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China’s WeRide secures more funding, pushing valuation to $3.3 billion

Only four months after securing Series B fundraising of $310 million, Chinese autonomous driving company WeRide says it has achieved its Series C funding round that brings its post-money valuation to $3 billion.

This is first time the company has disclosed its value. The company did not share how much it has raised this round, only noting that it’s in the “hundreds of millions,” according to a statement released by the company. WeRide intends to use this funding round to invest in R&D and commercialization as it works towards the next-generation of Level 4 driving, a term that means a vehicle can drive without human intervention in some environments and conditions. The company is also using the funds to prepare to commercialize its technology.

WeRide has scored a slew of large investments over the past year, including its $200 million strategic round in December from Chinese bus maker Yutong. The speed and scale of these investments signals that the company is burning through money and hungry for more, and that investors are banking on China’s tech. Rival Momenta has also received large sums this year, exceeding its $1 billion in valuation with recent investments of $500 million and total funding of more than $700 million.

“WeRide Master Platform (WMP), our core autonomous driving technology solution has helped to accelerate the company’s development,” Tony Han, founder and CEO of WeRide, said in a statement. “This drives the successful operation of our Robotaxi service in Guangzhou since 2019 and the introduction of the WeRide driverless Mini Robobus, a completely new product category to the autonomous industry.”

WeRide’s robotaxi pilot in Guangzhou began in 2019, but it began conducting test drives in the city’s Central Business District in January. Not long after, the company’s driverless Mini Robobus began road testing in Guangzhou and Nanjing. WeRide became the first autonomous driving company in China to secure an official license for online car-hailing operations in February, and in April, the California DMV issued WeRide a permit to test its driverless vehicles on public roads in San Jose, California.

Many investors participated in this most recent round, including IDG Capital, Homeric Capital, CoStone Capital, Cypress Star, Sky9 Capital and K3 Ventures, as well as existing investors CMC Capital Partners, Qiming Venture Partners and Alpview Capital.

Elon Musk, Technoking of Tesla, orders a halt to bitcoin car payments 

Tesla CEO and self-dubbed Technoking is back-peddling on the company’s stance about bitcoin and has suspended purchases of its electric vehicles with the cryptocurrency.

The change of stance, which was delivered via tweet, comes just weeks after Tesla CFO and dubbed “Master of Coin” Zach Kirkhorn said the company believes in the longevity of bitcoin, despite its volatility. The tweet from Musk sent the price of bitcoin down more than 4% (and falling). The price of bitcoin is down more than 7% for the day, although some of that decrease occurred prior to Musk’s tweet:

Tesla has suspended vehicle purchases using Bitcoin. We are concerned about rapidly increasing use of fossil fuels for Bitcoin mining and transactions, especially coal, which has the worst emissions of any fuel.

Cryptocurrency is a good idea on many levels and we believe it has a promising future, but this cannot come at a great cost to the environment.

Tesla will not be selling any Bitcoin and we intend to use it for transactions as soon as mining transitions to more sustainable energy. We are also looking at other cryptocurrencies that use <1% of Bitcoin’s energy/transaction.

Tesla & Bitcoin pic.twitter.com/YSswJmVZhP

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 12, 2021

Tesla invested $1.5 billion in bitcoin this quarter and then trimmed its position by 10%, Kirkhorn said during the company’s quarterly earnings call in April. That sale made a $101 million “positive impact” to the company’s profitability in the first quarter.

Kirkhorn said Tesla turned to bitcoin as a place to store cash and still access it immediately, all while providing a better return on investment than more traditional central bank-backed safe havens. Of course, the higher yields provided by the volatile digital currency comes with higher risk.

If you’re getting whiplash from this announcement, you’re not alone. Tesla originally announced in March that it would accept bitcoin as a form of payment in the United States. But Elon Musk, the Technoking of Tesla, is known for drastically affecting the crypto market with just a mere tweeting of his thumbs. Every time the man tweets an image of a Shiba Inu, the joke coin called Dogecoin sores in the stocks.

In anticipation for Musk’s appearance on Saturday Night Live, many anticipated that the coin would reach $1, but when the “Dogefather” admitted (as a joke) to the currency being a hustle, the price of the coin crashed 30%.

Energy sucker

When it first became public that Tesla had purchased $1.5 billion in Bitcoin, investors, analysts and money managers at some of the country’s largest banks noted that it presented risks for the company. Others noted it could damage its reputation.

Bitcoin functions using what is known as a “Proof of Work” consensus, which means the network relies on mining to continue operating. The bulk of bitcoin mining is conducted in Russia and China. Until the energy grid decarbonizes, as TechCrunch noted back in February, mining bitcoin will remain a dirty business, though plenty of mining operations today do use renewable energies, in part. One investor told TechCrunch that the cost per transaction from an energy intensity standpoint has only gotten more intense.

Musk hinted that other cryptocurrencies are on the table. Those will likely be ones that use “Proof of Stake” consensus mechanisms, which networks like Ethereum have committed to transition to due to their energy efficiencies.

Vitalik Buterin donates $1 billion worth of ‘meme coins’ to India COVID Relief Fund

Vitalik Buterin, the creator of Ethereum, on Wednesday donated Ethereum and “meme coins” worth $1.5 billion in one of the largest-ever individual philanthropy efforts.

Buterin transferred 500 ETH and over 50 trillion SHIB (Shiba Inu), a meme coin, worth around $1.14 billion at the time of transaction, to the India COVID-Crypto Relief Fund. The transaction sparked panic among some investors, contributing to over 35% drop in SHIB’s price in the past 24 hours.

The meme coin, which has courted retail investors in China and elsewhere following recent surges in the Dogecoin cryptocurrency, managed to garner billions (USD) worth of investment in recent days before today’s crash.

Buterin’s offloading of several dog-themed meme coins — which were sent to him without his consent in the first place — comes at a time when India is grappling with a surge in the coronavirus infections.

Sandeep Nailwal, who put together the Indian relief fund and co-founded crypto organization Polygon, said in a tweet that he won’t do anything that hurts “any community specially the retail community involved with SHIB.”

Buterin, who became the youngest crypto billionaire at the age of 27 earlier this month, also transferred Ethereum and Dogelon Mars (ELON) — another meme coin — worth $336 million to Methuselah Foundation, a nonprofit that supports efforts in tissue engineering and regenerative medicine therapies; and over 13,000 ETH to Givewell, a nonprofit organization that works to curate the best charities around the world. Buterin also donated to Gitcoin Community, MIRI and Charter Cities Institute.

$54M donation to Givewell here. Thank you @VitalikButerin ! https://t.co/OLXh3zVU4b

— Dustin Moskovitz (@moskov) May 12, 2021

India has been reporting over 350,000 daily infections and over 3,500 fatalities for the last two weeks. The second wave of the coronavirus has overwhelmed the South Asian nation’s healthcare system, leaving countless people to scramble for hospital beds, medical oxygen and other supplies.

A number of entrepreneurs including Balaji Srinivasan have donated to the India Crypto Relief Fund, which maintains a log of all the donations. Buterin himself had donated about $600,000 in ether and maker tokens to the fund last month.

If you’ve been fortunate enough to do well this year, consider joining me and @VitalikButerin by donating at the addresses below.

But if all you have is Twitter, help spread the word. For every RT, I’ll donate another $50 to fight COVID in India, up to $100k. #cryptovscovid https://t.co/eKlOlccelv

— balajis.com (@balajis) April 25, 2021

Scores of startup founders, investors and technology giants have stepped up to help India navigate the pandemic in recent weeks.

Daily Crunch: The early-stage tech talent crunch is real

To get a roundup of TechCrunch’s biggest and most important stories delivered to your inbox every day at 3 p.m. PDT, subscribe here.

By now everyone is familiar with the tech world’s talent crunch: Developers are scarce and expensive, while data scientists are maybe even scarcer and expensiver. Some folks I’ve spoken to think that rising acceptance of remote work may help reduce the supply-demand imbalance. Hell, every early-stage startup I’ve spoken to in weeks is remote-first. Many were born during COVID, but they all love the ability to hire anywhere in the world.

But if a more distributed workforce is not enough to lower the pain that many companies feel when it comes to attracting and then retaining technical talent, good news could be coming. The sibling product philosophies of no-code and low-code are not only attracting lots of venture attention, public companies that dabble with either are posting interesting results.

Perhaps the solution to needing lots more code is no code at all? — Alex

TechCrunch Top 3

Today’s TechCrunch Top 3 come from the three phases of startup life: Early stage, when startups are still getting their product and market in order. Late stage, when they are prepping for an eventual exit. And the exit stage, when a former startup is looking to spread its wings and fly the private markets.

  • The anti-venture movement is global: Today Mary Ann reported that Divibank, a Brazilian startup offering revenue-based financing to other startups, has raised $3.6 million in a seed round led by Better Tomorrow Ventures (BTV). TechCrunch thinks it could build something akin to the Clearbanc of Latin America.
  • London’s Lyst looks to list: When you raise a pre-IPO round, you’d best be heading toward the public markets. With fashion e-commerce app Lyst saying that its new $85 million funding round is pre-IPO money, well, we have big expectations.
  • Bird hopes to take flight: Bird is going public via a SPAC. TechCrunch has the big news here, and a more dorky financial analysis here. I helped write the latter. The short version is that a business-model shakeup is helping the scooter unicorn lose less money over time.

Startups and VC

Scootin’ into startup mode, TechCrunch covered a huge number of funding rounds in the last 24 hours, so what follows is a sampling of the most interesting. Enjoy!

For unicorns, how much does the route to going public really matter?

Natasha Mascarenhas and Alex Wilhelm recently hosted Yext CFO Steve Cakebread and Latch CFO Garth Mitchell on an episode of TechCrunch’s Equity podcast.

In their discussion, “The morality and efficacy of going public earlier,” the group discussed the myriad paths startups are taking to go public and assessed the pros and cons of each method, and, importantly, the potential impacts on employees and business operations.

“I think when money’s chasing money, you don’t want to be the last guy holding the money. You want to be the chase,” said Cakebread.

Since Latch is currently going public via a SPAC and Yext followed a traditional IPO route a few years ago, the discussion is heavily weighted toward experience, not opinion.

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

Big Tech Inc.

Turning to tech’s largest companies today, we have three things for you to chew on:

First, Waymo is losing key talent in a very public fashion. Kirsten reports that “Waymo’s chief financial officer Ger Dwyer and its head of automotive partnerships and corporate development Adam Frost,” both long-time execs, are “leaving this month.” The exits come after the company’s former CEO also departed.

I guess we’ll have to drive ourselves for a bit longer.

Next up is a story that came out yesterday, but we missed in the newsletter. But after burning up the TechCrunch analytics all day, I decided to make sure that you saw it. With the simply excellent headline Prime today, gone tomorrow: Chinese products get pulled from Amazon, Rita writes that several Chinese retailers have evaporated from the online megastore. “In total, the suspended accounts contribute over a billion dollars in gross merchandise value (GMV) to Amazon,” she reported.

Changes afoot at Amazon? We’ll have to see, but the news is driving mega-attention from, we presume, confused shoppers.

Finally, looping back to no-code for a hot second, Salesforce is only adding to its own efforts. It’s everywhere!

Bessemer’s Kent Bennett and Toast’s Aman Narang to discuss how to become a unicorn on ECL

Toast has a reported valuation over $5 billion and has raised more than $900 million since launch. The restaurant POS service has clearly been on a rapid growth trajectory, but how has the company navigated the market during the pandemic, which has pushed and pulled the restaurant industry unlike ever before?

On an upcoming episode of Extra Crunch Live (May 26 at 3pm ET), we’ll find out. We’re sitting down with president and co-founder of Toast, Aman Narang, and one of the company’s investors, Bessemer Venture Partners’ Kent Bennett.

Bennett is a partner out of the Cambridge office, focusing on consumer products and services as well as consumer-facing software. Before venture, Bennett was a creative executive for an entertainment production company called Licht Entertainment.

His portfolio includes Bevi, Blue Apron, Xtime and, of course, Toast.

Narang spent seven years at Oracle, then Endeca, working on the development of the company’s business intelligence platform and mobile commerce platform.

He co-founded Toast in 2011 and has been growing the company ever since, adding new products and features to the restaurant POS system.

On Extra Crunch Live, we’ll sit down with Narang and Bennett to learn about how they came together for the company’s Series B deal, which Bessemer led. We’ll also talk about why Bennett wanted to bet on Toast, how they’ve worked together since and how they overcome challenges and disagreements. If we’re lucky, we may even get a peek at Toast’s original Series B pitch deck.

From there, we’ll head into the Extra Crunch Live Pitch-off. Members of the audience can raise their hand to pitch live on the show, and Bennett and Narang will offer their feedback. It’s always a good time, but the only way to participate is to show up live. Register here for free!

Extra Crunch Live is a free event and accessible to everyone, but only Extra Crunch members get access to the entire library of ECL episodes, all of which are packed with insights on how to raise and run a successful venture-backed company.

Register to hang out with myself, Narang and Bennett on Wednesday, May 26 at 3pm ET/noon PT.

Gillmor Gang: When Doves Cry

Usually we wait a few days until a show has settled. While we stall, our producer and director Tina Chase Gillmor scours the recording for short clips that give a sense of the flavor and tenor of the conversation. This show, recorded a little more than 2 weeks ago, went deep on politics, government, anything but Trump, and eventually a pivot to the tech world and how it was grappling with the possible return to the office. I asked Brent Leary what he thought about the likelihood of working from anywhere, and discovered he was multitasking to the director’s cut of a famous Prince video.

Brian Solis had sent him this re-edit of George Harrison’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist, featuring a wonderful version of his classic White Album track While My Guitar Gently Weeps. An all-star cast of friends of the late Beatle included Tom Petty, Steve Winwood, Jeff Lynne, and a surprise guitar solo by Prince that ended with him tossing his guitar to the heavens in triumph. While the new video doesn’t reveal what happened to the instrument, it does extend our views of Prince and particularly his interactions with the other players. Re-released 17 years later, it does the impossible, preserving the magic of the event while somehow extending the mechanics of how Prince captivated not just his audience but his peers.

It also reminds me of what magic we’ve come to expect from the technology industry and its band of stars. The success of the vaccines came not just from the miracle of new science and desperate nature of humanity’s need for rescue from the pandemic, but also from the growing hope that government and even politics can work. The jury has been and will continue to be out on how quickly we can recover, but there’s a question of recovering what. Is it a binary choice of office or mobile or something in between? Already some tech companies have moved toward the hybrid approach, where the office would reopen and workers would return for some but not all of the week.

As a parent of two girls, I’ve watched with fascination as they grew up with technology as a given not the revolution that it is. Our youngest has for many years structured her communication with us and her peers as a text-based, emotional video channel, and occasional authorization for face-to-face interaction. The pandemic made this mandatory, but as we get closer to a safer environment, the skills we’ve been mandated to learn are only going to solidify. Texting can be replied to in a while or treated as just information to be absorbed. Voice calls are optional, Facetime usually accepted as an opportunity to catch up but certainly not a daily proposition. Sneaking a peek at her Instagram feed is good for calming nerves but abstract in terms of any real details. That’s as it should be; I actually need more emotional buttressing than she does.

Prince was like that when he appeared early in his career, conversant in the history of his craft and matter-of-fact in his approach to the technology innovations unleashed by George Martin and the Beatles with Revolver and transformationally Sgt.Pepper. Prince took that studio process, the multitracking inventions of Stevie Wonder, the extra-worldly funk explorations of Hendrix, the cool mastery of Miles — and did it all. The record business pushed him, he pushed back, changed his name to a symbol, and eventually won control of his recordings. Nothing compares 2 U, he wrote.

The music business, like the movie and TV business, has changed everything about how we consume their products. Musicians have been homebound for more than a year with no way of touring to replace what used to be the major part of their income. Some are turning to the crazy world of packaging their work as crypto objects, the so-called non fungible tokens. Joke projects like Dogecoin have become intertwined with Saturday Night Live as Elon Musk plays a character in Weekend Update avoiding persistent questions about just what is going on here. As one Tweeter noted, they made a good choice watching Dogecoin dropping like a stone as funnier than the comedy broadcast.

Sooner or later the dust will settle and we can choose some Sneak Peeks to nudge the way forward. As much as we buy the idea that we need to return to some kind of normal, the sneaking suspicion is that we deserve some relief from the rigged deck that is our politics, our culture, devoid of empathy and based on power as the ultimate rationale for who can run the show. Like the filters in Zoom that let us change our backgrounds to where we choose to be coming from, it’s a reasonable choice to define our new office as a blend of the best of our new worlds.

from the Gillmor Gang Newsletter

__________________

The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary and Steve Gillmor. Recorded live Friday, April 30, 2021.

Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor

@fradice, @mickeleh, @denispombriant, @kteare, @brentleary, @stevegillmor, @gillmorgang

Subscribe to the new Gillmor Gang Newsletter and join the backchannel here on Telegram.

The Gillmor Gang on Facebook … and here’s our sister show G3 on Facebook.

AWS releases tool to open source that turns on-prem software into SaaS

AWS announced today that it’s releasing a tool called AWS SaaS Boost as open source distributed under the Apache 2.0 license. The tool, which was first announced at the AWS re:Invent conference last year, is designed to help companies transform their on-prem software into cloud-based software as a service.

In the charter for the software, the company describes its mission this way: “Our mission is to create a community-driven suite of extensible building blocks for Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) builders. Our goal is to foster an open environment for developing and sharing reusable code that accelerates the ability to deliver and operate multi-tenant SaaS solutions on AWS.”

What it effectively does is provide the tools to turn the application into one that lets you sign up users and let them use the app in a multi-tenant cloud context. Even though it’s open source, it is designed to get you to move your application into the AWS system where you can access a number of AWS services such as AWS CloudFormation, AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM), Amazon Route 53, Elastic Load Balancing, AWS Lambda (Amazon’s serverless tool), and Amazon Elastic Container Service (Amazon’s Kubernetes Service). Although presumably you could use alternative services, if you were so inclined.

By making it open source, it gives companies that would need this kind of service access to the source code, giving them a comfort level and an ability to contribute to the project to expand upon the base product and give back to the community. That makes it a win for users who get flexibility and the benefit of a community behind the tool, and a win for AWS, which gets that community working on the tool to improve and enhance it over time.

“Our objective with AWS SaaS Boost is to get great quality software based on years of experience in the hands of as many developers and companies as possible. Because SaaS Boost is open source software, anyone can help improve it. Through a community of builders, our hope is to develop features faster, integrate with a wide range of SaaS software, and to provide a high quality solution for our customers regardless of company size or location,” Amazon’s Adrian De Luca wrote in a blog post announcing the intent to open source SaaS Boost.

This announcement comes just a couple of weeks after the company open-sourced its Deep Racer device software, which runs its machine-learning fueled mini race cars. That said, Amazon has had a complex relationship with the open source in the past couple of years, where companies like MongoDB, Elastic and CockroachDB have altered their open-source licenses to prevent Amazon from making their own hosted versions of these software packages.