised in “supergiant” rounds versus deals of smaller size.

 

In the year, over 56 percent of worldwide dollar volume can be attributed to supergiant rounds. With 61 percent of reported capital coming from supergiants in the final quarter, Q4 2018 has the highest concentration of supergiant dollar volume of any single quarter on record.

Big money weighs on the market

Following that same theme, the calendar year 2018 is the most concentrated year on record. In the chart below, we show how much capital was raised in non-supergiant (<$100 million) venture rounds over the past decade. (It’s basically the bottom part of the first chart, with the data aggregated over a longer period of time.)

For the first time in at least a decade (and likely ever) supergiant, $100 million+ VC rounds accounted for a majority of reported capital raised. So in summary: Q4 2018 had the highest share of supergiant VC dollar volume on record, and 2018 was the most concentrated year on record.

On the one hand, the results are not surprising, considering that the biggest-ever VC round (a preposterously large $14 billion Series C raised by Ant Financial) and several rivals for that top spot were closed last year. That big round made a big splash. It was the year of multi-billion-dollar global growth funds, SoftBank and scooter CEOs worth supergiant sums, at least on paper. But was it good for the smaller players too?

Seed and early-stage deal and dollar volume were both up in 2018, but then again, so is everything toward the end of a bull market cycle. The question is, when the bottom falls out, between supergiant and more normal-sized rounds, which has the farthest to fall?

How open source software took over the world

Mike Volpi
Contributor

Mike Volpi is a general partner at Index Ventures. Before co-founding the firm’s San Francisco office with Danny Rimer, Volpi served as the chief strategy officer at Cisco Systems.

It was just 5 years ago that there was an ample dose of skepticism from investors about the viability of open source as a business model. The common thesis was that Redhat was a snowflake and that no other open source company would be significant in the software universe.

Fast forward to today and we’ve witnessed the growing excitement in the space: Redhat is being acquired by IBM for $32 billion (3x times its market cap from 2014); Mulesoft was acquired after going public for $6.5 billion; MongoDB is now worth north of $4 billion; Elastic’s IPO now values the company at $6 billion; and, through the merger of Cloudera and Hortonworks, a new company with a market cap north of $4 billion will emerge. In addition, there’s a growing cohort of impressive OSS companies working their way through the growth stages of their evolution: Confluent, HashiCorp, DataBricks, Kong, Cockroach Labs and many others. Given the relative multiples that Wall Street and private investors are assigning to these open source companies, it seems pretty clear that something special is happening.

So, why did this movement that once represented the bleeding edge of software become the hot place to be? There are a number of fundamental changes that have advanced open source businesses and their prospects in the market.

David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

From Open Source to Open Core to SaaS

The original open source projects were not really businesses, they were revolutions against the unfair profits that closed-source software companies were reaping. Microsoft, Oracle, SAP and others were extracting monopoly-like “rents” for software, which the top developers of the time didn’t believe was world class. So, beginning with the most broadly used components of software – operating systems and databases – progressive developers collaborated, often asynchronously, to author great pieces of software. Everyone could not only see the software in the open, but through a loosely-knit governance model, they added, improved and enhanced it.

The software was originally created by and for developers, which meant that at first it wasn’t the most user-friendly. But it was performant, robust and flexible. These merits gradually percolated across the software world and, over a decade, Linux became the second most popular OS for servers (next to Windows); MySQL mirrored that feat by eating away at Oracle’s dominance.

The first entrepreneurial ventures attempted to capitalize on this adoption by offering “enterprise-grade” support subscriptions for these software distributions. Redhat emerged the winner in the Linux race and MySQL (thecompany) for databases. These businesses had some obvious limitations – it was harder to monetize software with just support services, but the market size for OS’s and databases was so large that, in spite of more challenged business models, sizeable companies could be built.

The successful adoption of Linux and MySQL laid the foundation for the second generation of Open Source companies – the poster children of this generation were Cloudera and Hortonworks. These open source projects and businesses were fundamentally different from the first generation on two dimensions. First, the software was principally developed within an existing company and not by a broad, unaffiliated community (in the case of Hadoop, the software took shape within Yahoo!) . Second, these businesses were based on the model that only parts of software in the project were licensed for free, so they could charge customers for use of some of the software under a commercial license. The commercial aspects were specifically built for enterprise production use and thus easier to monetize. These companies, therefore, had the ability to capture more revenue even if the market for their product didn’t have quite as much appeal as operating systems and databases.

However, there were downsides to this second generation model of open source business. The first was that no company singularly held ‘moral authority’ over the software – and therefore the contenders competed for profits by offering increasing parts of their software for free. Second, these companies often balkanized the evolution of the software in an attempt to differentiate themselves. To make matters more difficult, these businesses were not built with a cloud service in mind. Therefore, cloud providers were able to use the open source software to create SaaS businesses of the same software base. Amazon’s EMR is a great example of this.

The latest evolution came when entrepreneurial developers grasped the business model challenges existent in the first two generations – Gen 1 and Gen 2 – of open source companies, and evolved the projects with two important elements. The first is that the open source software is now developed largely within the confines of businesses. Often, more than 90% of the lines of code in these projects are written by the employees of the company that commercialized the software. Second, these businesses offer their own software as a cloud service from very early on. In a sense, these are Open Core / Cloud service hybrid businesses with multiple pathways to monetize their product. By offering the products as SaaS, these businesses can interweave open source software with commercial software so customers no longer have to worry about which license they should be taking. Companies like Elastic, Mongo, and Confluent with services like Elastic Cloud, Confluent Cloud, and MongoDB Atlas are examples of this Gen 3.  The implications of this evolution are that open source software companies now have the opportunity to become the dominant business model for software infrastructure.

The Role of the Community

While the products of these Gen 3 companies are definitely more tightly controlled by the host companies, the open source community still plays a pivotal role in the creation and development of the open source projects. For one, the community still discovers the most innovative and relevant projects. They star the projects on Github, download the software in order to try it, and evangelize what they perceive to be the better project so that others can benefit from great software. Much like how a good blog post or a tweet spreads virally, great open source software leverages network effects. It is the community that is the source of promotion for that virality.

The community also ends up effectively being the “product manager” for these projects. It asks for enhancements and improvements; it points out the shortcomings of the software. The feature requests are not in a product requirements document, but on Github, comments threads and Hacker News. And, if an open source project diligently responds to the community, it will shape itself to the features and capabilities that developers want.

The community also acts as the QA department for open source software. It will identify bugs and shortcomings in the software; test 0.x versions diligently; and give the companies feedback on what is working or what is not.  The community will also reward great software with positive feedback, which will encourage broader use.

What has changed though, is that the community is not as involved as it used to be in the actual coding of the software projects. While that is a drawback relative to Gen 1 and Gen 2 companies, it is also one of the inevitable realities of the evolving business model.

Linus Torvalds was the designer of the open-source operating system Linux.

Rise of the Developer

It is also important to realize the increasing importance of the developer for these open source projects. The traditional go-to-market model of closed source software targeted IT as the purchasing center of software. While IT still plays a role, the real customers of open source are the developers who often discover the software, and then download and integrate it into the prototype versions of the projects that they are working on. Once “infected”by open source software, these projects work their way through the development cycles of organizations from design, to prototyping, to development, to integration and testing, to staging, and finally to production. By the time the open source software gets to production it is rarely, if ever, displaced. Fundamentally, the software is never “sold”; it is adopted by the developers who appreciate the software more because they can see it and use it themselves rather than being subject to it based on executive decisions.

In other words, open source software permeates itself through the true experts, and makes the selection process much more grassroots than it has ever been historically. The developers basically vote with their feet. This is in stark contrast to how software has traditionally been sold.

Virtues of the Open Source Business Model

The resulting business model of an open source company looks quite different than a traditional software business. First of all, the revenue line is different. Side-by-side, a closed source software company will generally be able to charge more per unit than an open source company. Even today, customers do have some level of resistance to paying a high price per unit for software that is theoretically “free.” But, even though open source software is lower cost per unit, it makes up the total market size by leveraging the elasticity in the market. When something is cheaper, more people buy it. That’s why open source companies have such massive and rapid adoption when they achieve product-market fit.

Another great advantage of open source companies is their far more efficient and viral go-to-market motion. The first and most obvious benefit is that a user is already a “customer” before she even pays for it. Because so much of the initial adoption of open source software comes from developers organically downloading and using the software, the companies themselves can often bypass both the marketing pitch and the proof-of-concept stage of the sales cycle. The sales pitch is more along the lines of, “you already use 500 instances of our software in your environment, wouldn’t you like to upgrade to the enterprise edition and get these additional features?”  This translates to much shorter sales cycles, the need for far fewer sales engineers per account executive, and much quicker payback periods of the cost of selling. In fact, in an ideal situation, open source companies can operate with favorable Account Executives to Systems Engineer ratios and can go from sales qualified lead (SQL) to closed sales within one quarter.

This virality allows for open source software businesses to be far more efficient than traditional software businesses from a cash consumption basis. Some of the best open source companies have been able to grow their business at triple-digit growth rates well into their life while  maintaining moderate of burn rates of cash. This is hard to imagine in a traditional software company. Needless to say, less cash consumption equals less dilution for the founders.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Open Source to Freemium

One last aspect of the changing open source business that is worth elaborating on is the gradual movement from true open source to community-assisted freemium. As mentioned above, the early open source projects leveraged the community as key contributors to the software base. In addition, even for slight elements of commercially-licensed software, there was significant pushback from the community. These days the community and the customer base are much more knowledgeable about the open source business model, and there is an appreciation for the fact that open source companies deserve to have a “paywall” so that they can continue to build and innovate.

In fact, from a customer perspective the two value propositions of open source software are that you a) read the code; b) treat it as freemium. The notion of freemium is that you can basically use it for free until it’s deployed in production or in some degree of scale. Companies like Elastic and Cockroach Labs have gone as far as actually open sourcing all their software but applying a commercial license to parts of the software base. The rationale being that real enterprise customers would pay whether the software is open or closed, and they are more incentivized to use commercial software if they can actually read the code. Indeed, there is a risk that someone could read the code, modify it slightly, and fork the distribution. But in developed economies – where much of the rents exist anyway, it’s unlikely that enterprise companies will elect the copycat as a supplier.

A key enabler to this movement has been the more modern software licenses that companies have either originally embraced or migrated to over time. Mongo’s new license, as well as those of Elastic and Cockroach are good examples of these. Unlike the Apache incubated license – which was often the starting point for open source projects a decade ago, these licenses are far more business-friendly and most model open source businesses are adopting them.

The Future

When we originally penned this article on open source four years ago, we aspirationally hoped that we would see the birth of iconic open source companies. At a time where there was only one model – Redhat – we believed that there would be many more. Today, we see a healthy cohort of open source businesses, which is quite exciting. I believe we are just scratching the surface of the kind of iconic companies that we will see emerge from the open source gene pool. From one perspective, these companies valued in the billions are a testament to the power of the model. What is clear is that open source is no longer a fringe approach to software. When top companies around the world are polled, few of them intend to have their core software systems be anything but open source. And if the Fortune 5000 migrate their spend on closed source software to open source, we will see the emergence of a whole new landscape of software companies, with the leaders of this new cohort valued in the tens of billions of dollars.

Clearly, that day is not tomorrow. These open source companies will need to grow and mature and develop their products and organization in the coming decade. But the trend is undeniable and here at Index we’re honored to have been here for the early days of this journey.

Lime halts scooter service in Switzerland after possible software glitch throws users off mid-ride

Just as on-demand electric scooters are trying to pick up speed in Europe, one of the scooter market’s most ambitious startups has halted operations in one country after its e-scooters started halting mid-ride, throwing off and injuring passengers.

Lime, the Uber-backed bike and scooter rental company that is reportedly raising money at between a $2 billion and $3 billion valuation, has pulled its full fleet of scooters in Switzerland, in the cities of Basel and Zurich, for safety checks after multiple reports of people injuring themselves after their scooters braked abruptly while in use.

The company sent out a notice to users — presented in screenshots below, in German, with the full text translated underneath that — noting that it is currently investigating whether the malfunction is due to a software fault, where an update of the software causes a scooter inadvertently to reboot during a ride, thus engaging the anti-theft immobilization system.

To make up for the disruption in service, it’s offering users a 15-minute credit that they can use when the service is restored, but it doesn’t give an indication of when that might be.

The text reads as follows:

By now you surely have heard from the media that we have taken all Lime scooters into our workshops and have temporarily paused the service.
We have been made aware of cases in which users report that during their rides, sudden brake maneuvers take place, leading to crashes. The security of our users is our top priority and this is why we decided at the start of this week to pull in all devices and do a thorough security and quality check on them.
The investigation is ongoing. After first hints, we are currently examining whether a software update could be causing a reboot during the ride, triggering the theft protection. We have already taken measures to ensure this will never happen again. Nonetheless, we are testing each device thoroughly to ensure that no software or hardware issues remain.
We are optimistic that we will soon again be operating on the streets of Zurich and Basel and apologize for the disruption of the service. To make up for it, we offer you a free 15 minute ride with code “LIME-ON-SCHWEIZ”. As soon as we are back again.
We will keep you updated about the developments. Thank you for your understanding.
With lime green greetings
Your Lime Switzerland Team

We have reached out to Lime for more details and will update this post as we learn more.

The cessation of service comes after reports over the past several months detailed how users have been injured after their Lime scooters stopped abruptly. In November, a doctor broke his elbow after the speedometer on his vehicle failed, the brakes kicked in, and he was thrown into the air. (Fortunately, this happened in front of the hospital, where he also worked.)

Another rider dislocated his shoulder after falling over his Lime scooter’s handle bars when travelling at about 25 km/h (about 15 mph). A third suffered cuts and bruises in a similar incident to the other two: abrupt braking while travelling.

Lime launched e-scooter services in several cities across Europe last summer, starting in Paris with aggressive ambitions to expand its business to 25 cities in Europe by the end of 2018.

In Switzerland Lime has (had?) about 550 scooters in operation. But overall, Lime hasn’t quite hit its wider regional target. It is currently live in 18 cities in Europe, and not all of those have electric scooters.

In the UK, for example, Lime has had a limited roll out of electric bikes and there are no plans at the moment to add scooters.

Part of the reason in the UK is because that particular mode of transportation is facing some regulatory hurdles: technically they are classified as vehicles, and therefore illegal to drive without licenses on public roads. On the other hand, there are plenty being sold and in use by private individuals who may or may not have the right credentials to use them, and regulations may get revisited.

One of Lime’s biggest competitors, Bird, launched e-scooters in London last year, but it has been a very limited roll out, on private land on the Olympic campus.

In other markets, Lime originally launched scooters but has since had to halt its business. In December, Lime, along with rivals Wind and Voi, were all ordered to halt e-scooter operations in Madrid, after the city determined that they were posing a safety hazard after a series of accidents, including a death, amid other safety concerns.

We’ll update this post as we learn more. Overall, however, the development does not paint a very positive picture.

Even before we’ve seen a mass launch of actual services, the e-scooter market in Europe is already very crowded with hopeful players. Alongside Lime and Bird flying over from the US, there are also homegrown startups like TaxifyDott, Wind and Voi, as well as transportation behemoths like VW, all entering the fray.

All fine and well, I suppose — let the best man win and all that — but seeing early versions of these services getting banned by authorities or halted by the companies themselves over accidents does make one wonder if safety is getting compromised in the name of aggressive competition in new, unchartered areas of “disruptive” tech.

Startups Weekly: Will Trump ruin the unicorn IPOs of our dreams?

The government shutdown entered its 21st day on Friday, upping concerns of potentially long-lasting impacts on the U.S. stock market. Private market investors around the country applauded when Uber finally filed documents with the SEC to go public. Others were giddy to hear Lyft, Pinterest, Postmates and Slack (via a direct listing, according to the latest reports) were likely to IPO in 2019, too.

Unfortunately, floats that seemed imminent may not actually surface until the second half of 2019 — that is unless President Donald Trump and other political leaders are able to reach an agreement on the federal budget ASAP.  This week, we explored the government’s shutdown’s connection to tech IPOs, recounted the demise of a well-funded AR project and introduced readers to an AI-enabled self-checkout shopping cart.

1. Postmates gets pre-IPO cash

The company, an early entrant to the billion-dollar food delivery wars, raised what will likely be its last round of private capital. The $100 million cash infusion was led by BlackRock and valued Postmates at $1.85 billion, up from the $1.2 billion valuation it garnered with its unicorn round in 2018.

2. Uber’s IPO may not be as eye-popping as we expected

To be fair, I don’t think many of us really believed the ride-hailing giant could debut with a $120 billion initial market cap. And can speculate on Uber’s valuation for days (the latest reports estimate a $90 billion IPO), but ultimately Wall Street will determine just how high Uber will fly. For now, all we can do is sit and wait for the company to relinquish its S-1 to the masses.

3. Deal of the week

N26, a German fintech startup, raised $300 million in a round led by Insight Venture Partners at a $2.7 billion valuation. TechCrunch’s Romain Dillet spoke with co-founder and CEO Valentin Stalf about the company’s global investors, financials and what the future holds for N26.

4. On the market

Bird is in the process of raising an additional $300 million on a flat pre-money valuation of $2 billion. The e-scooter startup has already raised a ton of capital in a very short time and a fresh financing would come at a time when many investors are losing faith in scooter startups’ claims to be the solution to the problem of last-mile transportation, as companies in the space display poor unit economics, faulty batteries and a general air of undependability. Plus, Aurora, the developer of a full-stack self-driving software system for automobile manufacturers, is raising at least $500 million in equity funding at more than a $2 billion valuation in a round expected to be led by new investor Sequoia Capital.


Here’s your weekly reminder to send me tips, suggestions and more to [email protected] or @KateClarkTweets


5. A unicorn’s deal downsizes

WeWork, a co-working giant backed with billions, had planned on securing a $16 billion investment from existing backer SoftBank . Well, that’s not exactly what happened. And, oh yeah, they rebranded.

6. A startup collapses

After 20 long years, augmented reality glasses pioneer ODG has been left with just a skeleton crew after acquisition deals from Facebook and Magic Leap fell through. Here’s a story of a startup with $58 million in venture capital backing that failed to deliver on its promises.

7. Data point

Seed activity for U.S. startups has declined for the fourth straight year, as median deal sizes increased at every stage of venture capital.

Key takeaways:
1. Seed activity for U.S. startups declined for the fourth straight year
2. Median U.S. seed deal was the highest on record in Q4 at $2.1M
3. Seed activity as a % of deals shrunk to 25%
4. Companies securing seed deals are older than ever https://t.co/exr8DRQRAF

— Kate Clark (@KateClarkTweets) January 9, 2019

8. Meanwhile, in startup land…

This week edtech startup Emeritus, a U.S.-Indian company that partners with universities to offer digital courses, landed a $40 million Series C round led by Sequoia India. Badi, which uses an algorithm to help millennials find roommates, brought in a $30 million Series B led by Goodwater Capital. And Mr Jeff, an on-demand laundry service startup, bagged a $12 million Series A.

9. Finally, Meet Caper, the AI self-checkout shopping cart

The startup, which makes a shopping cart with a built-in barcode scanner and credit card swiper, has revealed a total of $3 million, including a $2.15 million seed round led by First Round Capital .

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