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This week, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how some of the biggest companies in the world have as much — if not more — power than entire countries. Most countries, at least, have some level of democratic oversight, but that isn’t true in the same way for companies. My question, then: In a world where the policies of, say, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter become de facto standards all around the world, should we have a greater degree of say (TC+) in what those policies are?
The other thing that’s kept me busy this week is fundraising. Alex talked with 11 VCs (TC+) about how hard it was for their companies to raise so far this year. Meanwhile, I talked with a number of founders who were really struggling to raise money. The truth is, the founders struggling the most have three things in common (TC+).
Now let’s take a look at what happened in the world of startups this week.
Notes from the security frontlines
The most popular story on TechCrunch in the past week was one of my own, which came with a curious backstory: Flipper Devices was founded in Moscow, Russia, in 2020, by a Ukrainian founder and a largely Russian team. I ran the headline that a “Russian hacking device” had made $80 million worth of sales, only for a bunch of PR people to get very upset with me for calling the company, which was founded in Russia and whose team is still 90% Russian, Russian. Don’t get me wrong, I get why a company making a hacking device might not want to be associated with Russia — and the company has gone to great lengths to scrub any traces of that connection from the internet. The whole story was pretty weird, and concluded with me getting an unsolicited scan of the founder’s (Ukrainian) password in my email inbox. Very curious indeed.
That sounds secure…: In a beacon of “here’s what not to do,” Lorenzo reports that an Illinois high school accidentally changed every student’s password to ‘Ch@ngeme!’. The problem? For a moment there, every student knew every other student’s password. D’oh.
Stupid and pointless: Prosecutors called for the British hacker who was responsible for the 2020 Twitter breach to serve at least seven years. Zack reports that the hacker was sentenced to 5 years behind bars. The convicted hacker described his crimes as “stupid and pointless.” Who am I to disagree?
Watching the watchers: Zack reports that Polish-developed stalkerware LetMeSpy, a phone-tracking app, says it was hacked. The leaked data included years of victims’ call logs and text messages dating back to 2013.
News you can touch. Yep, it’s hardware.
A ton of interesting things happened in startup hardware land this week. Uplift Labs signed an interesting deal with Major League Baseball to use the startup’s 3D motion tracking tech to help scout for promising players.
Fast on the heels of its previous $14 million fundraise, Realtime Robotics raised another $10 million or so, representing the third close on what now seems like a never-ending Series A financing for the manufacturing automation startup.
Apropos robotics, Brian also had a fascinating story today on how robots are learning from watching YouTube videos. If my YouTube recommendations are anything to go by, every robot in the world will very soon be expert woodworkers and do very stupid things with explosives.
Who’s a good bot? That’s right, you’re a good bot: In a, “Geez, I feel safer already” type moment, Brian reports that the House GOP discussed the use of robot dogs to patrol U.S. borders.
It flies and it counts. That’s just what it does: Kate reports that B Garage raised $20 million for its warehouse inventory drones. And as we’re talking about flying inventory drones, Brian reported that Gather AI bought drone inventory competitor Ware.
Walking? Feh, check the webcam: The lazy among us may have pointed a webcam at the oven to keep an eye on a pizza, but Devin reports that Lilz takes the same concept to a whole ‘nother level, bringing its gauge-watching smart cameras to the U.S. and raising $4 million.
Startups that are going places
Raise your hand if you saw this one coming (while I sit on my hands, because I really did not) — but it seems like the Tesla charging standard is gaining a foothold very quickly. First, Texas said that state-funded EV chargers had to include Tesla plugs (now known as the North American Charging Standards, or NACS), and it seems like Washington state may be following suit.
Wheeee: You couldn’t force me on board one of these things with a gun, but Joby Aviation has reasons to celebrate, as Rebecca reports that the company received a permit to fly its first eVTOL built on a production line.
Pulling the e-brake: Kate reports that Singapore’s ride-hailing firm Grab lays off over 1,100 employees, representing around 11% of its staff — its first big round of layoffs since 2020.
End of the road for Lordstown: It’s been an uphill battle for Lordstown Motors. Rebecca reports that the company is suing Foxconn, claiming fraudulent conduct that “destroyed” the American company’s business. Over on TC+, Alex ponders that there’s not a lot of SPAC deals left that didn’t come crashing down painfully and spectacularly. Canoo, anyone?
Despite all its rage, it is still just a car in a cage: Even as Lordstown implodes and a lot of the other EV companies are struggling, Faraday Future raises $90 million to keep itself alive.
Top reads on TechCrunch
Foo-wee, it’s been a lively week. My personal favorite was Tim’s story about Forcite launching a $1,100 smart helmet, finally bringing a version of the decade-old Skully dream to fruition.
U so basic: Netflix decided that it had enough of letting its users skate by on the cheap, and Ivan reported that the streaming giant quietly axed its basic plan in Canada.
We totally have lots of users, promise! Some strange dodginess this week — Amanda reported that Unicorn social app IRL is to shut down after admitting 95% of its users were fake.
Yeah, saw that one coming: In my very personal opinion, Shein — and other, similar purveyors of essentially disposable clothing — is the literal worst for the environment. It seems like the company got a sheen of comeuppance, as Amanda reports that an influencer’s highly curated trip to a Chinese factory backfired.
The crowd is going Vilnius: Europe keeps investing huge sums of money into tech ecosystems, and Paul reports that Lithuania’s capital Vilnius is about to invest more than $100 million into “Europe’s largest tech campus.”
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